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Jimmy Nederlander's Endless Run


If the sitcom life of the Nederlanders were made into a movie-length passion play, Scandalios's character might be modeled on Andy Garcia's in The Godfather, Part III. His ambition is a subject of debate on Broadway; sometimes he's known as "the eponymously named Nick Scandalios." Once, he told me, "A lot of people think I'm Machiavellian. Or else they assume I'm the beneficiary of some kind of nepotism, having a position like this in a family business."

While the official line is that Jimmy Jr. will take over when his father dies, there has been talk that the family could sell the theaters off to a company like Disney or SFX. It's also possible Jimmy's wife, Charlene, who is considerably younger than he (though good luck finding out how much younger), wants control.

In both Nick's and Jimmy Sr.'s offices, there's a framed photograph of a highway restaurant called Nick & Jimmy's. "There's certainly a very filial relationship between Nick and Jimmy Sr.," says Liz McCann, who has known Jimmy Jr. since he was 5. "Nick's a good Greek, and he gets along with everybody in the family. The Jimmy Jr. situation could have been troublesome, but Jimmy Jr. handles it without resentment. Remember, he's an only son with a lot to prove to his father and to everyone else. I think he's going to be a repeat of his father, taken for granted as a rather sweet, nebbishe guy, but the ambition and the brains are there," McCann continues. "It's a Nederlander trait to be underestimated."

Both Jimmys show up for the unearthing as David Blaine's weeklong, Houdini-esque "burial" in a tank comes to a close. Also present are Scandalios and Donald Trump, who has donated his West Side property for the event. There's a good TV-op moment up on the podium, and Trump says, "Let's get both you guys in this," before wedging himself between the two Nederlanders. The cameras are about to roll when Trump stiffens. A good-luck wreath that was left for Blaine is behind them, obviously in the shot. There's a banner affixed to it that says: MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU/FROM SHAWN MORTENSEN.

"Who's Shawn Mortensen?" Trump says. Nobody answers. (He's a photographer and rock-video director.)

"Can we do something about this?" Trump says.

Scandalios carefully detaches the banner from the wreath. When everybody turns away, he leaves the banner on the ground.

"He's not a bad guy," Jimmy Sr. says of Trump back in his office. "Worst thing you can say about him is he's ambitious. What's wrong with that? They said that about George Steinbrenner, too, and he's my best friend. They said that about me." By they he means some vaguely defined ruling class, made uncomfortable by aggressive newcomers.

So what was the root of Jimmy's ambition? "It was always the Shuberts," he says. The Shubert brothers, Lee and J.J., were the sons of a peddler in Syracuse and, early in the century, had taken on the syndicate to build their own empire.

The government bust-up of the Shuberts' control of live theater in 1956, forcing them to sell twelve theaters in six cities and alter their restrictive booking methods, is what opened the business to Jimmy: His father, David T. Nederlander, took over ownership of the Shubert-Lafayette, in Detroit, a theater in which he'd previously been the Shuberts' partner. He claimed the Shuberts tried to force him out, and for months, the two families fought over $2,100 worth of lobby furniture. Meanwhile, the Shuberts rolled their holdings into a not-for-profit foundation and in the seventies lost control to their lawyers, Schoenfeld and Bernard Jacobs. (Jacobs died in 1996.) Their operating as a foundation has relieved the Shuberts of many of the theater's market pressures, and it has always burned the hell out of Jimmy Nederlander.

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