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Alan King brings Sam Goldwyn to the stage

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP   |   March 26, 2002 at 11:07 AM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, March 26 (UPI) -- Alan King is back on the New York stage in a role that fits him like a glove -- that of Hollywood movie mogul Sam Goldwyn, who began his career as a glove salesman from Poland.

By coincidence, King's father was a glovemaker, also from Poland, so the show at the Promenade Theater titled "Mr. Goldwyn" by Marsha Lebby and John Lollos is bringing the actor-producer-comic full circle at the age of 74. He plays Goldwyn as a vital 71 on two nights in 1952, when the filmmaker finds himself at a critical moment in his career.

The popularity of films has suffered with the advent of television, and Goldwyn hasn't had a hit film in his last seven tries. In the first act he is filming "Hans Christian Andersen" with Danny Kaye in the title role, gambling on a comeback that will impress the Eastern financiers who back his shows.

The second act takes place on the date of the film's New York premiere, which Goldwyn claims he can't attend because he must make an appearance at a dinner honoring Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in Los Angeles. Actually, his doctors won't let him travel because of a recent heart episode (He fooled them by living 22 more years).

The film is a success and Goldwyn's career, which began with "The Squaw Man" in 1914, is back on track. Although members of the "Mr. Goldwyn" audience never doubt for a moment the play's outcome, they share Goldwyn's feeling of relief and triumph because they have come to love this shrewdly cunning but generous personality through King's target performance.

Sam Goldwyn is played by Alan King at his incomparable best, with such obvious relish and delight that an audience can actually get a high from his bigger-than-life performance, beautifully foiled by veteran actress Lauren Klein as his highly organized, down-to-earth secretary, Helen. Klein plays the role with great dignity and sly humor.

But this is essentially a one-man show with virtually no plot. It depends on a stream of reminiscences and back lot gossip about the days when a group of Jewish immigrants - Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, the Warner brothers, Adolph Zukor, Harry Cohn, Carl Laemmle, and William Fox - created the studio system that served Hollywood well for more than half a century.

Along the way you get a 90-minute sampling of Goldwyn wit and his famous malapropisms arising from this brilliant man's incomplete mastery of the English language and inspiring a new dictionary word -- Goldwynisms. Among the best are "An oral agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on," "Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined," and "Include me out."

Goldwyn recalls bringing great writers to the film industry, including Dorothy Parker, Sinclair Lewis, George Kaufman, Lillian Hellman, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. He drops the names of the many actors and actresses he made stars in his 88 pictures, 27 of which won Oscars, including "Stella Dallas," "Guys and Dolls," "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," "The Best Years of Our Lives," and "Porgy and Bess."

He expresses his pride in the careers of most of his prima dons and donnas such as Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, and Humphrey Bogart, but he is being driven up the wall by one of his current stars, Farley Granger, who calls him at all hours to voice his jealousy over Goldwyn's promotion of young Tony Curtis. Granger, by the way, attended the opening night of "Mr. Goldwyn" and seemed to love it.

There is even a brief reference to Goldwyn's showdown with the Communist-hunting House Committee on Un-American activities, which he won, and his showdowns with his beloved wife, Frances, which he generally lost.

Goldwyn was born with the family name Gelbfisz, which he changed to Goldfish when he came to the United States and got into the glove business. When he went into films he became Goldwyn by taking the name of a company he established with show business brothers named Selwyn. He was a partner in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film company but split to form his own studio.

King drops all this information on his audience with a stand-up comic's polished sense of timing, one-liner asides, zingy punchlines, and wordless shrugs and grimaces that speak volumes. Nothing has changed since he was a popular guest on early TV's Ed Sullivan Show, keeping alive the kind of Borscht Belt humor that was already going out of style.

Wonder director Gene Saks knows just how to showcase King as an entertainer, and designer David Gallo has provided a terrific setting that recreates Goldwyn's vast, book-and-trophy lined office looking out through huge windows onto a studio lot. Goldwyn's reputation as a clothes horse given to Saville Row suits and Sulka dressing robes is reflected in the elegant costumes devised by Joseph G. Aulisi.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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