Hal Prince, Giant of Broadway and Reaper of Tonys, Dies at 91


Mr. Prince was born Harold Smith Jr. in Manhattan on Jan. 30, 1928, to Harold Sr. and Blanche (Stern) Smith. His parents divorced, and by the early 1930s his mother had remarried, to Milton Prince, a stockbroker. In a 1989 biography by Carol Ilson, “Harold Prince: A Director’s Journey,” Mr. Prince is quoted as saying that he had never liked his father and that they hadn’t seen each other much, though his father had had a long life; even so, into the early part of his career he was known as Harold Smith Prince.

His upbringing was affluent; his mother was an ardent theatergoer, and Mr. Prince recalled being taken as a boy to the Mercury Theater’s production of “Julius Caesar,” a polemical adaptation aimed at the time at rising European fascism, with Orson Welles as Brutus. Aspiring to be a playwright, Hal attended private school in Manhattan and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was active in the Penn Players, a still-extant student theater group. He ran the university radio station, directed one of his own plays and acted in a production of “Pride and Prejudice,” a theatrical adaptation of the Jane Austen classic.

After graduating he returned to New York, where he eventually found work in Abbott’s office doing odd jobs, including some writing for Abbott’s television projects. The Army interrupted his early career for two years, a European hiatus that he judged afterward to have been beneficial.

“I was an ambitious and nervous fellow, and it slowed me down; it made me more rational, less nervous, more adult,” Mr. Prince said in a 1964 interview, though it was decades before he shook his reputation as a detail-obsessed control freak. His son, Charles, an orchestra conductor, was asked as a boy what his father did. “He works late and makes money,” the boy replied.

Mr. Prince married Judy Chaplin, daughter of the composer and lyricist Saul Chaplin, in 1962. In addition to her and to Charles Prince, he is survived by a daughter, Daisy Prince, a theater director; and three grandchildren.

At Thanksgiving 1960, the Griffith-Prince production team had three Broadway musicals running simultaneously: “Fiorello!,” “West Side Story” and “Tenderloin,” about an 1890s social reformer in a New York City red light district, with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, who also wrote “Fiorello!” But in June 1961, shortly after “Tenderloin” closed at a loss and a play they produced, “A Call on Kuprin,” shut down after just 12 performances, Mr. Griffith died, and Mr. Prince was on his own.



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