Ben Bagley

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Ben Bagley (October 18, 1933 – March 21, 1998) was an American musical theatre and record producer.


Born in Burlington, Vermont, Bagley moved to New York City during the early 1950s, and in 1955, at age 22, he produced his first hit, Shoestring Revue, starring (among others) Beatrice Arthur and Chita Rivera (and, later, Jane Connell), and with songs by Charles Strouse, Lee Adams, June Carroll, and Sheldon Harnick.[1]

The glowing notices from Shoestring enabled him to mount a more lavish and sophisticated revue, The Littlest Revue Off-Broadway in 1956.[2] This revue featured the young, unknown Joel Grey, Larry Storch, and Charlotte Rae, as well as Tammy Grimes making her Off-Broadway debut. Contributing lyricists and composers included Vernon Duke, John Latouche, Ogden Nash and others.[1] Particularly memorable was a snappy number by Sammy Cahn and Vernon Duke, called "Good Little Girls." Performed by flame-haired newcomer Beverly Bozeman, this song had originally been written for Bette Davis in a 1952 musical revue, "Two's Company." Resurrecting unused and forgotten songs by major songwriters eventually became a hallmark of Bagley shows and recordings. The Littlest Revue closed after 32 performances,[2] possibly because its venue, the Phoenix Theatre at 2nd Avenue and 12th Street, was too inaccessible for the casual theatergoer. Critics noted the revue's pleasant songs and dull, overlong sketches.

Bagley returned a few months later with Shoestring '57 at the Barbizon-Plaza on Central Park South,[1] and this turned out to be his most successful show yet with 119 performances.

Bagley's Off-Broadway revue The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter drew on the composer's lesser-known songs. It ran Off-Broadway from March 1965 to November 1965 for 273 performances at Square East (West Fourth Street), and starred Carmen Alvarez, Kaye Ballard, William Hickey, Harold Lang, and Elmarie Wendel.[1][3]

Following that, it ran for 13 months in San Francisco, before moving to the regional theater stage. According to Variety, the show "helped pave the way for later Broadway revues like Ain't Misbehavin' and Sophisticated Ladies, which surveyed the work of a single composer."[4]

Shortly after his 1958 revue, Shoestring Revue in Fort Worth, Bagley was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was hospitalized until 1960. During this time of sickness and recuperation, he learned what true friendship was and what else he could do with his career.

He began recording albums dedicated to American Popular Song (later collectively referred to as Great American Songbook) and licensed them to various companies, including MGM and RiC in the United States, and CBS in the United Kingdom.

He later founded his own recording label, Painted Smiles Records, and through it reissued thoses albums and several newer ones, producing 48 albums.[5] The greater part of his record production consisted largely of the "Revisited" series, which promoted the body of work produced by the likes of Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, Harold Rome, Howard Dietz & Arthur Schwartz, Frank Loesser, Noël Coward, Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Alan Jay Lerner, and DeSylva, Brown, & Henderson. These albums focused largely upon the composers' lesser-known songs, and contained performances by some of the leading jazz and the theatrical singers of the day (such as Bobby Short and Kaye Ballard), as well as many great theatre and film actors not generally known for their singing ability (among them Katharine Hepburn, Ellen Burstyn, and Laurence Harvey).

The Playbill writer has called Bagley's liner notes for his "Revisited" albums "odd and iconoclastic." The recordings themselves are "hardly scholarly and sometimes downright unpleasant to listen to (note the antic, drowsy, caffeinated, tinny arrangements and uneven voices — a festival of sharps and flats)." However, "the discs are nonetheless embraced by fans hungry to explore old, mothballed material by extraordinary songwriters."[6]

The Painted Smiles "Revisited" Series


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Botto, Louis."Ben Bagley -- Revisited", August 15, 1997
  2. 2.0 2.1 "'The Littlest Revue' Listing" Internet Off-Broadway Database, accessed July 4, 2011
  3. Listing Internet Off-Broadway Database, accessed July 4, 2011
  4. Staff."Ben Bagley, dead at 64: Developer of theatrical revues" Variety, April 16, 1998
  5. "Ben Bagley", accessed July 4, 2011
  6. Jones, Kenneth.Ben Bagley Lives! His Decline and Fall Revue Begins to Beguine in Florida Aug. 23 Playbill, August 23, 2006