Friends and Colleagues Remember Producer Ted Mann at Broadway Memorial

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02 May 2012

Theodore Mann
Theodore Mann

There was never any question where the May 1 memorial for late theatre producer-director Theodore Mann would be held. Of course it would be at Circle in the Square, the Broadway theatre named for the famed Off-Broadway theatre company he co-founded in 1951. He and his collaborators changed the course of American theatre history.

Several of the colleagues, friends and family members who spoke from the famous in-the-round Broadway stage (where Godspell is playing) commented on the enormous contributions made by Mann, who died on Feb. 24 at the age of 87, and is regarded as one of the fathers of the Off-Broadway movement.

"At Columbia University, when I went, you couldn't say the name Eugene O'Neill," remembered playwright Terrence McNally. "He was over and done with. And you couldn't read him. He was out of print. Ted mattered. He made a difference."

McNally was referring to the great number of lauded productions of O'Neill plays Mann staged with his Circle in the Square co-founder, director Jose Quintero — including a 1956 revival of The Iceman Cometh which did much to revive the reputation of the playwright, and the original staging of Long Day's Journey Into Night. As a young man, James Earl Jones saw Iceman, which made a star out of Jason Robards, Jr. "It was the first Off-Broadway play I saw," Jones recalled. "Jason was amazing." Seventeen years later, Mann asked Jones to play traveling salesman Hickey in a Circle in the Square Broadway production. "When he asked me, I said, 'I couldn't do that! I saw Jason. How could I ever do that? Besides, I'm the wrong color for that part. Hickey is a Hoosier. Hoosiers don't look like me. They look like Jason.' But Ted just said, 'Well, just do it because I asked you.'" Jones thanked Mann "for a part I never would have been thought of for, and never would have thought to approach otherwise."

Actor Robert Klein remembered meeting Mann while still a student at Yale University. He had taken a summer job acting in a Williamstown Theatre Festival production of My Fair Lady at Mount Holyoke College. "Everyone was whispering, 'Do you know? They got Theodore Mann to direct this show? Theodore Mann is coming. Theodore Mann!' Well, he showed up and I looked at him. I thought he was a bookie! I thought he could take me!"

Robert Klein



Klein confided in Mann at the time that he was unsatisfied with the education at Yale. "He said, 'Leave! You should be working. Leave!' He gave me the courage to do what I had been thinking, but dare not act on." When Klein moved to New York, Mann gave him his first acting job.

Later on, Klein acted in Morning, Noon and Night, an ill-fated trio of one-acts by Terrence McNally, Israel Horovitz and Leonard Melfi, which ran a few weeks in 1968 and was directed by Mann. The production was plagued by comic mishaps. Klein recalled an angry Horovitz getting into a fistfight with Mann. And at one point, star Charlotte Rae fell ill and couldn't perform. There were no understudies. So Mann turned to his wife, Patricia Brooks, an actress and leading lyric coloratura soprano for New York City Opera. Brooks remonstrated, but eventually relented, playing the part with book in hand. She expressed her displeasure by appearing under a choice pseudonym: Virginia Cuntsworth.

"There were a lot of blue words in the script," joked McNally, "but I don't know how we got away with that one."

Mann's close relationship with Brooks, who predeceased him, and the rest of his family, was mentioned by several. "He was a real family man, and a real theatre man," said McNally. "He got his priorities right."

Read about Mann's Broadway career in the Playbill Vault.

 

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