|Tom Hanks as Mike McAlary in 'Lukcy Guy'
The era of hard drinking Irish reporters who ran the tabloid empires of The New York Post, Newsday, and the New York Daily News has just recently passed.
However, it comes alive in a deeply evocative production of ‘Lucky Guy’ on Broadway, written by the late Nora Ephron, that I finally saw last night.
Tom Hanks plays tabloid columnist and all around bad boy Mike McAlary, who was king of the New York tabloid scene in that era before internet and when the sniffy New York Times would not touch the brazen Irish scribes with a bargepole.
Hanks just got nominated for a Tony for best actor and it is easy to see why. He catches McAlary in all his contradictions and genius and manages to evoke the era of the 1980s and 90s when New York was spiraling out of control and the Irish reporters were among the few making sense of it all.
The “Mick Clique” they were known as, and they were a dazzling array of talent, led by Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill who essentially helped invent the art of tabloid journalism and followed by great exponents of the art such as Jim Dwyer, Mike McAlary, Michael Daly, and others.
I knew all of them, especially Dwyer, so it was quite a startling experience to see him and the others portrayed on Broadway in a smash hit that just had its run extended.
There are lots of drinking scenes, corny Irish ballads and a few moments when it tips into stereotypes of hard drinking reporters.
But there is also a deep sense of an era slipping away shortly to be replaced with Internet access, royal gossip as king, and tabloids, chewing gum for the eyes.
The sense of a mission to speak up for the little guy in all his threadbare glory drove many of the journalists and still does. The sense back then was that news mattered and exposing corruption was important.
McAlary was a hard guy to like often during his career and I had one personal run in with him back in the day which revealed him as an awkward customer.
Yet Hanks manages to tease out the humanity, the genius, and the faults in the deeply conflicted writer.
He broke some of the greatest police scandals of all time in New York, most notably, while dying of cancer at just 42 years old, he told the story of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant sodomized with a plunger in a police bathroom by rogue racist cops.
McAlary won a Pulitzer for that, his last great scoop before succumbing to colon cancer at just 43 years old.
He was too young to die and an era pretty much died with him. In the last scenes the reporters are using cell phones, the bosses are cutting back, the tsunami of the Internet is about to come crashing down on every newsroom in America.
One of the songs they sing has a line “Isn’t it grand boys to be bloody well dead,” and dead that era is and some would claim print journalism.
It washed away the Mick Clique in all its glory and more is the shame. Sure, there are fine exponents like Dwyer who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and Dennis Hamill still writing but the days when tabloid was king and journalists were the little guy’s best defenders are gone.
More’s the pity for that.
See this play if you can, it has just been extended to July and if there is any justice Hanks will win best actor. It has also been nominated for best play.
Here's a clip of Tom Hanks and Maura Tierney in "Lucky Guy":