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PORTSIDE  June 2011, Week 1

PORTSIDE June 2011, Week 1

Subject:

"You Can't Do That on Broadway" - Philip Rose Advanced Black Playwrights and Actors

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"You Can't Do That on Broadway" - Philip Rose Advanced Black
Playwrights and Actors

Philip Rose, `Raisin' and `Purlie' Producer, Dies at 89

by Bruce Weber

New York Times

June 2, 2011

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/02/theater/philip-rose-broadway-producer-dies-at-89.html

Philip Rose, who as the producer of Broadway shows like "A
Raisin in the Sun" and "Purlie Victorious" advanced the
cause of black playwrights and actors and helped widen the
scope of American theater to include stories of blacks and
other minorities, died on Tuesday in Englewood, N.J. He was
89.

His death, at the Lillian Booth Actors Home of the Actors
Fund, came after a stroke, his wife, Doris Belack Rose,
said.

A former singer and a record company executive, Mr. Rose was
a producing novice when he and David J. Cogan, an
accountant, brought "Raisin" to the stage, first to New
Haven in 1958 and then to Broadway in March of the next
year. Mr. Rose had known the playwright, Lorraine Hansberry,
since they had both worked in a summer camp in the
Catskills, he as a singer on the entertainment staff, she in
the dining room. She confessed to him that she had literary
dreams.

"And he said to her, `I hope you do become a writer, because
you're a lousy waitress,' " his wife recounted in an
interview on Wednesday. "That cemented the friendship."

Ms. Hansberry showed him early versions of a play that told
the story of a black Chicago family's aspirations to middle-
class respectability and the eventual dashing of their
dreams. He later offered to produce it.

"And she said, `What does that mean?' " Mrs. Rose said. "And
he said, `I haven't a clue, but we'll find out together.' "

The first play by a black woman to open on Broadway, and the
first Broadway play with a black director (Lloyd Richards),
"Raisin" had a cast that included the future stars Sidney
Poitier and Ruby Dee. It received terrific reviews, ran for
well over a year, spurred interest in black theater and, as
The New York Times drama critic Frank Rich wrote on its 25th
anniversary, "changed American theater forever."

Mr. Poitier, who also starred in a 1961 film version of the
play, said in an interview on Wednesday that Mr. Rose was a
fine judge of acting talent.

"He would give actors a page or two to read," Mr. Poitier
said, "and in watching that actor, he could see what rested
behind the words, which gave him a good measurement of the
power that actor had."

In 1961 Mr. Rose produced "Purlie Victorious," a farcical
sendup of race relations set in a Southern town, written by
Ms. Dee's husband, Ossie Davis. Directed by Howard Da Silva
and starring Mr. Davis, Ms. Dee, Alan Alda and Godfrey
Cambridge, the play ran more than seven months and inspired
a musical, "Purlie," which itself became a hit in 1970. Mr.
Rose again produced, and he collaborated on the book with
Mr. Davis and Peter Udell.

"I'm so grateful he was on the scene," Ms. Dee said on
Wednesday. "He was responsible for a major shift in the
theater, for the inclusion of so many African-Americans on
Broadway."

Mr. Rose was also a pioneer in untraditional casting. In
1964 he produced Bill Manhoff's two-handed comedy, "The Owl
and the Pussycat," a romance about a pseudo-intellectual who
works in a bookstore and a model/actress who is also a
prostitute. Mr. Rose hired a white actor, Mr. Alda, and a
black actress, Diana Sands, who had appeared in "Raisin."
Controversy ensued.

"I asked myself, `Is Diana's color going to keep her from
getting the role?' " Mr. Rose said in an interview with The
Times. " `No,' I said to myself, and I managed to persuade
the playwright and others to make the break. I happen to
think that Sidney Poitier would make a great Hamlet. Should
he be denied the part because the others in the company
might be white?"

Philip Rosenberg - he changed his name when he entered show
business - was born on July 4, 1921 on the Lower East Side
of Manhattan. When he was a teenager his father, Max, moved
to Washington and opened a haberdashery. Philip abandoned
his studies at Brooklyn College to rejoin his family. After
briefly pursuing a singing career - he was a baritone - he
worked as a record executive and founded a label, Glory
Records, which released pop and R&B music in the 1950s.

In addition to his wife, an actress whom he married in 1946,
Mr. Rose is survived by a brother, Jack Rosenberg, and his
sisters Sylvia Smolkin, Pearl Yabroff and Rose Diamond, all
of the Washington area.

Among his other Broadway credits, Mr. Rose directed and
helped produce the 1975 musical "Shenandoah," for which he
shared a Tony Award as a writer of the book; and he directed
and wrote the book for "Comin' Uptown" (1979), a musical
adaptation of Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," starring
Gregory Hines.

In his 2001 memoir, "You Can't Do That on Broadway!," Mr.
Rose wrote that working as a bill collector in Washington's
black neighborhoods introduced him to black culture and the
plight of black Americans.

"Why I was so open to becoming this person, I have no idea,"
he wrote. "I also don't know why any of those people, given
the circumstances under which they met me, cared enough to
reach out, to enlighten me, and to point me in a new
direction. What I do know is how grateful I am for what was
done for me by a group of generous, remarkable people who
happened to be black. And while I don't know where or who
they now are, I know that for anything important I may have
done or will do with my life, I am trying to say `thank you'
to them."

A version of this article appeared in print on June 2, 2011,
on page B18 of the New York edition with the headline:
Philip Rose, 89, `Raisin' and `Purlie' Producer.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
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