Here's to Peter Stone! Screenwriter, Book Writer, and… Speechwriter?
Peter Stone, the author of Charade and 1776, is the first writer to win an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony (three times!) award, and, as you would expect, his papers include extensive drafts for his works. The surprise find in the Library's Peter Stone Collection, however; is a group of envelopes marked “Speeches and Toasts.” During the latter part of his career, Stone was frequently asked to host awards shows and to write and deliver award tributes and memorial tributes to friends and colleagues.
It won’t surprise anyone who has seen a musical or a movie written by Stone that his tribute toasts are extremely clever and witty, poignant and genuine, and even raunchy, irreverent, and hilarious. In a tribute to composer Cy Coleman, his collaborator on The Will Rogers Follies (1991) Stone quipped:
“Cy has received more awards than Sister Teresa. And why not? With the possible exception of Joan Collins, who’s given more pleasure than Cy Coleman?”
Stone’s breakthrough as a writer came with his screenplay for Charade (1963), which was directed by Stanley Donen and starred Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Charade, which was a huge hit, put Stone on the map and landed him a Hollywood contract, which resulted in for Father Goose (for which he won an Academy Award in 1965), Mirage, Arabesque, The Secret War of Harry Frigg, and Jigsaw.
While making a name in Hollywood, Stone simultaneously wrote books for Broadway musicals. Although he struck out with his first show, Kean, and his second, Skyscraper, only managed a respectable run, he had a tremendous financial and critical success with 1776 in 1969, which won him his first Tony Award for Best Book. His next Tony Award was for the book of Woman of the Year (1981), which starred Lauren Bacall. Here’s an excerpt from a tribute he gave to Bacall on the occasion of her being honored by the Women’s Project in 2000:
"Woman of the Year was Bacall’s second Tony for a musical and, when you think about it, that’s a pretty remarkable thing. She’d be the first to admit that she can’t sing as well as, say, Ethel-Merman – she sounds more like Elaine Stritch – and she’d even agree that she can’t dance quite as well as, say, Ann Reinking – she moves more like Ethel Merman – so how does she keep winning the Theatre’s highest award for musical performance? The answer, for anyone fortunate enough to have seen her work on the stage, is simple: Craft, wit, energy, exuberance, insouciance, sophistication – and above all, that rarest of all modern day commodities – glamour!”
In addition to Bacall's stellar performance, Woman of the Year also featured a score by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Stone would work with them again for many years, on Curtains, which finally got to Broadway in 2007, with book and lyrics adapted by Rupert Holmes, after the deaths of both Ebb and Stone. Here’s a joke Stone made about one of Ebb’s most famous lyrics while honoring him and Kander for their Lotus Club Award in 2000:
"'New York, New York' which has become the city’s unofficial anthem is, justifiably, a classic. But had I been involved in that project, I’d have tried to dissuade Fred from referring to his grandparents, who immigrated to America, as 'These vagabond Jews.'"
At his country house in the Hamptons, Stone often played tennis with his friend and neighbor James (Jimmy) Kirkwood Jr., the playwright and author best know for his book for A Chorus Line. Here’s Stone in a Kirkwood tribute:
“People who didn’t know Jimmy well thought he was quite vain. This was mainly because he was a very handsome man who took great care to keep himself in good shape. He played tennis very actively and very well. And if the day was sunny, and sometimes when it was not, Jimmy would take off his shirt. I always found it more than a bit distracting because I knew we were the same age, and considering how terrific he looked, I wasn’t about to make comparisons by taking off my shirt. If I’d known then, as I later found out, that he was actually six years older than I, I would have played tennis with him wearing an overcoat.”
My hands-down favorite Stone tribute piece was to Danny Kaye, when Kaye was being honored at The Players Club while starring in Stone and Richard Rodgers’ musical, Two By Two. Stone quotes from an interview Kaye gave during the show’s out-of-town tryouts on why he chose to return to Broadway after movie stardom:
“And Cue Magazine’s star of the year always answers, “I love the thrill of danger, the possibility of failure, the quest for new and risky ways to employ my malleable talents.” Remember, this is an actual quote: “I regard my career as a series of plateaus to be mounted, conquered and left behind — I don’t want to spend the rest of my life protecting my success.” Now then, let’s examine some of this recent success he’s so busy protecting. In movies? His last part was as a walk-on as a garbageman in The Madwoman of Chaillot.” On television? His series was dropped four years ago when the ratings sank slightly below “The Sermonette.” So the truth is that Danny Kaye belongs back on Broadway. It’s where he first made his mark, it’s where he made so many of his life-long friends — and besides, as Dick Rodgers so beautifully put it — “The sonovabitch needs the work!”
I hope you’ve enjoyed these as much as I did. Come check out the Peter Stone Papers to read his tributes, speeches, and more!