re: Howard Da Silva's heart attack
Posted by: Fasslercom (Fasslercom@me.com) 11:40 am EST 02/02/19
In reply to: Howard Da Silva's heart attack - showtunetrivia 09:56 pm EST 02/01/19

Hi Laura,

The full answer to your question is here in an unedited version of the story, which appears somewhat truncated in the 1776 chapter in my book “Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway.”

The notoriously difficult Da Silva, in the words of producer Stuart Ostrow’s haberdasher father (“a tough man to shave”), found ways to aggravate the whole 1776 company. No more so when during a tumultuous time in New Haven he quit the show (even if it was only for a few minutes). At its next stop in Washington, DaSilva stayed true to form, maintaining his role of the bull in a china shop.

Then everything came crashing down four days before opening night when—during a tech rehearsal on the stage of the 46th Street Theatre—Da Silva had a heart attack.

Peter Hunt will never forget that Thursday afternoon:

“Howard suddenly stopped and started grabbing at his clothes. The guys got a hold of him and they tore his shirt off and they took him outside and gave him CPR. The paramedics came and they got him to the hospital.

They said ‘You need heart surgery.’
Howard said, “No, I’m opening the show. And then you can do with me what you wish.’”

RF: So he came back and played Thursday, Friday, two on Saturday and opening night on Sunday?

PH: All of them—with a doctor in the wings. And Sunday night he walked right out the stage door in costume and into a waiting ambulance. And he was off to the hospital.”

The story was spun in the press the next day that Da Silva had been hospitalized with pneumonia. The real story was the actor’s own rigid stubbornness as well as the tired but true axiom, “the show must go on.”

It’s a wonder that Da Silva’s iron-grip on the role of Franklin came about at all considering the rage he flew into after his big number was cut in New Haven. This led to a fly on the wall conversation Peter Hunt wasn’t supposed to overhear (but did):

“I was having lunch at Casey’s between the shows next to the theatre in New Haven, and Howard was in the next booth with Alfred Drake. He had just seen the show and I could hear everything he and Howard were saying; Howard had an especially loud voice. And for an hour and twenty minutes Howard was going on and on about this terrible show, this terrible part, this awful director. ‘He’s a high school kid. He’s a lighting designer and what he’s doing directing a Broadway show I’ll never know!’

This went on and on until he finally ran out of steam. Then Alfred said, ‘Howard, when we did Oklahoma! you were the dumbest fuck I ever knew. And you still are. This is the best show you’ve ever been in; it’s the best part you’ve ever had and you’re brilliant! And for you to drop out of this show would be the stupidest career move you could ever make.’
And Howard turned pale. ‘Oh, my God—Abe Newborn [Da Silva’s agent] and the lawyers are going over it right now in Ostrow’s hotel room.’

And Alfred said, ‘If I were you I would get over there and stop it.’

So Howard ran out to put the brakes on. Later I got a call from Stuart who (suspecting this would happen) told me Rex Everhart was available to take over the part. And I told him I thought what we needed to do was have Rex in the wings—and for Howard to be able to see him at all times. Then, if he gets cute with us, we can replace him just like that!

As it turned out it was a godsend—because with Howard’s heart attack we had Rex ready to go.”

The night after its rave reviews, Da Silva was out and Everhart was in.

Now with an enormous hit on their hands, Ostrow and Columbia Records were faced with having to postpone the recording of the album in order to wait for Da Silva. But with his return uncertain, the decision was made to go with Everhart instead, which is why it is he (and not Da Silva) who is heard as Franklin on the original cast album.

In time Da Silva made a complete recovery and returned to the Broadway production to play Franklin a full two years. He also repeated his performance (with much of the original cast) for the film and his mellifluous tones are preserved forever on the soundtrack recording.

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