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On the Count of Three

September 21, 2011 By:
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At the forefront of Broadway's "Relatively Speaking" is producer Julian Schlossberg, surrounded by 10 of the 15-member cast.

In many ways, Julian Schlossberg is a 20th-century fox, smart and savvy, who sees that century as a golden age with intermittent tarnishes but altogether worthy of the multihour documentary he is working on now, accumulating interviews with leading lights even as the century has faded to black.

"Fade to black" is a phrase that opens a window to Schlossberg's soul, as the the native New Yorker has reeled in films by the dozens in executive capacities: He climbed the cliff-hangers of Paramount to become vice president and went on to found Castle Hill Productions.

But his bulging bio bespeaks more a Renaissance man than a film-rental phenom. And Schlossberg, who has gone Hollywood, is also going Broadway -- in a big way: He is producing Relatively Speaking, a triptych of one-acts that's a treasure chest of some of the best minds in any business in a harmonic convergence of comedy.

Sly fox that Schlossberg. (He also produced Sly Fox on Broadway in 2004.)

On the count of three ... Schlossberg's never been one to do it by the numbers, especially with this Broadway trilogy: Relatively Speaking is an unconditionally spectacular assemblage of writers -- Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen -- and actors -- Marlo Thomas, Julie Kavner, Steve Guttenberg (everyone's favorite former dental student), Danny Hoch and Mark Linn-Baker, amid a cast of 15 -- as well as director (John Turturro) as it prepares for its opening on Oct. 20. (It just began previews at the Brooks Atkinson Theater.)

How Schlossberg -- producing with Letty Aronson, alongside Edward Walson, Leroy Schecter and Roy Furman co-producing -- netted such a catch of a cast and creative team says more about character -- his own -- than serendipitous surrender to the fates.

Having built a network -- he began his career nearly 50 years ago in TV at ABC -- of friends and associates over the years, is it any wonder that the remarkable Schlossberg merits his own marquee?

Forget Nike; his inspiration to just do it came from singer/songwriter Jessie Colin-Young's lyric: "It's you who's going to do it."

Few others can approach the level of commitment he's made to that song in his heart. But does the current tune have a klezmer connection?

Schlossberg laughs; yes, all the playwrights are Jewish and so are a number of the actors in Relatively Speaking, which makes it all seem like relatives speaking to each other on and off stage.

And if so many share a history of gefilte fish and halvah, who's to carp? "I love history," avows the history major/honors grad of New York University.

Schlossberg's own history is marked by the fun he had as a 4-year-old watching the Marx Brothers cavort and cut-up in "A Night in Casablanca."

But a topic such as Kristallnacht is just as apt to kindle comments from the proudly Jewish producer, whose oeuvre includes Memoirs of a River (1989), which focused on anti-Semitism in the Austro-Hungarian empire of the 1880s.

"One should never deny one's heritage, and we as Jews have a heritage to be so proud of," he says of what piqued his interest in producing that picture.

Sundry Surprises 
His producing bio is one of eclecticism -- Baby Doll, Woman Under the Influence, influential films that came out of Castle Hill (along with the comic oddity that was Allen's first effort, What's Up Tiger Lily?) as well as Death of a Salesman (with Dustin Hoffman),Glengarry Glen Ross, and Oscar winners Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Get Out Your Handkerchiefs.

No tears either for his exploits on Broadway, including The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Death Defying Acts (again with friends Allen and May as well as David Mamet); and TV (Nichols & May: Take Two; Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey and a series of programs on the history of Hollywood).

Can't get away from being that history student? (Schlossberg also has taught for years on the university level.) Which explains his attraction to Witness to the 20th Century, the aforementioned 14-hour documentary on some of the last century's more mentionable movers and shakers.

It was a century that really provided an historical show of shows, proclaims the producer who, on a lighter note, released the movie version of the Sid Caesar TV classic Your Show of Shows.

"These extraordinary people left such an extraordinary impact," Schlossberg says of some 150 prominent profiles he has carved out for this 20th Century series that was years in the making.

Indeed, it may have all begun at the bimah: "I started this project at my Bar Mitzvah," he kids.

Maybe, Schlossberg is just the academic counterpart of the 2,000-Year-Old Man? Mel Brooks has nothing on his view of history -- albeit scaled from 2,000 years to 100: Schlossberg, whose TV credits include hosting the long-running Movie Talk, is also the producer of One Hundred Voices for One Hundred Years, again devoted to the 20th century.

Not that turning 21 is so bad; indeed, Schlossberg's profile continues to grow as he comes of age producing this upcoming trilogy of comedies: Allen's Honeymoon Motel, about wedding daze and marital blitz; Coen's Talking Cure, couched in family feuds; and May'sGeorge Is Dead, a lively dispatch on, as it's described, the "hilarity of death."

Death-defying act to be a producer? No profit of gloom here. "I love comedy and comedians," says Schlossberg, whose commitment to quality could seem a dead-end dance to some.

It did to the writer Frank Gilroy, who kidded, Schlossberg recalls, that "on my tombstone, it'll read, 'Quality was his undoing.' "

Didn't do him in after all: "I'm still here," laughs the 69-year-old.

And "even if it didn't always turn to gold," he says of proving his mettle with good times through good works, "it sure has made me happy!"

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