Finally, someone has taken the time to write down some of these terrific stories. Long-time press agent, Susan L. Schulman has just released a new book, “Backstage Pass to Broadway” from Heliotrope Books. Schulman has perhaps one of the broadest backgrounds in publicity (she has done theatre, television, movies, individuals, and more.) She has a folksy story-telling style and boy does she have some great stories.
Press agents get to see the stars of their shows in good situations and bad. Some of them are easier to work with than others. Generally those folks aren’t the ones who make it into a book like this, but Schulman does tell of her long pen-pal relationship with Mary Martin.
Zero Mostel (center) with dresser Howard Rodney (right) and Susan (lower right). (From the author’s photo collection)
Schulman tells of working with the notoriously sexist Zero Mostel on the Broadway show, The Merchant. He never made it to Broadway and died out of town (as opposed to the show, which kept on going and probably shouldn’t have). In the picture shown here, Schulman tells how Mostel had just grabbed her breast moments before the photo was taken. His antics would never be tolerated now.
Not only is Schulman’s book full of great stories, it’s also an excellent primer for would-be press agents. Schulman dedicates a chapter just to “What Does a Press Agent Do” (though the whole book is full of that type of information). She addresses how to professionally represent a show and find its correct audience. If you start with that, as she says, “the others will, hopefully, follow.”
Schulman understands the actor’s psyche and understands how to handle them, sometimes with kid gloves if need be. “The very qualities an actor needs to find the truth in a character — sensitivity and vulnerability — are the direct opposite of the toughness and drive they need to succeed.”
When Schulman was asked to promote America’s first reality show on PBS, “An American Family,” in a way that was sensationalistic, she left the job rather than comply. “I quit my job at Channel 13 when I was specifically instructed by my boss to book Lance on the Dick Cavett Show wearing a dress.”
This book is a delightful read. How wonderful to have someone else to corroborate the stories that could only happen in the theatre.