Happy Birthday, Gerald Schoenfeld

Gerald Schoenfeld, credited as one of the major influences in Broadway’s history, would have been 89 today. To honor his memory, enjoy this excerpt from his memoir, Mr. Broadway

As I became immersed in the Shubert business, I became more infatuated with the theater. My life with the Shuberts was a wild ride, full of platonic flings with thousands of people and all the highs and lows of dealing with huge theatrical successes and massive failures. There were ceaseless negotiations with money men, and all the many joys and frustrations of combining the creative side with the practical. There was no shortage of putting on the kid gloves to deal with prima donnas—actors, writers, directors, choreographers, producers.

There were also times of rejection and disappointment, times of birth and renewal, times of cruelty and of serious personal depression. And mostly there were never-ending battles, a procession of confrontations and conflicts that could not be ignored. Some were brush fires; others were frontal attacks. Some irrational and absurd. Others inevitable. All were costly, time consuming, and terribly debilitating. In some cases, defeat would have meant the end of the Shubert Organization, my professional career, and the Broadway that I’d come to love and cherish.

I can’t actually remember when I started to go to the theater. My first memory of seeing a significant theatrical attraction was A Streetcar Named Desire, probably sometime in 1949, when I was twenty-five. Written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Elia Kazan, it starred Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden.

I also recall seeing another Tennessee Williams–Elia Kazan classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. But that was some years later, in 1955, around the time I saw Inherit the Wind. The following year, I saw My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. Up to that point, I was only an occasional theatergoer. It wasn’t until I became more entrenched in the Shubert business that I started attending the theater regularly, sometimes four or five nights a week.

As my role in the business grew and my love for the theater became a passion, I recall countless occasions of pure exhilaration. Gypsy with Ethel Merman absolutely electrified me. One of the greatest American musicals ever, it opened in May 1959 in the Shuberts’ Broadway Theatre. It was brilliantly directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. I was so captivated that I would stand in the back of the theater night after night just to hear Ethel close the first act as she belted out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

Hundreds of other dramas, comedies, and musicals have made my heart beat faster.

Sitting with my wife, Pat, in our aisle seats, in a beautiful rococo room buzzing with excitement as the lights dim and the curtain comes up. . . there is nothing like it.

We have sat through, literally, thousands of overtures and curtain calls. Some have been very good, some very bad, some just all right, but many have been so exceptional that they have enriched our lives.

And then there are a few that stand out as extra special.

I’m thinking of A Chorus Line, Cats, Les Misérables, Sunday in the Park with George, Phantom of the Opera, Passion, and Miss Saigon.

These are some of the shows that created a fabulous new chapter in Broadway theater, shows that have withstood the test of time and are still performed so many years later.

Mr. Broadway was completed just one month before Gerald Schoenfeld’s death in 2008 at the age of 84. Bringing the reader backstage, the long-term chairman of the Shubert Organization shares his triumphs and failures, sings praise, and settles scores. He recounts nightmarish tales of the Shuberts, themselves – the meanness of Lee, the madness of JJ, the turmoil surrounding John’s personal life, and the drunken ineptitude of Lawrence Shubert Lawrence, Jr., the man who succeeded them and nearly brought the Shubert legacy to an ignominious end.




Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, the trade book division of Hal Leonard Corporations, publishes books on the performing arts under the imprints Hal Leonard Books, Backbeat Books, Amadeus Press, and Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

Posted on September 22, 2013, in Theatre and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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