Director Rick McKay Pans for Broadway Gold
from the 9/15/04 issue of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Broadway: The Golden Age poster, Director Rick McKay with Bona Fide Legend Angela Lansbury and with
the author after a Chicago screening
I caught up with Rick McKay, the man responsible for practically everything to do with creating the amazing
documentary Broadway: The Golden Age as he was just stepping off a plane in the Denver
International Airport terminal. The openly gay McKay, 44, had just made a stop to promote the film and was
on his way to another that evening. We talked about the film that has taken up seven years of his life as he
headed to the baggage claim area, hopped into a cab, checked into his hotel and headed to his room for a quick
nap. The term “labor of love” was invented for this man and this project – and his enthusiasm was still
apparent after spending a year on the road supporting the movie. The results will be on display for one week
only beginning this Friday, September 17th at the Landmark Century Cinema. McKay will also be around until
Saturday night after the screenings for Q&A’s with audience members. www.broadwaythemovie.com for
more info on the film.
WCT: When I read up on your background I thought to myself, “This guy is my soul brother…” I saw the film
last night and it’s wonderful.
RM: Thank you, Richard – coming from my soul brother that means a lot (chuckles).
WCT: First of all, why did you want to make this film?
RM: I kind of slipped into it. I think that being completely naïve and not knowing what I was getting into
helped me. I never sat down on paper and said, ‘I want to interview 140 people’ which is what I ended up
with, and go to 14 cities, take five years and then a year and a half promoting the film. I started to make this
piece about this theatre mural in Times Square for this arts program I worked on for public television in New
York. When that piece fell through a friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you interview some of the stars in the
mural?’ and once I started I kept thinking to myself, ‘Why has nobody done this before?’
WCT: It is pretty amazing that nothing like this has ever been documented. So you started in 1997 with
Patricia Morrison from “Kiss Me Kate” and Barbara Cook who I adore and interviewed years ago.
RM: Barbara’s been a big help. She just got Hugh Jackman for me for the sequel.
WCT: You got to Barbara Cook through your friend, her musical director, Wally Harper, right?
RM: Yes, Barbara I had known through Wally and Joan Kobin, who’s in the film. She’s the last of the great
singing teachers and through her I got to Farley Granger who told me that the only reason that he did Around
The World In 80 Days is because Mike Todd the producer lied and told him he had all the other people which
he didn’t. That inspired me to send everyone letters and mention all the people that were doing the film. I
would make up people and mention people that I didn’t think they would know and hope it wouldn’t get back to
WCT: Wasn’t Angela Lansbury someone who initially turned you down?
RM: Oh yes. I said at the end of the interview, ‘I’m so grateful to you for doing this’ and she said, ‘I would
never have missed it. If I had seen this in a movie theatre it would have broken my heart if I hadn’t been
here. I’m ashamed of myself, but I think I turned this down once, didn’t I?’ and I said, ‘No, Miss Lansbury, you
did not – you turned it down four times.’
WCT: Tell me about filming Bea Arthur.
RM: Well, I arrived at her house and she’s in the bathroom getting made up and she said, ‘Figure out where
you want to shoot’ so I settled on the living room and she said, ‘Oh great, well I didn’t hear the film crew, did
you let them in?’ and I said, ‘Well, there is no crew’ and she said, ‘Well is this an interview for a magazine or
something? Why am I doing hair and make-up?’ and I said, ‘No, it’s a movie’ and she said, ‘Well, where are all
the people?’ and I said, ‘It’s just me’ and she said, ‘I’m not doing this without lights.’ ‘Well, I brought lights,’ I
said and she said, ‘Is there a sound man?’ ‘I’m doing the sound’ and her eyes narrowed, ‘Who’s running the
camera?’ ‘I’m running the camera – I’m the cinematographer, too’ and she said, ‘I shudder to ask who is
interviewing me?’ and I raised my hand and said, ‘I’m doing that also.’ I’ll never forget this. She looked over
her shoulder up at the make-up lady and said, ‘What the fuck did I get into?’ and I reassured her it would be
fine. An hour later she had ended up having a great time. She went from almost not doing the interview to
helping me out.
WCT: And she wasn’t the only one like that, right?
RM: Oh there were many who were hesitant at first. I found out later that when I arrived alone to interview
Carol Burnett the publicist went upstairs to Carol’s room and said, ‘Carol, I screwed up, this guy that wrote
you this letter sweet talked me…there’s no movie crew, it’s just a guy with a movie camera alone.’ Carol said,
‘Oh my God, the letter was so good’ – this was after she’d turned me down three times. So the make-up girl
came downstairs and asked me all these questions about my equipment because by that time I’d built a
monitor on a gooseneck arm and I had a remote control I’d taken apart with a screw driver and taped it back
together on the handle of the tripod so I could really do everything without ever taking my eyes off the
interview subject. I explained this to her and I thought, ‘Oh, how cute, she wants to learn how to work all this
stuff.’ Little did I know that she went back upstairs and said, ‘Carol, you’d better do this interview – this guy
is the future of film – this is where it’s going.’ So she did it – intending to give me five minutes – and ended up
giving me more than an hour.
WCT: You’ve obviously got a ton of material that didn’t make it into the movie – will that show up on a DVD?
RM: Well I do have a lot of wonderful stuff. The DVD people are interested in a sequel for next year. There
will be 20 minutes on this DVD from “Broadway: The Next Generation” with Jason Alexander, Patti LuPone,
Audra McDonald, Daisy Eagen, and Betty Buckley talking about fighting for the job in “Cats.” After five
auditions she said, ‘Listen, Mr. MacIntosh, I know there are many people who can do this job as well as I can
in this city but NOBODY can do it better.’
WCT: What was different about Broadway shows back then?
RM: I think “Pajama Game” represents in a weird way what the film is about because it’s a show that was
about something so contemporary at the time. It wasn’t supposed to last 20 years. The shows were meant to
run that year and make everyone some money; they didn’t have to be something so generic that they ran
forever and could play in every country. If I was producing I’d try to get writers to do something topical about
reality shows where six people from different parts of the country are all obsessed with getting on this reality
show in the first act and the second act is having to compete in this thing. It could run a year and be gone.
WCT: “The Apprentice: The Musical.”
RM: (laughs) Can you imagine going to see a Broadway show that was about something that was on the
news that day?
WCT: It would be very interesting.
RM: Well, that’s the way it was. People went to the theatre to find out what they were supposed to wear.
Women onstage had on the newest fashions and the music was what you were hearing on the radio. They
were creating the pop music for the whole world.
WCT: Which your film reminds us of, the cultural impact of Broadway. Did anyone talk about Our People?
The gay and lesbian hangouts?
RM: No! I used to beat myself up about that and think, ‘Why do I not have any gay angle in this?’ and the
bottom line, oddly enough, is that it wasn’t a gay industry. There were a lot of gay guys dancing in the chorus
and I suppose some gay leading men but the audience was not – there weren’t show tune queens any more
than there weren’t movie queens – because old movies weren’t old movies yet. As the world began to change
in the late 1960s that kind of nostalgia started where people would quote Bette Davis movies and sing show
tunes. In the DVD I do have Tommy Walsh talking about the tremendous effect AIDS had on theatre. He says,
‘Think about if Michael Bennett were here he’d be doing something better than “A Chorus Line.”’
WCT: Well, in some ways that “But Alive” number in the gay bar from “Applause” must have been shocking in
1970 and broken down a few barriers.
RM: It’s a fascinating subject. I did talk to someone who’s not in the film about this. The chorus boys had to
talk some of the girls into going out with them to the bars afterward because if there wasn’t one girl for every
two guys in the bar the vice squad could shut it down as a gay bar. That’s how closeted they had to be – they
even had to bring women to their own gay bars! It was very much a closeted world. I just found some rare
footage that is backstage at “Funny Girl” that hints at that.
WCT: Sign me up for that!
RM: It’s someone’s birthday and Barbra’s at the party and she’s got her little poodle and her Twiggy hairdo
and she’s in her turtleneck. You can see right away who the Friends of Dorothy are in the cast. There’s
something timeless about the way they look at the camera with this knowing smirk, this total attitude and one
guy is shown all the time and then you realize that it had to be shot by his boyfriend or something. That to me
is a crack in the wall of history where you can peek in and see that this is a story. In fact, I think I’ve figured
out who the guy is and I’m going to try and track him down.
WCT: That sounds like a terrific idea for your next documentary. People must be coming out of the woodwork
after seeing the film.
RM: The email is unbelievable. One guy wrote me and said, ‘I can’t tell you the effect your movie had on me.
I was Young Patrick’s best friend in the original company of “Mame” and I would love to tell you about
opening night. It could only happen in a theatre. The applause was so powerful that you could feel the wind
blowing us backwards on the stage and I’m not exaggerating. It was that physically powerful.’
WCT: So this has got to be just amazing validation for you – this reaction to the film.
RM: Well, part of me feels like the last vaudevillian – like Archie Rice in “The Entertainer.” While other
filmmakers are having a normal life, making deals for their next movie, I feel so passionate about this one I
have to try to help it. I’m going to have to take a job soon to keep eating but it won’t have the same affect as
Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...