Robert L. Freedman

Robert L. Freedman (born July 27, 1957) is an American screenwriter, playwright, and lyricist. He is probably best known for his teleplays for "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella" (1997) and the acclaimed 2001 miniseries "", for which he was nominated for Emmy Awards as both writer and producer.

Early years

Robert Levi Freedman was born July 27, 1957 at Kaiser Permanente in Harbor City, California, to parents Eric and Shirley Freedman. Together with Robert's older sister Karla Freedman (later Bagley), they lived in Gardena, California. Shirley was a legal secretary, while Eric owned and operated his own business, EEF Electric, which remained in Gardena in 1969 when the family moved to Cypress, California (in Orange County). Robert's Bar Mitzvah took place the following year at Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim.

Robert attended Purche Avenue Elementary School, Pine Junior High School, and Los Alamitos High School, where he was Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper. However, during his high school years Robert's real passion was for USY (United Synagogue Youth). He studied at Hebrew High School and was active in USY at his home chapter of Temple Beth Emet. Through USY, Robert spent 8 weeks in Israel during the summer of 1973, when he was 16 years old. In 1974, Robert was elected President of the Far West region of USY, which includes congregations in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Hawaii, and Utah.

Higher education

Upon graduating a semester early from Los Alamitos High School, Robert wished to focus on his duties as USY Regional President, but his father insisted that he immediately begin college. In the spring of 1975, he enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles as an English major, but quickly switched to Theatre. During his time at UCLA, Robert continued to be involved with USY as the Youth Director at Temple Ner Tamid, where he directed his students in his own original musicals "Laban's Lingerie" and "Follow Me Anywhere". He continued this tradition at Valley Beth Israel with "Temptation". While studying playwriting at UCLA with Gary Gardner, Robert had several one-act plays produced there, including "Backstage Brouhaha", "Banana Split", "Hello Gorgeous", and "Peel Me An Onion". Robert graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from UCLA in 1979.

Although he had been accepted to Loyola Law School, Robert moved to New York City in 1980 and began to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. In 1981, Robert decided to pursue a second MFA at NYU. He became part of the inaugural class of NYU's prestigious graduate Musical Theatre Writing program, taught by such legendary talents as Jule Styne, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. His classmates included future collaborators John Bayless and Steven Lutvak.

Marriage & family life

In February 1982, Robert was introduced by a friend to singer-actress Jean Kauffman, who was performing at The Ballroom with her nightclub act Hilly, Lili, and Lulu. On September 4, 1982, Robert proposed at the top of the Empire State Building. They were married by Rabbi Moshe J. Rothblum on July 3, 1983 in a ceremony before family and friends in Pasadena, California.

Five years later, on May 19, 1988, Jean gave birth to their son Max at Mount Sinai Hospital. They lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side until 1991, when the family made the difficult decision to relocate to Los Angeles in order to further Robert's burgeoning career in television. They settled in the San Fernando Valley, where they remain to this day.

Television - highlights

Early career

In 1982, while still a student at NYU, Robert received his first writing job for television from producer Linda Yellen, scripting "The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana" with Selma Thompson, who would become Robert's writing partner for the next several years. Together, Robert and Selma went on to write produced teleplays for "Taken Away" (1989), starring Valerie Bertinelli, "Locked Up: A Mother's Rage" (1991), and "Woman with a Past" (1992).

Robert was hand-picked by Jule Styne, his former teacher at NYU, to write the script for "Broadway Sings the Music of Jule Styne", a 1987 musical-variety special for Great Performances on PBS which was directed by Joe Layton and featured performances by Carol Channing, Chita Rivera, Patti Austin, Melissa Manchester, Donna McKechnie and Ann Reinking, Linda Lavin, Maurice Hines, Phyllis Newman, Hal Linden, Vic Damone and Diahann Carroll, as well as appearances by several of Styne's past collaborators: Sammy Cahn, Arthur Laurents, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1991, one of Robert's first scripts to hit the small screen was an episode of the HBO series "Lifestories: Families in Crisis." The episode entitled "A Deadly Secret: The Robert Bierer Story" starred Wil Wheaton and earned Robert the 1993 Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Television Children's Show.

Robert has adapted two books by true-crime novelist Jerry Bledsoe for television: "Honor Thy Mother" (1992) and "Bitter Blood", also known as "In the Best of Families: Marriage, Pride & Madness" (1994), which starred Kelly McGillis, Harry Hamlin, and Keith Carradine. Robert's script for the critically acclaimed "What Love Sees" (1996) was based on the book by Susan Vreeland and interviews with the real-life Holly family. Gordon and Jean Holly were portrayed in the film by Richard Thomas and Annabeth Gish.

"Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella"

Robert hit a career milestone in 1997 with the ABC television event "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella", produced for the Wonderful World of Disney, which reached an estimated audience of 60 million before going on to success on video and DVD. Originally developed in 1993 for Whitney Houston to star as the title character, Houston ultimately chose to step into the role of the Fairy Godmother, with Brandy as Cinderella. Robert's script was adapted from the 1957 original with songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, which starred Julie Andrews as Cinderella and was the highest-rated television special of its time. The 1997 version, directed by Robert Iscove and choreographed by Rob Marshall, was notable for its multi-racial cast, which included Bernadette Peters, Victor Garber, Whoopi Goldberg, and Paolo Montalban as the Prince.

Robert was responsible for interpolating three new songs into the story: "Falling In Love With Love," a song by Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, Rodgers' own "The Sweetest Sounds," and an obscure Rodgers & Hammerstein song called "There's Music In You." Robert also created the character of Lionel (played by Jason Alexander) and wrote selected additional lyrics for the song "The Prince is Giving a Ball."

Into the 21st century

In early 2001, Robert had two high-profile projects hit the airwaves within weeks of each other: "What Makes a Family" and "". Both films were critically acclaimed and featured on the cover of leading LGBT magazine "The Advocate".

Produced by Barbra Streisand, Cis Corman, Whoopi Goldberg, and Storyline Entertainment, and directed by Maggie Greenwald, "What Makes a Family" tells the true story of a devoted lesbian couple, played by Brooke Shields and Cherry Jones, who decide to have a baby. When the little girl is five, her natural mother (Jones) dies of lupus and the girl's grandparents try to win custody, against the wishes of the surviving partner (Shields) who desperately wants to keep her daughter. The state of Florida did not allow gay adoption at the time, and still doesn't to this day, in spite of this landmark case. "What Makes a Family" won a GLAAD Award for best television movie of the year, and Robert's script was a finalist for the Humanitas Prize.

The ABC mini-series ' was the top-rated movie of the 2000-2001 television season, and was the winner of five Emmy Awards, the Television Critics Association Award, and the Broadcast Critics Award; it was nominated for the Golden Globe and appeared on several Top 10 Lists, including "The New York Times". Robert was nominated for an Emmy and a Writers Guild Award for his script, which he adapted from the memoir ' by Lorna Luft, as well as a mountain of research about the life and career of legendary entertainer Judy Garland. Director Robert Allan Ackerman and actor Victor Garber were also Emmy-nominated, and Emmys were won by stars Judy Davis and Tammy Blanchard, among others.

Most recently, Robert wrote the teleplay for the Lifetime Television Original Movie "Murder in the Hamptons", which was the highest rated basic cable movie of 2005. The true tale of the murder of multi-millionaire investment banker Ted Ammon (played by David Sutcliffe) in October 2001, the story follows the bitter divorce between Ammon and his wife Generosa (Poppy Montgomery) and her relationship with contractor Danny Pelosi (Shawn Christian), who was convicted of Ammon's murder in December 2004.

Musical Theatre projects

"Grand Duchy" (1984-present)

"Grand Duchy", with book and lyrics by Robert and music by John Bayless, began as a graduate thesis project at NYU. Loosely inspired by Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper", "Grand Duchy" is a 30's-style screwball comedy that tells the story of a Princess and a Rebel who switch places and turn everything upside down in the tiniest country in Europe. In March 1984, a staged reading of "Grand Duchy" was performed at Playwrights Horizons, directed by Michael Leeds. Two years later, New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse produced a staged reading directed by Phillip Wm. McKinley. In August 2000, another staged reading was produced at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, California, directed by Jules Aaron, and was equally well-received. In November 2003, "Grand Duchy" received its world premiere production, directed by Clark Sayre (who appeared in the 1984 reading at Playwrights Horizons) at Dos Pueblos High School near Santa Barbara, California. In its various incarnations, "Grand Duchy" has featured such actors as Lonny Price, Diane Fratantoni, Stephen Bogardus, Robert Mandan, and Marian Mercer.

"Miss Spectacular" (1999-2000)

In 1999, Broadway composer Jerry Herman ("Hello, Dolly!", "Mame", "La Cage Aux Folles") asked Robert to write the book for his new musical, "Miss Spectacular". The show was to be produced by developer Steve Wynn at one of his Las Vegas hotels, but the project never came to fruition.

"Campaign of the Century" (2003-present)

"Campaign of the Century" is a collaboration between Robert and singer-songwriter Steven Lutvak based on the book of the same name by Greg Mitchell. The show is set during the Great Depression and centers on the comic chicanery, media manipulation, and outrageous shenanigans surrounding Upton Sinclair's race for Governor of California in 1934. The musical has been presented in several staged readings, under the auspices of the Beverly Hills Musical Theatre Guild (2006), the New York Musical Theatre Festival (2005), the Chicago Humanities Festival (2004), and the American Musical Theatre of San Jose (2003-04), which originally commissioned the work. Casts of these readings have included John Rubinstein, Michael Rupert, Kaitlin Hopkins, Jean Louisa Kelly, Sally Mayes, and Josh Radnor.

"Kind Hearts and Coronets" (2004-present)

Robert and Steven Lutvak have most recently written a musical version of the classic British film comedy "Kind Hearts and Coronets". They were invited to the Sundance Institute's Theatre Lab for a 3-week workshop in July 2006, with Ron Lagomarsino directing a cast including Raul Esparza (playing the roles originated by Alec Guinness in the film), Robert Petkoff, Nancy Anderson, Judy Kuhn and Jordan Gelber. A staged reading was held in April 2006 at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, Massachusetts. One-hour presentations of excerpts from the show were held in New York City in October 2004 and January 2005, featuring Esparza, Anderson, Rebecca Luker, Melissa Errico, and Malcolm Gets.

Honors & Awards


In 1986, three years after receiving his two graduate degrees from NYU, Robert was invited to teach Screenwriting to undergraduate Film & Television students in the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, a position he held until 1991.

From 2002-2005, Robert returned to academia at the University of Southern California, teaching Screenwriting in the School of Cinema-Television's Graduate Writing Program and the Peter Stark Producing Program.

External links

* [ Official site]

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