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  • In the last few days, we lost two giants of the New York and international theater community.

    Though in quite different ways, Gerald Schoenfeld, chair and CEO of the Shubert Organization, and Clive Barnes, the first-string critic for the New York Post, had tremendous influence on what got on Broadway and what stayed on Broadway.

    Mr. Barnes was an old friend; Mr. Schoenfeld, an old acquaintance.

    Gerald Schoenfeld:

    The last time I spent a few minutes of quality time with Mr. Schoenfeld was during last year's stagehands strike. Talks had been stymied and were finally back on again. Mr. Schoenfeld, as a former president of the Broadway League and theater owner, was in the heat of negotiations. He was exhausted and heading into his offices at the Shubert Theatre; but he stopped to say hello and report how talks were going.

    He said the strike should have never happened and was concerned of the repercussions it would have on business. He had just circulated around to some of the picket lines, speaking to some of the Shubert employees and saying that talks were moving forward again. He predicted the strike would most probably be over the next day. That wasn't the case, but it did end soon after.

    I got to know Mr. Schoenfeld and his wife Patricia on several occasions at the home of John and Isabelle Stevenson. Mrs. Stevenson was for many years the powerful president of the American Theatre Wing.

    Though he wasn't that tall, Mr. Schoenfeld, a Shubert Org attorney brought into the company by J. J. Shubert, the last surviving brother, became a giant in theater here and abroad. As head of the Shubert Organization, he wielded great power and influence not only on what went into their theatres but also what shows Shubert money helped produce.

    As pointed out in his Times obit, Mr. Schoenfeld was very hands on - involved in casting, luring A-List stars to headline, encouraging playwrights and choosing to produce [as David Merrick, with all his eccentricities did] shows that weren't deemed profitable and may have never seen the lights of Broadway.

    He also campaigned tirelessly for the cleanup of Times Square and Theatre District safety.

    Because of his positions, many thought him intimidating, but they didn't know his charm, wit and warmth. He was merely protecting his turf. When former Shubert president Bernard Jacobs, a beloved theater figure, died in 1996, Mr. Schoenfeld was suddenly in the catbird seat. There was an intense transition period, but once he settled into the job, you could see he was more relaxed and his jovial sense of humor returned.

    If you read Playbill and playbills thoroughly, you know the extent of Shubert Foundation generosity [in the millions] toward theater and companies and charities. Gene Feist, exec director and a co-founder of Roundabout, notes that the company as we know it wouldn't exist as the force its become had it not been for a $100,000 grant at an opportune time.

    I had often razzed Mr. Schoenfeld about his movie star "day" when he portrayed personal manager Sid Bachrach in Woody Allen's 1982 Broadway Danny Rose. "That was it," he laughed, "one film! But how often does one get the opportunity to work with Woody Allen?"

    Allen and Mr. Schoenfeld became acquainted in 1960 when Allen was a writer of the short-lived revue From A to Z, which played the Plymouth. Allen's 1966 Don't Drink the Water opened at the now-gone Morosco; and his 1969 Play It Again, Sam premiered at the Broadhurst.

    Though he took a lot of heat for naming one of "his" theatres after himself when the Plymouth became the Schoenfeld, Mr. Schoenfeld took great pride in seeing one of the rewards for what he and the Shubert Org had contributed to theater under his tenure.

    Harvey Sabinson, long a partner in a top publicity agency and former league head, said, "In recent years, Gerry bemoaned the absence of a sense of tradition in the current Broadway theatre. That loss is magnified considerably by his passing."

    Condolences to Mrs. Schoenfeld, daughter Carrie Schoenfeld-Guglielmi, the Schoenfeld family and Philip Smith of the Shubert Org. The date for a memorial will be announced soon.

    Clive Barnes:

    I knew Clive from a unique perspective. One of my first assignments at the New York Times was as copyboy in what came to be called Culture News. There was quite a buzz when it was announced that a British critic none of us had heard of was going to be the Times' theater and dance critic.

    I sent a note to our London bureau and said it would be nice to have some English tea for the new critic. They sent me several boxes of Typhoo.

    I didn't know it at the time, but it wasn't the Harrods of teas. More or less, the Lipton. But that little gesture bonded Clive and I. It also created a lifelong dependence on Typhoo! While others craved cigarettes and did drugs, my habit was Typhoo.

    Clive brought life to an otherwise stodgy department. He treated me not as a copy boy [later, his news assistant] but as a colleague. It wasn't long before he was offering me an extra ticket now and again for the ballet and Broadway. On occasion, he even hauled me along.

    He was a font of knowledge, and since I was a hick from the sticks, an introduction to a world I knew nothing of.

    Clive had a wicked sense of humor. One I greatly appreciated. He also brought a lively style to the paper -- something that had been missing. At first, there was a bit of upheaval about his not using Times Style, but since it went over big with readers that was soon forgotten.

    One of Clive's outstanding traits was that, in spite of a very hectic schedule, he was never too busy to share his knowledge - something he did quite often when press agents inquired about elements of dance.

    Seven years later, when I became stympied at the Times and was in a quandary about accepting a position in "show business," he was encouraging. We stayed in touch and often visited. "Show business" was an adventure. I was working for a major Hollywood studio and music org, but mostly from behind a desk with only a rare opt to visit Tinseltown and roam the backlog. Within two years, I was establishing a career as a freelance writer.

    Through the years when I'd see Clive on the aisle and in our neighborhood, he always had a cheery Hello and inquired what I was up to. He was most generous in his praise of books I wrote and my coverage of the arts. When my friends Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber singled him out as their favorite critic and wanted to meet him, I was able to arrange a most memorable meeting in his Upper West Side flat.

    Everyone speaks of Clive Barnes, the dance and theater critic, but most of all I remember him for his generosity of spirit. He was a dear man, so full of life, who so loved what he did. He will be sorely missed in the coverage of the arts; but more than that, he will be long remembered.

    Condolences to his wife Valerie, a former dancer, daughter Maya, son Christopher and his second wife, Patricia. A memorial is being organized by the NYPost.

    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

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