March 10, 2011
But to put that story in context, Scolari told me that his father — attorney Art Scolari — had played baseball at East Side High School in Paterson (this would have been long before Joe Clark got there) and then was an All-American shortstop at Drew University. Paterson? I was born in Paterson. My dad, who was about 13 years older than Art Scolari, went to Central High School where he ran track — particularly relays — and later managed a semi-pro baseball team that played all around the Paterson area.
I haven’t told Peter Scolari this yet, but after our conversation, my web browser stumbled on a story in a 1939 issue of the old Daily Record of Red Bank, N.J., reporting that a teenager named Lawrence Mahoney, who was from Lincroft, had successfully defended his state horseshoe pitching championship for the fifth time in a row. It was no snap, according to the story: breathing down Mahoney’s neck was 15-year-old Art Scolari of Paterson. Mahoney was 9-0 in the tournament; Scolari was 8-1.
I could have talked about baseball all night — it’s one of my many excuses to talk too much — but I was at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick to talk to Peter Scolari about his current project, a production of Ken Ludwig’s new play, “Fox on the Fairway.” This play, with a golf theme, had its world premiere last year in Washington, D.C. It’s a farce, and that’s a word that sends up the skyrockets, because farce done badly — or even done “all right” — is a painful experience for an audience. I’ve been there. Scolari, who knows a lot more about it than I do, made that point: “I don’t like to see a farce in which folks do an okay job. I’ll watch ‘The Sunshine Boys’ or ‘The Odd Couple’ and have a great time if everybody does a ‘good’ job. If I go to a farce and everybody does a ‘good’ job, I think, ‘Why did you do this?’ “
I’ve read Ludwig’s play, but reading farce is like reading a recipe. It lays out the parts and the moves, but it can’t even hint at the reality. I have also read at least one negative review of the Washington production, but the fact that a farce doesn’t work with one company doesn’t mean it won’t work with another. Ludwig, after all, is the author of “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Crazy for You,” both of which won him Tony awards. And Scolari knows a thing or three about playing comedy in general and farce in particular.
Scolari first drew national attention in 1980 when he co-starred with Tom Hanks in “Bosom Buddies,” a TV sit-com about two young men who dress in drag so they can live in a women-only hotel where the rent is dirt cheap and about what they can afford. The show, which lasted a couple of seasons, was indirectly inspired by the Billy Wilder movie “Some Like it Hot.” Since then, Scolari has put together a long resume of television and stage appearances, mostly in comedies, including 142 episodes of Bob Newhart’s second hit series, “Newhart.”
Talking to Scolari, who is witty, thoughtful, and articulate, was an entertainment in itself. If I weren’t aware that I was keeping him from his train after he had spent a full day of rehearsal, I would have prompted him to talk for another hour, just so I could listen. If I had had unlimited time and he had had unlimited patience, I would have steered him back around to baseball, because no sport lends itself to talk as well as baseball does, and my guess is that Scolari appreciates that as much as I do. I asked him which New York team he roots for now that he is living on the East Coast again after his sojourn in California. He could have simply said that he roots for the Yankees, but this wasn’t a guy answering questions. This was a guy talking baseball:
“I follow the Yankees. I make no apologies about it, but they’re not the Yankees. For me the Yankees who owned my heart ended with the captain, with Thurman Munson. I never got over that, to be honest with you, as a fan. So you come back, and they’re your team, and they’re in the Bronx, and that’s really important — but it’s not quite the same.”
September 14, 2009
We watched “Nothing in Common,” a 1986 film directed by Garry Marshall, starring Tom Hanks, Jackie Gleason, Eva Marie Saint, Sela Ward, Bess Armstrong, and Hector Elizondo.
Hanks plays David Basner, who is on a rapid rise in the advertising industry; he has money, friends, women. What he doesn’t have is any sense of self, thanks to a dysfunctional upbringing by parents — Eva Marie Saint as Lorraine Basner and Gleason, in his last role, as Max– whose marriage limped along for more than 30 years without a raison d’etre, and now, at a critical moment in David’s career, has collapsed. Both parents bring the issue to David, who has kept his distance since he left home and has never developed a relationship with either of them.
Bess Armstrong plays a high school friend and one-time flame to whom David often turns for understanding or simple emotional release. Sela Ward plays Cheryl Ann Wayne, a hard-nosed but seductive agency executive with whom David becomes entangled, in more ways than one, as he tries to land a major airline account. Elizondo is David’s boss, and Barry Corbin is the head of the airline and Wayne’s father.
All of these actors turn in strong performances. Hanks gets a chance to show his full range, from borderline nuts to pensive and insecure. Gleason, conceding a year before his death that he is an old and infirm man, uses just enough of the Charlie Bratton bombast and the Poor Soul pathos to make Max a complicated and interesting character. Gleason avoids what to him was always a temptation to chew the scenery. When he had it under control, Gleason had an intuition for drama, and he puts it to work here, particularly in brief passages in which he doesn’t speak. Eva Marie Saint, who I think is among the most unappreciated of actresses, is very moving as the broken-hearted wife and mother.
This movie takes on some difficult, almost embarrassing themes — the reasons for the failure of this marriage and the impact of a bad marriage on the child it generated — and it deals with them realistically, not looking for easy answers.
Marshall managed to achieve a delicate balance between comedy and drama that in some ways is almost tragedy. This film hasn’t got a lot of attention, but it should.