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Ted Mann. Cofounder of the Circle in the Square Theater. Producer. Director. Was at the epicenter of the Off-Broadway universe in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Was fundamental, along with Jose Quintero, in the rediscovery of Eugene O’Neill, at a time when his plays had long since been put away. A man who had the face of a gangster and the soul of a poet.
Those aren’t my words. James Earl Jones said them, about 7 hours ago, at Ted Mann’s memorial service.
Once upon a time, there were three families who lived in a New York apartment building: the Halls, the Gayneses, and the Manns. All the kids knew each other. We were in and out of each other’s apartments all the time.
Ted’s wife, Patricia Brooks, was an opera singer with the New York City Opera; she died in 1993. Ted’s sons, Andrew and Jonathan, were tremendous kids and have grown into interesting men with families of their own.
Mom did several plays at the Circle: La Ronde, The Balcony, The Last Analysis. Ted produced them all, and directed the last.
The memorial service took place at the current Circle, on Broadway, where it has been since 1972. Salome Gens, who worked with Mom in The Balcony, spoke of the plays she’d done with him. His daughter in law, Shondra Mann, sang a gorgeous gospel tune in amazing voice. Vanessa Redgrave, who used to stay in the Mann’s apartment when she came to town (and who became such good friends with one of the building’s doormen that she invited him to stay with her if he ever came to London, which of course he did, because wouldn’t you?) filmed a touching tribute. Robert Klein, best known as a comedian, got his break through Ted, who gave him a job when he was at Yale Drama, and when Klein said he didn’t want to go back to Yale, it was Ted who said: Don’t go, you’re good enough to become a professional, stay in New York. And he did.
Nice story. Another nice story, from Terrance McNally: Ted Mann produced his first play, And Things That Go Bump In The Night, at the Circle in 1964. Play opened to absolutely dreadful, show-killing reviews. McNally waited all day for the phone to ring, and finally it did, and it was Ted, who said here’s what we’re going to do. The show opened under budget, we’ll sell tickets for a dollar on weekdays and two on Saturdays, and we’ll see what happens. They kept the show open for three weeks, some people hated it, some people liked it. But McNally explained the real importance: if his first show had closed on opening night, he would have regarded it as such a catastrophic and humiliating failure that he would have never written another play. Ted kept that from happening.
And another, from James Earl Jones: when Jason Robards played Hickey in Iceman Cometh at the Circle, the great production that made his career, Robert Earl Jones was in the cast. Robert Earl Jones was James Earl Jones’s father (and thus Luke’s grandfather, but never mind). James Earl Jones saw the play a number of times, as one does when a parent is in it, and he was intimately acquainted with Robard’s performance as Hickey. So years later, when Ted Mann asked Jones to play Hickey, Jones was terrified he couldn’t do it—the Robards version was too ingrained in his consciousness. It was Mann who convinced him he could, and he did, and it worked.
And one more: not really an anecdote, just an image. Mann directing Glass Menagerie, with Tennessee Williams in the seats at rehearsals, accompanied by his sister Rose.
Now that’s a goddamn life.