OBITUARY : Ernest Martin

Ernest Martin, tall and business-like, and his partner Cy Feuer, short and pugnacious, were among Broadway's most successful producers of musical shows, including Guys and Dolls, Can Can, How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and The Boy Friend, which in 1954 became the first British musical hit on Broadway in 25 years (since Nol Coward's Bitter Sweet), though headlines at the time concentrated more on the acrimony between its British creators and the American producers.

The first five Feuer-Martin shows were all smash hits, and though not the most popular characters on Broadway, the two men were credited with being among the most creative. "I don't think we're bad guys," Martin once said, "if the end justifies the means." The means were frequent firings, changes of approach and shattered relationships, but the results included several classics of the musical stage.

Born Ernest Harold Markowitz in Philadelphia, Martin rose from being an usher at the CBS Radio Station to director of network programming. Deciding in the late Forties that radio's peak had passed, he and Feuer, a music director at Republic Pictures, joined forces as producers - "We pushed our way into the theatre with our elbows and teeth," he later said. Martin initiated projects, spotting theatrical potential in material, then tended to business while Feuer took artistic control. "Ernie was the spark-plug," Feuer said, "and I was the engineer."

Where's Charley? (1948), a musical version of Charley's Aunt, was their first production and the first stage score by Frank Loesser. Its stormy tryout period was described by Loesser's then wife Lynn as "a hornet's nest of feuds, illicit love affairs, unrehearsed ballets, unfinished orchestrations and overall fury at Feuer and Martin . . . their manners were atrocious". The show ran for over two years and established the team, but it was their next show that elevated them to the major league.

Martin told Feuer that he had found a collection of Damon Runyon stories with a great title for a Broadway show, "Guys and Dolls". Loesser again provided the score, and brought in his chum Abe Burrows, writer of Duffy's Tavern, a radio show peopled with Runyonesque characters, to work on the libretto. Again, tryout travails (at one point Loesser literally slapped the leading lady Isabel Bigley in the face) were forgotten when the show opened in 1950 to become an instant classic.

Cole Porter's Can Can (1953), Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend (1954) and Porter's Silk Stockings (1955) gave the team their remarkable run of five hits, though The Boy Friend's triumph, while making a star of Julie Andrews, was marred by a vitriolic battle between the producers and the show's composer, Wilson, and director, Vida Hope, which resulted in private detectives being hired to keep the British pair out of the theatre during rehearsals and the seven preview performances. It was claimed that the Americans had broadened and vulgarised the affectionate pastiche. The only evidence available, the cast album, is so entertaining (and Wilson's reworking of "The Riviera" at the producers' request an improvement) that it is difficult to understand the acrimony, which was such that Wilson and Hope did not attend the first-night party where Martin proclaimed, "This boy Sandy's a genius."

A similar situation arose regarding George S. Kaufman and his wife Laueen McGrath, who initially worked on Silk Stockings but were asked to leave while revisions took place. When the couple arrived in Boston for the show's opening, they were informed by Martin that they were not welcome and were turned away.

Kaufman's venomous response was to comment later, "When I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes thrown in Ernie Martin's face." Cole Porter, though, credited the team with hiring him when many on Broadway thought his best work was past and when both his health and temperament needed nurturing. Silk Stockings was, in fact, his last Broadway show.

The team's first failure, Whoop-Up (1958), was forgotten when Martin detected musical potential in an unproduced play based on Shepherd Mead's handbook How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. A dubious Frank Loesser was persuaded to do the score - he had been producing his own shows, the semi-operatic Most Happy Fella and a twee folk piece, Greenwillow, and was reluctant to return to the brash New York milieu - and the result won Tony and Drama Desk Awards plus the Pulitzer Prize.

Though Little Me (1962), starring Sid Caesar, was a moderate success, their next two musicals, Skyscraper (1965), with Julie Harris, and Walking Happy (1966), with Norman Wisdom, won praise for their stars but little else. They entered film production with a big hit, Cabaret (1972), entrusting the direction to Bob Fosse, who had choreographed How to Succeed for them. Their final Broadway musical was a vehicle for their Cabaret star Liza Minnelli. Entitled The Act (1977), it was the first stage work directed by Martin Scorsese and had a troubled history.

In 1985 they realised a long ambition by producing the screen version of A Chorus Line, directed by Richard Attenborough. Most of the team's later years were spent as managing directors of the Los Angeles and San Francisco Light Opera Companies.

Tom Vallance

Ernest Harold Markowitz (Ernest Martin), stage and film producer: born Philadelphia 28 August 1919; married three times; died Los Angeles 7 May 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road