By Michele Willens
There was a time — in the first decade of the 2000s — when some of the best off-Broadway shows reached into the West 70s. Two venues in particular — the Promenade (W.76th) and the Arclight (W. 71st) — gave locals the chance to enjoy actors like Alan Arkin, Eileen Atkins, Eli Wallach, Alan Bates, and Anne Jackson up close and personal. Longtime Upper West Sider Julian Schlossberg often garnered the talent and produced the shows.
Schlossberg, now 81, spent his first 50 years right here, growing up in three different apartments, eventually landing at the San Remo. (He currently lives an hour out of the city.) “When I was a taxi driver, working my way through NYU, I used to pass that building and dream about living there one day,” he told me in a phone interview. He also dreamed of being part of the entertainment world and made that happen with what he calls “West Side chutzpah.”
For example, he quietly (he thought) stalked the legendary director Elia Kazan, until Kazan stopped him one day and asked why he was being followed. “I offered to take no money; I just wanted to hang around and learn from him,” recalls Schlossberg. He ended up working for Kazan as well as Mike Nichols (who called Schlossberg the nicest guy in the business), Elaine May, and others: doing various jobs, making his way to the top.
He worked in film, radio, and television, but his true love remained live theater. He produced Bullets Over Broadway and others on the big stages, but remained passionate about reaching more people in the smaller venues, especially in his own ‘hood. Besides bringing shows to the Promenade, which closed in 2006, there was the day, he recalls, when “my wife and I were walking on 71st and Broadway, and saw a sign that said Arclight. I had no idea what it was. We entered a beautiful church and went downstairs. There was a basement with a stage and I rented it for a year. Upper West Siders Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson agreed to do Tennessee Williams Remembered there and we went on to do four others that year.”
To celebrate the recent publication of Schlossberg’s memoir, Try Not to Hold It Against Me. A Producer’s Life, there was an event at Sardis on W. 44th Street. Marlo Thomas, whom Schlossberg calls his pretend sister (he was an only child) read a section of the book, as did actors F. Murray Abraham, Tony Roberts, and Laila Robins. The book is a dishy read, filled with necessary name-dropping. (A guy named Harvey Weinstein asked for advice — professional, not personal.)
Readers will also get tips on negotiations — making things happen and not giving up. “Even after someone said no, I’d say, ‘well, can you just look at the first reel?’” says Schlossberg. (That’s how he got Orson Welles’ Othello film done.) He has had countless meals at Café Luxembourg, where deals were proposed and made. That’s where he and Al Pacino had a long debate about the play Orphans. One can learn a lot about the art of producing just reading about that lunch.
Schlossberg admits he can’t always remember names and dates — “I do know I was 13 at my Bar Mitzvah” — but he’s not done yet. Mini scoop: he is working on a project about Norman Mailer, with F. Murray Abraham and Laila Robins.
Michele Willens’ radio report, “Stage Right…or Not “airs weekly on the NPR affiliate Robinhoodradio.com
Thank you, very interesting. Must rush out and buy the book!
Julian Schlossberg?! I used to work for him when I first moved to NYC in 1976 and was a receptionist at Paramount Pictures.
Is Julian Schlossberg related to the Schlossberg family that lived at 101 Central Park West in the 1950’s?
Thank you for the wonderful film classes at SVA (School of Visual Arts) . You Graciously shared your expertise with many eager students
I had the pleasure of meeting Julian Schossberg several years ago when I worked at Thirteen, as an assistant to an Executive Director. Unfortunately, there were complications bringing the show to TV, but what a joy it was to engage him in conversation. Truly a warm, and witty gentleman! So happy to hear about his book and look forward to reading it.