Irving Phillips, Bway Crew Man Who Kept the Show Running, Dead at 83

Obituaries   Irving Phillips, Bway Crew Man Who Kept the Show Running, Dead at 83
Irving Martin Phillips, a Broadway and TV carpenter, stagehand and prop man for more than 40 years over dozens of shows, died Nov. 2, according to his daughter.

Mr. Phillips worked backstage on many productions, both on Broadway and for television, including The Sound of Music with Mary Martin, and on TV's "Sesame Street" from its first day and for the next 19 years.

He was 83 and died in New York City. The cause of death was calciphylaxis due to renal disease brought on by congestive heart disease, Sandra Phillips said.

As a teenager, the Newark, NJ, native built homes with his stepfather and then took those carpentry skills to building sets at CBS and NBC. It was difficult to get into IATSE Local No. 1, his daughter said, but a childless distant cousin sponsored him. He was then able to work on early TV shows. He moved on to backstage on Broadway either as a stagehand or prop man, eventually working for the Shubert Organization and, toward the end of his career, as the house property master of the Broadhurst Theatre.

"'The show must go on' was the mantra he worked and lived by," daughter Sandra told Playbill On-Line. "Nothing would get in the way of his getting to work on time. If the roads were closed, he'd walk three miles in a raging snowstorm to get to the nearest subway, or he trudged from lower Manhattan in the dark during the famous blackout. I can't ever remember him being sick and missing work. Dad was never in awe of the very famous stars he worked with. He'd say, 'They're just people like you and me, they eat sleep and go to the bathroom.' The stars always appreciated his witty sense of humor, his inventiveness with props and his quiet way of getting things done. Even years later, when we'd bump into any of them, they'd always remember Irv."

His Broadway crew credits include Man of La Mancha with Richard Kiley, The Owl and the Pussycat with Alan Alda and Diana Sands, Death of a Salesman with Dustin Hoffman, The Subject was Roses with Martin Sheen, Long Day's Journey Into Night with Jack Lemmon, The Odd Couple with Sally Struthers and Brenda Vaccaro, Mr. President with Robert Ryan and Nanette Fabray, Sly Fox with George C. Scott, Sherlock Holmes with Ian McKellen, Sleuth, Does A Tiger Wear a Necktie with Al Pacino, A Shot in the Dark with Julie Harris, Amadeus with Ian McKellen, Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death, Bob Fosse's Dancin', The Tap Dance Kid with Gregory Hines, Subways Are for Sleeping, That Championship Season with Charles Durning, Lorelei with Carol Channing and Jenny with Mary Martin. Mr. Phillips built sets and bought or devised props for "The Perry Como Show," "Captain Video" and "The Howdy Doody Show." He built the louvered shutters on the original television production of "Peter Pan" with Mary Martin, worked the Latin Quarter with the likes of Milton Berle, and flipped categories on game shows like "The $10,000 Pyramid."

Mr. Phillips was a U.S. Navy seaman from 1943-1945. He participated in the D-Day invasion in Normandy and then went on to do duty in the Pacific Theatre.

Survivors include wife Florence, son Stephen, daughters Sandra and Marla, son-in-law Stan Posner and five grandchildren.

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