Art D'Lugoff dies at 85; longtime owner of the Village Gate, his
conscience shaped counterculture
By David Hinckley
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
November 5th 2009
Art D'Lugoff was one of those colorful, outspoken New York showmen
and raconteurs who could have stepped right out of "Guys and Dolls"
only he also had a social conscience in his pocket.
As owner and ruler of the Village Gate nightclub for 38 years, he
hired Paul Robeson, fired Dustin Hoffman and generally provided aid
and comfort to many of the biggest and most controversial names in
jazz, theater, comedy, folk music and the counterculture.
D'Lugoff died Wednesday of a heart attack. He was 85 and two days
earlier, said his long-time friend Doug Yeager, he was in Soho
looking at potential spaces for a new club.
D'Lugoff had been ill for several months as a result of complications
from a hip replacement. But to the end, said Yeager, "He was still
shaking the trees.
"He was as caring a friend as I could have. I will miss his calls,
his mischievous smile and the warmth of his spirit."
D'Lugoff launched his promotion career in the 1950s after returning
from World War II service in China. He opened The Gate in 1958 at
Bleecker and Thompson Sts., where it remained until he had to close
it in 1996.
The Gate became his primary venue, but when artists got too big for
his basement and first floor spaces, he would take them to other
venues like Carnegie Hall.
His bookings at times were a statement of his political beliefs.
When Robeson and Pete Seeger were blacklisted in the 1950s, D'Lugoff
booked them. He presented the bitterly anti-war play "MacBird" in
1967 and hired comedian Lenny Bruce when he knew police would be in
the crowd waiting for an excuse to arrest him.
But in a 1983 interview, D'Lugoff said most of his artists were
booked "because I liked them."
Jazz artists he booked included Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Count
Basie, Miles Davis and Duke Ellington.
He booked comedians like Bill Cosby and Mort Sahl, and from 1971 to
1973 the Gate hosted "National Lampoon's Lemmings," a revue with a
cast that included future "Saturday Night Live" stars John Belushi
and Chevy Chase.
The show "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well in Paris" debuted at the
Gate in 1968, and Aretha Franklin made her first New York concert
appearance there. In 1970, Jimi Hendrix played a benefit show at the
Gate for Timothy Leary.
In the early '80s D'Lugoff coaxed satirist Tom Lehrer out of
retirement so D'Lugoff could present a review of Lehrer songs called
"Tomfoolery." A few years later he put together a tribute show to
comedian Sid Caesar, another of his 1950s idols.
Long-standing Village legend says that D'Lugoff turned down a young
Bob Dylan as a potential stage act, but that Dylan still ended up
writing "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" in the Gate basement.
D'Lugoff fired Hoffman when the then-struggling young actor was a
waiter at the Gate. Hoffman told Playboy years later that he got so
enchanted by the music that he would forget about his customers.
A New Yorker in style and attitude, D'Lugoff had a kind of beatnik
appearance, slender and bearded. He had a droll sense of humor, loved
show business stories and was never shy about offering an opinion.
One of his hardest and most important fights, he said in early 1990s,
was keeping the Village a vibrant part of city cultural life.
"We need the clubs," he said. "But unless you've got a great
landlord, sometimes everything seems to be working to force them out."
He also championed the historical project that became the National
Jazz Museum of Harlem and had worked with the National Folk Music
Museum, which is currently in development.
He married his wife, photographer Avital Achai, in 1957, and they had
four children: Sharon, Dahli, Racheal and Raphael. All survive him.
Yeager said plans will be announced soon for a memorial service.
Nov 6, 2009
NEW YORK (AP) Art D'Lugoff, whose famed New York City nightclub,
the Village Gate, featured performers from jazz great Duke Ellington
to 1960s counterculture rocker Jimi Hendrix, has died at age 85, his
D'Lugoff, who lived in the Bronx, died Wednesday at a Manhattan
hospital. His brother, Dr. Burt D'Lugoff, said an autopsy was
performed Friday to determine the cause of death.
D'Lugoff hired blacklisted singers Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger and
fired Dustin Hoffman as a waiter. Hoffman, then a struggling actor,
later said he was so distracted by the performers that he neglected customers.
D'Lugoff booked jazz greats John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious
Monk and standup comics Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen. Hendrix and Jim
Morrison performed at a 1970 benefit the club hosted for
counterculture icon Timothy Leary, a proponent of LSD experimentation.
Music lovers flocked to the Village Gate from 1958, when D'Lugoff
opened the Greenwich Village club, until it closed in 1994.
He was born on Aug. 2, 1924, and raised in New York City. After
serving in the Army Air Forces in China during World War II, D'Lugoff
graduated with a bachelor's degree from New York University.