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Sylvia Herscher

December 10, 1913–2004

by Angela Wigan Marvin

In Brief

Sylvia Kossovsky Herscher, a self-declared matchmaker of the theater world, took pride in pairing writers, composers, producers, and publishers to create memorable scores and shows. Herscher got her start as a production assistant for Make a Wish in 1951. In 1960 she joined the William Morris Agency as a writers’ and artists’ representative. From 1966 to 1975 she was head of the theater department for music publisher Edwin H. Morris, and from 1975 to 1982 she performed the same role at G. Schirmer, publishing such shows as Mame, Grease, and A Chorus Line. After retiring from publishing, she served as a board member for the Goodspeed Opera Company and Musical Theatre Works. In 2000, the American Theatre Wing honored her with its Special Tony for Excellence in the Theatre.

Sylvia Herscher’s career in the theater encompassed several occupations and spanned decades. Beginning in the 1950s she served as the 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 did in the theater was “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.” Throughout her career, Herscher matched writers with composers, producers with writers, and musical scores with publishers.

Early Life and Family

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.

Career

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 was “the most collaborative art of all.”

Herscher also worked with the Jewish Repertory Theatre. “Judaism has informed my entire life,” she said. Her lifelong dedication to the theater was the expression of her humanity and her religion.

Legacy

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. Sylvia Herscher died in December 2004.

Bibliography

Hofler, Robert. “Obituaries: Legiters: Sylvia Herscher.” Variety, vol. 397, no. 8, 2005, p. 57.

“Obituaries: Sylvia Herscher, 91, Literary Agent.” BackStage, vol. 46, no. 2, 2005, p. 41.

Rigdon, Walter. Notable names in the American theatre. Clifton, N.J: J.T. White, 1976. 

Singer, Barry. “Emerging From the Shadows of Broadway's Past.” The New York Times, 2000, p. 5.

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How to cite this page

Marvin, Angela Wigan. "Sylvia Herscher." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 4, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/herscher-sylvia>.