Veteran producer Hilliard Elkins, the man who brought us “Oh! Calcutta!” and made sex both funny and available in the American Theatre in 1970, has died of a heart attack at his home in Los Angeles… age 81. From the NY Times:
After forming his own company, whose clients included Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Robert Culp and Mel Brooks, he set up as a producer and in short order developed a string of notable plays and films, including the musical “Golden Boy,” the film “Alice’s Restaurant” and the Broadway premieres of two plays by Athold Fugard. With Al Goldin, he made his Broadway debut in 1962 with “Come On Strong,” a Garson Kanin comedy starring Carroll Baker and Van Johnson.
Mr. Elkins went on to write his own chapter in the history of the 1960s counterculture when he produced “Oh! Calcutta!,” Kenneth Tynan’s musical sex revue, and, with Mr. Penn as director, produced the film version of Arlo Guthrie’s shaggy-dog song “Alice’s Restaurant” (1969).
“Oh! Calcutta!” made by far the bigger splash. Consisting of sexual fantasies sketched by notables like Samuel Beckett, John Lennon, Sam Shepard, Edna O’Brien and Jules Feiffer, it offered copious nudity and simulated sex acts.
It opened at the Eden Theater in the East Village in 1969 and two years later transferred uptown to the Belasco, where it became an enormous hit, running for more than 1,300 performances despite often withering reviews.
Clive Barnes, dismissing it as “witless,” “doggedly sophomoric” and “soporific” in The New York Times, wrote in his review of the Off Broadway production, “To be honest, I think that I can recommend the show with any vigor only to people who are extraordinarily underprivileged either sexually, socially or emotionally.”
When I was in New York shortly after graduating with my MA in Theatre from Northwestern (and after a year of Prep School teaching), Hilly Elkins employed a number of my friends and he was the one I really wanted to work for (along with Hal Prince, who none of my friends worked for). I didn’t get to… and Hilly took off for Hollywood shortly afterward.
Oh well… another part of my NY Theatre world is now gone for good.
- The Eulogizer: Haifa police chief, “Oh Calcutta!” producer and Brooke Shields photographer (jta.org)