She built her career on laughter, but theres a good chance Iris Rainer Dart has made you cry if you read the book or saw the movie Beaches.
Best known as the writer of the novel Beaches, Iris grew up in Pittsburgh, steeped in the humor of Yiddish culture, dreaming she was destined for musical theater on Broadway. Lots of people have the same dream, but not everyone starts pursuing it when theyre six years old, as Iris did. She performed as a child actress, wrote songs as a teenager and graduated from Carnegie Tech with a degree in theater.
After college, she ended up on the opposite coast, where her comic sensibilities led to a successful career writing for television, including being the first female writer hired for the original Sonny and Cher Show. She was equally successful with another career transition---the best-selling Beaches is one of her nine novels.
Iris and I (that's her on the left in the photo, and me on the right) have been close friends for decades, way before we had children. She inherited my pregnancy wardrobe for her daughter, who was born 18 months after mine---they like to say they were introduced in utero. There was a time when the storyline of Beaches hit too close to home, when I was in treatment for cancer and Iris was practically a second mother to my daughter. Who would have dreamed they would become best friends for life?
Meanwhile, as Iris continued writing novels and we took our daughters to watch musicals in San Francisco, Iris never abandoned her own early dreams of the theater. About 15 years ago, she told me she was working on something new---and something old---the book and lyrics for an original Broadway musical. And she played me a tape of the first few songs. So beautiful and poignant, they made me cry. Really, though, the musical was inspired by humor----the Yiddish culture from Iris childhood roots. Though it draws on Jewish experience, the subject matter is universal to every culture and every generation. Its the story of a woman longing to pass on her heritage and her memories to her child and grandchild.The show will make you laugh, but you could cry from the back story---the challenging saga of getting a new musical to open on Broadway. As an observer for almost two decades, I can only say it takes just what the clichs say---hard work, determination, and maybe a little mazel along the way.Many people, if not most, would have given up long ago, but Iris never did.And after pursuing a project thats really a lifetime in the making, she gets to give her real-life story a far happier ending than Beaches.The People in the Picture, starring acclaimed Broadway star Donna Murphy, is now playing at the Roundabout Theater. On Broadway.After such a long odyssey, Iris could barely believe it would happen.even when the curtain goes UP. She said she wouldnt REALLY believe it until the curtain goes DOWN.I cant wait to see it for myself---- to experience the laughs, the tears and the cheers. Darryle Pollack is an artist, writer and blogger.