…It was built in 1904 so it’s a reasonable bet that the inaugural performance in the building was a little show called Little Johnny Jones. Never heard of it? Me neither, but it starred a guy you might know, George M. Cohan. The show featured a song you might have heard once or twice, “Give My Regards to Broadway”.
So, the first time people paid to hear someone sing that song, the first time that song was sung professionally, it was in that house.
I think they built a little statue of Cohan, somewhere around, no, I’m sorry, in the heart of Times Square. And they want to put another store where he first sang that song.
In 1924, 20 years later, a couple of guys named George and Ira Gershwin opened their latest, Lady Be Good. I wasn’t familiar with that one either, but it starred a young man named Fred Astaire.
Him, I know. He sang, danced and worked on that stage in that house.
The critics must not have been that good to Lady Be Good, because the following year, 1925, the Gershwin boys opened up another show in that house, something called Tip-Toes. Jeanette Macdonald showed up for work every night for Tip-Toes, put on her makeup and stared into her mirror down in the dressing rooms, climbed up the stairs every night at 7:50 and went out and worked on that stage.
But I guess it’s all the same that 83 years later that same house is going to be a place where you can buy over-sized pants and wool caps. Because where else are you going to be able get those things in Manhattan?
… Sitting there, kind of dirty and silent, a little apologetic and old-fashioned, like a great man grown old and poor and forgotten by his friends and family.
Sitting there in the middle of Times Square, unsure what to make of the Applebees and the McDonalds that have elbowed him out of the way.
Some things are right and some things are wrong. It’s almost never that clear, but sometimes it is.
That house belongs to us. It doesn’t belong to Ecko Unlimited or Howard Johnson’s or Ben and Jerry’s or any other corporation or group of businessmen, honorable or otherwise.
It belongs to the American theater. It belongs to the people of New York City. It belongs to the memory of George M. Cohan and Dorothy Fields and Fred Astaire and Jeanette MacDonald and Bill Robinson.
Legally, it belongs to Forrest City Realty, who leased it from the State of New York for the next 89 years or so, along with the rest of the block. But they seem to be having some trouble moving it and what with the Recession rolling in, the Big Money might go underground for a little while, leaving the rest of us to weather it out.
We need to figure this one out and get that house back. We can figure out what we’re going to do with it once we get it along the way, but we first need to get it back.