Max Liebman: The Ziegfeld of Television

A brief shout-out on behalf of influential Broadway, resort, and television impresario Max Liebman (1902-1981).

Liebman was born in Vienna Austria, and grew up in Brooklyn, where he attended high school with future composer Arthur Schwartz, with whom he collaborated on school shows. Liebman became a became vaudeville sketch writer in 1920, and social director at Pennsylvania mountain resorts starting in the mid 20s. He broke into Broadway in 1936 with sketches for the short-lived The Illustrators Show. His full length comedy Off to Buffalo was produced in 1939.

In the meantime, in the early ’30s Liebman had become theatre director at the Tamiment resort in the Poconos. While there he met and began collaborating with Sylvia Fine, whose husband of course was Danny Kaye. Leibman put Kaye, Imogene Coca, Jerome Robbins and others in his Straw Hat Revue, which started at Tamiment, then moved to Broadway in 1939 and ran a couple of months. Most of Liebman’s dozen or so Broadway shows were short-lived but he made many great discoveries, and was to fare better in television.

In TV he is best known for producing The Admiral Broadway Revue (1949) and Your Show of Shows (1950-1952), which introduced the world to Sid Caesar. He then went on to produce many other innovative musicals and variety shows for TV through 1962, including shows starring Steve Allen and Jackie Gleason. He also produced and directed a short-lived sitcom starring Buddy Hackett called Stanley. 

Liebman’s last Broadway production From Second City (1961) provided some of the earliest mainstream exposure to the now-famous Chicago improv comedy company, and featured Alan Arkin, Barbara Harris and Paul Sand among others.

To find out more about vaudeville (where Max Liebman got his start) and the variety arts, including Broadway revues and TV varietyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous