THERAPY WITH JOEL GREY & OPENING THE JFK FILES: Listening to Tony, Golden Globe and Oscar winner Joel Grey narrate his life story, Master of Ceremonies, is like being in a nine hour, 19-minute therapy session with the singer, actor, performer. He describes his mother with variations on the word horrid. And while he uses the word authenticity a lot, the Cleveland-born Joel Katz changed his name to Grey along with an ethnic suppressing nose job.
The sustaining thread throughout Grey’s life is the uber-agonizing conflict he had over his sexuality. “I waged a sexual war with myself, he says. “Being gay was not an option” in mid-century America. Like many men, he closeted himself, living a secret life. He was married for almost half a century and had two children. But he talks about ‘the look’ that passes surreptitiously between two gay men at first meeting. He’s very open about the multiple ‘looks’ and encounters he has had — starting at nine years old.
One of the more affecting moments in Grey’s story happens with his wife, Jo Wilder. Believing their marriage strong enough to absorb the truth, he details his past encounters with men — as a result, she leaves him.
Given a choice between reading or listening to an autobiography, the choice is usually a story told by the person who actually lived it — even when the voice is not what you expect. Grey’s clear-toned, youthful voice now has the rasp of an 84-year-old’s well-worn vocal chords and his narration is sometimes wobbly.
There is an odd component in Master of Ceremonies. During the out-of-town run for the 20-year revival of his seminal performance in Cabaret, Grey lost his voice days before the New York opening, a potential disaster in the making. But the show must go on so they came up with a solution: Grey would lip sync while his offstage understudy did the actual singing — just like the closing scene in Singing in the Rain when backstage Debbie Reynolds sings for on-stage Jean Hagen. The gimmick worked for Grey and Cabaret went on to its New York run. At no time in telling this story does Grey ever mention the name of the understudy who saved him and the show. Is this omission an unintentional error or an indication of a petty egotist?
(audiobook: 9 hrs, 19min; print 256 pages)
OSWALD AND MORE: October 2017 will bring Kennedy assassination conspiracy junkies one of its most highly anticipated payoffs: the 1992 JFK murder. The JFK Assassination Records Collection Act mandates that all records and redactions of the events in Dallas are to be released on October 26, 2017. In the prodigious industry surrounding the assassination with its myriad credible and far-fetched possibilities, people are juiced up. Will we finally learn who’s on the grassy knoll? Was it the French? The Mafia? Badge Man? Who’s Umbrella Man? Was LBJ complicit? What was Allan Dulles’s role, What is a coup d’etat?
The dilemma is this: whatever new information may come out, will it be accepted as fact? Probably not. It’s hard to tell the truth when there are so many different truths to choose from.