Michael Brown, Whose Industrial Musicals Gave Wings to 'To Kill
a Mockingbird,' Dies at 93
By MARGALIT FOXJUNE 29, 2014
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 on June 11 at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.
His death, from lymphoma, was confirmed by his wife, Joy Williams Brown.
At midcentury, many American 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."
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, whose clients included the J. C. Penney Company, Singer sewing machines and DuPont, 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, Mr. Young said, for "their high quality and general buoyancy and fun."...
(birthday post from 2010)