Accessibly Live Off-Line Review of TAMING THE LION
Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents the world premier of Jack Rushen’s TAMING THE LION, the backstory of a conflict between a movie star and the studio moguls upon the star’s acting off camera than on.
The year is 1933. The setting is Culver City, California, just a redcar ride away from Hollywood. The studio is Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, run by Louis B. Meyer (Jeffrey Winner). One of the many stars working at the studio is leading man William Haines (Landon Beatty) who’s been under contract since the silent days. It seems that Louie B. along with fellow studio head Irving Thalberg (Kevin Dulude) holds a concern with their star over the fact that he is of the homosexual persuasion, a trait the studio won’t tolerate. In order to snuff out the rumors that’s been going around, they arrange a plot for William to “date” and eventually marry one of the stars working on the lot, Joan Crawford (Marie Broderick). And since William is under contract, this idea isn’t a request, but a demand! (The contract allows the studio to treat their film stars as property rather than employed staff.) However, William has his own lover, a fashion designer named Jimmie (Niko Boles). So if William wants to remain in pictures, he either marries Joan, or he becomes unusable because of his alternative and unspeakable lifestyle.
This play is based upon a true episode that did occur back in the days when such an activity was banned if not illegal! Besides, the Hayes office a.k.a. the censors, wouldn’t allow such a depiction in any of the studio features releases due to its immoral behavior! It’s also part of a Hollywood that never made the pages of Photoplay or the gossip columns of Parsons and Hopper. But making the movies look “clean” was part of the business of feature films, the prime escapist form of entertainment during the era of the Great Depression. In this play, the cast that play the stars and studio heads holds a striking resemblance to the actual characters they portray. Jeffrey Winner is within the same stocky personna that was L. B. Meyer, whose looks was far removed as leading man material. Marie Broderick resembles a young Joan Crawford that had yet to become a mommy dearest. Kevin Dulude also resembles Irving Thalberg, although his likeness was just limited to photos appearing in “the trades”.
Melanie Macqueen directs this drama as an interesting stage work. It contains as much conflict and pathos as one would see in any picture released by Metro in the 30’s. This time, its stakes would be for real!
The atmosphere of Hollywood from the period is very well present, thanks to Theater 40’s residential set designer Jeff G. Rack. Its staging shows off Louie B.’s office at center stage, William’s rather plush home on stage right, and a snug table at The Brown Derby (along with its star caricature pictures on its walls) on stage left.
Also appearing is Jean Mackie as Ida, Louis B’s right hand girl secretary.
And one questions remains. Will TAMING THE LION have its happy ending by the end of its final reel? With Hollywood being Hollywood, there will be smiles seen upon the faces of the stars at fade out! They don’t call this ars gratia artis for nothing!
Rich Borowy for Accessibly Live Off-Line
March 22, 2020