Talent Manager-Producer Hillard Elkins Dies

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Hillard Elkins

Longtime industry executive who brought 'Oh! Calcutta!' to Broadway and managed Steve McQueen and Sammy Davis Jr. died Dec. 1 in Los Angeles.

Hillard "Hilly" Elkins, an agent, manager and producer perhaps best known for bringing the counter-culture musical Oh! Calcutta! to Broadway in 1969, died Dec. 1 of a heart attack at Olympia Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 81.

With sketches that featured sexual fantasies based on stories by such famed authors as Samuel Beckett, Sam Shepard and Jules Feiffer, Oh! Calcutta became a sensation for its simulated sex and extensive nudity. A New York Times critic at the time dismissed the play as "sophomoric," but Elkins told him there wasn't anything the critic could say that would not simply sell more tickets to the controversial show that wound up with a 20-year run.

Much of Elkins' career that spanned a half-century was as a manager guiding clients that included Steve McQueen, Robert Culp, James Coburn and Sammy Davis Jr.. As a producer, Elkins put Davis on Broadway in Clifford Odets' Golden Boy revival in 1963 opposite Paula Wayne, and their interracial romance on stage created controversy. Directed by Arthur Penn, Golden Boy ran for more than 500 performances and earned four Tony nominations.

Elkins' Broadway credits also included The Rothschilds in 1970, An Evening With Richard Nixon and... in 1972, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead in 1974 and Hedda Gabler, a version that starred Claire Bloom, to whom he was married at the time.

Elkins also produced a 1969 movie version of Arlo Guthrie's song Alice's Restaurant, which earned Penn an Oscar nomination as best director.

Among other movies he produced was A New Leaf (1971), an adaptation of the Ibsen play A Doll's House (1973), a 1972 film version of Oh! Calcutta! and the seminal concert film Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979). On TV, Elkins produced documentaries including Pippin: His Life and Times (1981) and Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool (2005).

A native of Brooklyn, Elkins gave up on plans to attend law school to join the mailroom at WMA in New York. He rose to become head of the theatrical department before leaving to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

When he returned in 1953, Elkins opened his own management company, where over the years he also represented such clients as Mel Brooks, Herbert Ross and composer Charles Strouse, who did Golden Boy. Elkins' frantic style was described in the 1972 book The Producer by Christopher Davis.

Elkins, who relocated to Los Angeles in 1970, was married six times. He is survived by his sixth wife, Sandi Love, sons Daniel and John and a grandchild.

 

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