Actual Reality. Act Up, Fight AIDS

I worked at some of the world’s top PR agencies when my career was getting started. One of those agencies was a place called The Rowland Company. It was part of the vast Saatchi and Saatchi advertising empire. My office, and I still pinch myself when I think about it, was on the top floor of a building on 52nd Street in New York City. Sitting at my desk, I looked straight down Broadway onto the Times Square Jumbotron. My boss was in the office next to me. His name was Tony Cooper.

Tony died of complications from AIDS in 1997.

Before entering the world of PR, Tony had a successful career as a stage and production manager at Ford Theater in Washington, DC, and with the New York City Opera. His partner, James, was Roberta Flack’s manager. Late one morning Tony popped his head into my office to tell me he was meeting James for lunch and wanted to know if I wanted to join them. We walked a few blocks uptown to meet James at Roberta’s apartment in The Dakota. Julian Lennon passed me as we waited for the elevator.

I vividly remember the day Tony interviewed me. We had finished the formal interview when he asked me to close his office door. Sitting behind his desk and looking like Tom Selleck’s stunt double, he said he had to ask a personal question. He explained that he had HIV and wanted to be sure I was okay working with him. It was a moment of brutal honesty, trust and openness. We worked closely together for a couple of years, preparing large corporations to manage communications in the event of a crisis.

I think of Tony each year when our middle and high school musical theater troupes preview their upcoming season of shows at the annual Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS Concert. This year, I had the opportunity to capture Broadway veterans Jenny Lee Stern (Rocky, A Christmas Story, Forbidden Broadway) and Justin Guarini (Wicked, American Idol, Transit) as they hosted the event. These are a small selection of the images I created.

You can see the full gallery here.

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