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The Daily Agenda for Thursday, August 22

Jim Burroway

August 22nd, 2013

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Charlotte, NC; Cornwall, UK; Chico, CA; Copenhagen, Denmark; Foyle (Derry/Londonderry), Northern Ireland; Galway, Ireland; Lansing, MI; Manchester, UK; Moncton, NB; Ottawa, ON; Toledo, OH; Ventura, CA.

Other Events This Weekend: Big Bear Adventure Weekend, Big Bear Lake, CA; SHOUT LGBTQ Film Festival, Birmingham, AL; Windy City Rodeo, Crete, IL; Camp Camp, Portland ME; Provincetown Carnival, Provincetown, MA; AIDS Red Ribbon Ride, Rochester, NY; Vancouver Queer Film Festival, Vancouver, BC.

James Kirkwood, Jr.: 1924. With both parents as silent film stars and his father a director, it should surprise no one that the future author and Pulitzer prize-winning playwright would begin his career as an actor. In 1953, on the CBS soap opera Valiant Lady, Kirkwood played the title character’s son, Mickey Emerson. The fifteen minute program was a noontime fixture for four years, broadcast daily from New York. You can see one complete episode here, complete with organ music and commercials. (“Mickey” makes his appearance at 5:24, but you won’t want to miss the melodrama preceding that scene.)

That Kirkwood’s debut should be on Valiant Lady should also surprise no one, given that in his young life he had already experienced more twists and turns than could be portrayed on any soap opera. His parents’ careers were already fizzling by the time he was born, and the millionaire couple was soon flat broke. They divorced when he was seven after his mother left the family. Biographer Sean Egan, author of Ponies & Rainbows: The Life of James Kirkwood, writes that the younger Kirkwood stumbled upon the dead body of his divorced mother’s fiancée when he was twelve, endured kamikaze attacks when serving in the Coast Guard during World War II, and befriended Clay Shaw, the only man to be put on trial in connection with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

With all of that going for him, it’s no wonder he decided to try his hand at comedy. His first semi-biographical novel, There Must Be A Pony! was based on the scandal surrounding his mother’s dead fiancée. Another novel, P.S. Your Cat Is Dead was turned into a stage play and a film by Steve Guttenberg. Kirkwood’s crowning achievement was the book he co-wrote with Nicholas Dante for A Chorus Line, which earned him a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976. He also wrote the comedy Legends! which toured the U.S. with Mary Martin and Carol Channing in 1987, and was revived in 2006 starring Joan Collins and Linda Evans. But for the most part, the fame from A Chorus Line proved to be more of a distraction than a boost, and the last fourteen years of his life were more notable for his unproduced screen plays, stage projects, and the epic novel about his father that he never finished. Kirkwood died of spinal cancer in 1989.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?



August 22nd, 2013 | LINK

Thanks for the James Kirkwood bio, and especially the “Valiant Lady” clip!

I hope we can track down the episode where Mickey admits his broken heart over Bonnie’s pregnancy is because he and Roy Withers were having an affair and he’s upset Roy cheated on him with Bonnie.

August 22nd, 2013 | LINK

Hoping that this comment won’t get scrubbed let me add a little of what I know.

It’s a pity to saddle Jimmy’s legacy with that silly soap. NY actors of his day, and later, all worked on the soaps which were produced then in NYC. He was most proud of his book about the Clay Shaw trial American Grotesque which is well worth reading for its account of the public humiliation and persecution of a gay man by a political opportunist. Never mind the film, P.S. Your Cat Is Dead was given a major Broadway production. After a sensational tryout the degree of homophobia exhibited by the New York reviewers shocked everyone connected with it and caused it to close too soon. As for A Chorus Line, it’s impossible now to try to explain how dazzling that show was. Bernie Jacobs, one of the two heads of the Shubert Organization, seriously credited it with saving Broadway. First produced by the Public Theatre it moved to the Shubert and opened when New York was just about at its nadir. When newspapers were predicting the city was broke, and finished. Shows were going up at 7. Many theatres were dark. Street crime was rampant. It was horrible. And then came A Chorus Line (The ‘A’ in the title came from the fact that the NY Times alphabetized using ‘the, a, an’ and they wanted to be at the top of the classifieds) and soon after that the ‘I Love New York’ campaign. Jimmy took the material that came from the sessions with the dancers and shaped it along with the brilliant Michael Bennet. He had devised a very witty idea for a number that was never executed. The dancers would all take turns to show how they had supported various stars in various shows: “This is the knee that Mary Martin sat on…” etc.

He was a very engaging and humorous man. Accomplished and sophisticated.

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