Monday, February 8, 2021


Pat Hingle, Barbara Barrie. (Photo: Martha Swope.)
THE SELLING OF THE PRESIDENT [Musical/Advertising/Politics] B: Jack O’Brien and Stuart Hample; M: Bob James; LY: Jack O’Brien; SC: Joe McGinniss’s book The Selling of the President; D: Robert H. Livingston; S: Tom H. John; C: Nancy Potts; L: Thomas Skelton; P: John Flaxman i/a/w Harold Hastings and Franklin Roberts; T: Sam S. Shubert Theatre; 3/22/72-3/25/72 (5)

Pat Hingle.

Plagued by preshow problems, including the departure of director Robert H. Livingston and book writer Stuart Hample, and their replacement by lyricist Jack O’Brien—as well as a lawsuit brought by Joe McGinniss claiming that the producers, heavily backed by someone connected with a pesticide company, had inserted commercials for their product into the show’s TV format—The Selling of the President couldn’t sell enough seats to last even a week. Of course, reviews like Walter Kerr’s, accusing the show of “staggering ineptitude,” weren’t very helpful.

This musical was based on a popular 1968 book about how President Nixon’s campaign first campaign had been manipulated by the media. The show, however, fictionalized the story by moving the action forward to 1976, calling the candidate George Mason (Pat Hingle), and setting the entire action within the confines of a TV studio from which Mason never departs during his entire successful campaign. Nixon was still in office when the show opened.

Cast members of note included Barbara Barrie, Karen Morrow, and TV personality Johnny Olson (as himself). And co-librettist/lyricist Jack O'Brien would find a more distinguished career helming instead of writing shows.

According to Clive Barnes, “the book is too weak, emasculated and inane to draw the political blood needed for it to survive.” The music was of similar quality. There was a smooth and effective use of multimedia techniques, including film, video, and projections, but, wrote Julius Novick “the show suffered from a lack of courage . . . , imagination and wit.”