Woody Allen’s Longtime Writing Partner on Separating the Art From the Artist


The Baltimore Jewish Times spoke this week with “Jersey Boys” co-writers Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman about their enduring personal and working relationship, including Elice’s looking upon his writing partner as a mentor. Enjoying a profoundly eclectic and prolific career of collaborations – among them: “The Muppet Show” with Jim Henson, “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” “Dueling Banjos” with Eric Weissberg in “Deliverance,” playing with John and Michelle Phillips before they were the Mamas & the Papas and, of course, co-writing such Woody Allen sensations as “Annie Hall” – Brickman revealed his concerns about the general public’s growing inability to make a distinction between a work of art and its creator, between fantasy and reality.

During the course of our interview, Brickman explained that after collaborating with Allen on numerous sketches, stand-up bits and screenplays, he found himself missing the dialogues he shared with the filmmaker while forging ahead with intermittent solo efforts. It got to the point that Brickman would type up conversations with himself about what to do next as far as plot and character development on subsequent projects.

Chess genius and cause celebre Bobby Fischer playing against himself and “never losing,” as he claimed, sprung to mind after Brickman’s admission, leading to a frank discussion of Brickman’s take on his longtime friend and colleague Allen’s own mounting controversies over the years.

“Woody is an example of somebody who has quite consciously merged his life with his work, so in a sense, he has created a work of art called ‘Woody Allen,’” Brickman observed.

“It’s almost Warholian in its irony, and when he got in trouble, of course, people were willing to believe the things he was saying about himself in the movies. Having no other information, they were ready to believe the worst things about him, because it seemed not inconsistent to some of the things he was offering to the audience as to what he is actually like, which was really an invention. And then, suddenly, he got nailed by that.”

“I’m in an odd position in that I know him and I know the person he is,” Brickman continued, “and so I am able to separate the artist from the art.”

Brickman and Elice have found themselves in a relatively less odd position of having penned the 2014 film adaptation of “Jersey Boys” for director Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has taken something of a media shellacking over the last few years for his provocative personal politics resulting in his castigating an incorporeal President Obama in an empty chair at the 2012 Republic National Convention and a recent controversial interview with Esquire that included what was seen as a tacit approval of Donald Trump along with a rather gruff discounting of millennial political correctness.

“Neither of us really had any relationship with Clint Eastwood,” Elice said. “He made the film, we were never there and we didn’t see it until it was finished. I spoke with the man once, and he seemed to be pleasant. I think the personal politics of Clint Eastwood are irrelevant.”

Agreeing that his interactions with Eastwood during the production of the “Jersey Boys” film were basically nil, Brickman mused that, “I just sort of discount everything he says. Clint has an odd sense of humor. He likes to say things to stir people up. I mean, nobody can say anything about Clint Eastwood: He’s Clint Eastwood. I don’t hold anything against him. He was a very nice fellow.”

Eastwood has meanwhile received his typical lauds for his newly released film, the Tom Hanks-starring true-life tale “Sully,” and Allen has been able to continue at his triumphantly breakneck pace with both a new film, star-studded crowd pleaser “Café Society,” and his first-ever television series, “Crisis in Six Scenes” starring millennial poster-girl Miley Cyrus.

Brickman nevertheless laments the fact that be it the onset of what some call “identity politics” or the more fiscally focused concept of celebrity’s requisite attention paid to “personal branding,” audiences are indeed having difficulty concentrating on the quality of the art, distracted as they are by the life and personality of the artist, often merely an easily manipulated and befogged or outright apocryphal perception.

Read the Jewish Times’ cover story on “Jersey Boys” here.

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