Today is the 93rd birthday of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning lyricist Sheldon Harnick, whose works include Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, She Loves Me, the Apple Tree and much more.
Several years back, I interviewed him for my radio program at Northwestern University, when he returned to the school to be Grand Marshal for homecoming. I turned the interview into a half-hour radio documentary and wanted to get him a copy of the tape, but didn't know how. When I move out to Los Angeles for graduate school, I brought the tape with me, figuring I might meet someone someday who would know Sheldon, and know how to get the tape to him.
About 15-20 years passed, and I actually became friends with someone, the lovely Treva Silverman (herself a two-time Emmy-winner) who knew "dear Sheldon," as she referred to him and had his address. Finally! Persistence paid off!
That weekend, calling home to Chicago, I brought up the story to my mother and told her that I had finally found someone who knew Sheldon Harnick. "Oh," my mother said, "you mean Aunt Joan?"
It turned out that my Aunt and Sheldon and grown up together in Chicago, were very close, and even went to Northwestern together. In fact, a famous family story (which I had never heard) was that when he had made his decision to move to New York to try and have a life there, my Aunt's mother said, "Oh, Sheldon, do you think one can have a career in the theater?"
I wrote him -- from the address Treva gave him -- sent along the radio documentary after all those years, finally, and also mentioned who my aunt was, When he wrote a letter back, the very first line was, "Joan Sered! Oh, my God!"
We didn't stay in communication, those years later, thanks to a Huffington Post article I wrote about Fiorello!, we did get back in touch and became email buddies of a sort, and even met up back in Glencoe where I grew up and the wonderful Writers Theatre was putting on a production of his She Loves Me. (Side note: it starred Jessie Mueller, who went on to win the Tony Award, playing Carole King in the musical Beautiful a few years ago.) And I coordinated schedules so that my Aunt could come to the same performance, where she and Sheldon had a chance to meet and have a joy visit for the first time in decades.
Anyway, in his honor, here's an interview he did a few years back when he was 86 on the New York cable show. Theater Talk, and he performs one of his songs (wonderfully...-- he has occasionally performed a little cabaret act of his material) with Kate Baldwin. (Side note: Baldwin put out a CD of her singing Sheldon Harnick songs, and a couple of years ago appeared in the New York Encores! production of his Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Fiorello!)
And as a bonus, here is Zero Mostel, recreating his role as Tevye on the 1971 Tony Awards, six years after opening in Fiddler on the Roof, and singing "If I Were a Rich Man.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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