SECOND FLOOR OF SARDI'S With Martin Charnin, Thomas Meehan and Charles Strouse: A Drink with the Annie Creators

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21 Mar 2013

Charles Strouse
Charles Strouse
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

When you get Martin Charnin, Thomas Meehan and Charles Strouse together at one table at Sardi's, you know what they're going to talk about. Alan Jay Lerner, of course.

Actually, the topic introduced was that of collaboration, and how it works between the three men who created Annie, one of the most enduring titles in musical history. But digressions are inevitable among guys who have known each other a total of maybe 150 years, and whose years working in the theatre total up to an even higher number.

"It's a question we get asked all the time," said Strouse of collaboration. "It's very mysterious. It's very much like a marriage. Some of them work, and you fall for your partner. In the case of Martin and me, Martin was very selective and tough, but very intelligent and artistic in his criticisms and his acceptances. I feel I was the same. Martin's more impatient than I am. But that's good. I needed that. I've always worked with more pliant collaborators. I worked with Alan Jay Lerner. And he was the most pliant man."

Lerner? Pliant? Yes, insisted Strouse.

"On the other hand," he continued, "he was such a fine craftsman with such a deep yearning to find the right word. He used to stay up, couldn't sleep, throw up, get nauseous — his wife told me — because he couldn't find the right word."

"Which wife?" said Meehan, softly. (He says everything softly). "There were eight."

"There was always a right word for everything," said Strouse, not taking the bait.

"He would say that to me all the time," said Charnin, who also knew Lerner. "'There is a right word.' We talked a lot about the word rigamarole, which I do not believe ever appeared in a lyric other than that lyric in Camelot. It's in 'How to Handle a Woman': 'Since the whole rigamarole began.' He was very specific, saying he spent a lot of time looking for that word."

"To the extent that you could believe anything that Alan said," interjected Strouse, "because he was a notorious fabricator. Though I liked him for it. But a lot of people did not. He didn't do it out of lying. He had a sense of extravagance. He lived in a fantasy world."

Martin Charnin
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"I don't know if I ever told you this," began Charnin. "There was a meeting at ASCAP in Lincoln Square, and many of the writers attended the meeting. And it was a time when Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita had first launched Andrew Lloyd Webber. And Andrew was there. Andrew came over to the table we were having a drink at, and he sat down next to Alan and said, 'Can you tell me why is it that people dislike me the first time they meet me?' Alan looked at him straight in the face and said, 'It just saves so much time.'"

The three broke into laughter. "I couldn't believe he said it," said Charnin. "But Andrew didn't take it badly, I guess because it came from Alan. He had a flair."

For a moment it seems the Alan Jay Lerner reverie has ended. But, no — they're not through with him yet. "I came in one day and was talking about taxes," recalled Strouse, "and Alan said, 'My dear boy…' — he called me 'my dear boy' all the time. He said, 'My dear boy, you pay all that money in taxes?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Do you think Rodgers and Hammerstein pay their taxes?' I said, 'Of course!' He said, 'No they don't.' I said, 'Well, what do you do Alan?' He said, 'I bring all my money to the Isle of Wight.' I said, 'What do you do when you need money?' He said, 'I send my lawyer down with a suitcase.' I went to my lawyers and asked if this was possible. They said, 'Pay your taxes!' And Alan died broke."

"He died broke for another set of reasons," corrected Charnin. "He died broke broke because he had eleven wives." (I thought Meehan said eight.)

"He told me he never paid alimony to any wife," replied Strouse, "except to one — the French one. None of them asked him for alimony."

"He lived very well," observed Meehan.


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