Theater Maven Michael Riedel Shares Inside Info, Celeb Anecdotes and Broadway Predictions at September Meeting

by Aileen Jacobson

Michael Riedel, who has long written about theater for the New York Post and other publications, spoke to us at our September 22 Zoom meeting just as Broadway was starting to open up again after a long Covid-induced hiatus. The presentation, attended by more than 50 people (and available here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv2gVaBsSds) was snappy, spirited and fun.

Riedel had recently visited the new musical “Six,” a pop-rock romp about the six wives of Henry VIII, and gave it a thumbs-up. It’s the kind of fresh new show that should do well, he predicted. However, older shows like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Chicago,” that were relying on tourists—no longer here in great numbers—may not last long, after the initial excitement of Broadway’s reawakening dies down. In fact, a person in the know had shared with him, he said, that only 14 of the 35 plays and musicals that are to make up the new season may survive.

Off-Broadway, Riedel added, may make a strong come-back because its more reasonably priced and often adventurous offerings are likely to appeal to young people, the ones who are out and about as though there is no pandemic in the downtown area where lives.

Board member and past president Tony Guida, who moderated the event, said he had researched some ticket prices for “Hamilton” and thought they seemed healthy–$399 each for tickets on the coming Friday and $700 for seats around Thanksgiving. Those are bargains, Riedel replied. Before the pandemic, tickets were going for $1,000 each. And ticket agents, who buy many seats and offer them for resale, may have to start dropping prices for this and other shows, or try to return them.

Anecdotes he imparted included Elaine Stritch often running out to the box office “in her panties” before the curtain rose on “A Delicate Balance” to see how well sales were going, much to the chagrin of her co-star George Grizzard. He had written about that in his latest book, “Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway,” published November 2020. It focused on Broadway’s post-9/11 recovery. This one probably won’t be as swift, he said. People wanted to gather together almost immediately after that trauma. These days, of course, close proximity is not what many people are seeking.

Silurian Contingency Fund: Help
Is Available for Journalists in Need

For more than 60 years, the Silurian Contingency Fund has been providing grants to New York metropolitan area journalists facing financial hardship. All present and former New York City journalists who can demonstrate need are eligible for grants from the fund. Members of the Silurians Press Club will be given priority.

All transactions — including the identities of the recipients — are strictly confidential and known only to the directors of the fund, which operates independently from the Silurians Press Club. The fund, whose formal name is the George E. Sokolsky Silurian Contingency Fund after its first chairman, is administered by a four-person Board of Directors, all members of the Silurians. Steven Marcus is president. The other directors are Mark Liff, Kevin Noblet and Michael Serrill, who as president of the Silurians Press Club serves in an ex-officio capacity. The board members evaluate applications for grants and determine eligibility and the amount of the grants.

Grants have historically ranged up to $1,000. To apply, contact Steven Marcus at steven.b.marcus@gmail.com.

If you want to contribute to the fund, also contact Steve. The fund is certified by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501 (c) (3) charity, so contributions are tax deductible. Contributions should be made payable to the George E. Sokolsky Silurian Contingency Fund and sent to Steve at 160 West 96th St., Apt. 15M, New York, NY 10025.

Marty Baron Covers Hollywood, the Washington Post, Trump, Bezos and Other Topics During his May 19 Silurians Talk

by David Margolick

Marty Baron

Rather than “that crummy actor [Liev] Schreiber,” Michael Serrill asked Marty Baron during his virtual visit with the Silurians on May 19th, didn’t the much-esteemed, recently-retired editor of the Washington Post think he should have played Marty Baron in “Spotlight”?

“No, I don’t, actually,” replied Baron, whose eleven years atop the Boston Globe included the landmark expose of pedophilia by Catholic priests and a cover-up of the abuse by the Boston archdiocese depicted in the Oscar-winning 2015 film. Schreiber “did a great job,” Baron insisted, though Hollywood’s version of Marty Baron, he conceded, was short on charm and had precious little to say. The Marty Baron speaking via Zoom from the Berkshires was considerably more visible, voluble, and witty.

His talk provided an outline of sorts for his memoir-to-be: a boy raised by Israeli immigrants to whom news mattered; who edited his Florida high school and college papers; who got himself an MBA “just in case the journalism thing didn’t work out.” Work out it did, and then some: in his illustrious career the 66-year-old Baron led three major dailies (the Miami Herald was the third), and held major posts at the Los Angeles Times and New York Times before reaching the Post, where he presided from December 2012 until his retirement last February.

At his insistence, there was no speech: he’s giving enough of those these days. Instead, he took questions, the first several of which, predictably, concerned Donald Trump and his four-year campaign to sully the press. To a considerable extent, said Baron, he succeeded.

“In many ways, that might be his single biggest achievement, if you can call it that,” he said. “Look, we were a convenient enemy. He always needed an enemy. Otherwise you’d judge him on his own merits.” But at the same time, Baron noted, Trump had actually been good for both journalism and journalists: people who’d taken the press for granted came to cherish it, while the reporters covering him became ever more “unflinching.”

And Trump had been good to and for the Post: while denouncing its correspondents and denying them credentials, he’d also cooperated with them, spilling to Bob Woodward among others. At work, he theorized, were both exhibitionism and vanity. “I think he assumed he would persuade Bob that he was doing a great job or something like that,” he said. “God knows.”

It’s thanks largely to Trump, he added, that the paper now has three million digital subscribers — a goal which Jeff Bezos, the Amazon mogul who’d bought the Post nine months into Baron’s tenure, championed. With its storied name, headquarters in a world capital, and reputation for “shining a light into dark corners,” as Bezos himself liked to say, he envisions a paper which one day will have ten, or even a hundred, million digital subscribers.

“He’s the first person I’ve ever heard talk about what we’re going to be in 20 years,” Baron said. “When I first heard him say ‘20 years’ I practically fell to the floor. I’ve never heard the term ‘20 years.’ I was used to hearing ‘next quarter,’ ‘next year.’

“He’s a very unconventional thinker,” he continued. “That’s how he came up with Amazon. If he had thought conventionally he would have been Barnes & Noble.”

Baron said he initially spoke to Bezos every other week, mostly via teleconference, mostly about technology and marketing, though the frequency of their chats eventually trailed off to maybe once a month. “He was fairly preoccupied by some other things at one point, you may recall,” Baron noted. He said the paper’s coverage of those “other things” — i.e. Bezos’s costly divorce — was robust, uninhibited, and uncensored. “We had no special access,” he said. “We gave him no special treatment.”

The same thing, he said, has always gone for coverage of Amazon: “He has never quashed a story or suggested a story or anything like that,” Baron said. During many of his visits to Washington, Bezos didn’t even drop into the Post to say hello. The Post is once again profitable, and Bezos is reinvesting those profits. “Obviously, he doesn’t need the dividends,” Baron said.

When he took the reins, 580 people worked in the Post newsroom; soon there’ll be nearly twice that. Hundreds vie for openings there, but with formerly great papers in other cities stripped bare, Baron observed, certain positions — political reporters, foreign correspondents — are hard to fill.

He called the plight of smaller newspapers “the biggest crisis in American journalism,” one to which he plans to devote some of his retirement time. “I don’t think we can lose hope,” he said, noting that, not too long ago, the Post and New York Times faced equally dire predictions. With the right formula or investor, he said, the troubled New York Daily News might also rebound. “There’s certainly room for a good strong New York news organization, which the New York Times isn’t,” he said.

He declined an invitation to comment on the stormy departures of Times editorial page editor James Bennet and reporter Donald McNeil. “Oh, God. I’m not sure I want to get into the New York Times’s controversies, to tell you the truth,” he demurred. “I’ve had plenty of my own to deal with.”

For all the investigations he’s shepherded, Baron said, the “Spotlight” probe was his most personally meaningful, “simply because it had such a direct impact on ordinary people, people who had no power whatsoever, who were unable to grab the attention of law enforcement authorities, politicians, and the press.

“We all know that journalists are supposed to be investigating government and politics,” he said, “but it’s really important that we also investigate other powerful institutions in our society, and the Catholic Church was then the most powerful institution in Boston and in New England and one of the most powerful institutions in the world.”

Friends of Baron’s told him that “Spotlight” failed to capture his wit, though he confessed he hadn’t felt very funny at the time. “I was a newcomer to the Globe and to Boston, I was called an outsider, I was treated like one, and I felt like one,” he recalled. It has all the makings of a sequel. This time, Baron could play himself. And give himself some better lines.