Playbill On-Line's own Louis Botto will be given the Broadway Theatre Institute's 1997 award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre History Preservation, and Gwen Verdon is to be given the BTI award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre. The awards will be presented at the Broadway Grill in New York's Crowne Plaza Hotel on Monday, Dec. 8.
In a career that has spanned more than 40 years, Verdon has been honored with four Tony Awards -- for Can Can (1954), Damn Yankees (1956), New Girl in Town (1958) and Redhead (1959).
Senior Editor of Playbill On-Line, Botto is also the author of the historical volume, "At This Theatre" (Dodd Mead, 1984) outlining the history of each Broadway theatre. Excerpts from the book are among the most popular features of the Playbill theatre programs. Botto also writes features and quizzes for Playbill On-Line, and contributes deep historical perspective throughout the service. He'll receive the Institute's award Nov. 17 at the newly redesigned Broadway Grill in Manhattan's Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Botto, 73, saw his first Broadway show in 1937 and contributed sketches and lyrics to Maggie Smith's first Broadway show, New Faces Of 1956, as well as to revues by Ben Bagley and Julius Monk. In 1951, he wrote a play about Jean and Walter Kerr, The Hues Of The Opal, which won the Johns Hopkins Playwriting Award.
Botto said, "Nineteen years ago I came to Playbill as an associate editor, although I was writing freelance here since 1971. Before that I was at Look magazine as senior editor from 1961-71, specializing in theatrical articles." Folks who know mild-mannered, dapper Botto might be surprised, however, at his gig before Look:
"I was an industrial spy for Willmark Services. I had to check into hotels - from the best to the worst in Manhattan -- under an assumed name and write a 50-page report on everything, from food to service to housekeeping. Sometimes I would forget what my name was that week. One time I checked my valuables, and I could not remember what my name was. It turned out to be Lafcadio Brundage (it always had to be "LB" because I had those initials on my laundry). Another one was Ludwig Bauman."
Botto also had more theatrical duties at Look, which would send him out of town to see whether Broadway-bound shows were worth covering. Everyone I picked was a hit except for one, The Selling Of The President, which came to the Shubert."
Botto was an active theatrical presence back then, but he's hardly slowed down over the years. As Playbill's senior editor, Botto is responsible for keeping up his "At This Theatre" column, as well as the Passing Stages and subscription issue's Now Playing On Broadway columns. Adds Botto, "Also I'm co-host of the George Spelvin luncheons at the Algonquin. That's where casts from shows are invited, as are some of our advertisers, who get to ask questions of the stars. I then write a newsletter about the luncheon, complete with photos from the event."
Botto was also, all-too-briefly, the drama critic for WNBC-TV Channel 4, replacing Edwin Newman in 1971. "It was a hard job, because back then you didn't go to previews, and I was always worried about getting a cab to get to the station in time. Anyway, they fired me after three months -- because I liked too many shows!"
The Broadway Theatre Institute Awards will be presented on Dec. 8 from 6-8 PM. For information, call (212) 956-5481.
-- By David Lefkowitz