We’re getting into a definite type of situation here…
My mother took me to see Jason Robards and Collen Dewhurst in Long Day’s Journey Into Night on Broadway for my seventeenth birthday. We went to a Wednesday afternoon matinee in late June, 1988. Before the show I interviewed for a summer job as a messenger at Sound One, at the time the biggest post-production film company on the east coast. Sound One rented out a majority of space in the Brill Building, the city landmark on 49th Street and Broadway.
The Brill Building in the 1930s and Today (New York Times)
The Brill Building was one of the homes to the music business dating back to the Tin Pan Alley Days. Neil Diamond, Laura Nyro and Carol King worked there in the Sixties. By the time I arrived, there were a just few holdovers from the music business—Paul Simon had a suite on the 5th floor—but it was mostly about film. Martin Scorsese had his offices there, so did Paul Schrader, and Lorne Michaels’ company, Broadway Video, ran most of what Sound One didn’t.
It is a small building, only 11 stories. Today, a skyscraper hotel sits to its right on the southwest corner of 49th street. Another skyscraper is across the street on the east side of Broadway between 49th and 50th. In 1988, there was a pornographic movie theater across the street on Broadway, another one on 49th between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, and yet another one on the east side of Broadway between 49th and 48th.
I got the job and spent many days during the hot New York summer walking between the Brill Building and the Technicolor lab down on 44th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenue, passing by hookers with bruised arms and legs and over empty crack vials in the cracks of the sidewalks.
There was one guy left over from the old days of the music business, guy named Benny Ross. He owned “St. Nicholas Music,” which had a dusty office on the sixth floor. St. Nicholas was famous for publishing Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. Benny was a nice man, shrunken little Jewish guy, always ready with a handshake and a kind word. “Hi,howareya?” He’d come upstairs to Sound One and get a cup of coffee and eat a slice of pound cake and schmooze-up whoever was in the vicinity. And he’d take the new messengers into his stuffy little office and offer up any of the dozens of free promotional records that were sent to him.
Benny was from the Old School, the vanishing show business world that is so affectionately depicted in Woody Allen’s 1984 comedy Broadway Danny Rose. Woody plays Danny Rose, a lovable lowlife theatrical manager, whose best act is Lou Canova, an Italian lounge singer. According to Sandy Morse, who edited all of Allen’s movies from Manhattan through Celebrity, they found Nick Apollo Forte, a real-life singer who plays Canova, in the 99-cent cutout bin at Colony Records, downstairs in the Brill Building. They were mixing the sound for Zelig at Sound One, came across a couple of Forte’s records and knew they had their man.
Broadway Danny Rose is all of a piece, a pastrami-on-rye sandwich shot in grainy black-and-white. It’s Allen’s gift to Mia Farrow and a fine tribute to the Broadway Area, from Damon Runyon through Sid Caesar, the Catskills all the way to the Joe Franklin Show.