Legendary Theatrical Publicist Shirley Herz Dies at 87
Shirley Herz, a legendary theatrical press agent, died on Sunday, August 11, 2013 at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. The cause was complications from a stroke suffered on July 18, said Sam Altman, a longtime friend.
During her nearly 65 years of working in the world of theater, Shirley Herz received numerous honors: In 2009, the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League awarded a special Tony Award for "Excellence in Theatre," given to "individuals that have demonstrated extraordinary achievement in theater but are not eligible in any of the established Tony categories." A year later, she received the Theatre Hall of Fame Founders Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Theatre. In 2008, the Manhattan Theatre Club named the lobby of its Broadway home (The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on West 47th St.) the "Shirley Herz and Bob Ullman Lobby." Mr. Ullman is a longtime colleague.
Shirley Herz was born December 30, 1925 in Philadelphia. She dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania and headed to New York with one aim in life: to have a career in the theater. After six months of temporary jobs, she landed a publicity job and she never looked back.
She worked on nearly 100 original Broadway plays, revivals, and musicals, including "Do Re Me," "3 Penny Opera," "Jerry's Girls," "Perfectly Frank," "Legs Diamond," "La Cage aux Folles," "Gypsy" starring Tyne Daly, "The Royal Family," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Singin' in the Rain," "Fiddler on the Roof," "On Golden Pond," "Oh! Calcutta!" and "Dancing at Lughnasa."
Ms. Herz became Rosalind Russell's personal press representative after their long tour of "Bell, Book and Candle," and a Broadway run of "Wonderful Town"(1953). "I learned more about the theater from her, than anyone else, before or since," she later recalled in an interview. As an apprentice to Broadway publicity legend Dorothy Ross, she worked on "House of Flowers," a 1954 musical by Harold Arlen with book by Truman Capote, and a cast that included Pearl Bailey, and newcomers Diahann Carroll, Carmen de Lavallade, Geoffrey Holder and Alvin Ailey.
Working with Bill Doll, another publicist, she represented the legendary performer Josephine Baker. "Little did I know that Josephine had the sheriff chasing her because of all her debts," Shirley recalled. "We were in Philadelphia, and they were going to impound her costumes. So we packed up a lot of them and I sneaked them to the 30th Street train station and sent them to New York for her show there. Just as I was coming out of the hotel, the guy who was going to serve the summons was on one side of the revolving door and I was on the other. But I made it out and got to the station."
In 1971, she launched her own agency, Shirley Herz Associates. As a longtime member of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM), she served on its Board of Governors for decades. She was a member of The Broadway League and also served on the board of the nonprofit Dorothy Strelsin Foundation.
Her circle of friends include longtime clients Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly and producer Barry Brown. This past April, she spent three weeks in Australia visiting Ms. Lansbury who was performing in "Driving Miss Daisy." Other clients were Zoe Caldwell, Colleen Dewhurst, Arthur Laurents, June Havoc, Fritz Holt, RoseMary Harris, Ellis Rabb, Julie Harris, Eva Le Gallienne, Peter Allen, Tallulah Bankhead, and many more.
Among Off-Broadway companies, she represented The Irish Repertory Theatre, Abingdon Theatre Company, The Living Theatre and Theater Breaking Through Barriers; in 1984, she opened Charles Busch's "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom," his first hit show.
Her vast resume contained a number of productions that performed all over the country: dance companies as varied as the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Vail, CO., The Feld, San Francisco Ballet, among others, as well as numerous companies at The Joyce Theater.
She publicized the first U.S. engagement of the Moscow Circus, as well as World's Fairs, films, television, books, nightclubs, restaurants and many other projects.
Ms. Herz served on the American Theatre Wing's Advisory Committee for more than 25 years. Through the decades, she donated her services for numerous AIDS benefits, including "Best of the Best" at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1985; "Angela Lansbury - A Celebration;" GMHC's "Mack and Mabel" concert; "Mr. Words - Ira Gershwin;" "Nothing Like a Dame;" and the historic reading of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" starring Uta Hagen.
Shirley Herz is survived by Herbert Boley, who she married in 1948, never divorced and with whom she remained friends. Her survivors also include Beth and Jeff Alper, and many other cousins from Philadelphia, including: Jeanette Aschenbrand, Joel Aschenbrand, Deborah Keller, and Dr. James and Gay Alper.
Photo by Ben Strothmann