Arthur Seelen, the actor turned store owner whose Drama Book Shop in Manhattan is ground zero for those in search of plays and theatrical references, died Feb. 7 after an illness.
Mr. Seelen was 76 and died in his home in Manhattan, according a book store manager.
The shop he bought 42 years ago, and ran with his wife, Rozanne, continues to sell plays, anthologies, biographies and more, and is regarded by many as the first source to go to when seeking theatre-related tomes. Playwrights and theatre writers often appeared for readings or book release events at the cluttered, busy second-floor shop at 723 Seventh Avenue, between 48th and 49th streets.
The shop has the most extensive theatre-related retail inventory in the city, according to a manager.
Mr. Seelen, who was known to attend the theatre several times a month with his wife, who survives him, was friendly with such industry people as actor Hal Holbrook and playwrights Robert Anderson and Michael Weller, who were no strangers to the shop. As an actor, the Brooklyn-born Mr. Seelen (originally Seelenfreund) appeared in an Ohio State University production of Watch on the Rhine (where he was a graduate student 1945-46) and made his New York debut as Sebastien DuBois in Deputy of Paris at the Henry Street Playhouse. He performed in a pre-Broadway tryout of The Circus of Dr. Lao in Chicago in 1958 and understudied George C. Scott (and went on a few times) in Broadway's The Wall in 1960. He also performed in many stock stagings, from western New York to New Hampshire, and on TV presentations in the 1940s and 1950s, once playing Dromio of Ephesus in a CBS production of The Comedy of Errors (1948). He had been a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Actors' Equity Association.
At The Drama Book Shop, Mr. Seelen maintained a well-informed staff, and believed in the sort of personal service associated with boutiques of long ago.
"His big thrust was not letting people leave the store without more information than they came in with," said Sasha Domnitz, a Drama Book Shop manager. "He insisted we put information in their hands...where they could find it if they couldn't find it here. He never liked us to say, 'No, that's not possible.'"
The Seelens did not have children. Mr. Seelen was an uncle and great uncle. A cousin, Jerry Seelen, was a comedy writer and lyricist, according to Who's Who of the American Theatre.
A memorial service will be held 7-9 PM Feb. 9 at The Riverside, 76th and Amsterdam. The funeral will be held there 12:30 PM Feb. 10.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to The Actor's Fund of America, 729 Seventh Ave., 10th Floor, New York, NY, 10019.
-- By Kenneth Jones