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Remembering Don Schaffer

If Don liked your work, he did everything he could to help you, whether you were a client or not. It was never about the money for him.

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Don Schaffer at home (Photo credit: Chip Deffaa)

Chip Deffaa, Editor-at-Large

Chip DeFFaa, Editor-at-Large

I want to write something in remembrance of Don Schaffer, who’s passed away. He was 82. He helped an awful lot of people in New York’s entertainment community, myself included. And I’ll always be grateful for his support. He booked and managed Danny’s Skylight Room in its peak years as a cabaret. He managed and promoted cabaret artists he believed in, working with both talented newcomers (like Maude Maggart) and established stars (like Blossom Dearie). And if he liked your work, he did everything he could to help you, whether you were a client or not. It was never about the money for him.

Don long worked as a publicist for one singer he greatly admired; when age and ill health prevented her from working much anymore and her finances grew precarious, she told him she could no longer afford a publicist and would have to let him go. He continued to do what he could for her, gratis, and when she died he handled the public relations, to ensure she got the sort of send-off she deserved, even though there was no one to pay him for his services; he felt it was his responsibility as her long-time publicist.

He loved every bit of show business. (I envied him for having attended Judy Garland’s legendary Carnegie Hall concert.) He started out as a school teacher, but gave up the security of that work because he sensed–correctly–that he really belonged in the more magical of world of show business, whether or not he ever made much money. He never regretted that decision, even if there were some lean years when it was hard to pay the rent on his Greenwich Village apartment.

He liked bringing together people he thought should know each other. One of his closest friends was the great pop singer Margaret Whiting; he served as best man at her wedding to Jack Wrangler (and for a while even lived at their place). He brought Margaret and Jack into my life, feeling we should be friends. And that led to my producing a well-received show and cast album, “The Johnny Mercer Jamboree”; Margaret Whiting–who was Johnny Mercer’s goddaughter–was my key advisor on the project, helping me select artists and songs; none of that would have happened without Don.

When I told Don I was hoping to develop a show about George M. Cohan (my lifelong idol), it was Don who prodded Jon Peterson–whom I had not yet met at that point–to go to one of my auditions. Jon sang one number and I was so electrified I told everyone else who was waiting to audition to go home; I’d found my Cohan! This was a Friday afternoon. I told Jon that now I had to start writing the script right away; we’d have our first rehearsal on Monday and open three weeks later. And we made it happen.

Jon–one of the greatest performers I’ve ever worked with–became a major part of my life, starring in shows I wrote and making countless recordings for me. (He’s currently making the film adaptation of my Cohan show.) And Jon only came into my life because of Don.

Don was always in the audience for my shows and promoted me as vigorously as if he were my publicist. He helped me find places out of town where we could present the show, too. (But he never formally worked for me; we never had any contract or business relationship; he championed me simply as a friend.)

Don also did important work with John Hoglund, booking clubs (Broadway Comedy Club, Broadway Baby Piano Bar) and promoting artists, but I’ll let John tell his own story. (I’m grateful to John for helping provide info for this informal remembrance.)

In 2007, Don was presented with a well-deserved Bistro Award for his lifetime achievements.

A few years ago, Don fell in his apartment; as a result, he had to spend his final years in a nursing facility. The last email I got from him was one telling me how much he was enjoying an Irving Berlin CD I’d produced. And, typically, he offered ideas for me, to help get my Berlin project to a larger audience.

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