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Alexander H. Cohen (July 24, 1920 - April 22, 2000) was a prolific American theatrical producer who mounted more than one hundred productions on both sides of the Atlantic. He was the only American producer to maintain offices in the West End as well as on Broadway.
Cohen was born in New York City. Cohen's father, a business man, died when Cohen was four, and his mother then married a banker, and he, together with his brother Gerry, lived on Park Avenue in a lavish duplex penthouse.
He was employed by the Bulova Watch Company where he spent seven years, becoming its director of advertising and publicity, a business that brought him into contact with theatre people. During this time, World War II, he was drafted into the United States Army, and after a year was invalided out with a leg ailment.
His brother committed suicide in 1954, at which point Cohen became estranged from his mother.
Mr. Cohen's first marriage, to Jocelyn Newmark, ended in divorce. He married actress Hildy Parks in 1956, who later became his producing partner. He died from emphysema in New York City. Hildy Parks followed him 4 years later, in 2004. They are survived by son Gerry Cohen, of Los Angeles, a daughter Barbara Hoffmann of Manhattan; another son, Christopher A. Cohen, also of Manhattan; one grandson now named Brock Pernice, and one great-granddaughter with the name of Mia Pernice.
With an inheritance, he initially became an investor in a number of flops, producing his first Broadway show with Ghost for Sale in 1941, which closed after six performances. He followed this quickly with his next production, the thriller Angel Street, which ran for three years (and was made into the movie Gaslight). Soon, he revealed himself to have a decidedly eclectic approach to popular entertainment with a busy schedule of productions. They ran the gamut from comedies (Little Murders) to revues At the Drop of a Hat, Beyond the Fringe, to dramas (84 Charing Cross Road, Anna Christie) to musicals (Dear World, A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine) to the classics (King Lear, Hamlet). He also produced stage concerts for Marlene Dietrich, Maurice Chevalier, and Yves Montand, and an evening of comic sketches with Mike Nichols and Elaine May.
Cohen was responsible for the international stardom of Marcel Marceau, bringing him to New York to support Maurice Chevalier in An Evening with Maurice Chevalier. He had originally intended the production to be a one-man show but Chevalier did not want to work that hard, and requested that Marceau (then unknown outside Europe) perform his mime pieces to give Chevalier opportunities to rest between musical numbers.
His informal series of revues collectively titled "Nine O'Clock Musicals" included At the Drop of a Hat and At the Drop of Another Hat (both featuring Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, Words and Music (Hollywood lyricist Sammy Cahn performing his own songs with a few back-up singers) and the semi-musical Good Evening with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. They were low-budget, required little material support, and were hugely successful.
Despite his success with revues, the highly prolific Cohen never produced a financially successful book musical (a musical with a script and plot) on Broadway, although he did produce the successful London productions of 1776 and Applause. A challenge he was never able to satisfy was to mount a Broadway revival of Hellzapoppin'. A 1967 out-of-town tryout starring Soupy Sales closed in Montreal, and ten years later another effort starring Jerry Lewis and Lynn Redgrave closed in Boston. The rights are still held by the Cohen estate. The nearest Cohen came to a successful book musical on Broadway was A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, adapted from a much less elaborate London production. This double feature consisted of two short entertainments with the same cast: the first half being a plotless compendium of songs and anecdotes about old-time Hollywood, the second half being Anton Chekhov's play The Bear radically reworked as a musical comedy for the Marx Brothers (impersonated by modern actors), retaining a vague semblance of Chekhov's plot.
Cohen conceived and originated the first Tony Awards telecast in 1967 and helmed many more over the following years. He also produced a number of Emmy Award presentations, specials with Plácido Domingo and Liza Minnelli, and the first and third editions of Night of 100 Stars, which featured a parade of entertainment and sports celebrities performing and/or appearing on the stage of Radio City Music Hall.
As well as producing, Cohen participated in the operation of a number of legitimate theaters, including the Morris Mechanic in Baltimore after its renovation, and the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto when it opened in 1960.
He was responsible for drawing the performing arts community into the popular and highly successful I Love New York television ad campaign. In 1976, he converted the bankrupt and vacant Manhattan Plaza on Manhattan's West 43rd Street into an apartment complex providing subsidized housing for low-income performers.
Cohen was also an active fund-raiser for the Actors Fund of America. He put together several television spectaculars, Night of 100 Stars and Parade of Stars which raised $3 million to build the fund's extended-care nursing facility in Englewood, N.J. Behind the scenes, however, there was controversy, some claiming that Cohen's lavish producing style accommodated his own lavish needs better than the fund's.
Cohen made one appearance as an actor when he appeared onscreen in Woody Allen's film The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), portraying Raoul Hirsch, a fictional Hollywood producer in the 1930s. His final act, putting it all together, was in 1999 when he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in his off-Broadway one-man show, Star Billing, in which he reminisced about his hits, flops, and famous feuds. The New York Times reviewer stated that he had many a kind word for his friends and an arsenal of well-honed, acid-tipped barbs for those he loathed, among them rival producer David Merrick, Marlene Dietrich and Jerry Lewis.