THE BOOK SHELF: Alisa Solomon's "Wonder of Wonders" and Stacy Keach's "All in All"

By Steven Suskin
05 Jan 2014

"All In All" Cover art

This out of the way, he then goes on to discuss his life and work as an actor on the screen and television but mostly on stage, where his goal was to follow in Laurence Olivier's footsteps as the premier classical actor of his generation. Coming of age in the turbulent sixties, though, there wasn't much of a place for classical actors; his first much-noticed role came in 1966, not as Macbeth but as Barbara Garson's counter-culture MacBird! (in which a thinly disguised LBJ — the sitting president at the time — murders John Ken O'Dunc). Steach achieved stardom in 1969 as Buffalo Bill in Arthur Kopit's Indians, but not after two successive cinematic misadventures. (He was fired by Mike Nichols after three days work on "Catch-22," the experience being so discouraging that he turned down the role of Hawkeye Pierce in Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H.")

While the latter film might have turned Keach into an instant movie star, Indians established him as a powerful stage performer with unlimited capabilities. The story of the 19th-century Wild West showman, Kopit's play was an allegorical assault on American arrogance in Vietnam; Keach calls his character "a bombastic vulgarian with an ego bigger than his conscience." Indians caused enormous controversy when it opened at the Atkinson; but while political controversy in 1969 made headlines, it did not attract Broadway theatregoers. (This was a time when men still wore jackets and ties to theatre.) The show closed after a short run, but Keach was staggeringly good; critically speaking, I never again found him quite so effective until Other Desert Cities in 2011.

Keach's chronicle of the actor's world — with a wealth of insight and a refreshing lack of ego — makes "All in All" an immensely likable and readable picture of life upon the wicked stage during the last third of the 20th century and up through today, as well as off, where he was wrapped up in the turmoil of Woodstock, the Chicago Seven and other anti-Vietnam protests, often in the company of his then live-in partner Judy Collins.



(Steven Suskin is author of the updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," "A Must See," the "Broadway Yearbook" series, and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)