Education

10 years later, a look back on the embattled legacy of ‘Smash’

“Almost immediately after (Rebeck) delivered the script, four or five months later, I left the network for NBC and I was sad to leave that project behind,” Greenblatt described. “But then I thought, well, you know, why couldn’t ‘Smash’ be right for a broadcast network? The Showtime version was a little edgier, there was harsher language and whatnot. But I thought well, we could easily adapt this for NBC and everybody was on board. So we got the rights for this project out of Showtime and I greenlit it at NBC.”

But what was the musical in the musical series going to be?

“There were various thoughts about maybe it should be something like ‘The Three Musketeers’ because the juxtaposition of the costumes and the contemporary could have led to more comedy … blah, blah, blah,” Wittman told TODAY via Zoom. “I was the one who said, ‘Well, what if it’s about Marilyn?’ Steven loved that idea and we also were able to write songs about Marilyn that also had to deal with the lives of the two characters who were trying to compete for the part.”

This was really a unique “aha moment” in the creative process.

Marilyn Monroe poses for a publicity portrait for the 20th Century-Fox movie “River of No Return” in 1954.Donaldson Collection / Getty Images

Shaiman added, “When Scott said, ‘How about the life of Marilyn Monroe?’ — everyone just kind of went yeah. It was the last time everyone who worked on the show agreed on anything.”

From there, the creative team began pouring themselves into the life of Monroe, especially Wittman.

What was the most interesting thing they learned about her?

“She was actually a very deep thinker. People don’t think of her that way and we tried to bring that out,” Wittman explained. “But the best story was in one of the books she wrote with someone about her life. One of the stories was about a baby grand piano that she had as a child, and that she associated with her mother. She tried to find that piano again and eventually did. Then by coincidence, Mark was working with Mariah Carey, and she actually owns the actual piano that once belonged to Marilyn. That’s a real ‘aha’ moment, too!”

“There are so many people who live in the middle of the country who can’t fly to New York and afford a $200 ticket to experience a live show. So to be able to bring that to television felt very special.”

DEBRA MESSING

That story inspired the song “Second Hand White Baby Grand,” a heartwrenching ballad featuring the emotional lyrics: “Something secondhand and broken/ Still can make a pretty sound/ Even if it doesn’t have a place to live.”

“When we found that story in the Marilyn Monroe autobiography, we just latched on to it,” Shaiman added. “Her mother was mentally ill and they would come and get her and put her away and then she would still be let out for just a few weeks or months. Marilyn said she associated the only time she ever thought her mother was happy was when she was playing the piano. So when they drag your mom away, then they drag the piano away, too. Finding that piano was a great metaphor of finding a moment of happiness within her very unhappy childhood.”

Let them be your star

“Smash” wasn’t just about Monroe, it was also about the two women vying to play her on Broadway. The first: An established prima donna with a litany of chorus girl credits on her resume. The other: An up-and-coming belter who has never set foot in a Broadway bathroom, let alone a Broadway stage.

“There were a lot of women that came in for both roles,” Meron told TODAY. Zadan — Meron’s business partner — died in 2018 at the age of 69.

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