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Name: Landesman, Rocco
Current Position: Chairman

Rocco Landesman, the man whom President Barack Obama hopes can revive the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), has had quite an eclectic career. In addition to producing plays and musicals on Broadway, Landesman has owned race horses and several minor league baseball clubs, and he loves country music. He is best known for his energy and intellect, but not for his skills as an administrator or diplomat. He was confirmed by the Senate on August 7, 2009.

 
Born on July 20, 1947, and raised in St. Louis, MO, Landesman’s first exposure to theater came from his father and uncle who owned the Crystal Palace, a cabaret theatre that booked such stars as Barbra Streisand, Elaine May, and Lenny Bruce. Landesman tried acting in high school and college, and he received his undergraduate education at Colby College and the University of Wisconsin. He then decided to attend graduate school at Yale, where he met his first wife, Heidi Ettinger. Landesman earned his doctorate in dramatic literature at the Yale School of Drama, and remained at the university after graduating to serve as an assistant professor for four years.
 
In 1977 he left Yale to start a private investment fund, which he managed for the next 10 years while also owing several racehorses. In the early 1980s he joined former La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff and others as a founding partner in Dodger Theatricals—which debuted on Broadway in 1982 with “Pump Boys” and “Dinettes” and hit it big in 1985 with “Big River.”
 
In 1987 Landesman was selected to serve as president of Jujamcyn Theaters, owner of five Broadway theaters (St. James, Eugene O'Neill, Al Hirschfeld, Walter Kerr, and August Wilson). In 2005 he purchased the company. That same year he tried unsuccessfully to buy a Major League Baseball franchise, the Cincinnati Reds. He also has tried to buy the Chicago Cubs. In an ideal world, Landesman would own the St. Louis Cardinals, his childhood team.
 
During his producing career he has helped put on 15 Tony Award-winning productions, including “Angels in America” and “The Producers.” He caused a stir in 2000 with a New York Times Op-Ed in which he accused nonprofit theaters of acting too much like their for-profit counterparts. He also created a $480 premium ticket for “The Producers” to discourage scalpers.
 
He has continued to teach periodically at the Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory, and served on the boards of The Municipal Art Society of New York, the Times Square Alliance, and The Educational Foundation of America.
 
According to OpenSecrets.org, Landesman has contributed approximately $18,000 to Democratic candidates, including $4,600 to Obama.
 
Landesman’s nomination to head the NEA produced mixed reactions. “It’s an odd choice,” said Robert Brustein, founding director of the Yale and American Repertory Theaters, who taught Landesman at Yale. “It’s certainly not one that I would ever have thought of because Rocco’s always been associated with the profit-making world and the NEA is nonprofit.”
 
Landesman is now married to Debby Landesman, formerly the executive director of the Levi Strauss Foundation and currently a philanthropic advisor to corporations and foundations. They have three sons.
 

 

Rocco Landesman (Internet Broadway Database)
Rocco Landesman: From Broadway to NEA Nominee (by Mike Boehm, Culture Monster blog, Los Angeles Times)
Producer Is Chosen to Lead Arts Endowment (by Robin Pogrebin, New York Times)

 

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