Bill Schelble, Veteran Press Agent, Dies at 81

Obituaries   Bill Schelble, Veteran Press Agent, Dies at 81
Bill Schelble, a theatre press agent with a long string of stage credits, died Jan. 9 in Milwaukee. He was 81.

Bill Schelble
Bill Schelble Photo by Christine Ehren

In a varied and rich career, Mr. Schelble acted in stock, studied at the Pasadena Playhouse, danced in the chorus of "Singin' in the Rain," was personal assistant to writer-director Burt Shevelove, and press-repped dozens of shows in New York and on the road.

Born April 11, 1930, in Milwaukee, he became starstruck after his mother took him to see Katharine Hepburn in a touring production of Jane Eyre. He sat on the running board of Hepburn's car after the play and waited for her to leave the theatre. When Hepburn appeared, Schelble told her he loved "Alice Adams," and she replied, "It was a good movie, wasn't it?" But when he asked for her autograph, she nudged him off the running board and drove off. That encounter came full circle in 1976 when he was handling a tour of A Matter of Gravity, starring Hepburn. He reminded her that she pushed him off her running board when he was a child. Hepburn laughed and said, "At least I'm consistent: I still don't give autographs." (Mr. Schelble eventually did get that autograph. It was inscribed to "the boy on the fender.")

Summers spent in Cedar Lake, WI, put him close to a local theatre where Geraldine Page worked, and she encouraged him to pursue the stage. They performed on stage together in Outward Bound in Wisconsin, and after two years at Marquette University, he studied at the Pasadena Playhouse in southern California in the early 1950s.

While a student in Pasadena, he would visit movie sets, where he was able to mingle with his idols. One day, he was asked to be a dance extra in the "Broadway Melody" section of M-G-M's "Singin' in the Rain." After his work at the Pasadena Playhouse, he was drafted into a stateside U.S. Army post in the Korean War.

In 1955 he moved to New York. After working odd jobs, a friend invited him to speak to a theatre man who was looking for an assistant. The man turned out to be the well-connected writer and director Burt Shevelove, who hired him to be an assistant. Schelble assisted Shevelove for nine years, on shows including TV productions with Dinah Shore, Phil Silvers and Judy Garland, and Broadway's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Hallelujah, Baby! A job in the subscription office at Lincoln Center Theater led to a position as a press agent in 1970. He repped such LCT plays as Playboy of the Western World with David Birney, A.R. Gurney's early effort, Scenes From an American Life, Twelfth Night with Blythe Danner, Enemies, The Beckett Festival with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn and A Streetcar Named Desire with Rosemary Harris and James Farentino.

Working in several press offices, including that of leading press agent Merle Debuskey, Mr. Schelble also repped such New York and out-of town shows as A Chorus Line; Good Evening; An Almost Perfect Person; the Australian Ballet staging of The Merry Widow with Margot Fonteyn; Sammy Cahn's Words and Music; Sweet Bird of Youth; Joseph Papp's Public Theater shows on Broadway (including The Water Engine); plus Circle in the Square productions including Arms and the Man with Kevin Kline, Raul Julia and Glenne Headley, directed by John Malkovich; Tina Howe's Coastal Disturbances with Annette Bening and Tim Daly; and Streetcar with Blythe Danner and Aidan Quinn.

"It's changed," he said of the industry in a 1999 interview with "It used to be much more personal, now it's so much more corporate. In the old days, if you did a show and had a good time with it, there was nice satisfaction — a warmth. In those days, you had David Merrick, you had Robert Whitehead, Alexander H. Cohen, Herman Levin, Kermit Bloomgarden — personalities. They were all people who loved the theatre, it was the love of their life."

He is survived by his sisters Barbara and Cathy, and many nieces and nephews.

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