Every time I see a bad review, I consider myself lucky. Why? Because it’s only a bad review and not a death threat. Oh yeah, I once got a death threat over my writing. Sticks and stones and all that, but I’m here to tell you that some words CAN hurt.
It was 1992 and my play TIGER LADY was in rehearsal at the Tamarind Theatre in Hollywood. Paige O’Hara, who was famous for her voice-over and singing of the part of Belle in DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, was playing the lead, the Tiger Lady of the title. The running joke was that she had gone from playing Beauty to playing the Beast.
I arrived at the theatre for our first tech run-through a week before opening to find the director having a meeting with the cast. He handed me a letter that had been mailed to the theatre owner and received that very day. I sat in stunned silence as I read the letter…
I now present, for your entertainment, the death threat I got that day:
Dear Owner of the Tamarind Theatre,
It has come to our attention that the Tamarind Theatre is in production with a work by Layce Gardner entitled TIGER LADY. We are very upset to hear that your theatre is in production with this play because Ms. Gardner is a vicious bitch. We despise her more than verbal expression could indicate. She is extremely egotistic, self-centered, and is notorious for her bad writing.
We are writing to inform you that we are going to react against this production, both against the Theatre, but, in particular, against the bitch who wrote it. While we will not disclose the vehicle of our expression, rest assured that it will be comparable, both in format and in impact, to the recent riots in Los Angeles. In other words, your playwright is at risk, your Theatre is at risk, and the audience who supports the production is at risk. We are an underground group, known as P.A.G. Our past attacks have been devastating and this will be no exception.
You will not know when, nor how, but rest assured that if TIGER LADY is run at your Theatre, the blood of many people will be in your hands. That’s what you deserve for giving any credence to the bitch who wrote this piece of filth. Her punishment will be so intense that it will ring throughout the streets of Los Angeles for centuries to come!
Death to Gardner! Death to Gardner! Live in Fear! Live in Fear!
The members of P.A.G. (People against Gardner)
Now if that letter wasn’t enough to scare the crap out of me, Paige told me that she had gotten a phone call that afternoon. Her number was unlisted and only her agent and family knew it. The voice said, “Paige O’Hara, if you do the play Tiger Lady by that bitch Layce Gardner, you will die a horrible death.” Then they hung up.
Paige immediately had her number changed.
The cast and crew took a vote that evening—would we continue with the play or would we stop?
The vote was unanimous. I’m happy to say everyone wanted to continue with the play.
The F.B.I. got involved. Death threats sent through the U.S. Mail are a federal offense and taken quite seriously. I was constantly shadowed by a MIB (who I affectionately referred to as my stalker.) The audience was scanned and patted down before each performance. Bomb dogs sniffed the theatre every day.
What had been a nightmare turned out to be a boon. The Los Angeles Times got wind of the commotion and ran an article about it. My ‘piece of filth’ play garnered several awards—so did Paige’s acting—and the run sold out. We had to extend the run several times to SRO audiences.
My friend, Eileen Brennan, (one of the most fabulous actresses to ever grace the stage or screen), put it all in perspective for me when she told me, “Honey, you’re not a real writer until you piss somebody off.”
Oh, and the F.B.I. never found out who wrote the death threat. A criminal psychologist examined the letter and her expert opinion was that it was written by a jilted girlfriend of mine.
But hey, that’s another blog…