Broadway's Biltmore Becomes the Friedman on Sept. 4
By Kenneth Jones
A page in Broadway history will be turned on Sept. 4 when the Biltmore Theatre — once home to Hair and Barefoot in the Park, and now occupied by Manhattan Theatre Club — is renamed The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre at 7:30 PM.
Guests will be invited onto the street at 7:30 PM for the lighting of the theatre's new marquee. The venue is located at 261 West 47th Street, near Eighth Avenue.
Among those in attendance will be publicists Shirley Herz and Bob Ullman, two of Friedman's associates, who will also be honored with a lobby named for them.
The first production to play the newly named Samuel J. Friedman Theatre will be MTC's production of To Be or Not To Be, inspired by the 1940s film of the same name, which begins previews Sept. 13 and opens Oct. 2.
The name change follows a donation (the amount of which was not disclosed) from the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman Foundation.
"I am thrilled that MTC is the recipient of a gift from the Dr. Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman Foundation in memory of my father," stated Samuel Friedman's daughter, Jane Friedman. "MTC is an organization that for almost 40 years has been presenting some of the most compelling and innovative theatre. I can't think of a better way to honor my father."
"This renaming of the Biltmore is a fitting and enduring tribute to Samuel Friedman," stated Peter J. Solomon, chairman of Manhattan Theatre Club's board of directors. "As MTC is about to complete the transfer of ownership on this historic theatre, the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman Foundation's gift will secure the future of this important New York landmark. Their generosity supports MTC's mission to present new voices and new perspectives and further strengthens MTC's position among the nation's best theatre companies."
"We are honored to have our Broadway theatre named after Samuel J. Friedman who had such an immense dedication to the theatre," stated Lynne Meadow and Barry Grove in a joint statement. "Producing great theatre is a highly collaborative art form, and it is meaningful for us to celebrate the contributions of a pioneering man who helped communicate the importance of Broadway as a valued American institution. Our company has devoted itself to bringing the best theatre to as wide an audience as possible for almost forty years, and we are deeply grateful for the support from the Friedman Foundation."
Born and raised in New York City, Samuel J. Friedman (1912–1974) was a pioneer in theatrical publicity, according to MTC. "Legendary for his stunts, personality and press agentry, Mr. Friedman began his career in 1937 at the Shubert Organization on a Cole Porter musical You Never Know, starring Clifton Webb, Libby Holman and Lupe Velez. In the early 1950s he opened National Press Agents with partner Bill Doll and at various times served as vice president of Arthur P. Jacobs Co., Inc., VP of publicity for United Artists Motion Pictures and PR director of Hugh Hefner's Playboy Enterprises. He was a lifetime member and officer of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers. Along the way he worked with such legendary performers as Gypsy Rose Lee (Star and Garter, 1942), Montgomery Clift (The Searching Wing, 1944), Billy Rose (Diamond Horseshoe, 1946) Josephine Baker (Paris Sings Again, 1947), Mae West (Diamond Lil, 1950), Bette Davis (Two's Company, 1952), Lotte Lenya (The Threepenny Opera, 1954), Jerry Orbach (The Threepenny Opera, 1955), Shirley Booth (Miss Isobel, 1957), Peter Ustinov (Romanoff and Juliet, 1957), Jackie Gleason (Take Me Along, 1959), Roddy McDowall (Compulsion, 1959), Jon Voight (That Summer, That Fall, 1967), Tammy Grimes (The Only Game in Town, 1968), Claire Bloom (Hedda Gabler, 1971), Victor Borge and Marcel Marceau.
"Friedman handled the publicity for the national tour of What a Life in 1939, following its world premiere at the Biltmore in 1938. In addition, he did the publicity for the original productions of such Broadway and Off-Broadway classics as Finian's Rainbow (1947), Waiting for Godot (with an all black cast in 1957), A Moon For The Misbegotten (1957), Les Ballets Africains (1959), Genet's The Blacks (1961), Golden Boy (1964), The Subject was Roses (1965), Oh! Calcutta! (1969), The Rothschilds (1970) and The Me Nobody Knows (1970).
"While his one true love was theatre, Friedman also promoted such notable films as 'Moulin Rouge,' 'The Ten Commandments,' 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' and 'West Side Story'; Sol Hurok's Holiday on Ice, and Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus."
Herz, still a press agent, has worked on and Off-Broadway for more than 50 years, representing such original productions as The Women, The Royal Family, La Cage Aux Folles, Singing in the Rain, Dancing at Lughnasa, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (with Kathleen Turner), Three Tall Women, The Play About the Baby and Gypsy (with Tyne Daly) among others.
Ullman was associated with three great press agents: Bill Doll, Samuel J. Friedman and Harvey Sabinson. He publicized Top Banana, Plain and Fancy, Anastasia, Compulsion, The Visit (with the Lunts), Goldilocks, Hello, Dolly!, Cactus Flower, Mata Hari and Breakfast at Tiffany's. He handled Ethel Merman’s five concert engagement and had a nine year association with Joe Papp: That Championship Season, For Colored Girls…, and A Chorus Line. He retired after an eight-year stint with Playwrights Horizons. *
The Biltmore reopened as the third, largest stage of the Manhattan Theatre Club in October 2003. The re-opening followed an extensive two-year, $35 million renovation after years of neglect and damage. Since its re-opening, the theatre has received numerous awards, including induction into the National Register of Historic Places, the Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award, the Theatre Museum Award, and the New York Landmark Conservancy's highest honor for excellence. It complements Manhattan Theatre Club's two Off Broadway stages at New York City Center.
The Biltmore opened in 1925 and housed such plays as Brother Rat with Jose Ferrer and See My Lawyer starring Milton Berle. In the '60s, it was the original home of the groundbreaking musical Hair and Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park. It suffered extensive damage in the intervening years due to weather, vandalism and neglect and was closed in 1987 following a fire.
The theatre's rehabilitation was designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, whose credits include Zankel Hall, The Rose Center for Earth and Science, Carnegie Hall and the Brooklyn Museum.
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