Maxwell takes the stage one more time

By Dominic Ponsford

Former
Mirror Group chairman Robert Maxwell will return from the dead this
month when a one-man play about his life comes to London.

The
play is produced by Los Angelesbased documentary film maker Dale
Djerassi, who knew the media mogul for 20 years and was married to his
daughter Isabel.

Maxwell may be remembered by hundreds of
journalists as a ruthless and demanding boss who plundered millions
from their pension funds – but Djerassi saw a different side to the man.

He
told Press Gazette: “I actually got along with him the entire time that
I knew him – I may be the only person who can say that.”

Djerassi
said he decided to produce Lies Have Been Told, written by Rob Beacham,
after seeing it performed at the Edinburgh Festival.

“I was
absolutely struck by the performance by Philip York, which was
uncannily like Robert Maxwell in Who would live in a house like this?

It’s
kitted out with a media room with theatre-sized video screen, bathrooms
carved in Carrara marble and no less than 20 telephones.

The
answer is News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch, who has put his
three-floor apartment in SoHo, New York, on the market after shelling
out $44m (£25m) on a new penthouse on fashionable Fifth Avenue.

Despite
other selling points, which include a sun-room on the roof and views
across the Manhattan skyline, including the Empire State Building, the
Murdoch home has been on the market since June and has had only six
viewings.

With the New York property market in a downturn, the News International boss appears unlikely to get his $28m asking price.

No takers for Murdoch’s pad appearance, voice and mannerisms,” he said.

“And I thought that the writing was very compelling. I found it to be a fascinating story.

“This
play is not taking one side or the other about Robert Maxwell – it’s
saying this is a complex individual, a somewhat larger-than-life
character.

Exploring the arc of his life from poor beginnings in
Czechoslovakia, a Jew escaping the Nazis, ending up with this huge
media empire, a mysterious death and some dire repercussions from that.”

Djerassi
said Maxwell’s ultimately successful dream of owning a national
newspaper is a recurring theme in the play. Of his own experiences of
the man, he said: “My impression is that he was hugely charismatic,
very clever and he was a bully. I think it was not pleasant for a lot
of people who worked for him to have him as their boss.”

Controversially,
Djerassi defends the blunder that led to the collapse of pension funds
for thousands of Mirror employees.”That was a huge tragedy, but I
certainly do not think it was intentional he said.

“He did
not intend for there to be no pension funds at the Mirror – he just
very inadvisedly invested those pension funds into the Maxwell
Communications Corporation and when he died under what I think are
still very mysterious circumstances, it is indisputable that the stock
price of Maxwell Communications crashed, and down went the whole
empire, including the pension funds.”

Maxwell’s body was found in the sea off Tenerife on November 5, 1991 after he apparently fell from the deck of his yacht.

Djerassi said the mystery of Maxwell’s death is dealt with in the play, but he added: “I’m not going to tell you the ending.”

Lies
Have Been Told will be performed at the New End Theatre, Hampstead,
from 25 October to 3 December. For tickets, telephone 0870 0332733.

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