Last of the old-time hucksters

July 6, 1978: Horace Greely McNab is one of the last of the old-time showbiz hucksters, always on the road to tell the waiting world about the joys of whatever show he happens to be promoting this particular week. This week it’s A Chorus Line, but it could be anything, and whatever it is, it’s the best show he has ever been involved with.

He stays dapper in any weather. Not for him the carry-on clothes-bag with one suit, two drip-dry shirts and a change of underwear. He goes on the road in style: three suitcases and an electric typewriter on wheels. He carries a wardrobe for all occasions, he says—“a leather jacket for if I’m invited to a dope round-up, a dark suit for bar mitzvahs, and if I’m invited to an orgy, why, I have a couple of sweaters that do nicely for that.” He wears a yellow shirt buttoned to the throat, and a bright red sports jacket. The colours set off his silver hair and his neatly trimmed silver beard and moustache.

He comes from a theatrical family. His Uncle Wilford used to whistle at the First Methodist Church basement concerts, and in the 1920s he and his parents used to tour vaudeville as An Entertaining Family. The kid would come out in a nightgown with a candle and a phone. “Hello central, give me no man’s land … I want to speak to daddy tonight.” It was an act no one could follow. “We were dreadful,” he says. “We didn’t drive a nail in vaudeville’s coffin, but we gave it extreme unction.”

He did a stint in journalism in Boston but at the suggestion of his publisher became a theatrical press agent and “I’ve been overrated and overpaid ever since.” Among his greater triumphs: draping the theatre in black crepe when Boston banned the nude scene in Hair, and arranging for telegrams of sympathy at the loss of “freedom of expression” to be sent to the cast from Czechoslovakia.

McNab was found dead from a gunshot wound in a hotel room in Boston in November, 1981. It was an apparent suicide.

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