Unaccustomed am I to public speaking. But today’s a rare day. I’m stepping in front of a crowd of strangers to introduce a long-ago collaborator of mine, Alexa Junge, as she receives an award named for I. A. L. Diamond. Diamond’s fame is based on his collaboration with screenwriter/director Billy Wilder on some wonderful movies, such as The Apartment and One Two Three. My current collaborator, Mike Bencivenga, had a very fine play produced at the Vineyard, Billy & Ray, showing what it was like to collaborate with Billy Wilder. One of Alexa’s earliest collaborators, Jeanine Tesori, is the most-praised composer of the Broadway season (Fun Home). And that, folks, is a new record for the most times “collaborator” has been used in one paragraph.
Writing a page for me to speak – an unusual task. It’s far more common, when I come up with prose, for me to be sharing it on this blog. And here, nobody’s imposing a word limit on me, so I thought I’d put a less-edited version of the speech here.
My audience will be aware of two things you might not know about. At Columbia University, there’s a 121-year-old tradition of students writing and producing an original musical about campus life. It’s where Rodgers first met Hammerstein (who soon introduced him to Hart). But, when school spirit tanked in the tumultuous 60s, they stopped doing shows. Reviving the Varsity Show tradition, and ensuring that, as before, one would be done every year, was the accomplishment of Adam Belanoff and Steven Gee. They’re owed gratitude from everyone involved ever since. The first year of the current consecutive string, they got a little help with the script and score from Alexa and me. The second year had Alexa as chief writer, with music by Jeanine Tesori.
I don’t think I need to detail Alexa’s career to the crowd. But I could be wrong. For a quarter century, she’s written some of the best television episodes and that happens to be a career a number of my friends have gone into. It’s said that sitcom-land is a bastion of sexism and ageism. Informally, but with some regularity, a group of female working writers got together to socialize, trade war stories, and support each other. While I lost touch with Alexa for a while, I kept hearing about her from other funny scribes at those get-togethers. (My imagining what these were like inspired, in part, my musical, The Company of Women.)
And now, the speech: