Broadway, Film and TV Talent Agent Ruth Webb Dies at 88
Ruth Webb, legendary theatrical talent agent, passed away on December 4, 2006. She was 88 and died after an extended pulmonary illness. Her lifelong companion, Jamie Stellos, was at her side.
Webb began her career in her early teens with her aunt, Mary Ann Dentler, who was producer of The Bandbox Players, a stock company. She worked for the company in various capacities and entered into a lifelong show business career. Thereafter she toured in stock, learning her trade and lying about her age to get cast in her first show, "Behind Red Lights." Her summer stock credits included starring roles in such productions as "Auntie Mame," "Kiss Me Kate," "Wonderful Town," "Pal Joey", "The Boy Friend," "Damn Yankees", "Naughty Marietta" and "Showboat." She performed at The Latin Quarter and most of the elite East Side clubs during the off-season. A stunning beauty, she appeared on the covers of "Town & Country" and "On the Town" magazines and was featured model for a national Chesterfield ad campaign.
Her Broadway career included starring roles in "Marinka," "Early to Bed," and the original production of "On The Town." In 1961, Webb went to work for her agent Laura Arnold. One year later, she opened "The Ruth Webb Agency." She had appeared on stage with many of her initial clients, who were considered New York theatres' best. These included close friends and Broadway notables Nolan Van Way, Dean Dittman, and Darrell Sandeen. Webb discovered and became the first agent for Al Pacino, Ben Vereen and Bernadette Peters.
In the late sixties, she married her leading man, Robert Cosden, who remained her partner in the Webb-Cosden Agency for almost a decade. At conclusion of their marriage, her agency expanded to the West Coast and Webb shifted focus towards Hollywood's movie greats. She became known as the "Auntie Mame of agents," and the queen of summer stock, who in the heyday of dinner theatre brought new life to many of Hollywood's greats, including Kathryn Grayson, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers, Rhonda Fleming, John Carradine, Dorothy Lamour, Donald O'Connor, Gloria Swanson (who called Ruth the best agent she ever had), Gig Young, Ann Sothern, Martha Raye and last but not least, Mickey Rooney, whose career she most impacted.
In addition to stars of the silver screen, Webb also represented stars well known to television audiences including Milton Berle and Jane Kean, with whom she had appeared on stage , Don Knotts, Don Adams, Steve Allen, Robert Alda, Morey Amsterdam, Chuck Connors, Patty Duke, Ann Jeffries, Dody Goodman, Tiny Tim, Al Lewis, Robert Morse, Morgan Brittany, Edie Adams, Joey Bishop, Phyllis Diller, Rita McKenzie, Dawn Wells, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Frank Gorshin, Rose Marie, Julie Newmar, Bert Parks, Abe Vigoda, Della Reese, Forest Tucker, Dick Shawn, Gary Burghoff, Dagmar, Donna Douglas and Shelly Berman.
Webb was a driving force on the creative team for the original Broadway production of "Man of La Mancha", and represented a major portion of the original cast. Through her friendship with Harold Prince, she was responsible for Yvonne DeCarlo being written into a starring role in "Follies." Even after moving to the West Coast, Webb never lost her New York presence. She had the creative insight to see Gene Barry star in "La Cage aux Folles," and brought Mickey Rooney his seven-year Broadway run in "Sugar Babies."
Not limited to theatre, Webb's client bookings included roles in cinema, television, and commercials. She booked Martha Raye in her unforgettable "Big Mouth" Polident commercial and in the television series, "Alice."She obtained a starring role for Mickey Rooney in the feature film "Black Stallion," which earned him his fourth Academy Award nomination. In the TV medium, she landed Mickey the weekly sitcom "One of the Boys." Ruth was also responsible for Mickey Rooney's Emmy-award winning role in "Bill." In Rooney's acceptance speech for his lifetime achievement award at the 55th Annual Academy Awards, Rooney credited Ruth as "The woman who put it all together, his agent who picked up the pieces, picked up the pieces and put 'em back together". Mickey took ads in the national trade papers in which he said, "Only once in a lifetime a true friend comes along. I was fortunate enough to have found one in you my dear Ruth Webb. You who took me when no one else wanted me and made me a star. I will always for all my life try to shine as brightly as I can for you, Ruth Webb." In 1990 in recognition of her contributions to the movie industry, Webb was inducted into The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
More recently in keeping with the latest trend in television, Webb, along with her agency partner, Sherri Spillane, were first in Hollywood to recognize the potential of turning everyday people into reality television stars and represented more than half the original cast members of the hit CBS show "Survivor." Throughout her career, Webb mentored a number of budding agents including Lois Benson, Joan Kovats, and Scott Stander.
Webb's colorful television career began when she appeared with her pet Yorkie Higgins on "The Johnny Carson Show"'s first singing dog contest. She was called back as a finalist and a friendship developed with Johnny that led to her booking numerous clients over the years. Webb and the agency were profiled on "Dateline NBC," "Entertainment Tonight," "Extra," E! Entertainment, "CBS News," "ABC News," "The Leeza Show," "Geraldo," "Hard Copy," "A Current Affair," "Good Morning Britain," "A & E Biography," "Australia Today," "Inside Edition," and three London specials.
Major print stories appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Toronto Star, The London Telegram, Haaretz, London Sunday Express, London Daily Mirror, New York Post, The New York Daily News, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Newsday, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, The Star, The Globe, National Enquirer, The Globe & Mail, Time Magazine, US Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Mc Clains Magazine, Who Weekly, Semena, Carras, Des Spiegle, Panorama, Beverly Hills 213, Mademoiselle, , Newsweek, Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter.
Webb was well known as an animal activist with a passion for raccoons. It began at her Connecticut estate when she adopted her son's abandoned pet raccoon, Baby, and lasted over three decades, during which she always had one or more pet raccoons at her side. Her love for raccoons almost landed her in jail when she crusaded against statutes in both California and Las Vegas. Her Raccoon collection ranges from original works to lovable stuffed animals. It numbers over three thousand and made newspapers, receiving national attention.
Webb was also a prolific writer. Her first publication of poetry took place in her teenage years. Many additional works were published over the years. She had recently completed her outrageous autobiography, "Welcome to My Web."
The Ruth Webb Agency will continue her legacy, headed by her longtime friend and partner, Sherri Spillane under the guidance of Webb's friend and business manager for the past two decades, Harold J. Levy.
She is survived by her constant companion of thirty-five years, Jamie Stellos, his wife Nancy; Ruth's sons Michael Benajam and Jack Webb and grandchildren Michael Zachery Dean and Simone .
Her life will be celebrated at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, at 1 PM on Saturday, December 16th.