Author Topic: Author of "Chicago" Lived-Died in Jax  (Read 591 times)

jaxlongtimer

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Author of "Chicago" Lived-Died in Jax
« on: May 21, 2018, 08:01:41 PM »
Here is an historical tidbit about Jax I haven't seen discussed before on MetroJax:

http://www.jacksonville.com/news/20180517/author-of-original-chicago-lived-died-in-jacksonville

Quote
Author of original ‘Chicago’ lived, died in Jacksonville

By Charlie Patton
Posted May 17, 2018 at 1:51 PM Updated at 11:49 AM

In the summer of 1969, C.R. Leonard, then a young trust officer with Florida National Bank, was assigned to handle the estate of Maurine Watkins, a reclusive Jacksonville resident who died on Aug. 10.

In her youth, Watkins had briefly worked at the Chicago Tribune as a cub reporter and had written about Beulah Annan, a housewife tried for killing her lover in 1924. Annan was found not guilty by the all-male jury.

In 1926, while studying playwriting under George Pierce Baker at Yale University, Watkins wrote a play about Annan and Belva Gaertner, another accused murderess who had been found not guilty by a Chicago jury. Watkins called the women Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. She first titled the play “The Brave Little Woman,” then “Play Ball.” When it opened on Broadway, it had been renamed “Chicago.”

The play had a good run, with 172 performances on Broadway followed by a two-year tour.

Watkins would write a number of other plays though none were as successful as “Chicago,” which was adapted for two movies in her lifetime, 1928′s silent “Chicago,” produced by Cecil B. DeMille, and 1942′s “Roxie Hart” starring Ginger Rogers.

Watkins also spent time in Hollywood as a screenwriter. Her most successful screenplay was for the 1936 comedy “Libeled Lady.”

Despite having authorized two movie versions of “Chicago,” Watkins, late in her life, declined to sell the rights despite being approached regularly. Watkins aunt, Margaret Brown, told Leonard, who never met Watkins, that she believed Watkins had grown ashamed of having helped Annan get away with murder.

Brown told Leonard that “Maurine was of the opinion that her reporting set a positive tone and gained sympathy” for Annan, Leonard said in an interview this week.

“Over the years Maurine became disturbed that she had assisted in getting an acquittal for a murderer,” Leonard said Brown told him.

Watkins, who had no children, left her estate to her mother. Attorney Stephen P. Smith Jr., assisted by attorney Calvin “Bud” Hayden, represented the estate.

“A number of people came out of the woodwork wanting to acquire the rights,” Leonard said.

With plenty of interest in “Chicago,” Leonard was authorized to sell the rights. Leonard and Hayden acquired a literary agent, Sheldon “Shelly” Obbin, who owned the American Play Company.

Many accounts of the origins of the musical “Chicago,” credit Bob Fosse with buying the rights. But Leonard said he never met with Fosse.

Instead he met with Robert Fryer and James Cresson. Fryer produced or co-produced such Broadway shows as “Auntie Mame” “Desk Set,” “Wonderful Town,” “California Suite,” “Biloxi Blues,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Chicago.” Cresson partnered with him on several shows including “Chicago.”

Fryer wanted the rights to “Chicago” badly, Leonard said. His offer to Leonard was that Watkins’ heirs would receive 1 percent of all box office revenues from any production of the show. Leonard said that wasn’t enough. The producers then offered 1.25 percent. He countered that he wanted 1.5 percent.

An upset Obbin told him he was going to lose a great opportunity for Watkins’ heirs, who became Watkins’ first cousins after the playwright’s mother died.

The next day Obbin called him.

“You Southern Baptist banker, you got what you wanted,” Obbin told him.

John Kander wrote the music and Fred Ebb the lyrics for the show. Ebb and Fosse wrote the book for the show, which is currently being performed in the Moran Theater in The Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.

When the show opened on June 3, 1975, Leonard and his wife Virginia were in the audience, guests of the producers. Afterward they attended the cast party held in the Rainbow Room in the Rockefeller Center.

“We had a great time,” Leonard said. “It was a different experience for a Southern Baptist banker.”

In 1996 “Chicago” was revived on Broadway and is still running, the longest running American musical in Broadway history.

Leonard had also negotiated that Watkins’ heirs would get 1.5 percent of the box office if any movie were made. The 2002 movie grossed more than $300 million worldwide and won six Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Leonard spent 36 years as a banker, retiring as vice president and senior trust officer at First Union Bank in Jacksonville. “I settled probably 1,000 estates,” he said.

Handling Watkins handwritten will “was the most diverse and interesting one I ever dealt with,” he added. “I’m pretty sure I’m the only trust officer in Florida who ever negotiated the rights to a play.”

Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413

I-10east

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Re: Author of "Chicago" Lived-Died in Jax
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2018, 12:33:17 AM »
Thanks for the article.

gedo3

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Re: Author of "Chicago" Lived-Died in Jax
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2018, 08:34:35 AM »
Very interesting!  Thanks for sharing this!