When Harvey Schmidt was 4 years old, he began exhibiting a persevering nature. Every time his older sister's back was turned, he'd throw off his clothes and run two long blocks to wave stark naked at the passing trains. Imagine the relief of his Methodist minister father when Harvey's exhibitionist tendencies turned to art and music.
That same perseverance compelled Schmidt to develop these two talents when he moved from the small towns of Texas to New York City almost 40 years ago. As an artist, he became an award-winning commercial illustrator. As a composer, he continued his college collaboration with Tom Jones, and together they created the musicals "I Do! I Do!," "110 in the Shade," "Celebration," "Philemon" and 35 years later, still the longest-running musical in the world, Off-Broadway's "The Fantasticks."
In 1996, Schmidt has even more cause to celebrate. After more than three decades of unrealized cinematic maneuverings, the movie version of "The Fantasticks" will finally be released by United Artists. "I think director Michael Ritchie has clearly made an original and personal film," Schmidt acknowledged, "both wonderfully REAL, yet theatrically SURREAL> as well. As such, "The Fantasticks" is perhaps an exotic flower that will probably require special handling in the brusque jumble of today's film market, but I do hope it can eventually find its way via video and CD recording into the home and heart of all those loyal fans of the stage version."
"We've always wanted to do a small production of this with only two acoustic pianos--no mikes, no drums, no percussion. Arthur Cantor [the producer] just called up out of the blue. It happened to be a good time for us in terms of scheduling. Tom could direct it, and his wife Janet could choreograph." Other upcoming Schmidt/Jones projects include a new musical, "Mirette," written with Elizabeth Diggs, at the Goodspeed Opera House; "El Norte," a movie which they will adapt into a musical; and finally after 11 years, they will resume work on "Grover's Corners," based on the Thornton Wilder play "Our Town."
"I have been composing my entire life," Schmidt said, "if not always at the piano, then walking down city streets, along country roads, sky-high in airplane restrooms and deep down skin-diving on the ocean floor. So the situation is not so much how do you keep the music going, but rather one of how do you edit all those non-stop musical permutations passing through your brain. I do have a compulsive need to get out of bed in the morning and play the piano first thing, usually with no clothes on. I always play other composers' songs then. It seems to clear the deck for my own music, which I like to work on later in the day."
Although Schmidt has been a composer almost exclusively since 1962, this year Universe Publishing (a division of Rizzoli International) published his "Femmes Fantastiques" calendar, compiled from the drawings of naughty ladies that he began creating in 1960 for Ben Bagley's Painted Smiles albums.
His other future projects include writing his autobiography and returning to his native state. "I just have this strong, deep feeling about Texas . . . the way Scarlett felt about Tara. I bought my grandfather's farm a few years ago, and I plan to restore it. But before I do any work," Schmidt chuckled, "I guess I'll go out to the field, pull up a radish and watch the sunset."
-- By Starla Smith