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Tuesday, December 1, 2009



“Jumping ship” is an old maritime term used to describe the action of a crew member who stays behind, usually in a foreign port, when the ship that brought him there sails away. It developed into a catchall phrase used to describe the action of someone leaving a position, often when circumstances surrounding that person’s business or occupation became dire. In this sense, it seems to have merged with the phrase “rats deserting a sinking ship.”

Rocco Landesman is a former Broadway landlord and producer. Like pretty much anyone who made money on Broadway from the mid-to late 1970s until fairly recently, Rocco Landesman rode the coattails of the late great Gerald Schoenfeld. Broadway was in a pickle during the early 1970s. Mr. Schoenfeld, and to some lesser degree, his partner the late Bernard Jacobs, stepped into the breach and by whatever means necessary made Broadway a thriving community again.

Rocco Landesman is a former Wall Street guy who took over the Jujamcyn Theater organization. He had a background as a theater educator at the elite Yale School of Drama. He was listed as a producer on three big Broadway hits – “Angels in America”, “Big River” and “The Producers”. He was also the landlord for these productions. It is customary on Broadway to list the landlord as a producer, as well as large investors. I don’t know how involved Landesman was as a creative producer. I do know he often seemed more interested in the world of thoroughbred horse racing than theater. I suspect that Landesman was more interested in the business side of things, since Broadway under Schoenfeld’s guidance, was booming.

Four things happened and the combination led to Rocco Landesman jumping ship. The stock market crashed due to Wall Street bankers bleeding the country dry, Gerald Schoenfeld died, Broadway went into a (perceived?) slump, and Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Landesman lobbied for, and got himself appointed to, the position of the head of the National Endowment for the Arts. He jumped ship, in other words.

From Landesman’s acceptance speech when he was appointed, this phrase jumps out: "This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln. If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar. That has to be good for American artists."

Sorry, Mr Landesman. If you really think that one more rich gambler with Wall Street ties going to Washington D.C. makes me feel better because you compare the president to an ancient, brutal dictator, you got another think coming. By the way, in my anything but humble opinion, a writer's power ought to come from his words, not the office he holds.

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