Obituaries

Michael Brown, known for industrial musicals; at 93

NEW YORK — Michael Brown — a cabaret performer and songwriter known for his sprightly contributions to the industrial musical, an American entertainment genre that literally sang the praises of vacuums and zippers and autos and steel and who, as an improbable result of this work, bestowed on his friend Harper Lee the wherewithal to write her only novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird” — died June 11 at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.

His death, from lymphoma, was confirmed by his wife, Joy Williams Brown.

Advertisement

At midcentury, many US corporations put on Broadway-style musical extravaganzas for their employees. Typically staged for just a performance or two at sales conferences and managerial meetings and occasionally recorded for posterity, the shows were meant to rally the troops, a kind of “How to Succeed in Business by Dint of Really Trying.”

“They were entertaining, but they were also motivational,” Steve Young, the author, with Sport Murphy, of “Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals” (2013), said in a telephone interview. “They presented the company as our great family that we’re all pulling in the same direction for.”

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Industrial musicals boasted professional casts — Florence Henderson and Dorothy Loudon are alumnae — and opulent production values. In an era when a Broadway musical might cost $500,000, its industrial counterpart could cost as much as $3 million.

They also had high-level composers and lyricists, including Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, known widely for “Fiddler on the Roof” and less widely for “Ford-i-fy Your Future,” the Ford Tractor show of 1959.

Mr. Brown was among the genre’s most sought-after creators. His shows — he supplied music, lyrics, and direction and often took part as a singer — were known, Young said, for “their high quality and general buoyancy and fun.”

Advertisement

For DuPont, Mr. Brown created “Wonderful World of Chemistry,” a show that in all likelihood has had the greatest number of performances of any musical in history.

It was the modest windfall from just such an industrial show — a musical fashion show for Esquire magazine in fall 1956, Joy Brown recalled this week — that let Mr. Brown and his wife to help usher “To Kill a Mockingbird” into being.

The Browns had met Lee through her friend Truman Capote. By 1956, Lee, an Alabama native, was living in New York. Her longed-for career as a writer was stymied by the need to pay the rent, and she was toiling away as an airline reservations clerk.

That Christmas, visiting the Browns, she spied an envelope with her name on it in the branches of their tree.

“I opened it and read: ‘You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas,’ ” Lee recalled in a 1961 essay in McCall’s magazine in which she did not identify the Browns by name.

You're reading  1 of 5 free articles.
Get UNLIMITED access for only 99¢ per week Subscribe Now >
You're reading1 of 5 free articles.Keep scrolling to see more articles recomended for you Subscribe now
We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles.
Continue reading by subscribing to Globe.com for just 99¢.
 Already a member? Log in Home
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.