Playwright Jerry Sterner, who had one of the biggest Off-Broadway hits of the 1980s with Other People's Money, died June 11 at his home in Brooklyn, reported the New York Times. The cause was a heart attack. He was 62.
Other People's Money opened at the Minetta Lane Theatre in 1989. The story of a small New England company trying to protect itself from the corporate raider Larry "The Liquidator" Garfield, it struck a chord with audiences familiar with the shenanigans of the "greed decade" that was then coming to a close. Mercedes Reuhl played the lawyer daughter of the company's owner, who attempts to battle Larry but finds herself courted instead.
The comedy was subsequently produced all over the country and made into a 1991 movie starring Danny DeVito, Penelope Ann Miller and Gregory Peck.
Nothing Sterner wrote after Other People's Money enjoyed as much success. In 1998, his musical about the tax code, 1040, had a run at the Stamford Center for the Arts. The play concerned a father and daughter's attempts to change the nation's tax laws.
Initially, 1040 was a musical with songs by Jerry Bock. In that form, it received a read-through in November 1997 at the Musical Theatre Lab at the University of Houston School of Theatre. The work's journey from musical to play was, as Sterner told Playbill On-Line, a long story stretching back to 1990. That's when producers Fran and Barry Weissler asked Sterner to write a book for a musicalization of the 1939 film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" with Maltby and Shire penning the music. Since Sterner had a horror for any black and white film, he was not familiar with the classic, so the Weisslers lent him a copy. "I thought it was a dishonest movie," Sterner told Playbill On-Line. "Jimmy Stewart would have gotten off that bus and been eaten alive.
"Then it occurred to me, what would be to politics what a corporate takeover is to business. It took me six minutes to come up with it: The tax code. That's where we reward our friends and punish our enemies."
He relayed his idea to Maltby and Shire, who were skeptical. Sterner ended up teamed with Jerry Bock. "Although it worked out pretty well, Bock and myself had differences as to what the root of the work should be from there on forward. It was agreed I would take my play, and he would take his music."
An earlier play of Sterner's, called Be Happy With Me played Off-Broadway in 1986. Philip Bosco and Priscilla Lopez starred. A musical called Topper was staged the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center in Nyack in 1997.
- By Robert Simonson