My Law Firm Drops Me
In October 2016, three months after the Vassar fiasco, an actor named Bonnie Milligan (the only other survivor from the Ashland production) informed me that she was hired for a workshop and public presentation of Head Over Heels in New York – a maneuver undertaken without my knowledge nor my consent.
The producers had no right to do this. I still owned the rights to the property. This was theft.
On October 11th I asked Conrad Rippy and my new agent Scott:
Who was funding this workshop?
When is the public presentation going to be?
Scott claimed no knowledge, replying that he “Just called over to production counsel again. Will hit you back as soon as I have more information.”
Rippy replied “Looks like Scott has you covered …” as he emailed from the very law firm that was production counsel.
Sensing that I was being lied to by men whom I paid to protect my interests, I wrote Rippy:
Oct 12, 2016 at 4:53 PM
To: Conrad Rippy
From: Jeff Whitty
Come, now; there's no one besides production counsel who can answer these rather simple questions?
No Go-Go's know, either?
Am I further being "protected from myself" (to quote John Buzzetti on the very day I discovered that he actively negotiated against me in favor of two more successful and revenue-generating clients, and destroyed my years of work in the process, while all parties ignored my plea to take inventory of the losses)?
Conrad. Come on. What is up?
Maybe I'll ask CC and the Music Factory.
(The YouTube link leads to the song “Things That Make You Go Hmm.”)
A few hours later, I followed up:
Oct 12, 2016 at 9:34 PM
To: Conrad Rippy
From: Jeff Whitty
And by this email, Conrad, are you saying -- as my professionally hired attorney — that you have no answers to the questions I posed? 1. Where is the money coming from? 2. When is the 29-hour reading? My draft I will deliver — oh, say, Monday afternoon, when the actors are all settled in their folding chairs at the studio.
I kept revising Head Over Heels after I quit the Mayer production, even as my representation lied that I refused to change anything. I spent hundreds of hours creating a strong, slimmed-down revised draft that addressed every "tic" from the pilot production. I was desperate to workshop my revised script – but I’d never get the chance.
Oct 13, 2016 at 5:59 AM
To: Jeff Whitty
From: Conrad Rippy
Yup, that's 100% true.I have no idea - not the slightest - who is financing the work session, other than the fact that Donovan and Rick are still involved, as far as I can tell.And I also have not heard anything about a 29-hour-reading; I'm pretty sure that there's nothing like that planned at present.
I know that the work session is scheduled for next week, only because Charlotte is planning on coming to NYC for her birthday in eight days because the timing coincides with the end of the work session. But none of the other Go-Go's are coming out here, and no one from the producer side has contacted me with any information whatsoever. (The only way I even know that this is happening is that Charlotte emailed me to let me know about her birthday trip.)
Scott really is much more plugged in on this stuff than I am, in part because I've asked him to be. He keeps me informed as he finds things out, but right now he's the point of first contact with the producers.
One might assume from Rippy’s statement that Susan Mindell (production counsel) was vacationing in a sub-Saharan wasteland with no cell service nor email, rather than perched steps from Rippy’s desk.
Beyond the fact that his firm WAS production counsel and thus was in direct communication with the producers, Conrad’s use of the euphemism “work session” struck me as suspicious. A “work session” suggests a few folding chairs “working” behind closed doors.
So I called Actors Equity and learned that this was no “work session” but a fully-mounted 29-hour reading, an expensive endeavor costing hundreds of thousands of dollars that requires tremendous infrastructure and coordination. And the end result is a public presentation.
As Go-Go’s were seen in attendance, it’s impossible that Rippy did not know any details. Travel had to be arranged, housing found, and such matters were certainly his area. I have many emails where Conrad dealt with my travel and housing. How could he not know?
Rippy is lying to me here. But lo and behold, he finally “got word” later that day, writing “New news - I was invited as of this afternoon by Donovan to a presentation at 3:00 p.m. next Friday here in NYC. I've not responded.” To which I replied:
Oct 13, 2016 at 5:34 PM
To: Conrad Rippy
From: Jeff Whitty
So this is Friday of next week, yes? That presentation, were it to occur, cannot bear my name. And they simply cannot make changes without my approval especially while thinking they can affix my name on it. Especially given Michael Mayer's lack of collaboration in the months preceding Vassar. And I, who made a show that was not broken but simply needed its organic process of slimming, now have a show that is broken by Mayer's shitty work. And it will go on front of the producers I would later court if Donovan and Rick go bye-bye. Period. Sorry. Cannot happen. What the hell are they thinking? Their counsel has had plenty of time to reach out to Scott and sew this up.
They have not. ... They're about to get a bomb dropped because I am broke, ruined and have nothing left to lose.Please inform them that none of this has my approval and as no contracts have been signed or deals made to remove me, they may as well call it off. My name cannot be on it. For starters. As for the rest ... everybody is gonna fucking find out.
I was furious, and while I wish I’d kept my cool, these were marching orders nonetheless – that would go entirely ignored by my lawyer. So I followed up again:
Oct 14, 2016 at 8:19 AM
To: Conrad Rippy and Scott [WME]
From: Jeff Whitty
It is a workshop. A 29-hour READING. It is. I know for a fact that it is an Equity-approved reading with all of the folderol because I looked into it.
There is no such thing as a "work session."
Head Over Heels cannot bear my name whatsoever in any area at all ever anywhere when it is directed by Michael Salieri, sorry Mayer, artistic thief, as ably assisted by John Buzzetti.
That. Is. Final. Please tell them.
Scott, after Vassar you asked if I could come in and “clean up the rough edges” and the problem is that the rough edges are not of my creating. I made a show that was a smooth joyful ride. Any jangly bits are all Mayer’s doing.
So they are forbidden to use my name.
No response all day from Rippy. So I wrote again:
Oct 14, 2016 at 7:07 PM
To: Conrad Rippy, Scott [WME]
From: Jeff Whitty
There will be no rehearsal Monday, I presume. What legal measures must I take to assure this will not proceed, this butchered version of my careful work that nonetheless bears my name? As presented by people who want to use my name (and Tony Award and etc) to feather their own selfish fucking beds? I am disappointed. Is it inner conflict creating all this silence? What?
I can shut it down myself, but there are reasons I retain an agent and a lawyer.
By now I figured that Rippy would not respond. I was right.
I realized that I was in a cruel game of keep-away, with rich powerful confidence artists using my valuable art as their prize – and to make matters worse, I wasn’t fighting an outside enemy. I was fighting my own representation - those in whom I placed an artist’s greatest trust. I stood alone against a powerful law firm – mine – and the industry’s most powerful talent agency – mine – and a bevy of moneyed producers exploiting Gwyneth Paltrow’s fame.
All of them with endless money and influence - and a slippery way with the truth.
At last the fog cleared. I realized that I had no representatives at all. I tenuously retained ownership of a valuable prize – one that I made myself. By now it was clear that Scott was a (likely unwilling) puppet for my former agent, whose ego was at stake in the game, who held a powerful grudge against me.
Meanwhile, Conrad Rippy, whom I counted as a friend of almost two decades as well as my lawyer, gave a performance of representing me in order to 1) keep tabs on me and 2) keep me at heel. Our friendship was a hollow front. As was his lawyering. His performance was showing its artifice at this point. I was in a trap – again.
I decided to vault past them and reach out directly to the Go-Go’s band member whom I knew best: Gina Schock, for we shared a mutual friend. I was pretty sure that the band was not given the real reason for my departure from the show. And I wanted to alert them that a lot of potential income was at risk thanks to the fiduciary betrayals of our mutual lawyer.
Friday, October 14, 2016 at 9:16:04 PM
From: Jeff Whitty
To: Gina Schock
Subject: Dear Gina
You of all Go-Go’s are the Go I know the best. Rob [redacted] and all that. It is Jeff Whitty. You remember me, I hope. I hope all is well in your life and that things are drumming along.
So Gina, I can’t say too much lest this get back to Conrad. I know he means well but I think he may be puting our project that should be minting money at this very moment at tremendous risk. ... I’ve been shamed into silence but I am going to break it now.
As for this email, however — and whatever you do is up to you — I simply ask you keep your lips … you know.
Sincerely, Jeff Whitty
I hit ‘send’ on a Friday night.
No response Saturday nor Sunday. Then on Monday morning - the next business day - an email from Conrad Rippy arrived.
The letter is remarkable, for nearly every sentence contains a lie.
I write today to let you know that, regretfully, I am resigning our firm’s representation of you, effective immediately, for two principal reasons, both of which have become increasingly clear to me over the course of the past year.
Curiously, he does not mention the email that I just sent to Gina Schock. Supposedly these conflicts only now occurred to him. The truth is: he knew he was about to get caught.
First, I do not believe the actions which you wish Scott and me to take on your behalf are in your best interests. To the contrary, I believe that the positions you wish us to stake are counterproductive for you and your career.
What could be more counterproductive to my career than the amateurish flop bubbling on the stove, a reckless decimation of a work with proven audience appeal?
What could harm my reputation more than to be known as a sleazy predator who engages artists to work for years, only to discard them later for no reason given? Had I followed my attorney’s “artistic advice,” my reputation would go in the gutter.
I did not engage Rippy as nanny of my career - for he is most ill-suited, especially as he had little experience in theater. Whereas I had two decades of experience and a Tony Award for a long-running musical hit under my belt. As a lawyer, he does not do my work nor take my risks, nor does he work on the floor in the thick of the crowd as I do, taking hits from critics, failing and failing until success emerges (if it ever does). I can only do a few projects at a time and the work is arduous in the thick of the crowd. Conrad juggled dozens of clients and projects from the safety of his desk.
Why couldn’t he just do his job? The answer lies in the conflicts.
Specifically, you have continued to labor under the misperception (in my opinion) that the OSF production of Head Over Heels was the near-perfect incarnation of that work (notwithstanding a few edits)
This is a deliberate, sneering misinterpretation of the pride I took in my first production. Rippy is trying to enshrine his self-serving lie that I was “difficult,” the better to claim that removing my creative control was good for me.
No first production is perfect. It’s the point of doing a show out of town. Nonetheless, as a result of my diligent attentions, opening night of the pilot production of Head Over Heels offered a first in my career: a storytelling structure which in its first outing kept the audience engaged from curtain-up to curtain call.
This is why Rippy called it “a work of genius." For structure is the hardest part, on which musicals succeed or fail. I killed myself to make the structure work because I knew I had a single preview to revise (Avenue Q had thirty, for context). My pride was that of a craftsman surveying his work. But was I finished? Hardly. With the structure solid, I was ready to tackle the numerous details.
and you have continually resisted any attempts to change the show which would make it more attractive to commercial producers.
Absolute nonsense, 180 degrees from the truth. A flat-out lie. In Rippy’s fabulations, refusing to go along with my agent’s reckless packaging scheme = refusing to change anything. This is deliberate, stubborn binary thinking.
In my countless words beseeching my attorney to take my side, I never stated anything resembling a refusal to revise Head Over Heels. As I wrote earlier, this lie was entirely made up in order to portray me as “difficult” and justify the theft of my ownership. It was opportunistic calumny, a grave insult to the career I built as a generous, hardworking artist.
Although you and I have discussed on countless occasions the fact that Head Over Heels was dead after OSF
Countless occasions, eh? Hardly. Head Over Heels was never “dead” until my agent and lawyer made it so to feather their own selfish beds. For the entire sold-out five-month run, they sent no producers nor theater owners save one at my request, whom my agent then discouraged from coming aboard with a lie that I was inflexible.
and that it is only when Michael Mayer came on board that the show regained any forward momentum,
The reason it had “forward momentum” is because my agent, who had installed his clients where my fired collaborators were, was selling it hard while smearing me to the industry.
you have not only refused to cooperate with Michael Mayer (most notably, by failing to attend the workshop at NYSAF as you did not want simply to be the person who kept saying “no” – an intrinsically non-collaborative posture to begin with)
Mayer destroyed the architecture of a meticulously-structured musical with his very first move. This defines “uncollaborative.” He never consulted me about the damage caused by pulling Carmel Dean’s arrangements. He never once asked his “sub bottom” a single question about the show, even though I devised the whole enterprise.
Mayer was the first director in my career who did not work on a consensus basis.
That I didn’t want to be the person who said “no” was hardly uncooperative – it’s the position of a conflict-averse artist ordered to destroy his own work to please the fiduciary overlords in his employ. My attempts to retain what clicked with audiences forced me to put my foot down.
My art is my livelihood. It is my only source of income. Rippy and Buzzetti juggle dozens of clients and hundreds of projects and are swimming in money. Their risk was minimal – until they realized that the truth of their abuses might become known. Then I became dangerous, and remain so.
you are now attempting to prevent the present workshop by asking Scott and me to prevent rehearsals from commencing today. Not only do you not have that legal right – the workshop is closed, and is not a commercial presentation – you are asking us to take a position which is directly at odds with your own best interest. I cannot cooperate with you to attempt such a course of action.
This is a provable lie, as the deceptively named “work session” was not "closed." It ended with a public presentation with commercial producers in attendance. The industry was invited before rehearsals began. Conrad Rippy himself said that he had been invited to a public presentation in his October 13th email. I repeat the quote: “New news - I was invited as of this afternoon by Donovan to a presentation at 3:00 p.m. next Friday here in NYC. I've not responded.”
Did he think that I had forgotten?
I had every right to keep the producers from flaunting my ruined property before the public. But my conflict-ridden lawyer would not fulfil his fiduciary obligation to me.
Many producers were in attendance for Mayer's presentation, but none with experience picked up the show because of Mayer’s incoherent storytelling and leaden hand with comedy.
Mayer’s baffling show was only picked up by a novice producer, CHRISTINE RUSSELL, who had never developed a musical before. Her inexperience and dismissal of the originating artist helped sink the production that followed. (Once more: “The Dunning-Kruger Effect.”)
Secondly, and relatedly, you are asking me to implement actions which are in direct conflict with the interests of the firm’s other clients on this musical, the Go-Go’s. When I brought you into this project in the spring of 2012, your interests and those of the Go-Go’s were perfectly aligned as co-authors of Head Over Heels. However, since the close of the OSF production last year, your interests and desires have increasingly diverged from those of the Go-Go’s. The events of this past week have crystalized this conflict.
When a lawyer represents all sides of a contract, he controls the property. He needs but sow division amongst his clients in order to retain his primacy. As I was not a celebrity nor wealthy, I was the one to go. This is appalling fiduciary abuse.
They were using my name as if the work was mine. But I’d be blamed for Mayer’s failings, and Mayer would get credit for my success.
The Go-Go’s are happy with the new creative team (Michael Mayer and Tom Kitt), and they are enthusiastic participants in this next stage of development.
Had the Go-Go’s attended any of the thousands of hours of work that went into mounting the Ashland production, I'm certain they’d have had a similar attachment to Carmel Dean. (And Kathy Valentine adored Carmel’s work, remember.) Instead, the band became actively engaged only when they recognized the show’s potential success, so the first people they worked with were Mayer and Kitt.
Of course they believed the lies that Mayer/Kitt were the “only path to Broadway.” (There as many paths to Broadway as there have been shows on the boards.) It’s what they were told. Until Rippy divided us, I always got along wonderfully with the Go-Go’s and was receptive to anything they said. (They sent me notes a few weeks after the Ashland production; I still hadn’t been paid by the producers so refused to work until I was paid.) The band was new to the Broadway industry, and so did not understand the role of a pilot production. The inexperienced Rippy was their point person, giving them artificial absolutes that had no bearing on the reality of the business. As the band wanted a success, they were easily manipulated.
I feel badly for the Go-Go’s in many ways. They missed out on many millions of dollars by trusting Conrad Rippy. They missed out on the wonderful experience of creating a hit show and watching it take off. Their careers might have gained momentum instead of becoming tied to a massive Broadway flop.
You, on the other hand, wish to prevent it. I cannot simultaneously represent such diametrically opposed interests, and as the Go-Go’s first retained me on this project, prior to my bringing you in as bookwriter, and since I believe that your actions are opposed to your best interests as well as the Go-Go’s, I must cease representing you.
Why does Rippy not mention the conflict with the producers, whose interests his firm also represents? For this shall become increasingly clear in the ugly forthcoming battle. This omission says everything. He has to invent reasons because the truth is not on his side.
By resigning representation, I am relinquishing any further claim by my firm to your income from this project. Furthermore, pursuant to the Code of Professional Responsibility I will keep any and all confidential information which I have learned pursuant to my representation of you in confidence.
Now Rippy is blowing the dust off of the New York State Bar's Code of Professional Responsibility?
If he is so pious, why did he repeat a gossipy lie to outsiders (like my friend Ian) that “Jeff wants the show to be three-and-a-half hours long” and God knows what else?
I will fully cooperate with any successor attorney you may retain with any transition. I further believe that with respect to the present negotiation with the commercial producers of Head Over Heels, you are in good hands with Scott and if he needs any information from me at any point, I will supply it.
I wish you all the best in this project and in the future.
Alas, Scott was but a puppet for the agent whom I fired.
Next came an email from Gina Schock, which I reprint here to show the influence that Rippy held over the band, and their ignorance of the real issues at hand:
November 17, 2016 at 5:16 PM
From: Gina Schock
To: Jeff Whitty
First off let me say i hope all is well with you and your family. ... Anyway, I am writing you to hopefully open up a line of communication between us concerning our musical.
When you wrote me weeks ago expressing your terrible upset at the way things were moving forward i got it ! I wrote you back hoping to somehow ease your mind and to let you know that we are all in this together and that you are still at the heart of all that is happening now and moving forward. Now, I am so freaked out by what seems to be going down. Jesus Jeff! Please lets try and work this out! We have come so far from what was only a dream not so long ago and now we are at a stand still. It's breaking my heart. It's gotta be killing you.
I want you to know that i know how it feels to put your soul into something and then watch it change, move around into a place you believe is destroying the heart of what it was and is. And so, I must tell you why i understand.
When we finished our first record (which sold the most and is the best in my mind) we felt that it did not represent who we really were.
We went fucking crazy! We hated our producer Richard Gottehrer. We thought he had wrecked our careers. Taken what was a lifetime of experience in song and completely misrepresented it. Certainly not the vision in our minds of what the gogos should be. We felt betrayed after working so closely with this guy. It was a weird time but we had to let go and have faith that somehow the public would get it. And of course the rest is history!! We could not have been more wrong, cause what he had done was show us who we also were. It was just in a different light, a different shade, but the same thing.
And so Jeff....this situation feels very much like what myself and the band went through. I don't know if you'll see it that way but i hope you do and that it may be a little bit of a guide now and moving forward with your career. It has left a profound mark on the band and what we go by always. Just as we gave you our music and trusted that you would take it to another incredible place(and you did) please have some faith and know that we are still here hoping that you will continue to be there with us.
This musical is nowhere without you. Please come back
This is between us, just as were the initial emails
Unfortunately Gina has been manipulated into missing the real conflict: pulling the music arrangements from the show destroyed what worked before the crowd, forcing a restart at Square One, instead of keeping the arrangements and moving forward with what was there. This was my right. And it is obviously smart business to preserve what audiences like, because such material is hard-won and rare. Gina didn’t understand the impossible position that I was in.
Over and over, newbies to the Broadway industry condescended to me about my profession as if I were some deluded, starry-eyed dreamer instead of a seasoned Tony Award-winning professional with nearly two decades in the field. My mindful efforts to maintain a gung-ho “we can do it!” attitude – through the worst - bit me in the ass, for it was seen as naivete. It’s easy to ignore those who grease the rails as one glides easily past.
Her analogy about the Go-Gos’ first album does not apply, because I was the businessman/artist with hard-won years of experience in musical storytelling. Michael Mayer has no bookwriting credits. A better analogy would be that, after completing their first album, everyone in the Go-Go’s was fired but Gina, who was then bullied into remaking the album with the less-appropriate Bangles – and forced to do so without drawing from the work of the unjustly fired members of the band.
But my real point of interest was the closing sentence, which caught my eye. This is a screenshot of the original email:
My first response was to think: “That is odd phrasing. It should say, ‘This is just between us, as were the other emails.’”
Moving the “just” allowed the possibility that others were privy – such as Mr. Rippy, who fired me on the next business day with no mention of my email to Gina.
And then I noticed that the dodgy word “initial” appeared slightly larger than the others. On checking, the font size shifted from 10.5 to 12, then back again …
… as if an intervening hand made an adjustment to render the statement kind of true, but vague enough that the deception couldn’t be called out.
Given the mad puppeteering of the lawyers before and after this, I wonder whether Conrad Rippy revised the very sentence where Gina suggests that no other hands were involved.
Months later I mentioned this curious sentence to Charlotte Caffey (another band member) in an ill-fated meeting. Charlotte claimed that LPMNY had no hands in emails purportedly from the Go-Go’s, which by then was clearly untrue.
I mentioned the closing of Gina's letter and the shift in font sizes, and Charlotte said “Ooops!”