Scope and arrangement
The Merle Debuskey papers date from 1952 to 1996 and document Debuskey’s work as a press representative for Broadway and Off-Broadway theater productions, and his work with The Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM). The collection holds publicity files for theater productions and actors; correspondence and press-related material relating to Joseph Papp and the Public Theater; administrative files relating to the Tony Awards and ATPAM; and scripts. Over 70 theatrical productions are represented in this collection through the production publicity files. Additional productions are represented through the actor files and scripts.
Publicity files are comprised of actor files and production files. The actor files contain biographical information and press kits for actors represented by Debuskey. The files vary in terms of content and volume, but typically contain press releases, head shots, reviews, and correspondence relating to setting up interviews. A wide range of both Broadway and Off-Broadway actors are represented. A file for Dick Kallman, the actor who played Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in its North American tour, contains photographs of the actor, press quotations, articles, and drafts of a press release on the actor. A file on boxer and stage actor Philip Kenneally documents his role as a chauffer in Jean Anouilh’s Traveller Without Luggage. The file also contains photographs of Kenneally in his boxing garb.
Production files make up the bulk of this collection. Researchers interested in Debuskey's work with The New York Shakespeare Festival should consult material relating specifically to Joseph Papp and the Public Theater in addition to the production and actor publicity files. The bulk of the production files date between the 1960s and 1970s and contain press-related material concerning Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Debuskey frequently worked on several productions at a time, and the production files herein demonstrate the nature of his work. Files for multiple productions or projects Debuskey worked on in a given time period may be intermixed, but in general, files for a single production are together. Among the best represented productions in this collection are The Investigation (1966), Jesus Christ Superstar (1971), A Chorus Line (1975-1990), Angel (1978), House of Blue Leaves (1986), and Sacrilege (1995). Productions put on by the New York Shakespeare Festival are present and include Dance Wi’ Me (1971), The Black Terror (1971), Candide (1971), Blood (1971), and Hamlet (1972), among others. Revues put on by The Second City at the Square East Theatre are well represented. Other productions include Nobody Loves an Albatross (1963), Absence of a Cello (1964), Sticks and Bones (1971), Thieves (1974), and The Poison Tree (1975), among several others. The extent to which each production is represented varies. In most cases, multiple files for a single production are present and reflect the different aspects of press relations, such as program planning, media correspondence, advertising, and reviews. Typically, productions are represented with news clippings, press releases, and photographs of productions. Files may also contain correspondence; press lists and seating charts relating to opening night ticket requests; biographical information on the cast and crew; program drafts; slides; and hand drawn or printed logos. Files for A Chorus Line are extensive and document the show's success towards the end of it's run in the late 1980s to the 1990s. Material relating to advertising is present in most of the production files. These files generally contain advertising invoices, media schedules for television and radio, and scripts for live announcements of the production. Correspondence with actors typically relates to setting up interviews. Hand drawn logos for programs and advertisements for Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, among others, are present.
Material relating to Debuskey's publicity work outside of theater is also represented in the production files. Documents relating to Interama (1959-1960), a planned international exposition, and his work for the television Series Night of 100 Stars (1989-1990) are present. The Interama files include correspondence from Debuskey and frequent colleague Seymour Krawitz to Nicholas Reisini relating to the exposition’s press coverage. A limited amount of photographs are present and document the potential site of the exposition in Angers, France; and of the inflation of the dome theater that was to be used for the exposition. Files for Night of 100 Stars contain press kits and information relating to a tie-in promotion with the 1990 Diamonds International Awards.
Materials reflecting the activities of Joseph Papp and the Public Theater during the 1960s and 1970s are present in this collection. Copies of Papp’s correspondence relate to the publicity of his productions as well as administrative activities at The Public Theater and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Many of the letters are attached with memorandums to Debuskey. Correspondence, clippings, and press releases document the successes and challenges of the New York Shakespeare Festival. Files for the Astor Library building in New York City are present and document the Public Theater’s purchase of the building, the building’s history, and proposed theater design plans. The success of the Public Theater’s first production in the Astor building, Hair, is represented through correspondence, clippings, and press releases. Audience surveys and quotations from media relating to Hair are also present. Papp’s correspondence with audience members and theater critics reflect Papp’s deep involvement in every aspect of the production. Reviews and correspondence relating to Papp’s 1967 production of Hamlet demonstrate the show’s mixed response from educators, theater critics, and the general public. Correspondence with New York Times editor Arthur Gelb demonstrates Papp’s close professional and personal relationship with Gelb. Correspondence between Joseph Papp and Jimmy Carter documents the efforts the two made in creating a performing arts task force just before Carter was elected President.
Administrative files in this collection relate to Debuskey’s work with ATPAM and with the Tony Awards. The ATPAM files in this collection date from 1959 to 1980. Typically material relates to the administrative activities of board members. Other document types include meeting notices, agendas, and minutes; copies of union by-laws; apprenticeship agreements; and union handbooks. Correspondence documents contract negotiations regarding union employment, applicant statuses, and matters regarding apprenticeships. Also included in the ATPAM files are two transcripts of interviews with Debuskey. The transcript of an interview with Anne Hecht (1993) for the American Jewish Committee, Oral History Library is a general interview documenting Debuskey's life and career. Dubuskey's experiences with Joseph Papp are documented through a transcript of an interview given by Kenneth Turan (1987).
Files covering the Tony awards date from 1960 to 1993. Some award years are represented through multiple files, while others are less extensive. Most files contain newspaper clippings and announcements of the awards. More comprehensive files may hold programs, correspondence, and memorandums. The memorandums document communcations between members of The League of New York Theatres and Producers (now known as The Broadway League), general managers, and press agents. The memorandums are typically attached to documents outlining the rules and regulations of the awards. Correspondence frequently addresses the eligibility and nomination committees for the Tony Awards, in addition to date notifications for meetings, and voter lists. Debuskey also kept track of Broadway season theater statistics as a whole, and maintained files along with the Tony Award files. These files generally contain newspaper clippings and reviews that outline the success of a given season.
The scripts in this collection date from the 1970s to the 1990s and are mostly for productions put on by Lincoln Center. While some of the scripts are final copies, many of them are drafts or stage managers’ versions. Production titles include The Sisters Rosenweig (1992), Hello Again (1993), Twelve Dreams (1995), and A Fair Country (1996),among others. A costume plot with photocopies of drawings is included for the production of Carousel. Multiple versions of scripts are present for The Sisters Rosenweig (1992) and Hapgood (1994).
The collection holds audio-visual material. A recording of Comedy Tonight (1994) at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater is present. Also included are newsreels and recordings of A Chorus Line (1975-1990), Dreamgirls (1981), and Sacrilege (1995), among others. This audio-visual material will be subject to preservation evaluation and migration prior to access.
Actor publicity files are arranged alphabetically by actor's last name; scripts are arranged alphabetically by title. All other material in this collection is arranged chronologically.