Sheldon Gross, 88, who helped establish the Valley Forge Music Fair in the 1950s and later was a Broadway producer, died of complications from bladder cancer Friday at Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Medical Center.
Mr. Gross lived in Lower Merion from 1951 until six years ago, when he moved to Palm Beach Gardens.
With Philadelphians Frank Ford and Lee Guber, Mr. Gross organized Music Fair Enterprises, which eventually operated several theaters from Massachusetts to Florida.
In a 1975 Inquirer interview, Mr. Gross said he turned to theatrical production because he had become disenchanted working at a Philadelphia TV station.
"I got into broadcasting as a journalist, expecting to be creative," he said. "Instead, they had me selling storm windows and beer."
Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Gross, known as Shelly, graduated from Central High School as valedictorian for the Class of June 1938, then was Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Pennsylvania. After brief studies at Harvard Law School, Mr. Gross became a Navy communications officer in the South Pacific during World War II.
In 1947, he earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and began a career in broadcasting as a radio announcer at WFPG in Atlantic City. In 1949, he returned to Philadelphia with WFIL-TV, now 6ABC, and he won the TV Guide Announcer of the Year award in 1954.
His son Byron said Mr. Gross read newspaper comics on a Sunday morning show and was the host of a program, sponsored by Lit Bros., titled Lit's Have Fun at the Zoo.
Music Fair Enterprises Inc. grew out of a bad theatrical experience.
A 1959 Inquirer story reported that Ford, a radio personality, and Guber, operator of the Rendezvous nightclub, were driving home from a tent musical in 1954. Ford told the reporter, "Lee and I kept moaning that we could do better. Finally, my wife said, 'Well, why don't you?' We said, 'Yeah, why don't we?' "
The three raised $100,000 from friends, leased the Devon site, and returned $52,000 in profit to their investors.
In 1956, that Inquirer report stated, they raised $150,000 and opened the Westbury Music Fair on Long Island. In 1957, they raised $135,000 to add a year-old Haddonfield operation that became the Camden County Music Fair. In 1959, it took another $135,000 to open the Storrowton Music Fair in West Springfield, Mass.
Music Fair Enterprises later managed Playhouse in the Park in Philadelphia and added to its portfolio the Smithville Music Fair near Atlantic City, Maryland music fairs in Owings Mills and Shady Grove, and a theater at the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla.
Eventually, Mr. Gross and Guber, who had met when seated next to each other at Central High School, emerged as the Music Fair principals.
"I wonder what would have become of my life," Mr. Gross said in a 1973 Inquirer interview, "if I had been sitting next to a Schwartz."
Among their Broadway efforts, they staged a revival of The King and I with Yul Brynner in 1977, and leased Radio City Music Hall for three months for a 1978 revival of Annie Get Your Gun.
In 1979, the Valley Forge Music Fair, by now a 3,000-seat year-round operation that had outgrown its tent, began offering Sunday afternoon classical-music events. In 1997, Byron Gross said, the fair closed.
On Broadway, Byron Gross said, "the last thing he did was Camelot with Robert Goulet," a 1990s revival that went on a national tour.
"He never gave up his love for the theater," Byron Gross said, "and even participated in a play-reading group just 10 days before he died."
Besides his son Byron, Mr. Gross is survived by his wife, Joan; sons Rick and Dan; four grandchildren; a nephew; a niece; and a goddaughter.
A memorial is planned for 2 p.m. July 11 at the Devonshire, the retirement community where Mr. Gross lived in Palm Beach Gardens.