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Jimmy Nederlander's Endless Run

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So why'd he choose one and not the other? "Don't ask me," Jimmy says. "I go with my stomach up."

Stomach-up judgment is rarer and rarer on Broadway these days. Broadway's legendary producers, from Florenz Ziegfeld to Leland Hayward to David Merrick to the young Hal Prince, are now a memory, displaced by vast entertainment companies like Disney, SFX, and Cablevision -- and the primary result is lowest-common-denominator spectacles like Footloose and The Scarlet Pimpernel (another production that is in a Nederlander theater). The Nederlander Organization has long been the most quotidian of the theater businesses, the sort of company where deals are still made (when lawyers will allow) on a handshake and a smile, to crib a line from Death of a Salesman.

In fact, the Nederlander Organization is the only one of the big three that is run by its owners. The chairman of the Shubert Organization, Gerald Schoenfeld, answers to the board of a foundation; Rocco Landesman is in charge of Jujamcyn, but the money that built his theaters comes from James and Virginia Binger (she's the heir to a founder of 3M).

In many ways, the Nederlanders seem to have time-traveled here from mid-century, Sardi's-era America. With their theater archipelago stretching from here to California and including points across the Midwest, the Nederlanders' power base is a vestige of a society in which the center of America -- "the road," in showbiz terms -- really was a happening place. Besides Jimmy, the cast includes his brothers Joey and Harry, who have been involved with the theaters in Detroit and San Francisco, and Robert, a lawyer in New York. There is also a sister, Frances Kohn; a fifth brother, Fred Nederlander; Fred's daughter, Amy Nederlander-Case, a producer on and Off Broadway; and Robert's wife, Gladys Nederlander, who produces television documentaries. (The Nederlander who got the most ink in the past year was Robert's son Eric, made famous when his new bride, Jessica Sklar, ran off with Jerry Seinfeld.)

"They really are the only showbiz family left in the American theater," says Peter Schneider, the president of Disney studios. "And dealing with them is just like doing business with a family. They're like a mom-and-pop store -- there are no rules. Just because you're talking to Jimmy doesn't mean you're talking to Harry, or to Joey. They can be all over the place."

Jimmy's desk is a standard-issue office-supply-store model, circa 1965. On the walls of his office there are framed newspaper clippings and pictures of old theaters, of his father, and of his parrot, Hank. His wife keeps the eight Tonys he's won for producing at home. On the credenza near the window, Jimmy has a large crystal bowl full of ketchup packets.

A compact man with rounded features enters from the next office and kisses Jimmy on the head. It's Jimmy Jr. He is 39 and wears a shiny double-breasted suit, an Hermès tie, and black Mephisto walking shoes. He wants to talk about casting for The Big Street, an adaptation of the old RKO movie they're planning to put on come fall.

"Whaddya think, Dad, should we put names in it or let the show be the name?" Jimmy Jr. says.

Jimmy Sr. winces. "You've got to get a name. I'd like to get Linda Eder for that one. But they have to finish writing it first." The play's book is being updated by Warren Leight, who wrote Side Man. "You need a big star for the woman. The problem with real big stars is, they don't like to stick around for more than a few weeks." Jimmy Jr. suggests Faith Prince for the Lucille Ball role. Jimmy Sr. says he could see Kevin Costner in the Peter Fonda role.

Jimmy Sr. flips through a copy of In Theater magazine, running his finger down the edge of the page each time he flips it. The cover touts Natasha Richardson in Closer. "She any good?" he says, holding it up. "My wife loved that play. Her taste and mine don't always jibe. She's esoteric. I'm a commercial-theater man. I'm interested in plays that will run a long time."

"He says that, but you know he's done all the Royal Shakespeare Company plays," says Scandalios, who has entered the room. "He did Orpheus Descending, with Vanessa Redgrave, when everyone else was afraid of her politics."


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