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Clo Mail List Withheld From Lester Fete

April 10, 1985|DAVID JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

When the Music Center planned a 90th-birthday tribute to Edwin Lester, founder of the Civic Light Opera, every performing arts organization at the complex helped by providing their mailing lists gratis to solicit ticket buyers.

Well, almost every organization.

One organization refused to cooperate: the Civic Light Opera.

Actually, the refusal came from James Nederlander, the commercial theater owner who controls the Civic Light Opera through a nonprofit organization called the American Corporation for the Arts. Nederlander's top West Coast aide, Stan Seiden, said his boss refused because he was concerned that helping sell tickets to the Lester tribute would reduce CLO season subscriptions.

Despite Nederlander's action, organizers of Monday's benefit at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion say they expect to sell nearly all of the 3,200 tickets available.

Officials of the Music Center and the California Civic Light Opera Assn., which relinquished control of the CLO to Nederlander in 1981, say they made repeated direct appeals for assistance.

"I was disappointed just because I would have liked to have seen all those people who supported the CLO know about the event in plenty of time to get tickets," said Rodney W. Rood, one of four co-chairmen of the Lester tribute. Rood, who is also a director of the now-powerless California Civic Light Opera Assn., said he personally appealed to Nederlander's attorney, Neil Papiano, without success. Papiano is one of 52 governors of the Music Center.

What the Lester tribute organizers wanted was the use of the Civic Light Opera's mailing list to solicit sales of the 3,200 tickets to the event, which will benefit both the Music Center's 1985 annual fund and the American Center for Musical Theater.

In asking for use of the CLO mailing list, the tribute's organizers said they reasoned that many of the people most eager to honor Lester by their presence were Civic Light Opera season ticket holders.

Seiden, Nederlander's top West Coast aide, explained the refusal to cooperate this way:

"The way money is tight today we felt that the soliciting of our people could infringe on people who might want to subscribe to the CLO this year, and because there are just so many entertainment dollars available we just couldn't comply with their request."

He said because the CLO has lost money since Nederlander acquired it, "I think we are probably right in this attitude."

Seiden noted that Lester never allowed the other Music Center performing companies to use the CLO's mailing list.

But the organizers of the Lester tribute did not insist on actually seeing the CLO mailing list now controlled by Nederlander. Rood and others said that the tribute organizers offered to turn materials over to Nederlander so his staff could mail them, at Music Center expense. Seiden said even this arrangement was unacceptable.

Nederlander's refusal to cooperate is in stark contrast to his own acknowledged use of the CLO mailing list to benefit his commercial interests.

The list was used, for example, to solicit ticket buyers for a Placido Domingo concert last summer at the Pacific Amphitheatre, which Nederlander runs in Orange County.

The Nederlander Companies West pay a $4,000 fee to the American Corporation for the Arts each time the mailing list is used for these commercial purposes, Seiden said.

He added that "I have a great affinity for Ed Lester. The first show Ed produced that went to Broadway was 'Song of Norway,' and I was the New York press agent for the show. . . . Ed Lester is not only the founder of CLO, but probably the greatest living theatrical figure in Southern California."

The American Corporation for the Arts bought 10 tickets to the Lester tribute, Seiden noted.

Lester founded the Civic Light Opera in 1937 to bring musicals to the West Coast. He nurtured it for four decades until it became the largest subscription-audience theater in the nation. At one time it had 270,000 season subscribers, but that list has since dwindled to between 60,000 and 70,000.

Theater critics say the CLO has suffered losses of season subscribers under Nederlander because it offers second-rate productions and capricious schedules.

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