What do you get when you give a blond lawyer a movie deal? A Broadway musical!
Hal Luftig, who produced Annie Get Your Gun , Movin’ Out , Thoroughly Modern Millie and a slew of other happy Broadway shows, is planning to bring Legally Blonde , the spry tale about the fair-haired Harvard Law student from the Valley, to a stage near us. Like, seriously.
“The opening scene of the first movie, where they’re in the sorority house with the streamers? It totally looks like a Broadway musical. But I could also see it as a campy thing at the MGM in Vegas-rompy and fun and over the top, you know?” said Amanda Brown, the former-law-student- cum -author (and bottle blonde) who wrote the book on which the film was based. (Though the film was adapted from Ms. Brown’s manuscript, it was actually released before her book was published.)
Ms. Brown said that she signed the agreement by which Mr. Luftig would option the story and characters last week. Mr. Luftig said he had yet to get his hands on it. “I haven’t seen ink yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not at my attorney’s …. He’s on vacation,” Mr. Luftig told The Transom. “If Amanda said she’s signed it, that’s what I was waiting for.”
Mr. Luftig plans to produce the play in conjunction with Fox Theatricals and Dori Berinstein of the Oxygen Network. Both are his partners on Thoroughly Modern Millie as well. “Now it goes to MGM-I know they’re going to sign it-and then it comes to my lawyer and I write a big fat check.” Mr. Luftig was referring to MGM/UA’s MGM Onstage division, which was recently formed to pitch several hundred of the studio’s 4,000 titles to producers for development onstage. Among those already licensed: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang , now at the London Palladium, and Marty , which broke box-office records in Boston last fall and may be coming to Broadway next year-and now, Legally Blonde .
Mr. Luftig, who’s also working on a revival of Mame , said he’s hoping to have a first reading of the musical version of Legally Blonde “within a year, and have it really on its feet a year after that,” adding: “It’s hard for me to go the movies these days without getting excited about how the film would look onstage.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Brown is on a hot streak. On Aug. 4, she was at a party at Cartier for her new book, Family Trust . The story of an orphan and a custody battle in New York, Family Trust has already been optioned for film by Hilary Swank.
And she has plenty of plans for Elle Woods, the heroine of Legally Blonde . “I want to do a series,” she said. “I have like 25 ideas for Elle books. The only title I have in mind so far is The Perm . In that one, Elle goes to Arizona to work for a lawyer who has a really bad perm,” she said. “Elle is going to become mother-Elle is going to do everything. She’s like Barbie. She can do it all.”
-Anna Jane Grossman
Hackett, Over Easy
Buddy Hackett wasn’t just a comedic genius. He cooked omelets, too! At least that was the consensus of the group of friends and comedians who spoke at the Friars Club’s Aug. 11 gentle memorial for the comedian, who died at the age of 78 on June 30.
Former Welcome Back Kotter star Gabe Kaplan recalled that the first time he met Hackett, the veteran comedian gave him some unsolicited advice: “I was watching you on television,” he told Mr. Kaplan. “You get a lot of laughs. In 20 years, you are going to realize how fucking unfunny you are right now.”
The next time Mr. Kaplan ran into the comedian, he said, Hackett invited him over for breakfast: “Come to my house and I’ll make you an omelet.”
The omelet came with a price, however. Hackett stared at Mr. Kaplan while he ate every bite of it.
The next day, Mr. Kaplan got a call from Hackett. “How was the omelet?” he wanted to know.
“Buddy, it was a great omelet,” Mr. Kaplan said. “But in 20 years, I’m going to realize it was really a piece-of-shit fucking omelet.”
Friars dean Freddie Roman remembered the morning that Hackett cooked breakfast for him and comedian Louis Nye. “Buddy in a bathrobe-it’s not a sight that you really want to see,” Mr. Roman said. “[But] he stood there and made us omelets for breakfast.”
Mr. Roman also remembered the night that Hackett’s son, Sandy, was playing the Catskills for the first time. Mr. Roman was in the dressing room of Hackett fils when the père called. Unfortunately, Sandy was in the show, so Buddy asked Mr. Roman to relay an important message: He demanded that his kid uphold the tradition of every stand-up comic in the history of the Catskill Mountains. “And if he doesn’t do it,” he told Mr. Roman, “he ain’t a comedian.”
The tradition? “He must fuck the girl singer on the show.”
Before the night was over, Mr. Roman told the crowd: “If [Buddy] was here, this would be a roast.”
That reminded The Transom to ask Mr. Roman about the status of the annual Friars Roast now that its partner in television for five years, Comedy Central, has gone its own way, though with decidedly mixed results.
“We’re going back to our traditional format, which is a luncheon,” explained Mr. Roman. This year’s victims will be the Smothers Brothers. “Comedy giants,” Mr. Roman said. “We’re putting together the dais for Oct. 3. We won’t be on TV, but it’ll be a great afternoon.”
“There’s no hard feelings,” Mr. Roman said, regarding the split with Comedy Central. “We want to go back to where we were. It’s more what the Friars Club is about. We’ll control the dais, which we didn’t do with Comedy Central. So it’s gong to be fun for us.”
Just Remember This
It was Casablanca family-style at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall on Monday, Aug. 11. An audience that included Lauren Bacall, Judy Collins and Gary Cooper’s daughter, Maria Cooper, gathered for a 60th-anniversary screening of the film hosted by Warner Home Video and MODA Entertainment, which is releasing a new DVD with lost scenes from the 1942 Michael Curtiz classic starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
After an introduction from actress Isabella Rossellini, Bergman’s daughter with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, there was a panel discussion featuring more offspring of the movie’s stars and writers.
On the deep end of the gene pool were Isabella’s twin, Ingrid Rossellini, an N.Y.U. professor who holds a Ph.D. in literature from Columbia University, and Leslie Epstein, whose father, Philip Epstein, and uncle, Julius J. Epstein ( Yankee Doodle Dandy , Arsenic and Old Lace ), co-wrote the Casablanca screenplay. Mr. Epstein runs the creative-writing program at Boston University.
Also on the panel were newscaster Pia Lindström, a daughter from Bergman’s star-crossed first marriage to Swedish doctor Peter Lindström, and Bogart and Ms. Bacall’s son, Stephen Bogart, a television producer who looks and sounds almost unbearably like his late father-if his father had been a nerd.
During the panel discussion, Ms. Lindström asked her little sister, Ms. Rossellini, “Why do you think Mama was so good in Casablanca ?” Ms. Rossellini answered in a heavy Italian accent: “Probably because she did not know how it was going to end.”
Ms. Rossellini was referring to the fact that Casablanca was being written as it was being filmed, so that no one involved was sure whether Ilsa Lund would ultimately get on the plane with Victor Laszlo or stay with Rick.
“I think that’s why she has that lost look all of the time,” said Ms. Rossellini.
When Ms. Lindström asked Mr. Bogart what it was that made Casablanca so special, his ill-advised response was: “Of all the questions in all the world …. “
He also asserted-we kid you not-that the movie “has got some of that je ne sais quoi .”
But Ms. Lindström followed up with an interesting point. Addressing Mr. Bogart, Ms. Lindström pointed out that her mother “didn’t have that much fun with your father” while making Casablanca .
Mr. Bogart laughed and found Ms. Bacall in the audience-who, at 78 and still blond, would later receive a standing ovation, despite having been 17 and never having even met Bogart when Casablanca was shot.
“My father was, ah, waiting for my mom to come along,” he said.
“There was no chemistry between them [off-screen],” continued Ms. Lindström. “But sometimes, when there is chemistry off-screen and you get on [camera], there is nothing.”
“There was an example of that that came out this week,” said Mr. Bogart. He didn’t need to mention the title; the crowd knew he was referring to Gigli and gave him a big laugh.
Ms. Rossellini then asked a question of her own about the movie:
“Why, in Casablanca , is there all that fog at the end?” she said, wondering about the misty airport scene supposedly set in a desert. Ms. Lindström said that since the film was made during World War II, they couldn’t get real planes, and the papier-mâché models had to be obscured by fog.
Mr. Bogart piped up with a story about a midget who was hired to walk around the plane to make it look bigger.
“It’s true,” Mr. Epstein said. “And Jack Warner was that midget.”
-Lauren A.E. Schuker and Rebecca Traister
South Park Nation
Eliza Jane Schneider, a pensive sprite with brown braids, massive azure eyes and a taut body, was sipping a chocolate soy drink at Greenwich Village’s Soy Luck Club on a recent afternoon. No one paid her the slightest bit of attention.
And then she opened her mouth.
“Eric’s snooky time is 9 o’clock sharp, and if his little wookums get cold, you can turn up the heat over here,” she said suddenly, in the breathy tones of South Park ‘s frumpy mama, Mrs. Cartman. “And if he gets cranky, just play tummy rubs-rubs with him and make sure he wipes good after he makes poo!”
Everyone in the restaurant turned to look at her. One woman wiped soy from under her nose.
But Ms. Schneider had already shifted gears.
“You stole my man!” she yelped, channeling the nasal neediness of South Park ‘s Wendy Testaburger. Then, in Audrey Hepburn–esque cockney: “It’s E- loy- za. I wash me face ‘n ‘ands before I come, I did!”
Ms. Schneider, who won’t reveal her age other than to say she’s a member of “Generation X,” is an actress and musician who has spent the last four years voicing more than a dozen South Park characters for Comedy Central. You may also recognize her dulcet tones from this summer’s Finding Nemo , in which she played several Australian fish.
But mostly, Ms. Schneider is a self-proclaimed “dialect junky” who is currently exploring a vocal slice of America in Freedom of Speech , her one-woman show which is debuting as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the Ground Floor Theater in Manhattan.
In the play, Ms. Schneider portrays 34 characters. Each one is someone she’s met and recorded; their words are her dialogue. Occasionally, she speaks in sync with the recording until the audio track fades away and all that’s left is her pitch-perfect mimicry.
The young actress’ own voice-a soft soprano-is California by way of Minnesota, where she was raised by German-Jewish do-gooders on an Indian reservation.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m a big fat Indian old lady in the body of a skinny little white chick,” said Ms. Schneider, whose mother was a lawyer with a large Native American clientele.
After high school in Rochester, N.Y., Ms. Schneider traveled to Los Angeles in 1993, where she landed a role on the children’s science show Beakman’s World . Her fledgling show-business career coincided with a whirlwind academic tour of UCLA’s acting and world arts and cultures departments, where Ms. Schneider decided she wanted to study the way people spoke. “So I told my professor that I wanted to go around and study American dialects,” she said. “And he was like, ‘Oh no, you can’t study America . We only study Third World countries here, like China and Africa.’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, Africa? It’s not a country !'”
In protest, Ms. Schneider dropped out of college, left her TV show, shaved her head, bought an ambulance, cashed in the money she was awarded after suing the police for breaking her wrist while protesting the first Gulf War-long story-and set out with a tape recorder to capture the dialect of “every single person in America.”
“I figured it’d take about a month,” she said.
Ten years, 50 states and over 1,000 taped interviews later, Freedom of Speech was born.
“A tape recorder can transform ordinary people into raving lunatics,” Ms. Schneider told her audience at the first performance on Saturday, Aug. 9.
In the show, Ms. Schneider presents stories from a handful of her encounters, delivering each word and emotion as it was delivered to her. She also plays herself: a jumpsuit-clad soul who is infuriated about “Daddy Bush” and his oil, and isn’t blind to her own hypocrisy. After all, she is criss-crossing the country in a vehicle that gets only 13 miles to the gallon.
She cooks in a wok at Mobil stations, wonders if kissing a subject makes her a “dialect whore,” and seduces a white supremacist just to see what he’d say when she told him she was Jewish. A vegetarian, she gets “high” when she acquiesces to the Second Avenue Deli waitress, Ida, and eats a pound of corned beef. She breezes through the country, letting the mood and personalities waft over her and ultimately into her.
When she’s compared with the theatrical journalist Anna Deavere Smith, Ms. Schneider bows to the compliment, but is quick to explain that Ms. Smith’s work is thematically bound to certain subjects, while her own work is a free-form travelogue about America.
“Both Anna Deavere Smith and I want to get as truthful as [you] can in the theater. That’s what a lot of my generation is aching for-truth,” she said. “I mean, I trust the firsthand experience of the Marine I met who went to Grenada way more than I trust what the report in the newspaper is going to be about it, after it’s distilled and edited and censored.”
Her desire for the truth has even led her to embrace the much-reviled reality-TV craze. “It started with Jerry Springer and Geraldo and all the reality shows,” she said. “That’s the true vision of America, isn’t it? To have the common person’s voice heard.”
She found this “common person’s voice,” she said, simply by asking people, “What’s going on?” Once folks got going, it was hard to get them to shut up.
“I started off only interested in how they were speaking,” she said. “I clung to that idea that I was just studying dialect, and I was totally missing the point.”
For her next project, Ms. Schneider would like to follow the Bush campaign trail. She’s also trying to organize a “Rock the Vote”–style tour of college campuses.
But would she break out her Mrs. Cartman voice and talk about “tummy rubs-rubs” in order to get the kids’ attention?
Ms. Schneider smiled slyly. “I’ll do anything it takes,” she said.
-Anna Jane Grossman
The Transom Also Hears …
As he started on his second Heineken of the evening, former Black Crowes front man Chris Robinson didn’t look like a guy who understood that he was the luckiest schnook on the planet. On the evening of Aug. 5, Mr. Robinson accompanied his four-months-pregnant wife, actress Kate Hudson, to the post-premiere party for her latest film, Le Divorce , at One CPS in the Plaza Hotel. Ms. Hudson, resplendent in a deep tan and a white Chanel maternity dress, posed for pictures in between sips of chamomile tea. And when The Transom asked her if being pregnant made her feel beautiful, she patted her belly and said: “Of course it makes you feel beautiful. It’s sexy. Absolutely.” And then she added: “It definitely makes you horny. You can quote me on that one.”