Tony winning author, Mark Medoff passed away on April 23. He was a friend, a colleague, a mentor and a second father to me.
I met him approximately 14 years ago. My wife and daughter and I had lived in New York for years. However, after 9/11, our situation changed. The fact that my wife’s office was 10 blocks from ground zero on the morning of 9/11 did not help. She saw the planes hit the Twin Towers and witnessed the buildings fall on that sun-filled nightmare of a day in September.
She subsequently suffered from PTSD and we felt it was time to leave New York and start anew. I am a playwright, actor and pianist, and as such, you learn that you must network in show business to help your career along. I knew an actor friend in New York City who knew another actor who knew Mark Medoff. Through a friend of a friend, I was given Mark Medoff’s phone number in Las Cruces, where Mark chose to live most of his life, having recently celebrated 50 years at New Mexico State University (for which I played the piano) as a Professor and head of their digital media program.
In any event, I spoke with Mark’s wife Stefanie by phone and she gave me his email address, and I wrote him about a new play of mine entitled, “The Men of Mah Jongg.”
He read the script and wrote me that he thought the play had potential, but that I only had one act, though I had written a two-act play. “What?!” I thought. He then emailed me, “I’m on the shorter end of life and have to pick my projects and prodigies carefully. Working with me is like a shotgun wedding.” Nevertheless, he chose to continue to work with me on the script which turned into many successful productions from New York City to Beverly Hills, all with stellar reviews.
He also worked tirelessly on a Holocaust-themed play of mine entitled “DeliKateSSen.” We worked on that play for a good part of 9 years, three readings and three successful productions, the latest being in January of this year in Rhinebeck, New York. Mark told me, “This play will make you famous.”
I’m not one for fame and fortune, but that statement stuck with me and in fact, a Broadway producer friend passed along my script of “DeliKateSSen” to Matt Penn, a longstanding producer and director of “Law and Order,” “The Sopranos” and “House,” to name a few. His father directed such iconic motion pictures as “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Miracle Worker” and “Little Big Man.” Penn wrote me back saying, “It is a fine play and and if you have a reading of it in the city at some point, I would be very interested in attending. You are a fine writer and the play is original and quite compelling.” Coming from a man like Matthew Penn, that was huge! And who do I have to thank for that praise? My friend, Mark Medoff!
When I would visit with Mark in Las Cruces, we would go out to lunch and laugh about so many things. However, every two seconds, people would come by our table to say hi to the famous Mark Medoff, and no matter who it was, Mark was gracious and kind and a great listener and sometimes, after someone would depart our table, he would say to me, “I have no idea who that person was.”
He had a nickname for me, “The Shyst!” That was short for shyster as he was so amused how I would finagle certain 5 star perks when I would travel abroad.
He loved his family more than life itself and gave so much to so many people and asked for nothing in return. He is and will continue to be an inspiration to us all and I will miss him every single day I continue to live on this planet. RIP, Mark. I know you’ll be looking down on my Broadway opening one day soon, beaming with pride saying, “The Shyst does it again!”
Farewell from Richard Atkins.