(Bloomberg) — Roger Berlind, who left his mark on two New York institutions — Wall Street and Broadway — as a co-founder of a storied investment firm and a producer of shows including “Amadeus” and “Book of Mormon,” has died. He was 90.
He died on Dec. 18 at his home in Manhattan, the New York Times reported. The cause was cardiopulmonary arrest, the Times said, citing his family.
Before he became a Tony Award-collecting theater producer, Berlind helped found Carter, Berlind, Potoma & Weill, which would propel the careers of, among others, Sanford Weill, who went on to create Citigroup Inc., and Arthur Levitt, who led the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
In the late 1950s, Weill and Arthur Carter, neighbors in East Rockaway who commuted together to Wall Street, began plotting how to start a new financial firm. Carter recruited Berlind, his childhood friend from nearby Woodmere, New York. Berlind in turn signed up Peter Potoma, his colleague at Eastman Dillon, Union Securities & Co.
On May 2, 1960, Carter, Berlind, Potoma & Weill opened at 37 Wall Street.
“The partners were young, primarily Jewish guys from Brooklyn and Long Island — true outsiders in the clubby world of Wall Street,” Eric J. Weiner wrote in “What Goes Up,” his 2005 book on Wall Street history. “Arthur Carter was the clear leader of the group, and Roger Berlind served as his cerebral counterweight.”
Berlind “never had the same ego as the rest of us and probably secretly yearned to return to his first love of songwriting,” Weill wrote in “The Real Deal,” his 2006 memoir. “Still, Roger built a solid book of retail, institutional and family business.”
Weill, as chairman of the firm — which became Carter, Berlind, Weill & Levitt — led it through a series of mergers and acquisitions that transformed it into Wall Street giant Shearson Loeb Rhodes that he sold to American Express Co. in 1981 for about $930 million. Berlind stayed long enough to serve as vice chairman of Shearson Hayden Stone Inc., one of the firm’s interim iterations.
His career change was prompted by the June 24, 1975, crash of an Eastern Airlines 727 on arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The 107 passengers killed included his 39-year-old wife, the former Helen Polk Clark, and three of their children: Helen, 12; Peter, 9; and Clark, 6.
Their youngest child, 2-year-old William, had remained home in New York with Berlind while the others visited Helen’s mother in Mississippi.
Berlind sought a new start. “The whole idea of building a business and making money didn’t make sense anymore,” he told the New York Times in 1998. “There was no more economic motivation.” Harkening back to his love of music and theater from his college days at Princeton University, he put his wealth to work as a producer, starting with the Richard Rodgers musical “Rex,” which ran for 48 performances in 1976.
He had his first hit four years later with “Amadeus,” which he imported from the U.K. with the Shubert Organization and McCann & Nugent Productions. It was named best play for 1980-1981, winning Berlind the first of about two dozen Tonys. He followed that with the hit musical “Sophisticated Ladies,” which ran from March 1981 to January 1983.
On Broadway, Berlind was known for an “easygoing nature” at odds with “the old, traditional archetype of the producer as a control-hungry despot,” Iris Dorbian wrote in her 2008 book, “Great Producers: Visionaries of American Theater.”
Berlind told the author that theater producers try “to make sense out of a basically senseless business,” adding, “The only real interest for me is helping create what goes onstage. To get to that point, there are lots of problems to deal with.”
Roger Stuart Berlind was born on June 27, 1930. His parents were Peter Berlind, executive director of Unity Hospital in Brooklyn, and the former Mae Miller, a painter. The second of four sons, he grew up in Woodmere, and from age 11 would travel into Manhattan to see shows on Broadway, according to a 2006 profile in Princeton’s alumni magazine.
At Princeton, from which he graduated in 1952, he studied English and directed and composed music for productions with the Triangle Club. He then spent three years in the U.S. Army’s counter-intelligence corps. After being turned down by a raft of Wall Street firms, he finally was hired by Eastman Dillon.
Berlind’s role at Carter, Berlind, Weill & Levitt was the trigger for a messy split in 1968.
It began, according to Weill’s account, when the hard-driving Carter proposed reducing Berlind’s ownership share. The other partners resisted, and Carter left. The firm became Cogan, Berlind, Weill and Levitt, with Berlind serving as the compromise choice for chief executive officer.
“Of course, I thought I could run the company best,” he told Weiner. “But in reality I think I was the least-threatening partner to the other three.”
Berlind’s other Tonys were for productions including the musicals “The Book of Mormon” and “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” and plays “The Real Thing,” “Proof” and “Doubt.”
His $3.5 million gift to Princeton helped fund construction of the Roger S. Berlind Theater, a 350-seat addition to the McCarter Theatre Center.
In 1979 he married the former Brook Wheeler. She survives him, along with his son, two granddaughters and a brother, Alan, the Times reported.