Gilman Kraft, former owner of Playbill Magazine and President of the West Coast-based Performing Arts magazine, died in his mid-70s of cancer June 27.
Founded by Kraft 32 years ago, Performing Arts Network continues to distribute theatre programs in such venues as Music Center of Los Angeles, San Francisco Opera and Orange County Performing Arts Center. Dana Kitaj, current editor and Kraft's daughter, will become the organization's new owner and President.
Ed Conn, Publisher of Performing Arts Network, recalled Kraft as being, "hands on all the way, right up to his passing. Gil was one of the last great entrepreneurs in the theatre business. He was an intellectual but a very astute businessman in the theatrical publishing."
Asked what he'd been taught by the late founder, Conn told Playbill On Line, "One thing I learned is that this is a `people business.' You have to put people first, and he always did. We felt like members of his family."
Kraft was born in New Jersey in 1926 and served in World War II as a Japanese linguist. After graduating from Columbia College, Kraft founded the Readers Subscription book club and then went on to publish Playbill for ten years. In 1966, he moved to the Coast and founded Performing Arts, while also investing in commercial and residential real estate. Ernest Fleischmann, president of the Fleischmann Arts consulting business and former Executive Vice President and Managing Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, told Playbill On-Line that Kraft's tough businessman personal masked "a very good heart." "I enjoyed dealing with him," said Fleischmann. "We were not dissimilar; we both wanted the best for his organization. Negotiations were tough, but then he'd be extremely generous, such as his gift to Disney Hall [in the L.A. Philharmonic]. He always saw to it that when he got a deal, somehow the non-profits he dealt with were also well looked after."
Concluded Fleischmann, "One of the nicest things about my business was occasionally having a meal with Gil and finding him totally relaxed and quite a different person from when I sat across a desk from him."
Kraft is survived by his wife, Ruth, four children and eight grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, July 1 at 10 AM. For information regarding charitable contributions (in lieu of flowers), the family asks that donors contact Performing Arts Magazine at (310) 551-1115.
-- By David Lefkowitz