They Even Snatched My Royalties!
When an artist has no defense from rich grifters, why on earth would they stop stealing?
The stalking and harassment continued over the next several months.
Michael Mayer’s Head Over Heels began previews on June 23rd, 2018. The writing was on the wall, well prior to their July 26th opening night. The word of mouth was poisonous and every week it sputtered at the bottom of the list of Broadway grosses, thanks in no small part to baffling marketing that targeted no discernible audience.
I found no pleasure in their failure, for my abusers now had egg on their face. When the emperor wears no clothes and is a tyrant besides, one who knows the truth can keep quiet as a churchmouse and still be in danger.
Besides, if I blew the whistle, I would be blamed for the show’s failure. Best to let them hoist themselves on their own petard. I kept quiet, never speaking to the press.
Historically, any experienced producer (which these were not) closes a flop shortly after opening night, unless the reviews are effusive (which theirs were not).
As a writer I feel a paternal need to look after my actors and crew. I’m confident that any actor I’ve ever worked with will agree: I work like a maniac to give them a joyride to play, and I address their every concern. If an actor can’t make sense of a line, I fix the line. If they have to “mug” (adding extra business to make a joke land), I blame myself, not them, and fix the joke so they can play it effortlessly.
None of the actors from Broadway’s Head Over Heels ever reached out to me. I can’t imagine what they were told. It’s customary to acknowledge the artist who gave them jobs, but why would they be grateful to the villain that was surely being portrayed to them?
I held no grudge. I felt sympathy for the actors and crew, who on any other Broadway production would be turned from their dressing rooms in short order. They were in no way to blame for the production’s manifold faults. They were clearly talented, game and doing their best with subpar, baffling material.
So I looked out for them by offering a sacrifice. When the writers of my Bring It On musical were forced to surrender our royalties for all 20 weeks of the run, we did so because there was a provision in the contract. Head Over Heelshad no such provision. Nonetheless I extended myself for the cause of allowing them a week or two more on Broadway:
July 21, 2018 at 12:57:30 AM EDT
From: Jeff Whitty
To: Christine Russell
It is at this point in a show's fortunes when the producers ask the creatives to surrender their royalties in order to keep the ship aright.
You have not cultivated such a relationship with me.
But nonetheless this email extends the offer to forego royalties on "Head Over Heels" when the coffers are low.
In truth this is for the actors and Union members who depend on my work for their revenue.
My proudest achievement is not a Tony Award but the work I have provided for so many
hundreds of people over the years. Many have raised their children from its proceeds.
I created that endowment in my Head Over Heels. It is one of the ongoing griefs of my life that I am not proud of the work bearing my name, for it will not provide such a legacy.
I could not redo it all. I quit. Then all else followed.
If something must be signed I would prefer not to deal with my former lawyers at LPMNY. ... If a release can be drafted you can have company management send it my way. I will have an attorney look it over and if it looks all right I will release you of further financial strain while the coffers are low.
These days I can’t believe that I made such an offer to people who chose corruption at every turn. I offered a sacrifice for the cause of helping the actors and crew get a few more paychecks. I should have known better, and that my money would end up in the pockets of people who'd stolen so much already. I just kept ferrying those scorpions across the river.
As stated, the show was doomed to close and the sooner the better for the sake of the investors. Any business-oriented Broadway producer would shutter a show that was hemorrhaging money like Michael Mayer’s Head Over Heels.
But these were no ordinary Broadway producers. I got no response to my proposal, typical of their shunning tactics. The show kept running – on what revenue, I am not sure. I heard almost nothing about the production as it limped along, playing to tiny houses month after month.
144 days passed.
I’ll write that again:
144 days passed.
… whereupon my business managers got a letter from the show’s company manager:
December 6, 2018
Mr. Frank [redacted], CPA
Re: Head Over Heels - Bad Fairy, Inc. f/s/o J. Whitty
Enclosed please find check #1889 representing the royalties due to date to Bad Fairy, Inc. for Head Over Heels.
The producers thank Mr. Whitty for his email to Christine Russell dated July 21, 2018 (copy enclosed) agreeing to royalty waivers. Details are included on the attached summary, but due to the low grosses for the show, the following waivers were agreed to by royalty participants, and the same was applied to Mr. Whitty's royalties:
Full Waiver: Week-ending July 1, 2018 through July 22, 2018 (4 weeks)
50% Waiver: Week-ending July 29, 2018 through January 6, 2019 (24 weeks)
We believe the enclosed summary details what is due, but if you have any questions, please let us know.
The balance of royalties due will be paid upon the show's closing. As you may be aware, the show has announced January 6, 2019 as its final performance.
Associate General Manager
I was gobsmacked. This was no agreement but Batvillain-level theft. (I do not impugn this Associate General Manager, whose experience with those producers I can only imagine.)
Head Over Heels ran 28 weeks, so the actors and crew did just fine. I was looking out for them – not offering to line the coffers of abusive, predatory businesspeople. I had no reason to fund the thugs hired to intimidate me.
Had an agreement been drawn up (as I mentioned in my letter), I certainly would have included a provision that if the show ran longer than a couple of weeks, my offer was rescinded.
When these shady confidence artists got my letter, I imagine that they cheered as they seized the opportunity to give the artist they’d abused so much a final shitty kick out the door.
They knew that I would object, because the “lump sum” I was paid at the end was most abnormal. Normally, royalties are paid in increments – a couple of weeks at a time in my experience.
I’m certain that the other royalty participants were paid in increments. The HOH producers paid me at the end so that I would not discover their plans to steal from me until it was too late. They knew I was too poor to afford a lawyer. And if I engaged one, my former law firm of LPMNY would just run up my legal fees to exceed the balance owed.
It’s sickening that these entitled men and women of business, with so many blessings, so much money, used an artist’s kindness to steal even more. At no point did they miss a chance to loot my corpse. They took every inch of rope that I allowed.
I emailed the company manager to no response. I was enraged, and wrote the following email to Ms. Russell:
December 6, 2018
FROM: Jeff Whitty
TO: Christine Russell
I received a letter from Mr. Klein and called him on Thursday. As is usual with you people, no response. Shunning is a typical tool of manipulation among sociopaths and those with narcissistic personality disorder, as is the gaslighting I have endured and which I have chronicled at length, with names, dates, phone numbers, and text and email messages that suggest that some among you are seriously troubled and sadistic people. How lucky I was to get such a sterling collection of examples to set their sights on me.
I call you on your most recent example of high-handed entitlement. I never agreed to any terms insofar as my rightful royalties, as agreed upon in the contract drawn up by your “lawyers” and Mr. Ben-Zvi. I had no idea you even received my characteristically kind and thoughtful offer for 144 days. Classy as ever.
It is in my calendar to send a “you’re welcome” in late June.
An offer is not an agreement, for by your logic you could decide that Jeff Whitty agrees to a negative sum docking me $14.5 million you lost your investors, demanding that after the three years of torture I now shall fund your failed enterprise – for which I cannot be blamed, especially considering how strenuously I tried to put a quality product before the public. And yes, I saw the result of Michael Mayer’s tasteless “vision,” another in his long line of soulless shows that ignore the audience experience and close in months.
(Note to the “lawyers” of LPMNY: Don’t get any ideas, for you don’t want to see your careers kneecapped, do you?)
Had you offered terms in July, I might have accepted them in order to ease the shock of an immediate closing for actors and crew.
As it turned out the union members did WONDERFULLY WELL for the baffling largesse that ran the show for so incredibly long.
I see no reason that I should fund my own exploitation, do you? You can’t exactly pretend that I was ever included in the family, even as you paraded about proudly in my tarnished finery, so ignorant of the parodic decline of the property. I’m not inclined to take one for the other team.
And rather than paying me a cent in seven months (which to be fair comes short of the previous record of fifteen), your entitled selves made my financial decisions for me, unheard of in my career as was the horrifying, disrespectful Playbill bio you attempted to slip past.
One among you holds an empire worth a quarter of a billion dollars. We had a contract, Ms. Russell. You had money to run it all those months. And you short your artist in this manner for such a small sum compared to the money you hemorrhaged so naively. It all is ugly from any angle.
I worked doggedly and reliably for fifteen years and finally broke when my guaranteed success was once again botched, and how, by the middlemen and -women of Head Over Heels. Just desserts are served and nobody enjoys them.
Knowing how you people use money as a means to control those without, given the long delays in the Broadway paycheck and the 15-months tardy payment that only arrived after my show was destroyed, not to mention your long expensive conversation$ with my most accomodating lawyer to make me go broke so I would cry uncle, my business manager immediately deposited Mr. Klein’s check for the partial sum owed.
I expect the balance to arrive at my business manager’s office by Wednesday. [address redacted]
If you and your people don’t like the way your behavior would seem before the public, I suggest that you all behave better.
Honest to God. Save the energy required to slither the low road.
I am not the repository of your sins, carrying their weight as you hide from yourselves. Nor am I a doormat for you people to work out your dysfunctions. You nearly killed me. You really did. To be hated by a group of people who you believed were your friends, only exploiting you instead, seeing your art destroyed and your livelihood wrecked by preening amateurs, will make anybody fall to pieces.
I’m better now. Seen my movie? Got some major noms and some prestigious awards already. I will thank you and yours to keep your hands away, it is another result of years of work and nothing you are entitled to, none of it. Indie film isn’t A Star Is Born by a long shot anyway. Back away slowly please, wipe the drool from your mouths and put down your knives.
It is how I see you all. I mean, look why I am writing this.
144 days. Feel free to be in touch.
I found this email in my “drafts” folder, alas. In retrospect I wish that I’d hit “send.”
Eventually I contacted the Associate General Manager by phone and expressed my dismay. He sounded sheepish and embarrassed, as would anyone working for such people. I had no way to get my money, and they knew it. I kept after Christine Russell now and then:
On Jan 3, 2020, at 12:35 PMTO: Christine RussellFROM: Jeff WhittySUBJECT: Residuals
Can you please send me a copy of the purported agreement signed wherein I agree to surrender half of my royalties for all 32 weeks of the ill-fated run of HEAD OVER HEELS?
And an agreement involves communication between two or more parties. You know this I am sure. I look forward to getting your response by the end of today.