Life and career
Born David Lee Margulois to Jewish parents in St. Louis, Missouri, Merrick graduated from Washington University, then studied law at the Jesuit-run Saint Louis University School of Law. In 1940 he left his legal career to become a successful theatrical producer. He often was his own competition for the Tony Award, and he frequently won multiple nominations and/or wins in the same season.
Merrick was known for his love of publicity stunts. In 1949, his comedy Clutterbuck was running out of steam, but along with discount tickets, he paged hotel bars and restaurants around Manhattan during cocktail hour for a "fictive Mr. Clutterbuck" as a way of generating name recognition for his production, and it helped his show keep alive for another few months. Another famous stunt promoted the poorly-reviewed 1961 musical Subways Are For Sleeping. Merrick found seven New Yorkers who had the same names as the city's seven leading theater critics: Howard Taubman, Walter Kerr, John Chapman, John McClain, Richard Watts, Jr., Norman Nadel, and Robert Coleman. Merrick invited the seven namesakes to the musical and secured their permission to use their names and pictures in an advertisement alongside quotes such as "One of the few great musical comedies of the last thirty years" and "A fabulous musical. I love it." Merrick then prepared a newspaper ad featuring the namesakes' rave reviews under the heading 7 Out of 7 Are Ecstatically Unanimous About Subways Are For Sleeping. Only one newspaper, the New York Herald Tribune, published the ad, and only in one edition; however, the publicity that the ad garnered helped the musical remain open for 205 performances (almost six months). Merrick later revealed that he had conceived the ad several years previously, but had not been able to execute it until Brooks Atkinson retired as the New York Times theater critic in 1960 since he could not find anyone with the same name.
Merrick worked with talented director Gower Champion who directed Merrick's production of 42nd Street. On the morning of August 25, 1980, Champion died of a rare blood cancer, and Merrick announced the news himself to the audience at the opening-night curtain call.
Merrick suffered a stroke in 1983, after which he spent most of his time in a wheelchair. He established the David Merrick Arts Foundation in 1998 to support the development of American musicals.
Merrick was married six times, to Lenore Beck, Jeanne Gibson, Etan Aronson (twice), Karen Prunczik, and Natalie Lloyd. He was married to Lloyd at the time of his death in London; all of his previous marriages had ended in divorce. He had two daughters according to Peter Filichia, writing in the Newark Star-Ledger on April 27, 2000.
An unauthorized biography by Howard Kissel is titled David Merrick: The Abominable Showman (ISBN 978-1-55783-361-7).
- "It is not enough that I should succeed - others should fail." (This statement has also been attributed to François de La Rochefoucauld and Gore Vidal.)
Awards and nominations
Additional notable productions
- "David Merrick, 88, Showman Who Ruled Broadway, Dies". The New York Times. April 27, 2000. Retrieved 2010-03-04. "...Mr. Merrick kept it alive for six months with discount tickets and a publicity stunt: ..."
- Museum of Hoaxes.com; "A 4-Star Smash? Says Who?", Miami News, January 6, 1962, p4A
- St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- Obituary, NY Times
- David Merrick at the Internet Movie Database
- David Merrick at the Internet Broadway Database
- David Merrick Papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research
- St. Louis Walk of Fame
- David Merrick at Find a Grave