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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Writing about theatre: SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING

From the Museum of Hoaxes

The ad would have appeared in all the leading New York City papers, but an editor at one paper noticed something puzzling about it before he gave the okay to publish it. Small pictures of the theatre critics accompanied their quotations. However, the picture of Richard Watts showed a black man, and the editor knew that Richard Watts, the theater critic, was white. He notified the other city papers that something was wrong with the ad, and so none of them ran it except for the Herald-Tribune, which had already gone to press.

Upon closer inspection, it turned out that the picture of Richard Watts was indeed not a picture of the theater critic Richard Watts. Nor did any of the pictures display an image of a professional theater critic.

The man responsible for the ad was David Merrick, the producer of "Subways Are For Sleeping." Faced with lukewarm reviews of the play, he had devised an elaborate stunt to bring it publicity. He found seven people in New York City who happened to have the same names as seven well-known theater critics. He then invited these seven people to a free performance of the play and afterwards wined and dined them until they agreed to let him use their names in the ad for the show. Therefore, the ad was entirely truthful. Richard Watts really did say that the play was "a knockout from start to finish." However, the theater critic Richard Watts had never said those words.

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