Gerald Bordman, 79, of Bala Cynwyd, a former businessman and scholar who wrote more than a dozen books about American theater, died of cancer Monday, May 9, at Saunders House in Wynnewood.
In 1978, four years after selling his family's mothball business, Mr. Bordman published The American Musical Theater. The work, which covered 200 years of stage history, was written with "enthusiasm and affection," according to an Inquirer review. It included a season-by-season rundown of almost every Broadway musical, related the plot, and gave a sense of production that enabled readers to imagine what it must have been like to be there, the reviewer said.
Mr. Bordman's other books included the encyclopedic The Oxford Companion to the American Theater, American Musical Comedy, American Musical Revue, and biographies of Jerome Kern and Vincent Youmans, a songwriter who wrote such hits as "Tea for Two," "The Carioca," and "Rise 'n' Shine."
Mr. Bordman, who was charming and persuasive enough to secure interviews with Fred Astaire and Irene Dunne for the Kern biography, was a curmudgeon on the subject of the modern-day musical.
He told an Inquirer theater critic in 1978, "I was a tired businessman myself for 20 years. I want to see pretty girls dancing and listen to someone singing a Jerome Kern song."
"I've stopped going to the theater. I don't like profanity, which is used gratuitously in the theater now, or the working-class slum settings and radical sentiments," he told the Philadelphia Daily News in 1982. "Where are the zany, delightful musicals, the airy farces, the lovely operettas?"
Mr. Bordman also complained that productions were amplified. "I would rather buy an original cast album," he said. "In Vienna, in Budapest, in Paris, nothing is miked. I still travel around the world and see great theater."
In 1989, Mr. Bordman was one of the backers of a New York production of Sitting Pretty, a 1924 musical Kern wrote with Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse.
An Inquirer theater critic said that the show had charm and a hit number, "Till the Clouds Roll By," but that its "arbitrarily complicated plot" was not for contemporary taste.
Growing up in Wynnefield, Mr. Bordman accompanied his mother, Anna, to the theater in Center City every week. The first Broadway show he saw was Banjo Eyes with Eddie Cantor in 1941.
He graduated from Central High School and earned a bachelor's degree from Lafayette College. Later, he earned a master's and doctorate in medieval literature from the University of Pennsylvania.
Though Mr. Bordman trained to be an academic, he was a dutiful son and went to work for his father, Morris, said longtime friend Jacques Kelly. The family firms in Manayunk - Excell Chemical Products Co. and Marbex Co. - manufactured mothballs, air fresheners, and household deodorants.
For 25 years, Mr. Bordman lived in a home he renovated in Kirks Mills, Lancaster County. He moved to Bala in 1999.
He was an accomplished cook, relished fine dining, and once was a partner in a Center City restaurant.
He could be persuaded to see productions of Shakespeare or the classics in local theaters without amplification and enjoyed listening to his extensive collection of recorded plays, Kelly said.
Mr. Bordman had no immediate survivors.
A graveside service will be at 11 a.m. Friday, May 13, at Montefiore Cemetery, 600 Church Rd., Jenkintown.