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Shelly Gross, 88, Music Fair co-founder

SHELLY GROSS used to quip that it was unfortunate his name began with a G when he attended Central High School. Because the seating was alphabetical, he wound up sitting in front of Lee Guber.

SHELLY GROSS used to quip that it was unfortunate his name began with a G when he attended Central High School. Because the seating was alphabetical, he wound up sitting in front of Lee Guber.

"I always tell people it's too bad my name wasn't Schwartz because maybe I would have been sitting behind a guy named Shubert and my whole life would have been better," he said.

None of the Shuberts of Broadway theater fame attended Central, but he could dream, couldn't he?

As it was, he had to settle for Lee Guber as they formed a lifelong partnership of theater production, including ownership of the iconic Valley Forge Music Fair in Devon and other music fairs along the East Coast, as well as putting on numerous Broadway shows.

Sheldon "Shelly" Gross, a former radio and TV broadcaster in Philadelphia and Atlantic City who was often honored for his contributions to the industry, died Friday. He was 88 and lived in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Shelly was a Navy veteran of World War II, serving in the Pacific Theater, and a novelist whose stories often reflected the tribulations of the Jewish family and show-business folk.

A man with a rich sense of humor, he even found something funny to say when his pet project, the Valley Forge Music Fair, closed in 1996.

"Well, it's like watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your brand-new Mercedes - mixed emotions."

When he was honored in 1987 by the Play Works Co. for his contributions to culture at a reception at the Atwater Kent Museum, he took note of his surroundings and remarked, "I don't think there's anything more appropriate than to honor me in a museum."

Shelly and Lee Guber, who died in 1988, founded the Valley Forge Music Fair with veteran broadcaster Frank Ford, who died in March.

It began life as a big circus tent that was susceptible to the vagaries of the weather, and was once blown down by the wind. It was later replaced by a permanent structure.

After it closed, a Giant supermarket opened on the site. A fan commented at the time, "Who needs another supermarket?" Apparently not many. The store closed after 16 months.

Shelly was born in Philadelphia to Dr. Samuel Gross, a physician, and Anna Rosenblum Gross, a teacher. He was valedictorian of his Central High class.

He went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania with a Phi Beta Kappa key, and briefly attended Harvard Law School before he decided he didn't want to be a lawyer.

When war broke out, he enlisted in the Navy. He served as a communications officer with the rank of lieutenant.

After the war, he met and married Joan Seidel in 1946. He obtained a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and came back to the area to begin his broadcasting career.

He started as a newscaster for WFPG in Atlantic City. He returned to Philadelphia and began working in television with WFIL. He won the TV Guide Announcer of the Year award in 1954.

After he, Lee Guber and Frank Ford opened the Valley Forge Music Fair in 1955, they went on to open Westbury Music Fair on Long Island. He and his partners subsequently built a chain of theaters through their company Music Fair Group Inc., and started producing on Broadway.

During the course of their activities, they got to know many of the prominent entertainers of that era, including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Tony Bennett, Bill Cosby, Don Rickles, Milton Berle, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen and many others.

Shelly was named "Person of the Year" in 1995 by the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, of which he was an active member.

He started writing fiction at age 49. After a hard day's work, he would secrete himself in the upstairs study of his home in Bala Cynwyd and write. Even his wife didn't know what he was doing up there.

He once came downstairs and told her, "I just finished a book." She said, "Oh, what were you reading?" "No," he said, "I mean I finished writing a book."

Among his novels are "Havana X," "Roots of Honor" and "Stardust."

After moving to Florida, Shelly became an active supporter of Palm Beach Dramaworks, a nonprofit theater company, mentoring its directors and helping to raise funds for the company.

He also was an avid fisherman and chess player.

Besides his wife, he is survived by three sons, Byron, Rick and Dan, and four grandchildren.

Services: A memorial service is planned for late July in West Palm Beach. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33401. *