Larry Gelbart (1928-2009) wrote the book for the successful Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and achieved great success writing for the television show M*A*S*H, but his first venture at writing a Broadway musical was a disaster. The Conquering Hero had trouble out-of-town and ran for only 8 performances on Broadway in January 1961.
The musical’s producer tried to cheer Gelbart by reading the day’s news about Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. The producer wondered what would happend to Eichmann after his trial. “They ought to send him out of town with a musical,” said Gelbart during the musical’s tryout period in New Haven, CT.
Neil Simon, a playwright and friend of Gelbart from their television writing days, misquoted the line to the New York (NY) Times in 1968: “It’s so bad that Larry Gelbart said he hopes Hitler is alive and out of town with a musical.” When Gelbart died in 2009, the popular “Hitler” version of Gelbart’s quotation was used.
Wikipedia: Larry Gelbart
Larry Simon Gelbart (February 25, 1928 – September 11, 2009) was an American comedy writer and dramatist.
Gelbart wrote the long-running Broadway musical farce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Burt Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim in 1962 and he collaborated with Shevelove on the screebnplay for The Wrong Box (1966), a British comedy film.
His Broadway credits include the musical City of Angels, which won him the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical and an Edgar Award, and the Iran-contra satire Mastergate, as well as Sly Fox. In the early 1960s, he uttered the now-classic line, “If Hitler is alive, I hope he’s out of town with a musical.”
Wikipedia: The Conquering Hero
The Conquering Hero is a musical with a music by Mark Charlap, lyrics by Norman Gimbel, and book by Larry Gelbart. The musical was based on Preston Sturges’ 1944 film Hail the Conquering Hero.
It was originally staged and choreographed by Bob Fosse, who was replaced during previews by Albert Marre as director and Todd Bolender as choreographer. Settings and lighting were by Jean Rosenthal.
Produced by Robert Whitehead and Roger L. Stevens, the Broadway production, opened on January 16, 1961 at the ANTA Playhouse, where it ran for 8 performances. Featured in the cast was Tom Poston.
During out of town tryouts in Philadelphia, Gelbart comically said, still quoted by theater people: “If Hitler’s alive, I hope he’s out of town with a musical.”
Bursting with Song—A Broadway Glossary
Tryout Hell: The chaotic and usually bumpy/traumatic/stressful period when a musical is being cast, shaped, and rehearsed—historically, on the road, before the show was due in New York, though these days productions don’t travel much (if at all) before opening on Broadway, as it’s way too expensive. Anyway, tryout hell is so awful that it inspired Arthur Laurents’s famous quote, “If Hitler is alive, I hope he’s out of town with a musical.” [Oops! Serves me right for relying on some anonymous CD booklet. The actual author of that quote is Larry Gelbart, which is correctly noted in Not Since Carrie by Ken Mandelbaum.]
25 February 1968, New York (NY) Times, “Life for Simon—Not That Simple” by Joan Barthel, pg. D9:
“But there’s no gratification for a playwright in doing a musical book; all the emotional peaks are sung, not spoken, so you mostly write lead-ins for songs. And it’s all so horrible—the rehearsals, going out of town. It’s so bad that Larry Gelbart said he hopes Hitler is alive and out of town with a musical.”
(Playwright Neil Simon—ed.)
22 March 1973, Uniontown (PA) Morning Herald, “On the Town” by Earl Wilson, pg. 4, col. 2:
Larry Kerl told of the aggravation of opening a musical out of town—the endless rewriting, the bickering, the lack of sleep: “I once heard an author say, ‘If Hitler is still alive, I hop he’s out of town with a musical.’”
20 May 1973, New York (NY) Times, “When I Was Young” by Jean Kerr, pg. 130:
Larry Gelbart, who is best known for his delightful libretto for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” once spent six weeks on the road with an ailing extravaganza that lasted exactly three performances on Broadway. He arrived in New York a basket-case, announcing to anyone who would listen that what they should have done with Eichmann was send him out of town with a musical.
22 January 1984, New York (NY) Times, “Trying to Build a Bandwagon For the Nonprofit Musical” by Samuel G. Freedman, pg. E11:
There is an old saying in the theater that goes, “If Hitler is alive, may be be out of town with a musical.” The curse attests to the punishing odds against new musicals succeeding if they follow the traditional route from rehearsal studio to road tour to Broadway.
8 October 1989, New York (NY) Times, “Is There Life After M*A*S*H?” by Mervyn Rothstein, pg. SM89:
After Caesar, Gelbart made his first try at Broadway, writing the book for a musical called “The Conquering Hero,” based on the Preston Sturges film “Hail the Conquering Hero”; the play ran for seven performances in 1961. (When the show was trying out in Philadelphia, Gelbart delivered a one-liner still quoted by theater people: “If Hitler’s alive, I hope he’s out of town with a musical.")
All His Jazz:
The life & death of Bob Fosse
By Martin Gottfried
Cambridge, MA: Da Capo
As this first phase of the tryout ended, and the company prepared to move on to the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., Whitehead sat down with Gelbart at a bar in their New Haven hotel and tried to relax after the tension of the first few weeks. The producer brought up a more cheerful subject.
“I wonder what the Israelis are going to do with Adolf Eichmann,” he said, “after the trial is over.”
Gelbart didn’t hesitate: “They ought to send him out of town with a musical.” The line became instant Broadway lore. It also momentarily defused Whitehead’s nerves. “The air around that New Haven tryout was just charged,” he remembered, and on the way out of the bar, he said to Gelbart, “Maybe we need a little more of that humor in the show.”
New York (NY) Times
Larry Gelbart, Comedy Writer, Dies at 81
By ROBERT BERKVIST
Published: September 11, 2009
Larry Gelbart, the writer whose caustic wit was a creative force behind the enduring success of the television series “M*A*S*H,” Broadway hits like “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and film comedies like “Tootsie,” died Friday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 81.
And he was matchless at firing off one-liners, in one instance summing up how much he had enjoyed readying a show for Broadway by noting: “If Hitler’s still alive, I hope he’s out of town with a musical.”
New York City • Music/Dance/Theatre/Film • (0) Comments • Friday, September 11, 2009 • Permalink