David Merrick

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One of the most colourful and controversial theatrical producers and impresarios of the post-World War II years.
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b. David Margulois, 27 November 1911, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, d. 25 April 2000, London, England. One of the most colourful and controversial theatrical producers and impresarios in the post-World War II years, Merrick is said to have believed that his life began on 4 November 1954, the night a musical called Fanny opened at New York’s Majestic Theatre. After an early, insecure life as the son of a weak father and mentally disturbed mother, Merrick changed his name and trained as a lawyer before moving into the world of theatre as an associate producer in the late 40s. His production of Fanny ran for 888 performances on Broadway, and was followed by a series of successful shows, including the musicals Jamaica, Destry Rides Again, Take Me Along, Vintage ’60, Irma La Douce, Do Re Mi, Carnival, I Can Get It For You Wholesale, Stop The World - I Want To Get Off, 110 In The Shade, The Roar Of The Greasepaint - The Smell Of The Crowd, How Now, Dow Jones, The Happy Time, Sugar, Mack And Mabel and Very Good Eddie (1975 revival). Among his greatest triumphs were Gypsy (1959), Oliver!, Hello, Dolly! (1964), I Do! I Do! (1966), Promises, Promises (1968) and 42nd Street (1980). The latter ran for 3, 486 performances, his most enduring Broadway production to date. Along the way, there were several failures, such as Oh, What A Lovely War! (1964), Foxy (1964) and Pickwick (1965). In addition, Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1966) folded during previews, while Mata Hari (1967) and The Baker’s Wife (1976) closed out of town. However, with his sheer determination and flair for publicity, Merrick managed to wring every ounce of possibility out of even the most ailing shows. One of his most famous stunts came in 1961 during the run of the disappointing Subways Are For Sleeping. A member of his staff arranged for seven members of the public, with the same names as the leading New York drama critics, to be quoted in newspaper advertisements for the show (‘7 Out Of 7 Are Ecstatically Unanimous About Subways Are For Sleeping ’, ran the copy). When it was published, each of these ‘namesakes’ appeared opposite a rave quote that the Merrick organization had apparently culled from old reviews of some of Broadway’s greatest hits. Such outrageous, but immensely profitable, behaviour came to a temporary halt in February 1983, when Merrick suffered a debilitating stroke that seriously impaired his powers of speech. After initially handing over the reins to others, in 1985 he regained control of his affairs, and subsequently presented an all-black revival of Oh, Kay! (1990), and a stage adaptation of the popular movie State Fair (1996). The last of the great American showmen, throughout his career Merrick was admired, feared, detested and respected - but never ignored. His several Tony Awards and nominations included one for Hello, Dolly!, and special Tonys in 1961 and 1968 ‘in recognition of his fabulous production record’. On his 87th birthday Merrick retired as a producer, and was replaced at the head of his company by Natalie Lloyd, the only Asian-born American producer working on Broadway. Lloyd became Merrick’s sixth wife shortly before his death in April 2000.