The Schmooze

How Jewish is 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying?'

In Frank Loesser’s beloved 1961 musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”, a new production of which starring Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe opens at Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre on March 27 (previews start February 26), J. Pierrepont Finch (Radcliffe) is portrayed as an inexorably rising businessman. His name alludes to the turn-of-the-century capitalist and Episcopalian, J. Pierpont Morgan, whose presence in 20th century American Jewish culture includes appearance or evocations in E. L. Doctorow’s novel and subsequent Broadway musical Ragtime; Charles Strouse’s musical “Annie,” Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! (in the song “Elegance”); and even Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. But how Jewish is J. Pierrepont Finch and his world?

Finch, a window-washer who schmoozes his way amazingly quickly to being chairman of the board, is often casually compared to Sammy Glick from the Broadway musical What Makes Sammy Run? adapted from Budd Schulberg’s 1941 novel. Yet Sammy Glick is a lethally ambitious, double-dealing bluffer who “runs people down” so somberly that some readers saw him as an anti-Semitic stereotype, to which Schulberg could only reply that Sammy’s victims were Jews, too. By comparison, Finch is a gracefully sunny caricature (entirely appropriate for a theater named after Hirschfeld), thanks to the genius of writer and director Abe Burrows (born Abram Solman Borowitz), who directed “Sammy” in its Broadway debut in 1964, when “How to Succeed,” for which Burrows wrote the book and directed as well, was still running.

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How Jewish is 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying?'

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