28 August 2013

Progress Report 20: From Beyond the Deadline

Madeline was telling me the news. She was so pleased and so flattered, she said, to discover that Julie Harris would be playing the lead in the upcoming film The Madeline Kahn Story.

Harris died a few days ago. I didn’t have the heart to tell Madeline this. I did make some protest: “But Julie Harris isn’t a singer!”

“Oh, that doesn’t matter,” Madeline replied, and suddenly I wasn’t sure whether I’d misunderstood and gotten it backwards, and somehow Madeline might be playing the lead in The Julie Harris Story. A dream role, really, when you think about it.

But if Madeline was making another movie, this of course would mean that I’d have to do more research, possibly more interviews — and I awoke with a start.

Madeline worked in Santa Fe, too:
As Esperanza in Lucky Luke.

Yes, we’ve come to that point. The manuscript for the authorized biography is due in the hands of my editor in a very, very, very few days. For a few weeks, apart from the trip to Santa Fe earlier this month, I have barely left my desk. Dreaming is actually something of an achievement, because I haven’t been getting much sleep. I haven’t seen a barber since the beginning of the year, and since I can’t be bothered to shave more than once or twice a week, much of the time I look like late-stage Howard Hughes.

And yet it’s coming together, even as new information and new interviews have continued to come my way. Even in Santa Fe, I was working on the book whenever I wasn’t at the opera, and I landed long-awaited conversations with Jane Alexander, Madeline’s co-star in City Heat and The Sisters Rosensweig; and with Richard Fredericks, the Met and City Opera baritone who played Ravenal to Madeline’s Magnolia in a production of Show Boat in Sacramento, exactly 44 years ago.

Leads lead to more leads. For example, I had a terrific conversation with Maddie Corman, who played Madeline’s niece in the TV sitcom Mr. President. At one point, she said, “My mother-in-law worked with Madeline — do you want to talk to her?” And that’s how I reached Jane Alexander after all these years.

Talking to Jane Alexander really made my day.
Alexander with Clint Eastwood in City Heat.

Working down to the wire, I’ve also interviewed a few more members of Madeline’s family and Kevin Kline, her co-star in On the Twentieth Century; scored an urgently needed follow-up interview with Mel Brooks; and spoken with several people who worked behind the scenes with Madeline on any number of projects.

I’ve tracked down more newspaper and magazine articles, playbills and plays. Dorothy Danner, who directed the wonderful production of Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment in Fort Worth this spring, co-starred with Madeline in New Faces of 1968. She just happens to own a copy of the script from the show, and shared it with me. You’ll be amazed to learn what was and what wasn’t originally included in the running order.

And I’ve reviewed several of Madeline’s films, and seen for the first time the recently released Blu-Ray edition of At Long Last Love — no easy task when you don’t own a Blu-Ray player. And all of this while I’m wrestling with the actual writing of the book.

So I’m a little crazed right now. Hearing Madeline sing “You Don’t Love As I Do” in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother the other night, I got a little teary, in fact, and who knows what shape I’ll be in by the time I type the final period.

But Madeline Kahn in The Julie Harris Story! What a test of her talents to reenact scenes from everything from A Member of the Wedding and I Am a Camera to The Belle of Amherst and The Gin Game! Why, really, only one actress has ever managed to display such range.

No wonder Madeline couldn’t wait to tell me about it.

Maybe we could get James Franco to play James Dean
opposite Madeline in The Julie Harris Story.


Elizabeth A. said...

Go Bill go!!!!! We're all cheering you on from the cyber bleachers!

Ashley said...

Yay you did it! Congratulations!!!

William V. Madison said...

Thanks! I haven't quite done it yet, but I'm in the home stretch.

Anne said...

Amazing writing as always. You have made a progress report into a quest ,a detective story and a romp...love the dream!


Anonymous said...

Anymore updates on the madeline kahn book?