Wall Street executive reinvented himself as Broadway producer3 min read . Updated: 01 Jan 2021, 11:24 AM IST
- Roger Berlind switched careers after a personal tragedy and won 25 Tony Awards; he has died at age 90
Landing in a thunderstorm, an Eastern Air Lines Boeing 727 crashed and exploded on the fringes of New York’s Kennedy International Airport on June 24, 1975. Among the 113 people killed were Roger Berlind’s wife, Helen, and three of their four children.
Mr. Berlind, the co-founder of a securities firm, suddenly saw no meaning in his Wall Street career. “I wasn’t in any shape to do anything useful at the firm," he told The Wall Street Journal later, “and I didn’t want to be there." He quit his job to take care of his toddler son, William.
Reverting to his early love of show tunes and theater, he began investing in Broadway productions and soon found himself hooked. Over more than four decades, he had a role in producing more than 100 plays and musicals and won 25 Tony Awards. His hits included “The Book of Mormon," “Amadeus," “Nine," “Sophisticated Ladies" and “City of Angels."
There were also many flops, starting with his first production, in 1976: “Rex," a Richard Rodgers-Sheldon Harnick musical about Henry VIII. A New York Times critic wrote that the production had “almost everything not going for it" and was “one of the most interminable musicals in years."
Mr. Berlind died Dec. 18 of a heart attack in his sleep at his home in Manhattan. He was 90.
The second of four sons, Roger Stuart Berlind was born June 27, 1930, in Brooklyn and grew up in Woodmere on Long Island. He attended the private Woodmere Academy and played on the football team. His father was a hospital administrator, and his mother an artist who sometimes gave painting lessons.
At Princeton University, Roger Berlind majored in English and was active in the Triangle Club, which produces musicals. After graduating from Princeton in 1952, he served in the U.S. Army and was based in Berlin. Back home in 1954, he tried to make a living by writing songs. Though a talented pianist who played by ear, he couldn’t sell his songs to publishers and after 18 months began looking for a job on Wall Street.
One obstacle was that he knew little about business or economics. He endured dozens of rejections before signing on at Eastman, Dillon & Co.
In 1960, he joined a friend from school days, Arthur L. Carter, along with Peter Potoma and Sanford Weill to create a tiny investment banking firm with big ambitions, Carter, Berlind, Potoma & Weill. It soon became part of a merger wave on Wall Street. By 1973, Mr. Berlind was chief executive of what had become Hayden Stone Inc. Through more deals, that firm was absorbed into Shearson Loeb Rhoades, which merged with American Express in 1981.
Mr. Weill later headed Citigroup, and Mr. Carter became a newspaper publisher.
After the death of his first wife, Mr. Berlind met Brook Wheeler on a blind date arranged by mutual friends. She worked at a gallery selling reproductions of art from Nelson Rockefeller’s collection. They married in 1979.
Producing shows was similar to running a small business, Mr. Berlind said. He was involved in casting, drawing up budgets, setting schedules, negotiating rights and devising marketing strategies.
Some directors resisted his advice. Mr. Berlind produced “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway" in 1989 and later told the New York Times that Mr. Robbins, the choreographer and director, “was hard to talk to and didn’t take suggestions well." So Mr. Berlind sent Mr. Robbins a seven-page, single-spaced letter outlining his ideas for the musical anthology. Mr. Robbins replied briefly: “Thank you for your thoughts. I will take them into consideration."
Mr. Berlind is survived by his wife, his son, two granddaughters and a brother. The Roger S. Berlind Theatre at Princeton was named for him in recognition of a donation.
For those seduced by the glamour of Broadway, he warned that producing shows was an unreliable way to make money and frequently a way to lose it. If you are good at it, he said, “you may have a success rate of 50%."
His Manhattan home was decorated with dozens of posters from his productions. He called the display his “Hall of Human Folly."
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.