By William Wolf


I have had professional dealings with press agent Susan L. Schulman for many years, and have always found her to be friendly and efficient as well as creative. I never thought about what she might have to reveal about her experiences. Now I know. The answer is plenty, as demonstrated in her entertaining and juicy new book, “Backstage Pass to Broadway—True Tales from a Theatre Press Agent.”

In addition to reporting on her life in the profession and dishing about those with whom she has worked, Schulman, still pursuing her craft, delivers information about the duties and skills required of a press representative. There are also tips for those who might want to try such a career.

The book reaches back to Schulman getting hooked on theater and getting started while very young. One thing is clear. Despite all the sophistication acquired along the way, she still retains a bit of perspective as a fan. She also can tell a story at her own expense. She still can’t believe that when Bob Fosse, taking turns dancing with cast members at a cast party, also danced with her, then told her she was a very good dancer, she replied in the excitement of the moment, “So are you, Bob.” Afterward she “felt like an idiot.”

Throughout her handling many top Broadway shows she followed the principle of a press agent having to stay in the background, but now she is getting her say. She has her villains and her heroes. She castigates Zero Mostel for his well known rude behavior, including his putting his hand on her breast while posing in a group photo. She paints a nasty picture of director John Dexter for alienating those who had to work with him, and offers critical digs at Lesley Ann Warren.

She enjoyed a friendship with Mary Martin, who was very kind to her. She admired Katherine Hepburn. Although Lauren Bacall has a reputation of being difficult, Schulman won her confidence by telling her the truth about situations and Schulman notes that Bacall insisted on her being the only one she would work with in the publicity office for “Applause.” Comments Schulman:

“'Applause’ was a happy company because backstage Betty Bacall assumed the role of Head Cheer Leader and Den Mother. Tough Betty disappeared as she walked through the Palace Theatre stage door and the cast and crew saw the kinder, gentler version.” Schulman described how if anyone were injured, the person would be taken to the star’s dressing room, where she would apply ice to an injured ankle and make appointments for the person with her personal physician.”

The book is chock full of stories about openings, disasters, backstage romances, insecurities, cruel treatment, kindnesses and assorted crises with names specified along the way. Schulman is not shy about taking credit for how she handled certain challenges, as well as being candid about when things went wrong.

One interesting show business story is how she sued David Merrick for money owed and won. Her portrait of Merrick in the latter days of his life is unsparing in showing the condition his health was in.

Schulman writes with flair and enthusiasm, and that makes for enjoyable reading. Also, you can stock up on theater tales to tell your friends. By the way, the appropriate cover designed by noted theater poster designer Frank Verlizzo (Fraver) is of a hand pulling back a theater curtain, which Susan Schulman certainly does. ($17.95 soft cover, Reviewed October 8, 2013.


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