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Jimmy Nederlander's Endless Run


"At the Times, Jimmy was an anomaly because he was the only Broadway producer who never complained about reviews," says the paper's op-ed columnist Frank Rich, who for thirteen years was the paper's chief theater critic. "He had no pretense. I don't think he saw half the things he booked. Gerry Schoenfeld probably saw Amy's View twice in London before they brought it here, and he probably gave David Hare notes about the performance."

Once, as a guest at a luncheon held by the Times' culture department, Jimmy was asked what had compelled him in 1981 to produce Nicholas Nickleby, the eight-hour, two-session adaptation of Charles Dickens's novel, a wildly risky, critically successful play on which the Nederlanders grudgingly collaborated with the Shuberts.

"That's a good question," Jimmy said. He suggested the answer could be found by asking Liz McCann, a producer who had once been his assistant.

Another day around 1:30, food arrives from the deli downstairs, and Jimmy Jr. and Scandalios join their boss at the conference table opposite his desk. (Before the stroke, Jimmy usually took his lunch at '21' and ate breakfast at the Plaza Hotel.)

Scandalios, tall and square-faced, cuts Jimmy Sr.'s food without hesitation.

"This isn't a chicken salad," Jimmy Sr. says.

Scandalios passes him the foil platter. "It's a salad with chicken. It's what you had last week."

Only 33, Scandalios has worked for the Nederlanders from the time he was just out of college, first as Jimmy Sr.'s assistant, then rising during a shakeout period in 1992, when the Manhattan district attorney's office investigated allegations that one or more of the Nederlanders' employees was skimming money from the Lunt-Fontanne's box office (no charges were ever filed).

Scandalios is involved in all the booking decisions for the theaters and serves as a line producer on odd plays the Nederlanders produce. Jimmy Jr., by contrast, has a hand in all his father's endeavors but has been most involved in putting on rock concerts, as well as a stunt by the downtown magician David Blaine. Where Jimmy Jr. never took an interest in school theatrical productions while growing up in Detroit -- his mother, who raised him, was divorced from Jimmy Sr. when their only child was young -- or during his truncated time in college, Scandalios was a drama jock, starring in West Side Story and Evita at Boston College and running a community theater on Long Island during the summers.

Lunch is interrupted by the phone. Scandalios, who has been negotiating for the Nederlanders to run a theater being built in Hollywood as the new location for the Oscars ceremony, takes the receiver, talks for a while, then hands it to Jimmy Sr. with a look of disapproval.

"Nick's adamant," Jimmy Sr. says into the phone. "He won't do it."

"It has nothing to do with the rent they want, but I think they're paying performance numbers," Scandalios whispers.

"He's paying something," Jimmy Sr. tells the person on the line, one of his lawyers. He gives the phone back to Scandalios, then drinks his soup from the container.

"It'll make lots of money with the Academy Awards," Jimmy Sr. says. "So what are we going to do with the other eleven months?"

"No one can pick the future of a show," Jimmy Jr. says. "That's one thing I've learned from my dad. They're expecting these unreachable goals per cap from the earnings."

"They're business guys, trying to negotiate a theater deal," says Jimmy Sr. "Complicated guys -- they complicate the deal with a lot of small shit."

Jimmy Sr. often refers to his son and Scandalios as "the future of this company," as if trying to offset the industry perception that Jimmy Jr. is the weak link. The reputation was bolstered by his having worked for several years overseeing the theaters' concessions business, and by his promoting a Shari Lewis and Lambchop show by giving free passes to the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

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