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LLOYD WEBBER, CLOSE SING A CONCILIATORY TUNE

It was nearly silent on "Sunset Boulevard" Tuesday.

The day after her enraged threat to leave the hit musical was splashed all over the tabloids, Glenn Close, the show's star, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, its creator, were still smoothing things over by press release.Though neither Close nor Lloyd Webber returned requests for comment, Lloyd Weber's public relations firm issued - and then Tuesday curiously modified - a joint statement that "expressed mutual dismay" that Close's "very private communication" had been obtained by theater and gossip columnists.

"Andrew and Glenn have talked, remain the best of friends, and will of course continue their working relationship long into the future," the statement continued.

It further quoted Close as saying, "Like any close family, and any group of people who care deeply about what they do, there are bound to be differences of opinion and mutual hurt feelings from time to time."

Those were a far cry from the sentiments Close expressed late last week in a two-page, single-spaced letter addressed to Lloyd Webber.

In that letter, which followed the disclosure that Lloyd Webber's production company, the Really Useful Group, had exaggerated attendance figures during Close's vacation last month, the star said she was "furious and insulted" and that "if I could leave `Sunset' tomorrow, I would."

"If I could leave it in May, when my contract says I can, believe me, I would," her letter went on. "At this point, what is making me stay is my sense of obligation to all the people who are holding tickets until July 2."

"I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that my performance turned `Sunset Boulevard' around," she continued. "I made it a hit."

The letter described her feelings on learning that Edgar Dobie, Really Useful's chief of North American operations, had told Variety that "Sunset" sold $724,780 worth of tickets during the two weeks Close was replaced by her understudy, Karen Mason, when in reality the show had sold only $569,720 worth: a drop of $222,876 from Close's last week in the show.

"A representative of your company went out of their way and lied to try to make the public believe that my contribution to this show is nothing, that Karen's performance is equal to mine, and that my absence had absolutely no effect whatsoever on all the thousands of dollars that supposedly kept pouring into the box office," Close's letter continued. "It sickens me to be treated with such disregard."

Late Monday - after Close and Lloyd Webber spoke on the telephone for the first time about the blowup - the joint statement was issued, expressing dismay that "a very private communication between them found its way into public hands, especially since the matter has since been completely resolved between them."

A modification to the statement Tuesday blamed the time difference between New York and London for the fact that no one could have resolved all this quietly, over the phone.

In a statement released to the British press, Lloyd Webber added: "It is unfortunate that the time difference between the United States and London meant that our now resolved misunderstandings had to be communicated by letter."

London is only five hours ahead of New York, and Lloyd Webber has certainly been known to call reporters unexpectedly from his home telephone.

A spokesman for Lloyd Webber, asked why a telephone conversation could not have been arranged earlier so that some of the public bitterness could have been avoided, said he could not comment beyond the letter.

Close did not return a telephone message left backstage for her, and two of her press representatives would not go beyond quoting the letters.

The handling of this feud might be attributed simply to bad spin control, except that this kind of thing keeps happening to "Sunset Boulevard." Nearly every actress to touch the role of Norma Desmond, the self-obsessed silent-movie queen, ends up in a public dispute with Lloyd Webber, who has paid both Patti Lupone and Faye Dunaway hundreds of thousands of dollars in out-of-court settlements to keep them out of the musical.

Lloyd Webber is widely known as a man with a temper, and he has a history of disputes that explode publicly, helping to raise the show's profile. When he dismissed Dunaway a few days before she was to replace Close in the Los Angeles production of "Sunset," he said she couldn't sing well enough to do the show; she responded with suits for defamation and breach of contract that he later settled for an undisclosed amount.

In 1993 he denied for weeks rumors that he would jettison Lu-pone, who had opened the show in London, from the Broadway production. In the end he did just that, settling with her for amounts reported at over $1 million.

Throughout both those battles, Close remained silent, reportedly reluctant to give any hint that she enjoyed benefiting from another actress's misfortune.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Shades of Norma Desmond?

Reportedly, Glenn Close was plenty steamed recently about praise lavished on her "Sunset Boulevard" understudy, Karen Mason, by "Sunset" meistermind Andrew Lloyd Webber - so steamed that she fired off a rancorous missive to him that read, in part:

"If I could leave `Sunset' tomorrow, I would . . . I made it a hit. It has existed on my shoulders . . . and yet a representative of your company went out of their way and lied to try to make the public believe that my contribution to this show is nothing, that Karen's performance is equal to mine and that my absence had absolutely no effect on all the thousands of dollars that supposedly kept pouring into the box office."

"It sickens me to be treated with such disregard."

- Roger Anderson, Scripps Howard News Service