The Chief 

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In its original incarnation as a hit stage play, The Chief appears to have run its course. Pittsburgh Public Theater says the January staging of the one-man show starring Tom Atkins as Steelers patriarch Art Rooney Sr. -- its sixth encore since the 2003 premiere -- was the last. But Atkins' performance will live on: Nov. 9 marks the official release of the DVD, a recreation of the performance directed by Steve Parys. The show depicts the garrulous, cigar-puffing Rooney in his office in 1976, months after the Steelers' second Super Bowl, regaling the audience with tales of his life and times. But the script -- by the Public's education director, Rob Zellers, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette scribe Gene Collier -- is far from all Steelers, all the time. Rooney, after all, lived a colorful life before and away from pro football. Born in 1901 to immigrant parents, he grew up on the North Side, in the "Irish First Ward," and cut a Runyonesque path as an amateur boxing champ, semi-pro ballplayer, political insider and, most famously, top-notch horseplayer. His anecdotes include everyone from Billy Conn and David L. Lawrence to -- yes, eventually -- Mean Joe Greene. Along the way he debunks a few myths, engages in a little gruff introspection, and reveals that no one ever calls him "The Chief" to his face. But his life (Rooney died in 1988) is also a personal history of the 20th century, from someone's mad stunt in a horse wagon to Rooney's own misgivings about how TV would ruin football. The video version of The Chief, produced by Thomas Chaffee, Bruce Kaplan and Mike Wittlin Productions, hews closely to the Public's onstage original, directed by Ted Pappas. The Pittsburgh-based Parys says he and his all-local crew shot it in four days in late 2009, at the Hillman Center theater on Shadyside Academy's Fox Chapel campus. The DVD (www.thechiefmovie.com) includes such extras as interviews with ex-Steelers and other Rooney friends and family.


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