Ruth Webb, Longtime Talent Agent, Dead at 88

Obituaries   Ruth Webb, Longtime Talent Agent, Dead at 88
Ruth Webb, a talent agent who represented dozens of stars from the worlds of stage, film and television, died Dec. 4 after an extended pulmonary illness, her business partner Sheri Spillane said. She was 88.
Ruth Webb
Ruth Webb

Ms. Webb's roster of clients during her 45-year-career as an agent included such talents as Mickey Rooney, Bernadette Peters, Al Pacino, Ben Vereen, Martha Raye and Gene Barry. She was particularly adept at shepherding stars into comeback performances. She handled Rooney when he landed his career-reviving star role in the Broadway production of Sugar Babies. Yvonne DeCarlo was cast in Follies while in Ms. Webb's care. And her client Gene Barry won a starring part in the original La Cage aux Folles.

When her agency expanded to the West Coast in the 1970s, Ms. Webb ferried many of Hollywood's one-time silver screen kings and queens into new careers in dinner theatre. Among the actors she helped in this way were Kathryn Grayson, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers, Rhonda Fleming, John Carradine, Dorothy Lamour, Donald O'Connor, Gloria Swanson and Gig Young.

Ruth Webb knew the dinner theatre and summer stock circuits well. She began her career as an actress. Her aunt, Mary Ann Dentler, was the producer of The Bandbox Players, a stock company. Ms. Webb worked with the troupe as a young girl. Later, she toured in stock, lying about her age in order to get parts. Her summer stock credits included Auntie Mame, Kiss Me Kate, Wonderful Town, Pal Joey, The Boy Friend, Damn Yankees and Show Boat. She also worked as a model, her image appearing in "Town & Country" and in an ad campaign for Chesterfield cigarettes. On Broadway, she acted in On the Town, playing the role of Claire DeLoone.

She formed the Ruth Webb Agency in 1962, taking on some of her former co-stars as her first clients. She often boasted of being the first agent to handle the careers of Al Pacino, Ben Vereen and Bernadette Peters. In the late '60s, she married Robert Cosden and the business was renamed the Webb-Cosden Agency for almost a decade. The two later divorced. In recent years, Ms. Webb hooked into the burgeoning world of reality television, representing many of the original cast members of the hit CBS show "Survivor."

In 1990 in recognition of her contributions to the movie industry, Ms. Webb was inducted into The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Outside of show business, her interests included animal rights, particularly where they concerned raccoons. Her awareness of the ring-eyed nocturnal mammals began when she adopted her son's abandoned pet raccoon, Baby. Thereafter, she always had a raccoon or two in her care. She fought for their better treatment in California and Nevada and was known to cart them about to restaurants and appointments (she had a special permit to own the animals). She also enjoyed raccoon images, collecting more than three thousand figurines, paintings and stuffed creatures over the years.

The Ruth Webb Agency will continue, headed by her longtime friend and partner, Sherri Spillane, under the guidance of Ms. Webb's friend and business manager for the past two decades, Harold J. Levy.

She is survived by her constant companion of 35 years, Jamie Stellos; Ruth's sons Michael Benajam and Jack Webb and grandchildren Michael Zachery Dean and Simone.

A memorial will take place at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, at 1 PM on Dec. 16.

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