RICHARDS, MARTIN


RICHARDS, MARTIN (Morton Richard Klein; 1932– ), U.S. stage and film producer. Morton Richard Klein grew up in the Bronx and got his first job at the age of 10 as a newsboy in the Broadway show Mexican Hayride with June Havoc. He did other shows and commercials until his voice changed. At 17, a baritone, he began performing in nightclubs under his new name. He spent two years at New York University studying architecture, his grandfather's profession, while singing at night, but quit to pursue show business full-time. Realizing he would never make it big as a singer, Richards landed jobs as a casting director. He found actors for small roles in Manhattan-location movies like The Seven Year Itch, Sweet Charity, The Boston Strangler, and Sweet Smell of Success. He then raised funds to stage an Off-Broadway show, Dylan, which proved a success, and his producing career was born. Richards was determined to stage the dark musical Chicago, and he spent 27 years before it had its premiere on Broadway in 1975. The show, a smashing success, ran for more than 900 performances. That same year, Richards met Mary Lea Johnson, one of several children who were heirs to the Johnson & Johnson medical supply fortune. Johnson, a former actress and a woman who had two failed marriages, and Richards, an acknowledged homosexual, married. In 1976, with one million dollars from his wife, they established the Producers Circle, with Robert Fryer and James Cresson. The partnership produced such Broadway musical hits as On the Twentieth Century (1978), Sweeney Todd (1979), La Cage aux Folles (1983), The Will Rogers Follies (1991), and Grand Hotel (1989) among others. Their shows won more than 36 Tony Awards. Crimes of the Heart won a Pulitzer Prize. Off Broadway, the Circle produced March of the Falsettos and Mayor. Among their films were The Boys from Brazil (1978), The Shining (1980), Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981), and Chicago, which won an Oscar for best film of the year in 2003, along with five other Oscars. Five years after the death of her father, Mary Lea Richards and her brothers and sisters challenged their father's last will, which disinherited five of his six children and left the vast bulk of the $350 million estate to his third wife, his former maid. The case was the largest inheritance contest in the history of New York before it was settled out of court with the children dividing about 12 percent of the total. Legal challenges continued for Richards into the early years of the 21st century, years after the death of his wife. Richards spent millions establishing the Mary Lea Johnson Richards Institute at NYU and the Children's Advocacy Center of Manhattan.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.