“Hollywood: Sometimes the Reality is Better than the Dream”
Evita meets Hollywood & Aaron Spelling 1978
When “Evita” opened on June 21st 1978 at the Prince Edward Theatre, it was an overnight smash. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber had their biggest hit to date. The play starred Elaine Paige as “Evita Peron”, Josh Ackland as “Juan Peron” and David Essex as “Che” and Hal Prince directed this masterpiece.
I was in London on business later that year and was having dinner with my two special friends, Janet Suzman, star of the Royal Shakespeare Company (and Oscar nomination for “Nicolas And Alexander”) and her husband, director, Trevor Nunn (Cats and Le Miserables Director) at the Ivy restaurant, in the heart of the West End, London’s famous theatre row.
Listening to them speak about “who’s who” and what was the latest “Smash” on the West End and what and why this play and that play “crashed” it was like listening to the BBC news report.
“Budd,” Janet said, as she was finishing her cognac and coffee, “you must go and see Evita before you leave, it’s a must!” “But Shakespeare (my name for her), I am on the TWA red-eye
back to Beverly Hills tomorrow night.” “Well, go to the box office tomorrow before noon and get yourself a seat, even in the balcony or SRO, but go!”
Trevor nodded and said that David Essex steals the show playing “Che” and to hear Elaine Paige sing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” will bring tears to your eyes. I thanked my loving friends for a great dinner and took their advice and found myself getting out of a cab in front of the Prince Edward Theater around noon the next day. As I approached the box office, there hung a sign, over the head of a very old ticket seller, “TODAY’S PERFORMANCE SOLD OUT.” “Sold out?” I said to him. He pointed with a wiggling finger above him, without saying a word, hard at work with what looked like a week old London Times crossroad puzzle and a pen in his shaking hand, not even looking up at me. “Sir (that got his attention), you don’t understand, I know Trevor Nunn and Janet Suzman from the Royal Shakespeare Company and they said that I must see this play. I am leaving tonight for the States and I can’t go without seeing “Evita”. He looked up for a brief second and said softly, “Sorry,” and pointed up to the sign one more time.
“Shit,” I said, hoping he heard me as I walked away from his box office. I found myself pacing back and forth at the front of the Prince Albert Theater, like someone that was protesting the fact that the play was sold out and I could not get a ticket. Me, a famous agent from Hollywood. I noticed a pub, “The Iron Horse” across the street and decided to run across and do some serious planning. I could see the logo of “Evita” about the entrance to the theater. I decided to order a Shandy (draft beer and lemonade) and think this one out. The lady bartender was serving the couple next to me a Shepherd’s Pie which looked really good and all I had when I left the houseboat this morning was a large piece of French bread and some Spanish Machego cheese that was left out from the cocktail party Robert had had the night before. I’ll have one of those, as I pointed to his plate. “Coming up, Duckie,” she said through her smoked stained teeth. The pub was filling up as it got closer to lunch with those that are heading to see “Evita” without me, I said to myself. I had just finished my second Shandy and the Shepard Pie that looked better than it tasted.
It was now 1:30 pm, as I crossed the street again to the theater. I almost bought it as I was not thinking as I was looking the wrong way as he hit his brakes. I went back up to the box office window and slowly pulled out my wallet. I took out my Burton Moss Agency card and a U.S. five dollar bill and handed both to him at the same time. “Sir,” I said again as he was taken aback by the bribe. “Please give this card to Ms. Paige and tell her I have to see the play today, as I am on a flight back to America tonight. I could see him picking up what looked like a house phone and spoke for the first time, “Archie, can you come to the box office?” Within a few minutes, an aging Stage Door man, in an aging blue jacket with several gold buttons missing appeared from out of nowhere. He handed him my business card and pointed to me, standing quietly near the billboard of the play. He nodded and headed back to nowhere with my card in his right hand, limping along.
It was now 1:40 pm and then 1:50 pm, as I was giving up hope and wished I had not given the old man at the box office the five dollars. All of a sudden, as I looked at my Cartier watch, that
read 1:59 pm, Archie appeared from out of nowhere with a ticket in his shaking hand and said, “Compliments from Ms. Paige and is expecting you backstage after today’s performance.” I thanked him and told him to tell Ms. Paige that I would be there. I did not have another five dollar bill to give him and did not want to hand him a twenty that I had tucked in my wallet and ask for change. What a shock as I was lead to my seat by a heavyset, rather small lady. I was seated in the fifth row center. I said to myself, “Job well done, Budd.”
What then took place for the next hour and a half was one of my greatest experiences in the theater. From the first sound of the inspiring music to Che coming out on the stage and unraveling the story of Evita, I was mesmerized. I was transported to a Buenos Aires almost instantly. By the time the curtain came down, I found myself mentally and physically exhausted. I could honestly place “Evita” in the top 10 of all the musicals I had seen over a 50 year period, and I did see some of the great ones. I saw an usher standing close by as I was heading for the front door. I told her that I was a guest of Ms. Paige and wanted to go backstage. She took a quick glance at me to make sure I was for real and said, “Come this way, it is a shortcut and you don’t have to go outside.” She walked toward the stage and on the right behind some aging maroon velvet curtains, a small doorway opened, that took you right into the backstage area and for a fleeting moment I found myself standing right where ‘Evita” sang, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”. We were now at the stage door and she announced to the old backstage man with some of the brass button on what looked like his world one uniform still missing. “I am Budd Moss and Ms. Paige is expecting me.” He then realized that I was the Hollywood agent that he had given the ticket to. He buzzed down on his interphone, “Mr. Moss is here,” as if I was Laurence Olivier. “Prudence is on her way to collect you!” Prudence had to look like she was in her sixties and looked almost like Edna May Oliver, a film star going back to the 30’s and 40’s. She was out of breath taking the stairs two at a time, so I wouldn’t be kept waiting. “This way, please, Ms. Paige is looking forward to meeting you, Sir!” Prudence led me into a small sitting room, if you can call it that, and then disappeared. Out came Elaine Paige, as attractive as she was, there was no resemblance to that giant star on stage singing, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”. “What a powerful performance, Ms. Paige, and thank you for the ticket. Please let me pay you for it.” “Don’t be silly, especially if you are really a Hollywood agent. Tell me how you got here this afternoon.” I told her of my long relationship with Janet Suzman and Trevor Nunn. She knew them both and had admired their great work at The Royal Shakespeare Company over the years. Little did we both know that one day Elaine was going to star in one of England’s other great musicals, “CATS” directed by Trevor Nunn.
We chatted for a few moments about Hollywood and about The Burton Moss Agency. She had a dream to go to Hollywood and be in the movies and I told her it would be an honor to represent her. We exchanged phone numbers and fax info and I promised I would stay in touch with her and she promised she would send me headshots and resumes. I told her of my friendship with Hal Prince over the years, and was going to call him the first thing Monday to tell him about her and one of the truly great performances. “Promise now, you’ll find a movie for me love!” “I will do my best Ms. Paige.” “Call me Elaine, please!” A small handshake that lead to a kiss on the cheek and I was back in a cab to my houseboat on the Thames to get my luggage
and head to Heathrow. The flight back to Los Angeles was a long one but filled with fond memories of my London trip, Robert Vaughn’s charming houseboat on the Thames, the swans and ducks, knocking at the side of the boat, requesting their breakfast in the early mornings, a most fortuitous dinner with Janet and Trevor taking their advice to run, don’t walk to see “Evita” before I left London.
Back in LA, I could not wait to tell Carolyn about the play and how I wished that I could have at least one client in this brilliant musical. My first day back in the office, I called Hal Prince’s office and left word that I was calling regarding “Evita”. His secretary said Hal was traveling but would get back to me when he returned to New York. It was just a few days later that he called. I went on and on with Hal and told him how I came about going to see his musical at the suggestion of Janet and Trevor. He was pleased that I called and even remembered to ask how Ruth Roman was. I promised him that on my next trip to New York I would come and see him and looked forward to seeing “Evita” again. If I thought the London production was a masterpiece, I was overwhelmed by Patti Lu Pone as “Eva Peron”. She was truly one of the most exciting actresses in the American Musical Theatre and an unknown actor to me. Mandy Patinkin as “Che” almost walked away with the show along with Bob Gunton as “Juan Peron.” Hal Prince directed both the London production and the New York production that officially opened in 1979 and played 1,579 performances and closed in 1983. It was during late 1978-1979 that plans were being put together for the first of many National Tours around the world. As casting lists were being put together both in New York and Hollywood, I had done some research about some of my clients that could sing, and I remembered that Jon Cypher had an excellent voice. Jon Cypher had some excellent Broadway credits, having appeared in several successful musicals. I remember Jon starring in a TV special of “Cinderella” with Leslie Ann Warren playing the handsome “Prince Charming”. As casting was ready to see actors for the National Tour, I suggested to Jon that having seen the play at least three times that I thought that he would be perfect to play “Peron”. Jon had mixed emotions about doing a National Tour. He would have rather auditioned for the replacements coming up for the New York Company. Jon finally agreed to audition for Hal Prince, after he saw the play, and after the fourth time, Hal told him that he would love to have him join the company when it starts up in Los Angeles.
(Photos Courtesy of Playbill, Charles Young Research Library for the Performing Arts/UCLA)