Posted: Oct. 7, 2010 | Updated: 10:57 a.m. Oct. 7, 2010Ernie Harwell's life to take center stage; Mitch Albom to pen script
BY JOHN LOWE
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
You'll be able to see and hear "Ernie" near the ballpark next season.
A play by that name, written by Mitch Albom and based on the late Ernie Harwell's fascinating life, is due to open at the City Theatre, across from Comerica Park, about the same time as the Tigers start their 2011 campaign.
"Ernie will be recounting his life to another person, starting from when he was a poor kid in Georgia who had a speech impediment and had a father who was wheelchair-bound, all the way up to the end," Albom said Wednesday. "Images
from his career and his voice will be woven in through the magic of theater."
Albom -- the Free Press columnist, best-selling author and veteran playwright -- said "Ernie" will stay anchored in this city where Harwell ensconced his Southern accent as the radio voice of the Tigers.
"I'm really writing this for Detroit," Albom said. "My eyes aren't on Broadway or taking this anywhere else. ... This is my tribute to somebody I really admired."A writer's dream: Personal knowledge of a subject of depth, significance
Sometimes in sports, we are blessed with a perfect pairing of writer and subject.
There was the New Yorker's A.J. Liebling on 1950s boxing.
There was John Updike on Ted Williams.
There was Ken Dryden peering through his goalie's mask and bringing unprecedented illumination to hockey in his book "The Game."
And now Mitch Albom is writing a play on Ernie Harwell. Albom has won many awards and honors for his work as a Free Press columnist, has sold 30-million copies of his books and has written three plays. He provides what Leonard Bernstein said of the best music: a direct hit on the heart.
Harwell was a storyteller of wit and brevity who spoke as leisurely as if he were sitting on a Georgia porch. Only occasionally did he have to confess, "I don't rightly remember."
The play will be called "Ernie," and as Albom discussed it Wednesday, he clearly had ascended into a writer's dream: having a subject of depth and significance whom he'd known personally.
"When you're going to do a play about a real person, you need a pretty broad swath of a life," he said. "Ernie lived so long and saw so much. It's not just a story of one guy -- it's a story of a time and of a sport and of America during that stretch. ...
"So it's a rich life. And you need a rich life if you're going to do a play about one person -- think about the Mark Twain-Hal Holbrook show, or the one about Golda Meir called 'Golda's Balcony.' "
Albom will depict Harwell, who died in May at 92, at many ages and will seek an actor with such chronological flexibility.
Harwell was modest, but he was raised a journalist, and he recognized his life provided a script. He wanted Albom to turn it into one.
"Ernie and Gary Spicer (Harwell's attorney) had spoken to me a couple of times about doing a play or movie about Ernie's life," Albom said. "I thought a play would be more intimate. A movie is mostly about images. A play is about words. And Ernie is about words and broadcasting."
A portion of the proceeds will go to several of Harwell's favorite charities.
The show will run for 85 minutes, Albom said. He envisions that on Tigers game nights, its curtain at City Theatre will go up at 5:30 p.m., so that afterward patrons can walk across Woodward to Comerica Park for a 7:05 first pitch. That would be an evening full of play-by-play.For inquiries about "Ernie," including acting roles, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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