David Merrick...my kinda guy!
I love to pull practical jokes or even be the butt of a joke, however, I am no match for David Merrick. He is definately the master prankster of all time.
Last June, at the time of the Julie Andrews uproar over Victor Victoria, Mr. Merrick was creating an uproar himself with State Fair and it's lack of Tony nominations. Julie declined the nomination for best actress in a musical and stated that she would not attend the awards show. Merrick also stated that he would not attend either.
On the day of the awards, he took an ad out in the New York Times. It was, maybe, five inches by seven inches and all is said was:
Dinner at 9?
However, that was not Merrick's funniest moment in print. It happened years ago during the run of Subways Are For Sleeping. He had waited for years to pull the following prank. He was going to use the names of the New York drama critics in an ad, quoting people with the same names as the critics, but he couldn't do it until Brooks Atkinson of the Times retired. He believed that no one else on earth had the same name Brooks Atkinson. When Atkinson retired in 1961, Merrick seized the moment.
Subways was an awful show and Merrick knew it. He instructed his press agent, Harvey Sabinson to contact seven people with the sames names as the drama critics covering New York theatre. He was to take them to a preview performance and then wine and dine them in some fancy restaurant. All he had to do was get their written consent to quote them in an ad for the show.
The plot thickened. Sabinson then went through the archives of some of the biggest hits ever on Broadway and lifted the quotes from old reviews.
Merrick had been wanting to do this for years and knowing that Subway was in trouble, it was the perfect vehicle.
The ad was placed in all the leading New York papers at the time, however, one astute editor noticed something with the ad. Seems like one of the imposter critics was black and the real critic was white. (Richard Watts). The editor notified the other papers of the hoax but not before the Herald Tribune went to press. And so the legenday ad appeared and believe it or not, it did put a spurt in the box office. Even though Subway is considered a flop, it did run for 205 performances and garnered a Tony Award for Phyllis Newman for Best Supporting Actress in a musical beating out Barbra Streisand in I Can Get It For You Wholesale. Orson Bean was also nominated for Subways in the Best Supporting Actor category losing out to Charles Nelson Reilly in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. And choreographer, Michael Kidd, also received a nomination for his work in the Merrick show; losing out to Joe Layton for No Strings.
Interestingly enough, at that years awards show, Brooks Atkinson was presented with a special Tony Award for his contribution to Broadway. In the ensuing years, a theatre would be named after him.