By Karen Rempel
Our beloved, longtime West Village neighbor and friend Thomas Meehan died at home on West 10th Street on August 21st. Tom was a creative force of nature, working on multiple projects right until he died, at the age of 88. He is the only librettist who had three Tony Award-winning musicals run for over 2,000 performances each on Broadway: Annie, The Producers, and Hairspray.
Meehan’s wife, Carolyn Capstick Meehan, recalls, “They were all so much a part of his life. But he was always stunned by their huge success. He was very modest.” He was so highly regarded that the marquees of Broadway theaters were dimmed for one minute in Tom’s memory on August 30th at 7:45 p.m.
The couple met through their mutual friend, Gerry Maas, who was Tom’s classmate at Hamilton College. He came along on their first date, which was dinner at Quatorze on 14th Street. Carolyn said, “We went on West 4th to have a drink after dinner, which in those days you always did; you didn’t want it to end. And Gerry was with us!” I eventually said, “Okay, Gerry, you can go now… And after that we were just together. There was no time we weren’t together after that.”
Tom and Carolyn lived on Jane Street from the time they married, in 1988, until they bought their duplex on West 10th Street in 2004. They each had children from previous marriages, and Carolyn recalls that they didn’t want to move away from Jane Street, “But when…the kids were married and we didn’t have enough room [for] Thanksgiving dinner, that was when I started to look.”
At the age of 10, Tom was present at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. There, RCA’s David Sarnoff invited Tom’s six-year-old sister Marilyn to sing “God Bless America” for one of the first television broadcasts ever.
This may have set the stage for Tom’s future career. His Broadway success was preceded by a 1970 Emmy Award as the co-writer of a television special. It was based on a short story he published in 1962, while a staff writer at The New Yorker. The hilarious story, “Yma Dream,” caught the attention of Anne Bancroft, Mel Brooks, and lyricist Martin Charnin. This led to many collaborations with Mel Brooks, including The Producers.
Carolyn remembers, “Mel and Tom worked together and they’d always split a tuna sandwich. And then Mel found some shoes he thought would be great so he ordered the shoes for both of them.” Always clowning together, when the shoes arrived, Mel knelt down to put them on “Cinderella” Tom’s feet.
Besides his wife, Carolyn, Tom is survived by his children, Joseph Meehan and Katherine Meehan Van Brocklin; three stepchildren, Carrie, Eric, and Christopher Capstick; six grandchildren; and a brother, John.