In April 1979, Peter Masterson, the co-bookwriter with Larry L. King and co-director with Tommy Tune for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (which opened on Broadway June 19, 1978) guest wrote an article for Playbill about his experiences working on the show.
“We want you to write something about what it’s like to write and direct a Broadway musical,” said the lady from Playbill.
“What a great idea,” I said. “Give the public a chance to hear directly from the source about what goes on behind the scenes of a big New York production. All the intrigue and in-fighting and the creative inspiration in the middle of the night.”
“Well, just a couple of humorous moments will be good enough.” She seemed a little skeptical. “Just some of the lighter moments will do.”
I set to work on the piece that night. What a great opportunity for the theatre-going public to spend a few moments with a big-time playwright and director like myself. I tried one tack about how I got the idea in the first place, but that didn’t seem to lead to much. Then I switched to how Carol Hall and Larry King and I worked for two years developing Whorehouse but that was pretty dull.
Finally it hit me! Ask the theatregoers! See what they want to know about. Why, it would be the chance of a lifetime. They could ask me directly any question they might have.
The next night I stationed myself in the back of the theatre where I normally sit to take notes. Luckily the show is selling out so now I have to stand. I got there in time to catch some of the first arrivals.
An older woman was hobbling in, obviously getting her seat early so as not to get trampled. I approached her in a gentlemanly manner.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I wrote and directed this play and I was wondering if there were any questions you might like to ask me.”
She stared at me for a moment, her thick glasses giving her an owlish appearance.
“Anything,” I prompted. “Feel free to ask me anything.” Then in a heavy European accent, “Ya. You such a brilliant boy you find me D-101.”
I helped her to her seat and retreated to the back of the house. I was surprised by her response, but some people just don’t know how to act when they meet up with celebrities. I’d have to pick the next person more carefully. That’s when one of the ushers came over and asked to see my ticket. “I don’t have one,” I explained. “I’m the author and director of this play that is employing you.” She gave me a strange look and moved away. I shouldn’t have spoken to her so sharply. She was probably new and couldn’t be expected to know who I was.
I watched the customers carefully as they filed in. Couples from Westchester and Long Island. Groups from New Jersey. Midwesterners in town on business. Families or vacationers. Then I spotted a guy in a tweed jacket. Since it was 90 degrees out i figured he had to be an intellectual from Columbia, a post-graduate student most likely. He should be delighted to have an opportunity to talk to me. I introduced myself pleasantly.
“Hi, I’m Pete Masterson and I’m the playwright and director of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and I wondered if there’s anything you’d like to ask me.” He paused for a long moment, looking me over carefully.
“Yeah, did you have fun doing to research?” He thought that was very funny and laughed all the way to his seat, not even waiting for an answer. I would have told him yes if he’d waited.
I had a couple of drinks at Charlies’ Bar during the first act, just trying to figure it out. Where were the interesting questions about the discipline of writing and the intricacies of directing? Has the act of conversation been totally taken over by Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin? Don’t these people know an opportunity when it hits them in the face?
I came back to the theatre just as the act broke. A fellow was coming down the steps to the lobby.
“Excuse me,” I barked, “I wrote and directed this play. Would you like to ask me anything?”
“Yeah, Where’s the men’s room?” He was serious.
“Over there,” I pointed.
I went out to the street. The people were pouring out now and the strolling violinist was out there tuning up. He’s pretty good and he plays lively tunes in front of various theatres. I found a lady standing alone at the edge of the crowd.
“Excuse me,” I demanded. “I wrote and directed this play and I wonder if you’d like to ask me anything?”
I was taken aback by the abruptness of her answer. As if she’d had it prepared all along.
“Why not?” I asked foolishly.
“I just like it,” she said. “I don’t have any questions but thank you for asking.”
The next morning, coincidentally I got a call from an editor. “How about doing a book about the making of your hit musical? You know, all the inside stuff about what goes on behind the scenes, the private stuff.”*
“Oh, I don’t know,” I mused. “Something tells me the public’s not interested in that. Why don’t we just let them enjoy the play in peace.”
*In 1982, Larry L. King published just such a book: The Whorehouse Papers.