Merrick, David

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MERRICK, DAVID (1911–2000), Broadway producer. Merrick was born in St. Louis, Mo., as David Margulois, the youngest child of a salesman. His parents were divorced when he was seven and he bounced among relatives through adolescence. A good student, he won a scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis, then went to St. Louis University, where he studied law, a trade that would help him in his tough theatrical contract negotiations. His marriage to Leonore Beck, whom he had met in school, and who had a modest inheritance, allowed the couple to leave St. Louis for New York in 1939. A year later, he invested $5,000 in a forthcoming comedy, The Male Animal. The play was a hit, and David Merrick, taking a new name inspired by the 18th-century English actor David Garrick, was born.

For a quarter of a century that ended with his last blockbuster, the musical 42nd Street in 1980, Merrick was the dominant showman in the Broadway theater. In a typical season during the 1960s he produced a half-dozen or more plays and musicals. His productivity and profitability were unmatched by any single impresario in the history of New York's commercial theater. Among his successes were some of the most popular musicals of his era, including Gypsy, Hello, Dolly!, and Promises, Promises as well as 42nd Street, one of the longest-running productions in Broadway history. He introduced Woody *Allen to Broadway as a playwright (Don't Drink the Water) and actor (Play It Again, Sam) and produced the 1962 musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale, which catapulted the 19-year-old singer Barbra *Streisand to stardom. His productions also gave signature roles to Ethel Merman (Mama Rose in Gypsy) and Carol Channing (Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!) and he worked with nearly every major songwriter of the Broadway musical's heyday. Merrick presented Laurence Olivier in his most celebrated postwar performance (as Archie Rice in The Entertainer), the breakthrough dramas of John Osborne (Look Back in Anger), Brian Friel (Philadelphia, Here I Come!), and Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), as well as two pivotal Royal Shakespeare Company productions directed by Peter Brook, Marat/Sade and A Midsummer's Night Dream.

Merrick became famous for baiting critics, his own stars, and his fellow producers, all to promote his wares. He gloried in his image as "the abominable showman." When Al *Hirschfeld drew a "particularly unflattering caricature of him as a Grinch-like Santa Claus," Merrick reproduced the image on his annual Christmas card.

Merrick was famous for masterstrokes of publicity. In 1967, when the audiences for Hello, Dolly! began to decline, he successfully replaced the entire cast with an all-black company headed by Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway. When the musical Subways Are for Sleeping got poor reviews in 1961, he turned to the phone book, found men with the same names as the seven daily newspaper critics, invited them to see the show, and then got them to endorse it with such raves as "the best musical of the century." When Gower Champion, the musical director and choreographer of 42nd Street, died early the day of the opening, Merrick kept the news secret so he could announce it from the stage at the curtain call, to the screams and tears of a devastated cast and first-night audience. Again, Merrick assured the show's notoriety and success.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]