Furth, George, 1932-2008

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1932-12-14
Death 2008-08-11
Americans

Biographical notes:

George Furth was born George Schweinfurth in Chicago, Illinois on December 14, 1932. He received a Bachelor of Science in Speech from Northwestern University in 1954 and a master's degree from Columbia University. After completing his education, he served in the Navy until being honorably discharged in 1962.

Furth began his theatrical career as an actor, making his Broadway debut in the 1961 comedy, A Cook for Mr. General. In 1963, he appeared in the revue Hot Spot, which starred Judy Holliday. The score by Mary Rodgers contained a few uncredited contributions from another young songwriter, her close friend Stephen Sondheim. Furth and Sondheim met and became friends during the run of Hot Spot.

For the rest of his life, Furth's acting career would be confined to television and film, making 90 appearances from the 1960s to the 1990s. Furth appeared in such films as The Best Man (1964), The Boston Strangler (1968), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Blazing Saddles (1974), Shampoo (1975), The Cannonball Run (1981), and Bulworth (1998). Many of the films in which Furth appeared were projects involving his friend and Northwestern classmate, Warren Beatty. His more numerous television appearances include such shows as The Defenders; Broadside; Tammy; Rod Serling's Night Gallery; The Odd Couple; Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; Murphy Brown; L.A. Law; Murder, She Wrote; and The Nanny.

In the late 1960s, Furth took up writing on the advice of his psychoanalyst. He ended up writing a series of one act plays which investigated all aspects of marriage. Unable to get financial backing for a production, which would feature the revered actress Kim Stanley as all the wives in the vignettes, Furth showed the script to director and producer Harold Prince, who suggested turning it into a musical. With the insertion of a new central character, a single man who was a friend to all the married couples, a reduction of the number of couples from eleven to five, and the writing of a musical score by Stephen Sondheim, the show became Company. Company opened in 1970 and went on to win 6 Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical for Furth and Best Musical.

Furth followed up Company with a collection of four one-acts called Twigs, which opened on Broadway in 1971. Some of the plays used in Twigs had been written for the project which eventually became Company. He also provided the book for Kander and Ebb's musical, The Act (1977), which starred Liza Minnelli; and had another play produced on Broadway, The Supporting Cast (1981). That same year, another Furth show opened on Broadway, his second collaboration with Sondheim, Merrily We Roll Along, an update and musical of George S. Kauffman and Moss Hart's 1934 play. Though a commercial failure in its original Broadway run, Merrily We Roll Along's original cast recording has earned the show cult status. Sondheim and Furth revised the show for subsequent regional productions.

Furth's next play, Precious Sons, had a brief Broadway run in 1986. In 1996, he reunited with Sondheim for a non-musical collaboration, the mystery play, Getting Away with Murder. During the early 1990s Furth wrote the book and lyrics for a one woman musical called Off the Record, a collaboration with composer Doug Katsaros. The show was never done in New York, but was produced regionally as both Off the Record and Music Minus One, starring Judith Ivey, Andrea McArdle, Sally Mays, and Leslie Uggams.

George Furth was a member of the Actors Studio and the Dramatist's Guild. Furth's companion, Demmy Tambakos, died in 1996. George Furth died of a lung infection on August 11, 2008, in Santa Monica, California.

From the guide to the George Furth papers, 1932-2008, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

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Subjects:

  • Musicals--Production and direction
  • Musicals
  • Musicals--Librettos
  • Motion pictures--Production and direction
  • Television acting
  • Musicals--Writing and publishing

Occupations:

  • Librettists
  • Playwrights
  • Writer
  • Actors
  • Dramatists

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