In Memoriam: Norman Nadel

Norman Nadel passed away on October 25, 2010 – you read that correctly, a decade ago. But ten years ago I didn’t have a blog so I wanted to take this opportunity to memorialize a great guy ten years out.

I started work at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts (since renamed Artis-Naples) in 1989, just a few months before we opened the facility. I was introduced to Norman as “a nice retired volunteer who wrote copy for press releases and the in-house program.” He was much more than that and we hit it off immediately.

We shared a deep love for theatre, especially what is termed as legit theatre and he saw a bunch of it. He served in the US Army in World War II (working in psychological testing and placement) and was band master of an Army band on Governor’s Island in New York harbor. He was the chief drama critic for the New York World and Sun, the New York Journal Tribune and for the Scripps-Howard Newspaper chain. He served term as the president of the New York Drama Critics Circle, served on the Tony awards committee, was a consultant to the Theatre Guild and was guest lecturer and critic at a number of universities.

He and his delightful wife Martha were avid canoeists and kayakers and I had the chance to join them on the Estero River that ran past my home near Naples and at their summer place on the coast of Maine. They were a delightful couple and I was so lucky to have known them.

Me with Martha and Norman Nadel at the annual Holiday Benefit at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, Florida.

We had many great talks about life, paddling and the arts and he was the one of the most insightful conversationists I have ever met. But the greatest thrill was when he one day casually mentioned he had been part of the “Subways Are For Sleeping” advertisement and I nearly fell out of my chair.

As a mega-fan of Broadway theatre I was very much aware of the infamous incident, but a bit of background for those unaware. David Merrick was a very successful but scurrilous Broadway Producer. He was nicknamed “The Abominable Showman” for the many underhanded stunts he pulled. In a very long career he produced such hits as Oliver!, Beckett, Hello Dolly, and 42nd Street. He also produced some stinkers like the musical “Subways Are For Sleeping.” It had received middling reviews from the New York critics, but he had a brilliant, if underhanded publicity plan ready.

He went through the New York phone book (it was 1962 after all and there were still things as phone books) and found seven people with the same names as the seven primary Big Apple critics. (He claims he had this plan earlier but could not find any one with the same name as New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson. Once Mr. Atkinson had retired he was ready to spring into action.)

He invited all seven of his finds to see the musical for free and then took them out to wine and dine them. They were thrilled at their free night’s entertainment and happily shared enthusiastic quotes about the show. Mr. Merrick took their picture and put together an ad for the New York Papers that looked like this: (notice Norman’s doppelgänger entry)

The beauty of the stunt was that he didn’t identify any of the seven men as critics for any newspaper so it was entirely truthful (if completely misleading). It was scheduled to appear in all seven of the leading newspapers but it was only published in one edition of one paper. When another paper was setting up the ad they noticed that the photo of Richard Watts was an African American but the actual critic was white (of course in 1962 all of the seven main critics were white men). Word spread and the ad went no farther. So close, but it became a famous theatrical incident and here I was paddling a canoe next to one of the unwitting participants.

So today I am remembering the passing of one of my favorite people, if sadly delayed, as I catch up on my blog. Hope they have live theater in heaven, Norman, because you’d be disappointed at the mess we got down here. Cheers!

As always you can find more at http://www.walterthinnes.com and on Twitter @walterthinnes

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