Gerald Bordman, Theatre Scholar, Dies at 79

Obituaries   Gerald Bordman, Theatre Scholar, Dies at 79
Gerald Bordman, a theatre scholar who wrote the standard reference volume "The American Musical Theatre," died of cancer May 9, at Saunders House in Wynnewood, PA. He was 79.

Mr. Bordman wrote "The American Musical Theatre" in 1978, four years after selling his family's mothball business. The work, authored in the enthusiastic tone of a fan, covered 200 years of stage history, and included a season-by-season rundown of almost every Broadway musical, offering a mix of criticism, history and theatre lore. The book has never been out of print.

"Gerald Bordman altered the scope of American musical theatre history — and the weight of the American musical theatre history bookshelf — in 1978 with his 750-page 'American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle,'" columnist Steven Suskin wrote earlier this year, reviewing an updated version of the book. "Here was a book that attempted to tell us something about each and every musical produced over the course of more than 100 years. That's right; Bordman went back to the 1866-67 season — who knew there was an 1866-67 Broadway season? — and gave us at least some information about each and every musical he could find."

"It remained the only book of its kind, and an invaluable one," Suskin added.

Mr. Bordman's other books included the encyclopedic "The Oxford Companion to the American Theater," "American Musical Comedy," "American Musical Revue," and biographies of Jerome Kern and Vincent Youmans.

Mr. Bordman's affections decidedly rested with the frivolous, joyful musicals of the early decades of the 20th century, and he professed himself not a tremendous fan of the modern, serious musical. "I was a tired businessman myself for 20 years," he said in a 1978 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I want to see pretty girls dancing and listen to someone singing a Jerome Kern song." "I've stopped going to the theater. I don't like profanity, which is used gratuitously in the theater now, or the working-class slum settings and radical sentiments. Where are the zany, delightful musicals, the airy farces, the lovely operettas?" He also disliked amplified productions.

When, in 1989, Mr. Bordman decided to back a musical, it was a New York production of Sitting Pretty, a 1924 musical Kern wrote with Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. He grew up in Wynnefield and graduated from Central High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from Lafayette College. Later, he earned a master's and doctorate in medieval literature from the University of Pennsylvania.

Following his schooling he went to work for his father, Morris, at Excell Chemical Products Co. and Marbex Co., manufactured mothballs, air fresheners and household deodorants.

Mr. Bordman had no immediate survivors.

A graveside service will be at 11 AM May 13, at Montefiore Cemetery, 600 Church Rd., Jenkintown.

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