There are several subplots involving Broadway in the third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the TV series on Amazon Prime. Little of it rings true.
Now, much of this is exaggeration for comic effect, an approach the show takes with other subjects as well (such as Jewish people.) That’s certainly true of the storyline involving Mrs. Maisel’s rival Sophie Lennon, the wildly popular, villainous comedian portrayed by Jane Lynch. Sophie hires Mrs. Maisel’s agent, Susie Meyerson (Alex Borstein) to get her on Broadway – in the title role of August Strindberg’s tragedy “Miss Julie. ” Susie, who had no idea who Strindberg was, sets about to please her new client. She calls up the two hottest producers on Broadway pretending to be Katharine Hepburn to get them to meet her in a coffee shop. In real life, Hepburn eventually did return to Broadway, in 1970 after an absence of two decades, so it seem nitpicking to point out that she would be unlikely to call the producers directly — and so they would not be hoodwinked into showing up for a meeting with her at a coffee shop. And it might peg a theater aficionado as humorless to find offensive that Susie hires two thugs to strong-arm the management of a Broadway theater to evict Julie Andrews’ latest musical to make room for Sophie’s “Miss Julie” — although it does seem to cross the line when the thugs act like Broadway insiders, talking about their acquaintanceship with Broadway artists like Agnes de Mille, and saying “You’d be surprised how much theater work we do.” And it’s just plain silly to find it annoying that the TV series creators don’t seem to understand some basic facts about Broadway, such as the difference between the first preview and the opening night.
But there is one scene in the season that is not meant to be comic, and is just wrong.
While vacationing in Miami, Mrs. Maisel’s father Abe Weissman (Tony Shalhoub) hangs out with an old friend, Asher Friedman (portrayed by Jason Alexander), who now runs a bait shop on the beach in Miami, because he was blacklisted on Broadway:
“I gave the theater all I have and it sent me away,” Asher says. “I was one of the most successful playwrights on Broadway. Every one of my shows made money. I won the Pulitzer Prize. The critics hailed me as the American Chekhov. And then one schmuck calls me a Communist and poof – over. My friends – gone. My producer, my agent – gone. Twenty years to build a life, two months to watch it go. The theater broke my heart.”
Asher Friedman is a fictional character, but he’s unlikely to be based on a real playwright. Writers and actors weren’t blacklisted from Broadway. Indeed, blacklisted artists, like Zero Mostel, found refuge on Broadway, as the recent book Broadway and the Blacklist makes clear.
One thing about Broadway in season 3 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is certainly true — Abe says at one point “Broadway today. It’s run by bean counters. Cowards. It should be more.” — but, since the show is set in 1960, perhaps the “today” is a couple of decades too early.