Jane Alexander had never been involved in mainstream politics and was happily engaged in her acting career when she was asked to consider becoming head of the embattled National Endowment for the Arts in the early 1990s. When, during her first visit to the Hill, Senator Strom Thurmond barked at her, "You gonna fund pornography?" she knew it would be a rough ride. Nothing had quite prepared her for the role of madame chairman. Her tenure coincided with the ascent of the infamous 104th Congress, presided over by Speaker Newt Gingrich, and its campaign to eliminate the Endowment completely. In Command Performance, Alexander brings a Washington outsider's perspective and an actor's eye for the telling human detail to an anecdote-filled story of the art of politics and the politics of art. And at the start of a new administration in Washington, she reminds us why we need art and why government should be in the business of supporting it.
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(229mm x 152mm x 20mm)
Da Capo Press Inc
Publisher: The Perseus Books Group
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US Kirkus Review »
A well-written account of Alexanders 199397 term as head of the National Endowment of the Arts, smoothly interwoven with tales of her stage and screen life.Until the NEA appointment, Alexanders only bureaucratic experience was as a politically active citizen (although she was urged to run for public office after portraying Eleanor Roosevelt on a television program). Her commitment to the NEA was bolstered by her role in The Great White Hope, which earned her a Tony Award and an Oscar nomination and was developed with an NEA grant. The organizing principle of her 15 theatrical chapter titles, divided into two acts and bookended by a prologue and epilogue, smartly links Alexanders professional world onstage with her stint in the theater of politics. The Audition, The Rehearsal, and Curtain Up detail the intricate voyage through nomination and confirmation. On the heels of the swearing-in comes the process of learning the ropes and expanding her list of useful acquaintances. The many profiles of movers and shakers, for and against the NEA, reveal a dry authorial wit and add human interest. No sooner did this Washington outsider learn to deal with Beltway insiders than she was confronted with the Gingrich Congress, which turned her plan to increase NEA funding and visibility into a battle of containmentif not extinction. The agency survived, but a personal tragedy and mounting disenchantment with the time-wasting politicization of the legislative process prompted Alexander to resign. She compares the frustrating ditherings of bureaucracy to the results-oriented production of a play (which benefits from a more collaborative atmosphere for settling differences). The authors intelligence and personable quality, combined with her large cast of political and show-business celebrities, make for an entertaining and informative discussion of important arts issues. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Jane Alexander
Jane Alexander has starred in dozens of movies, including The Great White Hope, All the President's Men, Kramer vs. Kramer, Eleanor and Franklin, Testament, and The Cider House Rules. She was chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1993 to 1997. She lives in New York State.