Composer, Director, Writer, Lyricist
( b. Dec 14, 1920 Mexia, Texas, USA - d. Jun 11, 2014 New York, New York, USA ) Male
Michael Brown was 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."
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.
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."
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. Seen by an estimated five million people, the show, 24 minutes long, played some 17,000 performances. Broadway's longest-running musical, Phantom of the Opera, by contrast, has had about 11,000 performances since opening in 1988.
It was the modest windfall from just such an industrial show -- a musical fashion show for Esquire magazine in the fall of 1956, Joy Brown recalled this week -- that let Mr. Brown and his wife help usher "To Kill a Mockingbird" into being.
The Browns had met Ms. Lee through her friend Truman Capote. Mr. Brown had contributed lyrics to a song in the 1954 Broadway musical House of Flowers, with a book by Mr. Capote and music by Harold Arlen.
By 1956, Ms. 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,' " Ms. Lee recalled in a 1961 essay in McCall's magazine in which she did not identify the Browns by name.
The result, "To Kill a Mockingbird," was published in 1960, and for nearly a half-century afterward the Browns and Ms. Lee kept their secret. News of the gift -- Ms. Lee insisted that it be a loan -- came to light in 2006 with the publication of "Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee," a biography by Charles J. Shields.
Mr. Brown wrote music, book and lyrics for the short-lived Broadway musical Different Times, staged in 1972. He was also the author of the popular children's picture book "Santa Mouse" (1966), with illustrations by Elfrieda DeWitt, and its several sequels.
Source: The New York Times obituary
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