Wednesday, March 13, 2013

by Janet Lawler
March 13, 2013
New York
Lucky Guy on Broadway
 Nora Ephron's final play LUCKY GUY is in previews on Broadway.  It stars Tom Hanks. 

It's a terrific play.  It's about New York columnist Mike McAlary and his cohorts in various NYC newsrooms as he climbs to the top in a tough-as-nails city.  It's a witty tale about tabloids, marriage, Irish pubs, good cops, bad cops and the grit of making your living and name in NYC between 1985-1998. 

The play even has some singing, but it's definitely not a musical.  And since it's about the newspaper biz in its golden days, it's got men (and one woman) who swear like sailors, smoke cigarettes at their desks while banging out a story on deadline and they all congregate at the local bar.

Tom Hanks is charming in a not so likeable part.  On stage, it's hard to take your eyes off him just like on screen.  His cadence is so familiar -- and in one particular scene, while in physical therapy recovering from a car crash -- he talks a lot like Forest Gump.

The entire cast is top notch.  Maura Tierney, best known for ER, plays Hanks' wife and has an opening scene where she pretends to be a train conductor on the Long Island Railroad rattling off all the local stops... it's hilarious... and the audience, packed with Long Islanders, gave her a round of applause... especially for the way she pronounced Ronkonkoma.

Director George C. Wolfe's creates excitement through pacing and quick changing sets from newsroom, to Long Island bedroom to the local bar.  

Nora Ephron's writing crackles.  Her wit and timing with a joke rarely miss.  It's not jokes for joke sake, but makes you laugh with its truth.  She knew about journalism.  Before her movie career, Ephron wrote for the New York Post.  Her first husband was Carl Bernstein, a reporter who helped topple a U.S. president.

There are tough scenes to watch capturing the brutality NYC city can dish out... along with facing aging and disease.  It's also about cancer.  Nora Ephron knew what she was writing about... the lines Mike McAlary delivers at the end have that much more meaning because now we know the author was facing her own battle with cancer.

The play reminds us that life is so damn fragile -- as are fame and big egos.  New York City will build you up and tear you down like no other town.   That's a fact, as they say in the newspaper biz.

On a lighter note, the cast reunites Hanks with his Bosom Buddies co-star Peter Scolari.  It's great to see them together.  And actor Courtney B. Vance as Hanks' newspaper editor deserves a special shout out for a super performance.  He has some of the best lines in the play.

Playwright Nora Ephron
 In a recent NY Times article by Jacob Bernstein, Nora's son, he said that while his mother lay dying in the hospital, she had a vision that her last play was on Broadway and she saw a filled theater.

Her vision came true.  Every seat was sold out.  Yes, many came to see Tom Hanks on stage -- but most were there to pay tribute to Nora Ephron.   

Go see Lucky Guy if you can. 

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


Valerie as Rhoda
I wrote a letter to Rhoda when I was 15. 

Valerie Harper was one of my favorite actresses on TV.  For some reason, she reminded me of my big sister.  My sister, Catherine Mary, who preferred Kathy, had Rhoda's sense of humor and fashion style... like wearing a bandana in a new way I'd never seen before  in the 70s. 

My sister and Rhoda (Valerie) were my  heroes... two beautiful, strong women, one in real life and one on TV, both that I tried to copy in dress (oops... the bandana thing really didn't quite work for me in high school.  I looked like the cleaning lady.) but I did  "tawk" like Rhoda (since I already had the Bronx accent).  And I liked to make people laugh, just like Rhoda.

Who didn't love Rhoda Morgenstern and her TV family?  Her younger, wisecracking-sidekick sister Brenda, her domineering mother (Mrs. Morgenstern played by the wonderful Nancy Walker), and Joe... Rhoda's dream boat guy that she married in NYC.  Gosh, I wanted to grow up to be Rhoda... I even liked her doorman, Carlton.... who always sounded drunk on her apartment intercom. 

So, one day, there it was in my mailbox... the official-looking letter from CBS Studios in California.  From MTM Productions... Mary Tyler Moore's production company produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later Rhoda.  Her company was called MTM.  Whoa.  Could it be?

My heart skipped a beat.

Inside, was an autographed photo from Valerie Harper...  It wasn't a fake (I was good at recognizing fakes).  I treasured that 8x10 photo... there it was...Valerie Harper wearing a head scraf... looking so chic, so cool... I put that photo on my wall with all the other Hollywood photos I collected.  She sent me a couple more photos over the next few years.

I was only a teenager.. but Rhoda made me laugh.  She got me through some tough days.  She made me forget for awhile that my father had died when I was 14.  TV was my escape.  Is it any wonder I still love writing?  Still love movies and TV shows?  It's art at its best... it comes right into our homes and heals when we need it most.

The jokes that Rhoda volleyed back and forth with Mary Tyler Moore on Saturday nights on CBS helped me forget my loss... it made me forget that my big sister was battling drug addiction... and that she might not overcome it.

Sadly, she didn't.

Today I watched the news about Valerie Harper having terminal cancer.  They said she has only months to live.  That news hurt.  I hope the doctors are wrong.  I hope this is a terrible blunder on the medical community... and that Valerie Harper lives on for many years to come.  She has a great outlook... and miracles do happen.

As someone said on the news tonight, we all love Valerie Harper because we are all Rhoda.  She was one of the first women on TV to discuss her weight, bad dates,  nagging mothers, insecurities about her hair and career.  She fretted (and joked) about never finding love.  She valued her best friend Mary more than anything.  She was as real as TV would allow. 

Rhoda stole America's heart.

Thank you, Rhoda,  from every girl that you made laugh and forget about their own insecurities... you showed America that a plump girl from New York City could find love and do anything she wanted in the world.  Maybe Rhoda didn't toss her hat in the air with the same confidence as Mary Richards... but Rhoda did make it.

After all.

And today, fast forward -- I live in New York City.  I'm married.  I work at a television news station in Manhattan (much like Mary Tyler Moore did at WJM).  I write plays (mostly comedies) and screenplays. 

Life sure is funny.

Thanks, Valerie, for sending me that photo so many years ago.  It was a life raft in many ways.  I still keep it.  I'll  keep it, and you,  in my heart always.

Be well. 

Janet Lawler
New York
March 6, 2013