So I’m watching the extras on the “Superman: The Movie” DVD, and up pops Andrew Fogelson, billed as head of marketing for Warner Brothers from 1978-1980. Suddenly, in my mind, I’m back at Calabasas High School; the year is 1985, and Andrew Fogelson is not happy with me.
Calabasas High School is nestled in a corner of the San Fernando Valley, and it boasts such illustrious alumni as Ricky Schroeder and Erik Menendez. (I knew Ricky Schroeder, but not well. I don’t think I ever met Erik Menendez, though, but that’s OK, because Erik Menendez kills people.) Other alumni include Stallion Cornell and Andrew Fogelson’s two sons. One of those sons shared the stage with me in the Calabasas High School production of “The Music Man,” a show in which I was cast in the lead as Professor Harold Hill.
Some background: “The Music Man” is the story of a traveling salesman – that Harold Hill guy – who goes from town to town and sells the locals all the instruments and uniforms necessary to create a first-rate boys band. He does so by promising, in turn, to stick around and teach the band how to play. The problem is that he “don’t know one note from another,” and he skips town with his money before he has to lead the band. However, in the course of the play, Harold Hill falls in love with Marian, the local librarian, and refuses to leave, even when he’s about to be exposed as a fraud. The best line in the show is when Hill tells Winthrop, the librarian’s young brother, why he’s sticking around.
“For the first time in my life,” he says,” I got my foot caught in the door.”
He’s then handcuffed and dragged before the town council, where he discovers that the angry residents are preparing tar and feathers. When all is lost, the boys band unexpectedly shows up, all decked out in their uniforms, and they stumble their way through the Minuet in G, which, as unpolished and discordant as it is, still impresses the children’s parents, who forgive Hill everything, and everyone lives happily ever after.
The Music Man is one of the musical theatre classics – a hokey old masterpiece that still gets pulled out of mothballs every year by high schools all across the country.
Our version was originally supposed to be directed by some artsy woman who’s name I don’t recall, but she was summarily replaced when Andrew Fogelson, the big time Hollywood producer of such cinematic tours de force as “The New Kids” and “Just One of the Guys”, deigned to step down from his lofty studio pedestal to grace us lowly high school weenies with his presence. He had never directed anything, as far as I knew, but he was a Hollywood bigwig, and that was enough to recommend him as the new director of “The Music Man.”
From the outset, it was a disaster.
Fogelson arrived at the first read-through with his very own entourage, which consisted of several leathery-faced woman who paced up and down the room smoking cigarettes. Put simply, they were script doctors. It was their job to “update” “The Music Man” to give it a hip, Eighties sensibility. They did this by adding a couple of hemorrhoid jokes and butchering the ending, thereby destroying the entire integrity of the piece.
It was decreed that the new, hip, 1985 ending would replace the “foot caught in the door” line with an all-new, ridiculously craptastic speech that began as follows:
“Tell me, Winthrop – have you ever heard about the Magic Kiss?”
I was then supposed to tell this cock-and-bull story about the Legend of the Magic Kiss, which I don’t remember – it probably involved elves or vampires or something. Anyway, the gist of the thing was that sometimes people got magic kisses that made all their dreams come true and set the whole world right and made lollipops and rainbows fall out of the sky. This provided the set-up for the actual Magic Kiss, which Marian the Librarian plants on me just as I try to lead the boys band at the end of the show. After the kiss, the band inexplicably plays with perfect virtuosity; I become the triumphant hero, and everyone with an ounce of common sense works very hard to keep their brains from exploding.
It was flat-out awful.
The Magic Kiss demonstrated that this Fogelson guy had absolutely no respect for the material he was directing and even less understanding of the principles that made “The Music Man” such a success in the first place. The original ending was consistent with the show’s basic themes – it was a gentle valentine to the small Iowa town where the author, Meredith Willson, had spent his own childhood. This Magic Kiss drivel was a bizarre, insulting non sequitur – the equivalent of having Harold Hill team up with Batman at the end of the show to go cruise for chicks. Which is a pretty good idea, now that I think of it.
Anyway, I made it clear, in my surly, I’m-16-years-old-so-I-know-everything manner, that I was not pleased. When my direct pleas to forego the changes fell on deaf ears, I tried to stir up an insurrection among fellow cast members. When that proved ineffective, I was reduced to making as many snide little comments during rehearsal as possible. My favorite was when the choreographer said something like “There’s no reason this show shouldn’t reek of professionalism!” and I shot back with “Oh, there’s no question it’ll reek.”
Yes, I was a jerk. But I still think I was right.
I should have been fired and replaced, but, to his everlasting credit, Fogelson put up with my whining, and we forged an uneasy truce as we slogged ahead. The one thing he didn’t do was actually rehearse the magic kiss scenes until about two days before the show opened. He didn’t want to give me a chance for more subterfuge until the last possible moment.
I remember that fateful night as if it were yesterday. Fogelson was about ten feet in front of the stage, pacing nervously. He was carrying a portable microphone in one hand and a mini-speaker attached to said microphone in the other. He barked orders through this tiny box with relentless impatience and a barely contained fury.
As I recall, I was going out of my way to make sure life wasn’t easy for him.
The entire cast was onstage for the final scene of the show. Everyone watched as, at the appointed time, I strolled over to Marian the Librarian so she could, for the first time, pucker up and magically smooch me. This would have been an awkward moment even if the script hadn’t sucked, since I was 6’4” tall, and I had to lean down and kiss my 5’ 2” leading lady. I was in handcuffs and I couldn’t grab her in a Gone-with-the-Wind style clinch, so I had to stoop downward like some lobotomy patient for no reason other than to reach her enchanted lips. I was like a handcuffed giraffe making out with a penguin. If only the magic kiss had provided her with 12-inch lifts!
Anyway, I went through the motions with the least amount of enthusiasm possible, and everyone knew it. I rolled my eyes, mumbled my lines, and smirked my way through the whole thing, and I think we did it a couple of times that way before Fogelson lost it.
“No! NO! NO!!!” he shrieked, his voice amplified by his tinny little sound system. “I have HAD IT! I have ABSOLUTELY HAD IT!” He was seething now, and the little drops of sweat were beading up on the top of his bald-yet-very-tan scalp.
He allowed himself a moment to dramatically gather himself before walking up to the stage and motioning me in to speak with him face to face.
“Now you listen to me,” he snarled. He spoke in a low, unamplified voice, but it was still loud enough for the rest of the room to hear, and every word was punctuated with a steely, controlled rage.
“You’re going to do it again,” he said, matter-of-factly. Oh, how he would have liked to rip my head right off of its neck! “You’re going to kiss her,” he insisted, “and you’re going to love it. You’re going to pretend it’s the greatest kiss you or anyone else has ever gotten. You’re going to do it right. And you’re going to stop putting me and everyone else through this crap. Do you understand me?”
I nodded sheepishly, and I went back and took my mark. All the breathing in the room seemed to stop. Dozens of onlookers waited anxiously to see what I was going to do next.
The scene began. I dutifully loped over to Marian, bent over, and kissed her on the mouth.
Then I threw my hair back, raised my arms, and shrieked “HOT DAMN!!!” at the top of my lungs.
Andrew Fogelson threw down his microphone and box on to the hard linoleum floor, which made a loud “SCRONCH” sound as he stormed out of the room.
I don’t remember much after that. I know he must have come back in and the rehearsal went on, because I ended up performing that stupid scene during the two-week run of the show, and in retrospect, the 1985 Calabasas High School production of The Music Man was actually not that bad. The hemorrhoid joke worked, too.
But I made damn sure that Hollywood producer Andrew Fogelson would never hire me for a role in “Just One of the Guys II.”