Sylvia Herscher’s career in the theater encompasses several occupations and spans decades. Since the 1950s she has been general manager, producer, publisher, agent, and board member, as well as friend and guide to countless writers and composers finding their way into the business. Her own word for what she has done in the theater is “matchmaker.” The composer Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!, La Cage aux Folles) once referred to her as the embodiment of all his leading ladies: “a woman who arranges things.” Herscher has matched writers with composers, producers with writers, and musical scores with publishers.
Herscher was born Sylvia Kossovsky to Louis and Anna (Spar) Kossovsky on December 10, 1913, in New York City. Her brother, Morris, two years older, died in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. She graduated from the University of Arizona in 1934, and in 1935 married Seymour Herscher, who for eighteen years was company manager to the producer Alexander Cohen. Seymour Herscher, whom John Gielgud called “a man of grace in the theater,” died in 1994. The Herschers were members of B’nai Jeshurun in New York. Their two children are David (b. 1943), a public relations executive much involved in promoting the New York City Marathon, and Miriam (b. 1945), a banking executive.
Sylvia Herscher began her career in the theater as a production assistant for Make a Wish in 1951, and then for Jule Styne’s Pal Joey in 1952. She was general manager for Styne’s Hazel Flagg (1953) and associate producer for Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955). Over the next four years, she was general manager for several shows, including Mr. Wonderful, Visit to a Small Planet, and Say, Darling.
In 1960, Herscher joined the William Morris Agency as a writers’ and artists’ representative, and was involved in Tchin-Tchin (1962) and Dylan (1964), both by Sidney Michaels, Any Wednesday by Muriel Resnick (1964), The Blood Knot by Athol Fugard (1964), Oh, What a Lovely War! by Ted Allan (1964), and Golden Boy by William Gibson, Lee Adams, and Charles Strouse (1964), among other shows.
From 1966 to 1975, Herscher was head of the theater department of the Edwin H. Morris Company, music publishers. In this capacity, she matched composers with writers, and properties for the musical stage with producers, and also arranged for the publication of these works with the Edwin H. Morris Company.
As a music publisher she was instrumental in the publication of such shows as Mame (1966), Superman (1966), Applause (1970), Grease (1972), Mack and Mabel (1974), Shenandoah (1975), and A Chorus Line (1977). She was subsequently the head of the theater department of G. Schirmer, a division of Macmillan Performing Arts, where she continued to put together people and properties, including The Robber Bridegroom by Alfred Uhry and Robert Waldman (1976), until her “retirement” in 1982. For Herscher, the theater is “the most collaborative art of all.”
Herscher has also worked with the Jewish Repertory Theatre. “Judaism has informed my entire life,” she says. Her lifelong dedication to the theater has been the expression of her humanity and her religion.
Sylvia Herscher’s career in theater bridged the great transition from the 1950s to the 1980s, through the era of expansion in post–World War II America, when the Ford Foundation made the arts a national priority. In 2000, the American Theatre Wing presented her with its Special Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre. As a member of the board of trustees of the Goodspeed Opera Company in Connecticut and a board member of Musical Theatre Works in Manhattan, she was still deeply involved in “matchmaking” in the year 2000.
Notable Names in the American Theatre (1976).
Sylvia Herscher died in December 2004.
How to cite this page
Marvin, Angela Wigan. "Sylvia Herscher." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 4, 2015) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/herscher-sylvia>.