Merle Debuskey, a Baltimore-born New York theatrical press agent and an All-America lacrosse player at the Johns Hopkins University, died of multiple organ failure Sept. 25 at the Actors Home in Englewood, N.J. He was 95.
Basil Merle Debuskey was raised on Lakeview Avenue, the son of Robert Debuskey, a salesman for Travelers Insurance, and his wife, Freda Blaustein, who was a niece of American Oil founder Jacob Blaustein.
He was a 1940 graduate of Baltimore City College, where he played football and lacrosse. He enrolled at the University of Virginia, but his studies were interrupted by service in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II.
After his military service, he returned to Baltimore and obtained a degree in English literature from Johns Hopkins. While there, he was named an All-America lacrosse player on the school’s 1947 team.
After being turned down for a job at The Baltimore Sun, Mr. Debuskey moved to New York and began working in theater. He lived for many years on West End Avenue and was press agent for New York Shakespeare Festival founder Joseph Papp.
“He was a competitive, caring man who worked for everyone’s benefit,” said Philip S. Birsh, chief officer of the theatrical publication Playbill. “He believed in fairness and equal opportunity.”
Mr. Debuskey returned to Baltimore on numerous occasions to promote shows, said a niece, Nan Debuskey Rosenthal, who lives in Baltimore. He spent time at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre to meet with the press and television outlets to promote “Man of LaMancha” and “No, No Nanette,” his niece said.
He publicized the original productions of “A Raisin in the Sun,” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” among other plays and musicals.
Mr. Debuskey also worked with New York producer Alexander H. Cohen to help reopen the Mechanic in 1977 after it had closed for a season.
“When a decision was made to take out some of the Mechanic seats to improve sight lines, Merle was part of the team,” said his niece. “He also saw the publicity value of having of ticket buyers stretch around the theater when ‘A Chorus Line’ played Baltimore. The line helped create a demand for tickets and sell out the run of the show.”
Mr. Debuskey had been a president of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers.
His wife of more than 50 years, Pearl Somner, who worked in costume design, died in January.
Graveside services were held Sept. 30 at B’Nai Israel Cemetery in Northeast Baltimore.
Survivors include additional nieces and nephews. An earlier marriage to Christine Karner ended in divorce.
— Jacques Kelly