Partner Milton Goldman

Queer Places:
216 St Nicholas Ave, New York, NY 10027
Harvard University (Ivy League), 2 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138
299 Riverside Dr, New York, NY 10025
10 W 86th St, New York, NY 10024
342 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10017
45 Sutton Pl S, New York, NY 10022
The Savoy, 2 Savoy Ct, Strand, London WC2R 0EZ

L. Arnold Weissberger (January 16, 1907 – February 27, 1981) was a theatrical lawyer with an international clientele. He was agent and attorney for both Alicia Markova and Alexandra Danilova. He corresponded with Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, Virgil Thomson, Christopher Isherwood. An entertainment lawyer who first rose to prominence as legal representative for Orson Welles – he drafted the actor’s much-ballyhooed 1940 contract with RKO – Weissberger was for many years the resident go-to attorney for the theatrical haut monde. “[O]ne definition of high and mighty,” claimed a newspaper report, “is to be a client of his”. Indeed, with a client list featuring everyone from Sir Laurence Olivier, Cecil Beaton and Lillian Gish to Garson Kanin, Billy Rose, Helen Hayes and Igor Stravinsky, Weissberger could have given MGM a run in the “more stars than there are in the heavens” stakes.

In a career that covered half a century, Weissberger, who was also known as a photographer of celebrities, represented artists and theatrical personalities such as Igor Stravinsky, Helen Hayes, Laurence Olivier, David O. Selznick, Otto Preminger, Martha Graham, Orson Welles, Placido Domingo, Ruth Gordon, Garson Kanin, Truman Capote, George Balanchine, and Carol Channing.

Weissberger brought an enthusiasm to his profession that often made him a star in his own right. A gala evening in May 1977 that brought Ethel Merman and Mary Martin together at the Broadway Theater - an appearance that the experts said could not be brought off - was credited to Weissberger's energy and influence. It was the kind of project that enabled him to write for the 50th anniversary volume prepared by his Harvard class of 1927: ''I may say in conclusion that I've enjoyed that rarest good fortune - complete happiness in both my work and my personal life.''

Weissberger also achieved some fame as a photographer, producing two well-received volumes of portraits, ''Close-Up'' and ''Famous People.'' His Manhattan apartment also reflected his interest in modern art, containing, among others, works by Magritte, Joseph Hirsch and Jack Levine. At the time of his death, Weissberger was working on his memoirs, entitled ''Double Exposure.''

He was born in New York City and educated at the Ethical Culture School. He graduated from Harvard University in 1927 and received an LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1930. He was admitted to the New York State bar that year. He had practiced with several New York City law firms before forming a partnership with Jay S. Harris in 1972.

Weissberger was chairman of the board of Friends of the Theater and Music Collection of the Museum of the City of New York; chairman of the New Dramatists Inc., and president of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance. He was also a member of the board of trustees of the Museum of the City of New York and the Fountain House Foundation, a rehabilitation center for the mentally ill.

A gentleman of the old school who always wore a suit jacket and trademark white carnation, Weissberger was as admired for his charm, grace and unerring discretion, as his legal nous. Quipped Orson Welles: “Like the Rolls Royce, this lawyer is valued not only for the pleasing elegance of his appearance, but for performance, which can be formidable. A terror and a scourge to producers, he is a wonder to observe. Yet the loudest thing on Arnold is his Patek Philippe watch.”

Weissberger was also life partner to Milton Goldman, a successful theatre agent in his own right and vice-president of International Creative Management. Goldman's clients included such luminaries as Helen Hayes, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Arlene Dahl, Maureen Stapleton, Mary Martin, Christopher Plummer, Lillian Gish, Hildegarde, Vanessa Redgrave, Albert Finney, Ruth Gordon and Peggy Ashcroft. Together the two men – equal bons vivants and talented socialites – formed a show biz power couple that presided over the trans-Atlantic theatre scene for three decades. Arnold and Milton entertained at their apartment on East 55th Street, between First Avenue and Sutton Place, before moving to 45 Sutton Place South. It was at the latter address that their entertaining took on a two-tier style, when they began holding separate A-list and B-list parties. They also entertained at their ocean-front weekend home in Seacliff, Long Island, but they had almost daily business lunches at the Four Seasons restaurant when in residence in Manhattan. Their weekly Sunday cocktail parties were legendary and their swanky Sutton Place apartment “became the party place for theatre personalities from three continents”.

Details of a particular Weissberger-Goldman party from the 1970s: Andy Warhol picked up Bob Colacello and took a cab to 45 Sutton Place South to attend a book party for Anita Loos given by Arnold Weissberger. Warhol had forgotten his tape and camera, and there were lots of celebrities. Said Warhol, “Arnold Weissberger and Milton Goldman have the longest-running gay marriage in New York. Arnold is seventy-something, the biggest old-time show-biz lawyer and an amateur photographer. He takes pictures of everyone who comes to his house. He had a book out last year called Famous Faces, placed on the dining table at the party, and he was making the famous faces sign it next to their pictures. Milton Goldman is sixty-something and a big agent at IFA. Bob noticed that he was the only person under thirty there – barely – and I said that Arnold must be afraid to have young kids around because he might lose Milton. All the butlers and bartenders were over sixty; they brought one drink at a time, and the tray shook.”

Each summer, the couple would relocate to Europe, spending a month in the River Suite at the London Savoy where they would host a whirlwind of social affairs with “every famous name you have ever wanted to meet”. The living room, which directly overlooked the Thames, was equipped with a grand piano. Thus their penchant for hosting stellar parties continued unabated.

It was in this context that Weissberger developed what he fondly called his “double life” as a celebrity photographer. A self-avowed “shutterbug” since youth, Weissberger never went anywhere without his trusty twin Leicas, “loaded at all times, one with outdoor, the other with indoor colour film”. Though unabashedly amateur – he was entirely disinterested in the the technical dimensions of photography, “never uses flash, hates to be bothered with filters and won’t have a light meter around” – Weissberger honed his talents through a good eye and sheer voluminous slog. By the mid-70s, he estimated having shot 50,000 pictures of people and another 60,000 on travels. It didn’t hurt, of course, that Weissberger had ready access to some of the most famous people in the world. How many photographers, marvelled one newspaper report, “run into Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, Noël Coward, Lord Snowden, Alice B. Toklas, Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden, Peter O’Toole, the Redgraves, Beatrice Lillie and Judy Holliday in their daily rounds?”. The fact that he knew these celebrities personally and was, for the most part, photographing them in the context of private social events afforded a genuine intimacy and unguarded spontaneity unmatched in most other celebrity photography of the era. “His subjects are his clients and his clients are his friends,” noted Orson Welles, “We all smile in front of his camera because Arnold is behind it”. In a similar refrain, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr remarked that Weissberger “is a gregarious host with a catholic taste in friends” all of whom “have long since learned to repose their collective confidence in [his] gentler disposition and infinite discretion”.

For the most part, Weissberger took his photos for the simple fun of it and as personal mementoes. He was known among intimates for compiling the shots as “gifts for friends, to be presented in elegant gold-tooled, white-bound albums on Christmas or birthdays”. As Weissberger’s archive of celebrity photography grew, however, so did its fame and in the late-1960s he was invited to hold several exhibitions of his work, including a major showing at the Museum of the City of New York.

The highpoint of public recognition was undoubtedly the 1973 publication of Famous Faces, a lavish 450-page coffee table book from prestigious art publisher, Harry Abrams, that featured almost 1500 of Weissberger’s portraits taken over a 25 year span from 1946-1971. The literal heft of the tome was such that, when Weissberger gifted a copy to longtime friend, Hermione Gingold, she quipped, “Thanks but this isn’t for my coffee table. From now on, this is my coffee table!”. Famous Faces is an astonishing catalogue of mid-century Anglo-American celebrity culture and a dynamic visual immersion in a long vanished world. “[A]s succinct as Boswell’s Diaries and [with] an even larger cast of characters,” notes Anita Loos in one of several appreciative celebrity “comments” peppered through the tome, “This is more than history; it is poetry and it is art”. There are comments by Sir Noël Coward, Igor Stravinsky, Sir John Gielgud, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Rebecca West, Anita Loos, Orson Welles and many more.

He died on February 27, 1981, at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan of an embolism in the lungs, three days after returning from a vacation in Acapulco, Mexico. He was 74 years old and lived in Manhattan. A memorial service organized by his partner Milton Goldman was held at the Royale Theater on West 45th Street. “The outpouring of affection was so enormous,” reported famed Broadway correspondent, Earl Wilson (1981), “that VIPs sat in the balcony or stood” as from the stage a series of heartfelt reminiscences were delivered by, among others, Orson Welles, Ruth Gordon, Garson Kanin, Martha Graham, Louise Rainer, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Meryl Streep, Beverly Sills, and Lillian Gish.

When Arnold Weissberger died in 1981 at age 74, Goldman was not mentioned in his New York Times obituary. However, when Goldman died eight years later, the NYT obituary stated that, as a young man, “he worked 10 years in the family’s gas station and then met the theatrical lawyer Arnold Weissberger, and began a friendship that lasted 30 years, until Weissberger’s death.” Milton had told this story to all of his close friends: when Arnold had pulled into his father’s gas station decades before, Milton pumped the gas – and they had lived happily ever after.

Today the Williamstown Theatre Festival administers an annual L. Arnold Weissberger Award that recognizes excellence in playwriting. The recipient receives a $10,000 grant, and the winning script receives a reading produced by the Williamstown Theatre Festival, of Williams College in the Berkshires (western Massachusetts), as well as publication by Samuel French, Inc.

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