Merrick, David

Merrick, David
orig. David Margulois

born Nov. 27, 1912, St. Louis, Mo., U.S.
died April 25, 2000, London, Eng.

U.S. theatrical producer.

He practiced law until 1949, when he became a producer in New York City. His first independent production, Clutterbuck (1949), was followed over the next 40 years by more than 85 other Broadway shows, including Look Back in Anger (1957), The Entertainer (1958), Gypsy (1959), Oliver! (1963), Hello, Dolly! (1964), and 42nd Street (1980). Many of his productions were critical and commercial successes, and he was known for his skillful use of publicity.

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▪ 2001
David Margulois 
      American theatrical producer (b. Nov. 27, 1912, St. Louis, Mo.—d. April 25, 2000, London, Eng.), staged many of the most commercially and critically successful plays in the American theatre during the late 1950s and '60s. Merrick's superior talent for generating publicity earned him the nickname “The Abominable Showman.” For the musical Fanny (1954), Merrick's first major success, he employed established talents Joshua Logan as director and Ezio Pinza as the star of the production; the advertising campaign for the show used television, radio, and full-page newspaper advertisements, all Broadway firsts. Publicity included sophomoric “Have You Seen Fanny?” stickers attached to men's room mirrors and a nude statue of the show's belly dancer stealthily installed in Central Park's poet's corner. This, combined with Merrick's legal background, which helped him draft an advantageous theatre rental agreement, enabled Fanny to enjoy the largest weekly operating profits Broadway had seen. Merrick's 88 eclectic productions included musicals, such as Gypsy (1959) and 42nd Street (1980); dramas, notably John Osborne's The Entertainer (1958) and Peter Brook's production of Marat/Sade (1965); and comedies, including Tom Stoppard's Travesties (1975) and Woody Allen's Don't Drink the Water (1966). In 1983 Merrick suffered a stroke that left him virtually speechless and immobile, limiting but not altogether curtailing his producing activity. His revivals of the musicals Oh, Kay! (1990) and State Fair (1996) were financial failures. Merrick's mentor, Herman Shumlin, once summed up Merrick's career as “a milestone in our modern theatre, where the exploitation of plays has become a lost art.”

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▪ American theatrical producer
original name  David Margulois 
born Nov. 27, 1912, St. Louis, Mo., U.S.
died April 25, 2000, London, Eng.

      prolific American theatrical producer who staged many of the most successful plays in American theatre during the 1960s.

      Though he earned a law degree from St. Louis University in Missouri, Merrick abandoned the practice of law after 1949 and became a full-time theatrical producer in New York City. His first independent production, Clutterbuck (1949), received mixed reviews but ran for some six months. In 1954 the musical Fanny became his first hit and was followed over the next 40 years by more than 85 other Broadway shows, including Look Back in Anger (1957), Gypsy (1959), A Taste of Honey (1960), Becket (1960), Hello, Dolly! (1964), Oh What a Lovely War! (1964), Cactus Flower (1965), Marat/Sade (1965), Play It Again, Sam (1969), 42nd Street (1980), and Loot (1986).

      Merrick had a prickly personality that bordered on the misanthropic, and he was openly contemptuous of actors and critics alike. His private life was colourful—married six times, to five women—and he was legendary for his P.T. Barnum-like publicity stunts. He once hid an actress in the audience and paid her to jump onto the stage and disrupt the performance at a predetermined time, all in the hope of attracting media attention; the stunt worked. On another occasion he reportedly prevented a critic from watching a preview by canceling the performance because of a “loose” rat. In the eyes of some, Merrick was a mere packager, not a producer, of great art, someone who cheapened the product in the process; to others, he was a rare genius of the lost art of marketing art.

      His niggling and outlandish ways notwithstanding, Merrick was one of the most talented producers of the American theatre who enjoyed both critical and commercial success. He frequently had several productions running on Broadway at the same time, and many of them also had successful runs in London.

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Universalium. 2010.

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