Broadway moneyman Marvin Shulman keeps hope alive
"Porno movies launched Michael Bennett's career," Marvin Shulman
says with amusement. "He never denied it. He denied a lot of things,
but he didn't deny that." The 62-year-old Canadian-born business
manager who got his start by doing taxes for ballet dancers is
referring to how he and Wakefield Poole, a young choreographer,
financed the late Michael Bennett's initial workshop of A Chorus
Line to the tune of $100,000 by producing the classic gay erotic
films Boys in the Sand and Bijou.
"The first week after Bijou opened, I bought a Mercedes
convertible," Shulman says. And he muses fondly over the heady times
when A Chorus Line was the biggest hit on Broadway. "We'd have a
party, go to dinner. It was all magical, all a production, with
limousines. And money was no problem. Money was falling from the
It was a dramatic change for both Shulman and Bennett. "When A
Chorus Line was in rehearsal at The Public [Theater], Michael was
making $100 a week, like everybody else," he says. "Meanwhile, he
has a housekeeper who he's paying $150 a week."
Shulman revels in telling the stories collected over a lifetime
of working behind the scenes in intimate relationships with Broadway
luminaries such as Bennett and Tommy Tune. "I loved it," he readily
admits. "I was right into all their affairs, all their receipts. Who
was going out with whom and who was going where -- Broadway gossip.
I mean, I had no talent other than accounting and I was working in
But working in the theater in the age of AIDS has also brought
extreme sadness. Shulman remembers Bennett's last days, living with
the disease: "It was a nightmare, just awful. He hid it for so long.
He'd gotten wild with coke, was very paranoid. He no longer had any
relationship with his parents, his brother, me or any of the people
he'd worked with."
And beyond the personal loss, Shulman stresses Broadway's loss.
"Michael was a great talent as well as a great producer, a rare
thing," he says.
Shulman's success brought him more time and a desire to do some
sort of community service work. At the suggestion of a friend, he
attended an ACT UP meeting, met young broker-turned-activist Peter
Staley, and soon became treasurer. "You know it was a strange group,
by the bylaws and the attitudes. Everybody was welcome. There were
no presidents. I think I was the only person there with a title.
Everybody was equal and it just doesn't work. Everybody's not equal.
We were surrounded by a fringe of crazies. So much time was taken up
at the meetings because they had to have equal time on the floor."
Shulman stayed with ACT UP three years, but transferred his
efforts to Treatment Action Group (TAG) when Staley established it
in 1992. For several years, TAG held its meetings in Shulman's
spacious Chelsea apartment.
Shulman also became involved in LIFEbeat, the recording
industry's AIDS fundraising group, and Hearts & Voices at about
this time -- again as treasurer. "I'm not a good caregiver," he
says. "I'm not good with hospitals. Hearts & Voices goes to
seven or eight hospitals every night in New York City. We literally
have 2,000 cabaret people on our roster who come and do a show for
half an hour. It's heartbreaking. For half an hour the patients
don't have AIDS. Liza Minnelli singing at St. Luke's-Roosevelt
[Hospital]. I'd be in the cracks for days. So I just do the books."
Shulman still maintains an office serving five prominent
entertainers as business manager. Tommy Tune has remained a client
and friend through the years. "[Tommy] has had a hard time of it
because so many of his dancers and co-workers have died," Shulman
says. "I said to him a few months ago that I'm always taking cards
out of my Rolodex, people keep dying. He said, 'I never take them
out; I leave them there so that I can remember them when I'm looking
for a phone number.' I thought that was really touching."
Lost friends and associates are one reason why Shulman, who is
HIV negative, devotes so much time to AIDS work. "There's a new book
that's out about men who are negative and how ignored they are in
this whole epidemic. And I think a lot of that bothered me. I mean,
I never went to the baths for a whole weekend, but I was active. Why
the differentiation, why am I negative? Subconsciously, that is very
Summing up, Shulman confesses, "I just hope I don't burn out.
It's frightening when I see people planning their AIDS benefits two
or three years in advance. It's become part of our fabric, like
cancer," he says despairingly. But then he shrugs and smiles. "It's
all about hope."