Ben Bagley, revue producer, director and record impresario, died in his sleep in his apartment in Jackson Heights, NY, Mar. 21.
Bagley, who was 64, achieved instant fame in 1955 when at age 21 he produced a hit Off-Broadway revue titled Shoestring Revue. The cast included future stars Beatrice Arthur, Chita Rivera, Dody Goodman, Arte Johnson, Dorothy Greener and director Paul Mazursky. The hilarious, sassy sketches and songs were created by future lunimaries Sheldon Harnick, Michael Stewart, Charles Strouse, Lee Adams, Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt and Arthur Siegel.
In 1957, he repeated his success with Shoestring '57. Critic Walter Kerr wrote of the show: "It's funny before you take your coat off." No wonder. Bagley had the devilish idea to start the show with the overture to My Fair Lady. When Lerner and Loewe found out, they threatened to sue, so the prank came to and end.
In between his Shoestring Revues, he managed to conceive and cast The Littlest Revue for the downtown Phoenix Theatre and peopled it with the likes of Joel Grey, Tammy Grimes, Charlotte Rae and Larry Storch. The score was mostly by Vernon Duke and Ogden Nash and Eudora Welty contributed one of the sketches.
Bagley's longest-running hit was his 1965 Off-Broadway revue with the bizarre title of The Decline and Fall of the Entire World As Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter Revisited, in which Kaye Ballard, Harold Lang, Carmen Alvarez, William Hickey and Elmarie Wendel, with the aid of clever visuals, gave new life to Porter's memorable catalogue of songs. In 1971, Bagley founded Painted Smiles Records and then has produced 47 distinctive albums of show tunes -- many of them never before recorded. Beginning with Rodgers and Hart Revisited he focused on all the major Broadway songwriters and hired such unusual talents as Katharine Hepburn, Gloria Swanson, Anthony Perkins and Richard Chamberlain to sing their songs.
There are no survivors and there will be no services. At his request, Bagley will be cremated and his ashes spread at sea.
-- By Louis Botto