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A Film by Michael Kantor


Choreographers, Directors & Producers

David Merrick

One of the most colorful and controversial theatrical producers and impresarios in the post-World War II years, Merrick is said to have believed that his life began on November 4, 1954, the night a musical called “Fanny” opened at New York’s Majestic Theater. 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 theater 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 & Mabel,” and “Very Good Eddie” (1975 revival).

Merrick at a rehearsal for the musical "Fanny."

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, behavior came to a temporary halt in February 1983, when Merrick suffered a debilitating stroke that seriously impaired his powers of speech.

Merrick was admired, feared, detested, and respected — but never ignored.

David Merrick

Born: November 27, 1911
Died: April 25, 2000
Key Shows
    "Do Re Mi" "Fanny" "42nd Street" "Gypsy" "Hello, Dolly!"
  • "I Can Get It for You Wholesale"
  • "Irma La Douce"
  • "Oh, Kay!"
  • "Promises, Promises"
  • "State Fair"
Related Artists
  • Carol Channing
  • Gower Champion
  • Jerry Herman
  • Michael Kidd
  • Joshua Logan
  • Ethel Merman
  • Donna McKechnie
  • Jerry Orbach
  • Harold Rome
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Jule Styne
  • Robin Wagner
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.


Source: Biographical information provided by MUZE. Excerpted from the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC, edited by Colin Larkin. © 2004 MUZE UK Ltd.

Photo credits: Photofest and the New York Public Library