Producer, Stage Manager, Production Staff, Production Crew
( b. Apr 14, 1919 Boston, Massachusetts, USA - d. Aug 10, 2015 Yorktown Heights, New York, USA ) Male
When My Fair Lady opened on Broadway in 1956, there was Alan Jay Lerner's book, and there was Biff Liff's book. Mr. Liff's book, the log he kept as the production stage manager, swelled to several volumes over the show's long run, and the entries were not just about each performance.
"Rex insisted on shower in his dressing room," Mr. Liff wrote in one entry, referring to Rex Harrison. "Never uses it." In another entry, Mr. Liff wrote: "Pickpocket Julie Andrews clipped my tie clip while talking to me. Returned it after the performance. This girl has a future." And when Mr. Harrison left the cast in 1957, Mr. Liff declared, "Harrison never did use that shower."
Mr. Liff -- whose given name was Samuel -- went on to become an associate producer in the 1960s under Broadway showmen like David Merrick. Then, in the 1970s, he became a theatrical agent whose clients included Ms. Andrews, Jane Alexander, Angela Lansbury, Agnes de Mille and Chita Rivera. But it was backstage, with titles like production stage manager, that he first made his mark.
Mr. Liff was a towering presence in the theater -- literally. A barrel-chested man with an enormous head, he also had a voice that, at least in the good-natured imitations of friends, could project the absolute authority of a bass-baritone. He could be the deep, reassuring source of calm in the frenzied, cutthroat world of Broadway, where powerhouses like Merrick considered actors "unruly children."
Mr. Liff was born in Boston, the youngest child of Morris Liff, a restaurateur, and Rose Liff. He graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh in 1939 with a degree in theater.
As an Army officer during World War II in Chicago, he oversaw what amounted to the opposite of an assembly line: a disassembly line, whose purpose was to examine damaged gear sent back from the front and salvage parts or materials, like tubes in radios. He had been promoted to captain by the end of the war.
Peter Webb, a playwright and director who interviewed Mr. Liff for a potential biography, said he worked for the producers Herman Levin and Melvyn Douglas on a national tour of Call Me Mister, a musical that was about what Mr. Liff was at that moment in his life, a veteran. The troupe included Bob Fosse and Carl Reiner.
Mr. Liff's first show as a stage manager was Along Fifth Avenue, which ran 180 performances from January to June 1949. It overlapped with "Admiral Broadway Revue," a show on the new medium of television that originated from a converted theater in Columbus Circle.
Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and the director Max Liebman, who created "Admiral Broadway Revue," went on to work on the groundbreaking "Your Show of Shows" in 1950. But by then, Mr. Liff was working as the stage manager on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, produced by Mr. Levin and Oliver Smith. It starred Carol Channing, who later became a client of Mr. Liff's.
For By the Beautiful Sea in 1954, Mr. Levin was given a better title: production stage manager. And it was that title that he held on My Fair Lady, which opened on March 15, 1956. In the 1960s, he was listed as associate producer when Merrick introduced Woody Allen to Broadway as a playwright in Don't Drink the Water and as an actor in Play It Again, Sam. Mr. Liff held the same title on Promises, Promises, Cactus Flower and The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd.
His last credit was as associate producer on Tricks, a musical comedy produced by Mr. Levin that ran for five previews and eight performances in January 1973. He then joined the William Morris Agency as the head of its legitimate theater department. Mr. Liff was a longtime member of the Tony Awards nominating committee and received a 2006 Tony honor for excellence in theater.
Source: The New York Times obituary