A LIFE IN THE THEATRE: Playbill's Louis Botto, a Writer With a Rich Theatregoing Past

By Robert Viagas
28 Aug 2012

Buy "At This Theatre"
When Look folded in 1971, Botto transferred his typewriter to Playbill. Appropriately enough, his first story was about his already-huge Playbill collection. "My favorite," he said, "was the Playbill from a 1923 show called Parisian Doll, which starred Anna Held. The program says, "Due to the length of this play we have eliminated the plot." Botto became a popular character in the Playbill offices — often heard belting out a few lines of opera and chuckling to himself as he pounded out his columns on a typewriter. He was the only employee never required to switch to computers or email.

Among Botto's responsibilities was updating the column "At This Theatre," which had appeared in various forms in the Playbill since the 1930s. The column listed the many distinguished (and sometimes infamous) stars and productions that filled the great playhouses of Broadway, offering what Botto called "instant nostalgia" for theatregoers.

On the occasion of Playbill's centennial in 1984 Botto was asked to expand these columns to chapter length and assemble them into a book, also titled "At This Theatre." Updated in 2001 and 2010, "At This Theatre" became one of the best-selling theatre books of its era.

Botto still lives in the New Jersey house his parents bought in 1978. He never married, but has friends who take care of him and his many cats, who are his children.

Another reflection:

The late Van Heflin once told me that when he was starring with the brilliant Ina Claire in S.N. Behrman's memorable 1936 comedy End of Summer, Claire was supposed to cross the stage to turn on a lamp. At one performance, the lamp went on before she got there. She turned to the audience and whispered, "Magic." They loved it.


Sample one of Louis Botto's past "Backward Glances" columns here and here.