June 15, 2009

FIVE NIGHTS A WEEK:

Sammy Davis Jr. — Black and White On the Silver Screen? (Andrea Shea King, Big Hollywood)

Who is Burt Boyar? And why does he care?

The treasure hunt for answers begins on Broadway, circa 1954 when Burt and his wife Jane were moving within the inner circle of New York City’s theater district. His daily column “Burt Boyar’s Broadway,” a widely read ‘who’s who’ of the theatrical world, was prominently positioned on the front page of the Morning Telegraph.

The Boyars were hitting the hot spots — the El Morocco, the Copa, the Latin Quarter, the Stork Club — gleaning tantalizing tidbits to toss to ten million readers as they sipped their morning coffee over the morning news. “Burt Boyar’s Broadway” was published in every Newhouse and Annenberg newspaper. A mere mention in the column was gold, shining nuggets of priceless publicity coveted by actors and their press agents. Manhattan’s most sought after couple were out every evening. “Jane and I would go to every nightclub in town to see who was around and form the basis of what I was writing about. We went to virtually everything,” Boyar begins.

“In fact, we were on the ‘first night’ list, which was a wonderful thing and often a horrible thing at the same time. Every show that opened, we automatically received tickets for opening night and we had our same seats, just like all the critics. And you think, ‘My gosh, how glamorous can you be? You go to every theater opening in New York!’ But if you think about it, there are some 200 shows every year. Of them, there are maybe five hits. And you have to sit through every one of the others. You cannot imagine what it was like. You sit there wondering, ‘How did they ever pay for this? Who would put up money to finance this? How do we get out of here?’ But you couldn’t leave early, because then you’d be accused of writing about something you hadn’t seen,” he jokes.

Boyar also wrote a weekly column for TV Guide. “I had a lot of audience and so naturally I got invited everywhere,” he says.

At about this time, Sammy Davis, Jr. was performing in “Mr. Wonderful,” a dog of a show that was getting lousy reviews — except for the last 40 minutes when Davis was onstage. Critics loved his Vegas-Copa-Miami Beach nightclub act. Boyar took note, and rang him up.

“When I called Sammy, he said, ‘What do you say we have dinner one night?’ So that very night we went out to dinner, Jane, Sammy and I, to Danny’s Hideaway, which was a theatrical steak house. It’s closed now but it was a very hot spot in those days. As dinner was coming to an end, he excused himself and said, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve gotta go do the show, but what do you say we have dinner…’ And he thought a second and then he said, ‘how about having dinner five nights a week?’ And as it turned out, we had dinner seven nights a week!” It would be the beginning of a long friendship.


Our interview with Mr. Boyar appears here.



Posted by Orrin Judd at June 15, 2009 6:11 AM
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