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Shirley Herz, 87, Theater Agent Extraordinaire
She wasn't a “Broadway Baby”; Shirley Herz thought her future would be more medical than theatrical.
“I always thought I was going to be a doctor,” the Philadelphia native and Penn dropout revealed to Playbill in 2004.
Instead, she became a Broadway legend as a press agent/PR phenomenon even as she remained a loyal Philadelphian, coming back home for family visits and always aware of the local theater scene.
And when she died Aug. 11 at age 87, she left a legacy of more than 100 shows represented and a cadre of stars who became clients and, often, friends.
Broadway theaters took the extraordinary step to dim their lights one evening following Herz’s death in honor of this leading luminary.
It all began, she told Playbill, in junior high, when “I would save my allowance and go to the Forrest Theatre every Saturday matinee. One day I saw Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. She gave the first curtain speech I had ever seen.
“She came out, and there was some magic in it that made me think, ‘I want to be a part of that world.’ ”
And she was — handling such hits as La Cage aux Folles, Threepenny Opera, Jerry’s Girls, Gypsy (Tyne Daly) and Fiddler on the Roof.
She was recognized for her work in the industry for some 65 years, including a special Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre in 2009.
The year before, the lobby of the Biltmore Theater-cum-Samuel J. Freedman Theatre, was named after her and Bob Ullman, another renowned agent and good friend.
In 2010, her contributions were saluted and applauded by the Theatre Hall of Fame, which gave her its Founders Award.
Perhaps her biggest triumph was the one that bears her name: Shirley Herz Associates opened for business in 1971, fueled by the high-octane woman who saved a lot of energy for philanthropic work — including many an AIDS organization and benefit — as well as time to visit family in the Germantown section of her native city.
Sam Rudy, a prominent theatrical public relations executive, credits Herz with showing him the ropes as the curtain was just going up on his nascent career. “I started working for Shirley in 1979 as the front desk guy but it wasn’t long before Shirley began giving me one rich experience after the other,” he said.
“Not to mention she took me as her sidekick to some really great parties. She was the very best mentor one could ever hope to have: kind, generous, smart, funny, unerringly loyal.”
To know her was not just to love her but to feel the razzle-dazzle of a real timeless pro, who once worked getting items to Walter Winchell and evolved into an executive adept at working the Internet: “To know her for five minutes,” Rudy said with affection, “was to feel as if you had a piece of her for the rest of your life.”
She is survived by her husband, Herbert Boley.