Jay Landesman, Writer and All-Around Bohemian, Dies at 91

Obituaries   Jay Landesman, Writer and All-Around Bohemian, Dies at 91
Jay Landesman, a semi-notorious, frenetically ambitious fringe figure of New York and London's Bohemian scenes whose unpublished novel "The Nervous Set" inspired the short-lived 1959 musical of the same name, died Feb. 20 at his home in London. He was 91.

The Nervous Set was about the editor of a magazine called Nerves who lives in Greenwich Village. When it opened, it was called the world's first Beat musical, and the storyline closely mirrored that of Mr. Landesman's own life. Beginning in 1948, he was the editor of a journal called Neurotica, a curious quarterly dedicated to what the New York Times described as "the connections between neurosis, sex, the arts and the plight of what he called 'the creative, anxious man' in postwar America." (The latter phrase of that sentence works as a fitting description of Mr. Landesman himself.)

Its contributors included Marshall McLuhan, Anatole Broyard, Chandler Brossard and Carl Solomon. Neurotica published a total of eight issues before collapsing in 1952.

The Nervous Set was adapted by Mr. Landesman and Theodore J. Flicker (who also directed), with music by Tommy Wolf and lyrics by his wife, Fran Landesman. The producer was uber-agent Robert Lantz, who soon after returned to representation. The musical played a mere 23 performances.

Mr. Landesman tried his hand at theatre a couple more times, collaborating with novelist Nelson Algren on a musical version of Algren's "A Walk on the Wild Side," and writing Dearest Dracula, a musical staged at the Dublin Theater Festival in 1965.

The former was produced at the Crystal Palace, a cabaret he founded in his hometown of St. Louis. The club was one of the signal successes of the man's scattershot career, hosting then up-and-coming performers Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and Barbra Streisand. In 1964, he and his family moved to London, where he became friends with comedian Peter Cook and a willing participant in the Swinging Sixties. He was born Irving Ned Landesman in St. Louis on July 15, 1919. He changed his name to that of another dreamer, Jay, after reading "The Great Gatsby" as a child. According to one obituary, he experienced a nervous breakdown at the age of 14.

As an indication of his undying need for attention, he wrote three volumes of memoirs, "Rebel Without Applause" (1987), "Jaywalking" (1993) and "Tales of a Cultural Conduit" (2006). None were widely read.

He is survived by his second wife, the former Frances Deitsch, and sons Cosmo Landesman and Miles Davis Landesman, both of London. Rocco Landesman, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and former president of Jujamcyn Theaters, is his nephew.

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