What The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Gets Wrong About Broadway

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 seems 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.




Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

6 thoughts on “What The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Gets Wrong About Broadway

  1. I believe this was a reference to the blacklisting of writers and performers in Hollywood and Broadway during the McCarthy Era. Some people with outspoken socialist views were targeted as communists in the decades after WWII.

    1. Yes, Arthur Miller certainly had trouble with HUAC and in Hollywood, as recounted in his memoir Timebends. But the article to which you link just seems ignorant about the theater. (One clue is that the writer doesn’t sound as if she had ever heard of Arthur Miller, author of “Death of A Salesman,” before writing that article.) Miller simply wasn’t “blacklisted from employment in theater.” After “The Crucible” in 1953, his plays “A View from the Bridge” and “Memory of Two Mondays” were produced on Broadway in 1955.
      “Mrs. Maisel” might have borrowed a few minor details about Miller (like his middle name), but it creates a fictional character who was unable to find work in the theater — “The theater broke my heart” — and who gives up writing, moving to Miami to run a bait shop on the beach. This in no way resembles what happened to Miller. But more importantly, as I have explained in the post and in a previous reply, it gives a misleading impression about the role of the theater in the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s. To repeat what I said, the artists who were blacklisted in TV, movies and the radio found refuge in the theater. Prime examples: Zero Mostel, and Joseph Papp.
      Please read “Broadway and the Blacklist,” or at least read my review of it (the link is in my post). I’ll quote from a paragraph in my review:
      “the 1955 HUAC investigation of Broadway…took place over four days at the federal courthouse in Foley Square downtown….23 theater artists testified, 22 of whom refused to answer questions – none of whom were subjected to any Broadway blacklist as a result. Indeed, theater served as a refuge for those entertainers who had been blacklisted by the movie, radio and television industries. In fact, Actors Equity Association took a stand on behalf of its members against blacklisting, condemning it “in all its forms” in a resolution, and succeeded in putting anti-blacklist language in its basic agreement with the League of New York Theaters. This is in sharp contrast to the unions for the blacklisted industries, the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA, which actually supported blacklisting its members. (SAG didn’t eliminate its requirement that members sign a loyalty oath until 1974!)”

  2. Actually, the Agnes de Mille reference is largely based in fact. The opening night of Oklahoma! was notoriously undersold, as the show was a big risk for producers and creatives involved. De Mille, and everyone else, was told to get as many people in seats as possible, and it was de Mille who even grabbed people off the streets just before curtain. Even the joke “could she hold a grudge” was true. For decades after OK!, de Mille talked openly in interviews about R&H’s “greed,” and claimed the sexuality of Laurey’s dream ballet was her idea, despite archives of Hammerstein’s dated notes showing it was in his vision before she was hired.

    1. I have no doubt that Agnes de Mille was difficult/colorful, but what are you saying?! That she hired mobsters to threaten/beat up people and bully them into her shows? Do you have a link to a reputable source for that? That’s the part that I said crossed the line.

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