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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Tabloid Titans

There was a time not long ago when millions of New Yorkers learned something for the first time when they opened their morning newspaper.

And a few of the people who wrote for the city’s tabloids in the late 20th century were themselves larger than life, such as the late New York Post reporter Nora Ephron (1941-2012), who would go on to fame and fortune in Hollywood, and the late New York Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the infamous Abner Louima case. McAlary died of cancer in 1998. He was 41 years old.

Given their shared newspaper pedigree, it is fitting that Ephron’s final script was the Broadway play, Lucky Guy, which is in previews this month and opens on Monday, April 1, at Manhattan’s Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th St. Tom Hanks portrays the Lucky Guy, McAlary, who made a name for himself in the 1980s and 1990s with his sensational stories about police corruption. His work appeared in the New York Post, New York Newsday and the Daily News. McAlary, his wife, Alice (played by Maura Tierney) and their four children had a home in Suffolk County’s Bellport. Indeed, a significant part of Lucky Guy takes place there.

One of Lucky Guy’s characters is Jim Dwyer of The New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist in his own right. In an e-mail exchange with me last week, Dwyer offered an observation about Ephron’s script (“I’ve read it, and think it’s great”), what it’s like to see yourself portrayed on a Broadway stage and how he met McAlary.

“I’ve met Michael Gaston [the actor playing Dwyer] and he seems like much too nice a guy, and far too good looking, to portray me. But I’m not going to fight with that,” Dwyer wrote.

“The level of work that he [Gaston] and all the actors are putting in is very impressive; I suppose this goes on all the time in theater, but getting a little bit of the backstage look has been a big eye-opener.”

“We met at New York Newsday in the late 1980s and became very good friends,” Dwyer continued. “He [McAlary] went on to write columns at the Daily News; I was writing columns for New York Newsday, and then later, with him, at the News.  We would speak every day, practically, and help each other with phone numbers and sources. Mike was the premier reporter of his generation on New York City police. He broke more stories, helped bring about more reform, and had more front pages than anyone. The play, at least on paper and I’m betting on stage, does full justice to his humor, his humanity, his flaws and his greatness. It’s an amazing story of a guy who flew high, had a tragic setback, but then got back up to expose an atrocity and win the Pulitzer Prize just before he died.”

Beyond introducing McAlary to a new generation of New Yorkers, Hanks also is being asked to generate on stage the kind memorable performances he gave in Ephron-directed movies such as Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998). Hanks’ love interest in both of those films was Meg Ryan. Ephron, along with David Ward and Jeff Arch, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Sleepless in Seattle.  

In fact, I sense that Ephron, McAlary and Hanks share the same worldview and dark humor of the Sleepless in Seattle character who, after hearing someone talk excitedly about a budding romance, was asked “What do they call it when everything intersects?” Their answer: The Bermuda Triangle.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net