Phyllis Newman, Tony Award-Winning Broadway Star, Dead at 86

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Phyllis Newman, the Tony Award-winning Broadway star who began her acting career as a young child and, driven by her own later struggles with breast cancer, raised millions of dollars to help women in entertainment deal with serious health problems, died Sunday at her home in Manhattan. She was 86.

Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Amanda Green.

Ms. Newman’s career would come to include acting, writing and directing roles in movies, television and on Broadway. Her wit drew many admirers, including the talk show host Johnny Carson, who invited her to be the first woman to guest host “The Tonight Show.”

But her acting career began as a young child in Atlantic City.

Ms. Newman’s mother, Rachel Newman, immigrated from Lithuania and worked as a fortune teller on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Her father, Sigmund Archur, came from Warsaw and was a hypnotist.

At the age of 4, Ms. Newman performed in a Carmen Miranda routine at hotels, Ms. Green said.

“We were just your ordinary all-American family trying to make a buck in the summer before the ‘big war,’” Ms. Newman recalled in her 1988 book, “Just in Time: Notes From My Life.”

Ms. Newman got her start on Broadway as Judy Holliday’s understudy in “Bells Are Ringing.”

In 1960, she married the lyricist and playwright Adolph Green. Mr. Green died in 2002. She is survived by their two children: Ms. Green, 55, is a Broadway lyricist and composer, and Adam Green, 58, is a theater critic and writer.

Both children’s careers were inspired by their parents, Ms. Green said. “We saw how much fun they were having, doing what they were doing,” she said.

Ms. Newman won a Tony in 1962 for her supporting role in the musical “Subways Are For Sleeping,” which featured a book and lyrics co-written by her husband and his regular collaborator Betty Comden.

She spent the entire musical in a bath towel. And in winning the Tony, she bested Barbra Streisand in her breakthrough role.

Jack Viertel, a senior vice president at Jujamcyn Theaters and the author of “The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built,” described Ms. Newman as “a little bit outlandish, a little bit unpredictable.”

“That sort of gave her a unique quality in the realm of how youngish women were treated in the ‘60s onstage,” he said.

The night Ms. Newman won the Tony, she was seated next to the producer David Merrick, who, she recalled in an interview with The New York Times, “turned to me and said, ‘I voted for Barbra Streisand.’ And then they announced my name. It was one of the sweetest moments in life.”

Her other Broadway appearances included “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” and “The Apple Tree.” In 1979, Ms. Newman starred in the one-woman show, “The Madwoman of Central Park West,” which she wrote with Arthur Laurents.

She appear in the television series “Coming of Age” and the soap opera “One Life to Live,” and was nominated for another Tony in 1987 for playing Aunt Blanche in Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound.”

In 1995, Ms. Newman founded the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, a program of the Actors Fund of America. She would raise millions of dollars as part of the fund, and her efforts earned her a special Tony, the Isabelle Stevenson Award, in 2009.


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