Samuel Garza Bernstein’s dream of bringing “Mr. Confidential” to the stage is taking another step closer.
Actors Theatre of Indiana Lab Series will present a reading of “Mr. Confidential,” a musical, at 2 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Studio Theater at the center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.
Bernstein wrote the musical’s book and lyrics, adapted from a 2007 nonfiction book he wrote about Confidential magazine and the family that created it. David Snyder wrote the music. The magazine was founded by Bob Harrison. Bernstein started developing the musical in 2012.
“All the things that are most unbelievable are completely true,” Bernstein said. “What I’ve played around with is the timelines to put a narrative together. Let’s say I made Bob a little more of a romantic than perhaps he was in life.”
Bernstein said Confidential magazine was extremely popular back in its day.
“It was outselling TV Guide and Time magazine at its height in the 1950s,” said Bernstein, who has worked in the television and film industry most of his career.
The magazine (1952-58) centered on Hollywood, Broadway and Washington news but eventually became more and about Hollywood, Bernstein said.
“All of the juicy stuff was all true,” Bernstein said. “They never lost a lawsuit. There were silly stories like Frank Sinatra is the Tarzan of the boudoir because he eats Wheaties between lovemaking sessions. He did eat Wheaties and he did eat them between having sex, so it was kind of true. What you get is the silliness of Wheaties are what powered his sexual prowess is silly. If they said Gary Cooper was having an affair with Anita Ekberg, he was having an affair with Anita Ekberg.”
Bernstein got interested because he knew a woman called the Duchess of Dirt and flame-haired femme fatale.
“I knew her life as a Beverly Hills socialite and we were on the board of the Friars Charitable Board together,” he said. “Vanity Fair published an article about what was 1957’s Trial of the Century. They wrote all about it and there was this mysterious woman at the center of it named Marjorie Meade. I knew a woman named Marjorie Ross and it turns out it was the same lady.”
Meade was Harrison’s niece.
The trail centered on criminal libel and the distribution of obscene materials. One of the obscene items was a public service announcement warning not to take a new abortion pill because they were dangerous, Bernstein said. The trial ended in a mistrial.
“They never proved any of the stories were untrue,” Bernstein said. “It was called the Trial of 100 Stars because every star they had written about was subpoenaed.”
But Harrison eventually made a deal and announced he would no longer publish stories about Hollywood stars’ private lives.
Bernstein said there was an impression that the magazine destroyed people’s lives and careers.
“The more that I looked at it, this small tight-knitted family became a juggernaut,” he said. “There was very little darkness.”
Bernstein acquired every single magazine on eBay and read every article.
“They were very funny and light,” Bernstein said. “The mindset was the stars are beautiful, rich, and famous of course they misbehave. Wouldn’t you? I didn’t condemn anyone. It didn’t condemn anybody.”
Bernstein said he couldn’t find anyone whose career was destroyed.
“The publicity in Confidential enhanced their careers, it didn’t hurt them,” Bernstein said. “It became a much more joyful, more lighthearted story from what I could gather. I interviewed everyone still alive, which included people on both sides. Bob Harrison was an affable, generous, big-hearted person. It was not what people think it was.”
Bernstein started developing the musical in 2012 and had held a reading but has reworked it since then.
“During the 2016 to 2020 years, the idea of hyped-up gossip became less fun because the media was overwrought,” he said.
Bernstein met ATI co-founder Don Farrell and began talking to him about it in 2019. Farrell will portray Harrison in the reading. There are 15 cast members.
For more, visit mrconfidentialmusical.com.