Tuesday, July 6, 2010
The Gentleman Press Agent: Fifty Years in the Theatrical Trenches with Merle Debuskey
Working at Back Stage I met some terrific and talented people. One of them, Robert Simonson, has a new book out called The Gentleman Press Agent: Fifty Years in the Theatrical Trenches with Merle Debuskey. Here’s the scoop:
Broadway’s last great untold story!
Merle Debuskey was a behind-the-scenes wonder in the New York theater scene whose career spanned the 1940s to the 1990s. He was New York theater’s top publicist, handling more Broadway shows than anyone in history, the first spokesman for legendary nonprofits Circle in the Square and Lincoln Center Theater, and Joe Papp’s right-hand man for 30 years. In 1959 when the all-powerful Robert Moses demanded that Joe Papp begin charging audiences for Shakespeare in the Park, it was Merle Debuskey who marshaled public opinion and led the battle to keep it free — over Papp’s own initial objections. He also made sure How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying kept its title, saved Zero Mostel’s life, housed redbaiters’ target John Henry Faulk, manhandled George C. Scott and Mort Saul, and romanced Kim Stanley.
Show after show, star after star, Merle Debuskey was at the heart of the theater scene for half a century, all the while puffing on his pipe, banging away at his manual typewriter, and never seeming to break a sweat. A true New York character and a complete original, Debuskey is now retired, one of the last of a vanishing breed.
Now, theater historian Robert Simonson uncovers Debuskey’s story for the first time in The Gentleman Press Agent: Fifty Years in the Theatrical Trenches with Merle Debuskey. This biography takes us right into Debuskey’s world, revealing the glitz, talent, glamour, politics, ego, and hard work that drives the theater. With a panoramic sweep that encompasses some of the greatest Broadway personalities of the 20th-century — and in a style as warm and lively as Debuskey himself, The Gentleman Press Agent will be treasured by all theater fans.
Robert Simonson is the author of two collections of theater profiles, Role of a Lifetime and On Broadway, Men Still Wear Hats. Simonson’s writing on theater and the arts has been published in the New York Times, Variety, the New York Post, the Village Voice, Time Out New York, and Playbill.com, where he was the editor from 1999 to 2006.