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Critics Corner: Elvis will never succeed and Marilyn should just forget it!
  Posted on Wed 01 Sep 2004


You get a letter of rejection, or a little negative feedback from friends or your writers group and, if you're like me, you go to bed for the rest of the day, get up only long enough to dig the chocolate ice cream out of the freezer and contemplate sucking your toe for the rest of your life, never to lift a pen or hit a computer keyboard again. Critics. Everybody's a critic.

But ... what IS a critic anyway? Is he the fellow who knows the way but can't drive the car? Or maybe like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves? No matter. Take it all in your stride. Critics have been around forever, and those who are determined mush on in spite of them. Here are some comments that might help you keep your spirits up and your mushing boots moving forward.

"Anne Get Your Gun": "Irving Berlin's score is musically not exciting ... of the real songs, only one or two are tuneful." PM Theater critic. Annie was the greatest stage success of Irving Berlin's career. It ran 1,147 performances on Broadway.

"Death of a Salesman": "Who would want to see a play about an unhappy traveling salesman? Too depressing." Broadway producer on Arthur Miller's tremendous success.

"Fiddler on the Roof": "It seems clear this is no smash hit, no blockbuster." A review that appeared in Variety during the play's Detroit try-out. It went on to open in New York, ran for 3,342 performances, and won a Tony Award for Best Musical.

"Grease": "I don't think we can do anything with these reviews. It's a disaster. Close it." Head of the ad agency handling "Grease", after its off-Broadway opening. The producers ignored the agency man's sage advice and the play became the longest running show in Broadway history (at the time it closed).

"Life With Father": "I could smell it as the postman came whistling down the lane. Don't put a dime in it." Critic's advice to a friend who had been approached about investing in the play, after he'd read the script. The friend paid no attention, backed the play and it ran for seven and a half years on Broadway.

"Member of the Wedding": "It won't make a dime." Harold Clurman's reaction to being asked to direct the play for Broadway. He did eventually relent and it went on to win the Drama Critics Circle Award and then sold to Hollywood for a six-figure advance.

"Oklahoma!": "No legs, no jokes, no chance." Michael Todd's quote to columinist Walter Winchell after seeing an out of town tryout. It became one of the greatest musicals to ever play on Broadway and ran for 2,248 performacnes.

"Our Town": "As theater fare, Our Town is not only disappointing but hopelessly slow ... It's hard to imagine what the erstwhile wonder boy of Broadway (director Jed Harris) saw in this disjointed, bittersweet affair of smalltown New Hampshire life." A Variety review during out of town tryouts. Thornton Wilder's play went on to Broadway where it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

"Titanic": "The real Titanic sank five days into its maiden voyage ... The show may not run much longer." Scottish Daily Record review. Nevertheless, the play swept five Tony Awards and entered its second year on Broadway as a run-away hit.

Sizing up the Person ...

It's bad enough that critics make mincemeat of our creative endeavors, but what about the poor artist or performer when the barbs are aimed directly at them, personally? Count your lucky stars that you're frothing to make it as a writer and not as an actor or musician:

Fred Astaire: "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little." MGM exec when he saw Astaire's screen test.

Lucille Ball: "Try another profession. ANY other." Head instructor of the drama school Lucy attended.

Bette Davis: "Who DID this to me?" Samuel Goldwyn (head of the studio) responding to Bette Davis' screen test.

Clark Gable: "It's awful - take it away." Irving Thalberg, MGM exec, watching Gable's screen test.

Marilyn Monroe: "You'd better learn secretarial work or else get married." Emmeline Snively, Director of the Blue Book Modeling Agency, counseling modeling hopeful Monroe - then just plain Norma Jean.

Mickey Mouse: "He's passe. Nobody cares about Mickey anymore. There are whole batches of Mickeys we just can't give away. I think we should phase him out." Roy Disney in 1937.

Johann Sebastian Bach: "(His) compositions are deprived of beauty, of harmony, and of clarity of melody." German music critic, 1737.

Ludwig van Beethoven: "An orgy of vulgar noise." German composer reviewing the first performance of Beethovan's Fifth Symphony. 1808.

Frederic Chopin: "Had he submitted... (his) music to a teacher, the latter, it is to be hoped, would have torn it up and thrown it at his feet - and this is what we symbolically wish to do." German critic. 1833.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: "Far too noisy, my dear Mozart. Far too many notes." Emperor Ferdinand of Austria after a performance of the "Marriage of Figaro". 1786

Rock and Roll music fared no better:

"The big question in the music business today is, 'how long will it last?' ... it is our guess that it won't." Cashbox, the music industry trade paper. 1955.

Variety said, "It will be gone by June." 1955.

The Beatles: "We don't like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out." Decca Recording Company execs in turning down the group. The President of Capitol Records on the eve of the group's first U.S. tour remarked, "We don't think they'll do anything in this market."

Buddy Holly: "The biggest no-talent I ever worked with." Nashville A&R man for Decca Records. 20 years later, Rolling Stones called Holly, along with Chuck Berry, "the major influence on rock music of the 60s."

Led Zeppelin: "You'll sink, not like a lead balloon, but even faster, like a lead zeppelin." Keith Moon, drummer of the Who, said when the group was forming. The band wasn't discouraged and actually took their name from Moon's putdown. They became the dominant rock 'n' roll band of the '70s.

Elvis Presley: "You ain't goin' nowhere,son. You ought to go back to drivin' a truck." Jim Denny, manager of the Grand Ol' Opry when he fired Presley after one performance.
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