Every working day, the man who has for a long time now been the last patriarch of Broadway looks at himself in the mirror and is reminded of his failures. That’s because James M. Nederlander’s office bathroom, 21 stories above West 53rd Street, is hung with posters from the biggest flops to have played in his theaters. “Not just any flop goes up there,” says Nick Scandalios, Jimmy Nederlander’s young deputy. “They have to be somehow epic.” After all, even the walls at Joe Allen, which also celebrate Broadway underachievers, haven’t got room for all the flops. And so when Jimmy Nederlander runs a comb through his silvern hair, working what remains of the forelock first, then administering an off-the-part downstroke to the left side, he sees an advertisement for The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public. He sees an ad for Shogun, the musical. Along with his son, James L. Nederlander – who is known, slightly inaccurately, as Jimmy Jr. – and along with, to varying degrees, his brothers, Jimmy may own an extremely profitable multi-million-dollar company that controls more legitimate theaters than anyone else in America, not to mention a share of the New York Yankees. He may this week have on his mind any of the shows currently playing in Broadway houses he owns or manages – among them The Iceman Cometh,
Annie Get Your Gun, and Peter Pan, all of which have been nominated for Tony awards, the winners to be announced June 6. But when he washes his hands, he sees an ad for the 1995 adaptation of On the Waterfront. (The production, with Ron Eldard as Terry Malloy, lasted less than a week, its fate seemingly announced when one of the actors suffered a heart attack onstage during a critics’ preview.)
“I don’t want anyone who works for me to forget,” says Jimmy.
Jimmy is an owlish 77 years old, and these days is somewhat frail, the result of a stroke he suffered ten years ago. He is short, about five foot five or six, with the adenoids to match; wears square-shaped, clear-plastic eyeglasses; and walks with an aluminum cane, slowly, bringing one step even with the other before moving forward. In the sixties, he began buying up houses on Broadway and evolved from a highly pitched, sackcloth-wearing Jew from the Midwest to the principal challenger to the Shubert-family monopoly. Before that, his father, David T. Nederlander, ran the family business operating theaters in Detroit – including a partnership in the Shubert-Lafayette Theater.
Life is good for Jimmy Nederlander. The way Broadway’s been going, he might as well have a license to print money. Theater owners always do well, so long as their houses aren’t dark. It’s only the producers who suffer when a show struggles. With nine theaters under its control, the Nederlander Organization is the second-largest of the three companies that dominate Broadway. The Shubert Organization owns sixteen theaters outright and half of another, and Jujamcyn owns five. The Nederlanders’ stable is bigger than the Shubert’s, however, once you add up their stake in another fifteen theaters nationwide and in London.
Jimmy often says you can’t pick a hit from a flop. “Nobody can,” he’ll tell you. Where other theater owners and producers in town engage in a lot of thought and hand-wringing in deciding what will go onstage, Jimmy says, “I trust my gut.” Which is another way of saying that theater isn’t – shouldn’t be – rocket science. Just ask him how he settled on some of the productions currently playing his theaters.
The Iceman Cometh, at the Brooks Atkinson? “Well, Kevin Spacey, he’s a big star. And then we got that other guy – who’s that?”
“Tony Danza,” says Scandalios, who stands beside Jimmy’s desk, on the phone.
“When names like that come up, you usually get great advance,” Jimmy says. “We got $5 million in advance ticket sales on that.”
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, at the Palace? “Well, Disney,” says Jimmy.
Peter Pan, at the Gershwin? “Families like it.”
Footloose, at the Richard Rodgers? “Well, that was a successful movie; the musical was produced by the Dodgers, who we’ve done a lot with. Of course, they came to us with High Society a year ago, and I didn’t like that.”
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.”
“I like her,” Jimmy says. “The name of the game is booking. For example, I don’t like doing plays about cancer. My niece Amy did Anne Frank, which I didn’t like the idea of. I think we’ve had enough of that Holocaust business. I mean, how many … You can beat a horse to death, you know?” He smiles and changes course. “Next, we’re going to do Eight Days With Scandalios.”
Jimmy heads to the bathroom.
“God, isn’t he amazing?” Scandalios says.
When Jimmy goes through his mail, there is an invitation to a reading of Finian’s Rainbow at the Kaufman Theater. “Now, that’s one,” he says. He tells a story of first seeing the play and putting up money to move it from Seattle to Detroit 50 years ago. “God, there are a lot of great numbers in that.” He begins to sing: “How are things in Glocca Mora? Dee dee dee dee, dee dee dee dee.”
Although the theater has enjoyed a financial boomlet over the past five years, the case grows stronger that if you closed down every musical, revival, English play, and production with a big Hollywood star in it, you’d have nothing left. Certainly, all the Nederlander houses would be dark.
With the most avowedly down-the-middle taste, not to mention a collection of enormous, extravaganza-ready barns – the Brooks Atkinson is currently the Nederlanders’ only true playhouse in town – they tend to book only the most accessible musicals, often musicals that Shubert rejected. Jimmy has signed an adaptation of Saturday Night Fever for the Minskoff and wants to do a revival of Same Time Next Year – the original production ran for five years – but is looking for the right director. He’s also considering a remake of The Rainmaker that the producer Anita Waxman is shopping around,
Jimmy’s colleagues will tell you that everyone shares the blame for the glut of lower-brow productions. “Now that times are good, all the theater owners can keep doing Brigadoon again and again,” says the producer Fred Zollo, who is typically involved in highbrow plays, a few of which have played in Nederlander houses.
One producer calls the Nederlanders “the Avis of Broadway, if not the Budget Rent-a-Car.” Shubert owns more of the city’s grande dame musical theaters – the Shubert, the Imperial, and the Majestic, for instance – and keeps them in better shape. Joey Nederlander says the Nederlanders lost Les Misérables to Shubert’s Imperial Theatre when they tried to convince the producer, Cameron Mackintosh, that the faulty air-conditioning in the Mark Hellinger Theater worked. The only time the Nederlanders’ frugal propensity to let their houses go to seed – the famously worn-out seats and carpeting, unkempt ushers, crumbling drywall in the lobbies, and visible electrical tape – was useful was when they opened the dormant Nederlander Theater to take in Rent: The house was an inspired fit for a downtown play about starving bohemians.
At the helm of both of the Nederlanders’ competitors are men for whom the theater is a calling rather than an inheritance. Before he was made president of Jujamcyn, Rocco Landesman produced musicals, had his theater criticism published in the Wall Street Journal, taught dramatic literature at Yale, and helped write two of Jerzy Kosinski’s novels. When Gerald Schoenfeld began representing the Shubert family in the fifties, he was a real-estate lawyer, though he quickly became enamored of Broadway and is known for his susceptibility to basking in the company of “talent” – actors, writers, and directors. “We think about shows and actors and the spirit of Broadway,” his late partner, Bernard Jacobs, once told the New York Times. By contrast, Jacobs said of Jimmy Nederlander: “He worries about theaters – whether he can fill them up or not.” (Schoenfeld declined to be interviewed for this article, saying through a spokesman that he does not like to talk about the Nederlanders, though it’s generally agreed by both sides that the enmity that existed for decades between them is over.)
Jimmy is the first to agree with this. “We run a moving company,” he says, “We move people in and we move them out.”
“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.
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.
“God, we hated their guts,” Jimmy says. “J. J. Shubert, if you spent $5, he’d write you a letter about it.” Many of the greatest moments in Nederlander history still have to do with beating the Shuberts out for shows.
By 1965, Jimmy had theaters in Cleveland, Chicago, and Minneapolis, but the rivalry led him to New York, where he purchased the Palace Theatre on 47th and Broadway. “My father said I was nuts to go to New York,” he recalls. “I remember telling him, ‘D.T., if it’s good enough for Shubert, it’s certainly good enough for me.’ “
There were other circumstances that instilled in Jimmy an underdog mentality. Gone broke by way of the Great Depression, his parents were forced to move with their six children into their summer home in Bloomfield Hills. While D. T. and Apple Nederlander (née Sarah Applebaum) kept Jimmy’s brother Harry at Detroit Country Day School because he was older, they pulled Jimmy, their No. 2 son, after the third grade and installed him in public school “in a very poor neighborhood” in Keego Harbor. “My brother was up there associating with the Fishers and the Knudsens, and I was associating with – I don’t know what,” he says. “Do you call that discrimination? It was the biggest comedown of my life.”
Jimmy was the first of his siblings to go into the family business. He dropped out of the pre-law program at the Detroit Institute of Technology when he was 18 and went to work at the box office of the Lafayette for $25 a week. He served as a treasurer in the traveling Air Force production of Moss Hart’s Winged Victory, playing Broadway and making his first New York connections. “My brothers, they waited to follow me into it,” he says. “Eventually, there was a lot here for them to do.” (“Somebody had to run Detroit,” says Joey Nederlander. “Detroit supported us. New York certainly didn’t then.”) On the road and in New York, where he amassed ten theaters between 1965 and 1985, Jimmy produced hundreds of plays – something the Nederlander Organization today does less of than its competitors – forming relationships with the producers David Merrick, Alexander Cohen, and Emanuel Azenberg, among others. Yes, there have been a lot of good decisions. Fiddler on the Roof was born at the Nederlanders’ Fisher Theatre in Detroit. Jimmy co-produced Annie in 1977, when nobody had been interested in a musical based on the comic strip. In 1973, Jimmy put up money to help his friend Steinbrenner purchase the Yankees, and brought in his brothers. Robert Nederlander, a lawyer who’s eleven years younger than Jimmy, ran the Yankees as the team’s managing general partner for sixteen months in 1990-91.
“They’re all interlocked; I swear to you, I don’t know who owns what,” says Azenberg. “They bicker all the time. Except when somebody else is at one of their throats – then all of them are at that guy’s throat. That’s their ultimate rule: No one is allowed to fail. But as for who has all the money, or who was D.T.’s favorite – only they know.”
“The story of the Nederlanders is a story of great success, but at a price,” Azenberg says.
What price, exactly, does he mean?
“Well, look how many marriages they’ve had.”
Divorce almost always enters the conversation when the conversation is with a Nederlander man. It seems to be the family curse. One morning in his office, which is down the hall from Jimmy’s, Robert Nederlander is talking about the muddled nature of the family’s holdings and can’t help himself. “There are a lot of properties that involve some collection of more than one of us,” he says, then lets out an uncharacteristic giggle. “We stick together, even if we’ve had a lot of different sisters-in-law in the family.” Why is that? More giggles, even more uncharacteristic. “Well, it’s a show-business family.” Indeed, Robert is on his second wife, same as Jimmy – though it’s his third marriage, since he married and divorced his first wife twice. (Why? “Who the hell knows?” he says. “She chased me until she got me a second time.”) Harry and Joey have been married twice. Only Fred stayed with his first wife.
“Everyone believed we were going to get somebody like our mother,” Robert says. “The mother who catered to her kids – nobody wanted to give her up. And we all expected for somebody to be like that for us, and sometimes we were disappointed.”
Apple’s sons have been difficult to please, perhaps because she was, too. She often spoke of keeping a notebook on her children’s spouses in order to keep the names straight, and when she saw them last, and what her impressions had been.
Last month, Jimmy and his second wife, Charlene, celebrated their thirtieth anniversary with a big party at the St. Regis. Charlene looks to be a very young 60, with burnished red hair and a nice complexion. They met in a restaurant in Arizona, where he was visiting his father and she was in the process of a divorce. “I gave Jimmy his nudge,” Charlene says. “When he bought the Palace, he said to me, ‘Nobody knows who Nederlander is,’ and I said, ‘They will.’ He said, ‘I don’t care,’ and I said, ‘But I do.’ And I gave Jimmy Nederlander class. You don’t know – he used to wear short socks.” The first trip to London for either of them was in 1969, the year they married. Alex Cohen remembers Charlene wearing a Chanel suit and “about $800,000 worth of diamonds and sapphires” for a drive in the country. When Cohen pointed out Buckingham Palace, Jimmy asked, “What’s playing there?”
Jimmy and Charlene live at 510 Park Avenue but plan to move across the street within the year. Robert’s wife, Gladys Nederlander, says this is the result of a turf war. A few years ago, when Gladys and Robert moved into 510 Park, one floor above Jimmy and Charlene, she says, her sister-in-law asked her not to take her husband’s name. “She said she was the only Mrs. Nederlander in New York,” says Gladys.
What Charlene says when Gladys’s name comes up: “Oh, Gladdie? How’s her mind? Because I heard she was forgetting things.”
What Gladys says about Charlene: “If I produce something and Jimmy puts up money, her name has to go on it. You see, normally if Jimmy’s involved, it’s just his name. She likes to pretend she’s a producer.”
Stewart Lane, a producer who also owns half the Palace Theater in a partnership with the Nederlanders, visits Jimmy’s lunch table. A former stage actor, he has a foppish streak, with a heavy mustache and French cuffs. He stopped by to talk about a show he’s directing in the Berkshires this summer; he wants to get it in a Nederlander house come fall. He also is making his pitch to produce The Big Street. And there’s the matter of Disney’s impending production of Aida, for which the Palace will probably be rented.
“Jimmy?” Lane says. “How long’s it gonna be until we get the deal signed on Aida?”
Jimmy doesn’t look up from his Variety. This is an old negotiating tactic of his, Scandalios likes to explain (sometimes even explaining it to the victim while Jimmy is in the middle of pulling it off).
Charlene comes into the room, and she and Jimmy try to name all the homes they’ve lived in together.
“Three houses in Southampton,” Charlene says. “Two in La Costa.”
“Two in Arizona,” Jimmy says.
“In L.A., you were in Bel Air once and Beverly Hills once,” Nick Scandalios says.
“There was Henry Mancini’s house,” Jimmy says. “Holmby Hills.”
“We’re up to fifteen total,” Charlene says.
“But if you count places you rented, it’s eighteen or nineteen,” Scandalios says.
“In New York, there’s 510 Park Avenue,” Jimmy says. “The whole time.”
“No, originally, you were at 58 West 58th Street,” Scandalios says.
“Oh, God,” Charlene says. She leaves the room.
Jimmy reads the paper in silence for a while. Eventually, Lane stands and says, “So, Jimmy?” No answer.
Charlene walks by the doorway and mouths the words “Is Stewart still in there?”
“Dammit,” she whispers, waving her fists in the air.
Another day in the life of Jimmy Nederlander, another day of family and colleagues behaving like suitors and putting up with one another because in the end, they just want to keep the old man happy. It’s not at all clear that any of his survivors will be fit to run the business when he’s gone. “It may seem like a simple operation, but Jimmy did something right to build it, by virtue of his charm, and his instincts,” says John Breglio, a theater attorney who has executed many deals with the Nederlanders.
Liz McCann, in lace-ups and a dress blouse, reading glasses on a cord around her neck, stops by to talk about future projects. Jimmy has just finished a meeting with the producer Tom Viertel, who wants funding for a workshop. It’s an adaptation of the Jack Finney book Time and Again, written by Viertel’s brother, Jack. Jimmy says yes to $60,000 as soon as Viertel says the Nederlanders can have the booking.
“What do you think of getting Lauren Bacall and Jack Lemmon for Same Time Next Year?” McCann says.
“Fine if you put in some Viagra jokes,” says Jimmy Jr. He leaves to take a call.
“Jimmy’s always had a good relationship with her,” McCann says. “Usually he says about talent, ‘Send ‘em flowers and tell ‘em to go away.’ But Jimmy likes her. Right, Jimmy?”
“That’s right,” Jimmy Sr. says.
“Jimmy’s always been drawn to strong women,” McCann says.
Ray Lussa, one of Jimmy’s best friends, enters – his daily visit. He has a Brooklyn accent and wears a worsted suit over a V-neck sweater. They met when Lussa owned a company that sold theater merchandise and printed programs.
“Uh-oh, here comes easy money,” McCann says. “Stevedore Lussa.”
“This guy’s the largest shareholder in AT&T, and we still can’t get him to put up $5,000 for a show,” Jimmy says.
Jimmy’s assistant distributes food from Ranch 1, but Lussa declines.
“You sure you’re not eating?” Jimmy says. “What’d you have for breakfast, Ray?”
“A roll and coffee.”
“You should eat something, Ray.”
Jimmy feeds some of his chicken to Jimmy Jr.’s dog, a King Charles spaniel.
“That’s a nice tie, Jimmy,” Lussa says.
“Is it a gift from you?”
“No,” Lussa says.
Jimmy looks at the label: Turnbull & Asser. “It’s from England. I think it’s a gift from Ray.”
McCann announces that Ben Mordecai, a well-regarded producer, wants to be a partner in Copenhagen, a play by Michael Frayn that Jimmy is bringing from London.
“What for?” Jimmy says. “I’ve already got you.”
McCann rolls her eyes. “You always say I’m a partner when you want to get rid of someone. You say I’m just an employee when you don’t.”
Lussa, turns a snow globe from Kaufman Astoria Studios upside down, then laughs after a delay. “That’s good, Liz.”
From the hallway, Charlene’s voice is audible. “I hear those dulcet tones,” McCann says.
“I hear shopping bags, too,” Jimmy says.
Charlene has photographs from the thirtieth-anniversary party for everyone to flip through.
“Here’s a good one of you,” Jimmy tells her.
Charlene looks frustrated and exits. “No, my mouth is terrible – and my arms!”
Lussa puts a picture of himself and his girlfriend in his pocket. He smiles at Jimmy; Jimmy smiles back. “Don’t tell Charlene you did that,” Jimmy says.
Jimmy gets driven home every afternoon around four o’clock. McCann watches Jimmy putting on his overcoat. The Tonys are just days away, and both Iceman and Annie Get Your Gun seem like heavy favorites in their respective categories.
“Jimmy, have you ever gone onstage to accept a Tony?” McCann asks.
“No, I don’t like my bankers to see me with a cane,” Jimmy says. “I let Charlene go up there. Anyway, I don’t like ego. Ego will kill you.”