AT 7:03 P.M., August 14, 1945, the words America had been waiting for flashed across the news ribbon running round the Times Tower: “Official—Truman announces Japanese surrender.” At that moment, according to a news account the following day, the half-million people packed into Times Square sent up a mighty roar that surged across the great open space for a full twenty minutes. Workers in the buildings around the square unleashed a mighty shower of paper and confetti. “Men and women embraced—there were no strangers in New York yesterday.” And then something happened that seems yet more remarkable to us today: people all over New York left their homes in order to flood into Times Square. They certainly didn’t need to read the news on the Times Tower; they could have learned a great deal more by staying home and listening to the radio. But they wanted to share this moment of sublime emotion with their fellow citizens; and so they converged on the central spot of their world. By ten P.M., the crowd had reached two million, the largest gathering in the history of Times Square, and possibly in the history of the republic. The area from 40th to 52nd Streets, and from Sixth Avenue to Eighth, was one solid mass of joyful humanity, kissing, hugging, sobbing, or simply gazing in wordless relief and delight. And they did not want to leave. Half a million people were still jammed into Times Square at three A.M, which means that many had stayed on their feet for seven or eight hours.
It is hard to imagine any comparable event today, for we have lost the habit of congregating, and television has become our town square. But up until the age of mass suburbanization—which is to say, up through the end of World War II—urbanites were in the habit of gathering in central places at moments of high importance, and they derived comfort and reassurance from the massed presence of fellow citizens (or, in the case of the mob, from the sense of massed fury). And Times Square was the agora of our greatest urban culture. Ever since the beginning of the twentieth century, New Yorkers had been collecting in Times Square not only for the festivities of New Year’s but for the more somber business of presidential elections, and for the great prizefights, and for the seventh game of the World Series. The photographs of the time, with great seas of men in dark suits and gray fedoras, their necks craned up toward the “zipper” on the Times Tower, remind us of this moment of mid-century urban glory.
The photograph that memorialized V-J Day, and indeed the one picture of Times Square that occupies a secure, everlasting place in the national pantheon of received images, is the one the Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt took of a sailor in his dress blues scooping up a white-clad and wholly unsuspecting nurse and planting an ardent kiss on her lips. What the picture is principally about is the historic moment—the immense relief, the jubilation, the abandon, the no-strangers-in-New-York. But it is also about a place. Eisenstaedt captured a Life magazine version of Times Square, a place of vast crowds, of incongruous meetings, of freedom and expressiveness and cheap thrills—a kind of all-American urban playground. The Times Square of that era, as the writer Jan Morris remarks, “had a frank and jolly air to it, and there was an impudent naivete even to its naughtiest activities.”
A new, middlebrow Times Square emerged in the 1940s, a Times Square neither gracious nor derelict. Elegant nightlife had migrated to Fifth Avenue and to the East Side; the great clubs of the twenties and thirties had given way to shabby little basement boîtes, or to such giant emporia as the Latin Quarter or Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe, where a sailor could take his girl for dinner and a gaudy show. Ripley’s Wax Museum had opened up on the west side of Broadway between 43rd and 44th. Forty-second Street was now lined with big late-night cafeterias and pinball arcades and gimmick shops and even a few bookstores selling girlie magazines. The great old theaters of 42nd Street had been converted to “grinder houses,” showing cheap action movies (but not pornography) until deep into the night. The street hosted forms of naughtiness that passed far beyond impudent naïveté, including drug dealing and male prostitution, but visitors who weren’t looking for the criminal underside rarely encountered it.
Times Square had become a place of benevolent eccentricity. America was a country on the move in the years after World War II, and the square came to be seen as the great junction point through which much of the vagrant population of the country passed, a place epic in its variousness and its sheer oddity. Jack Kerouac caught this spirit in his first novel, The Town and the City, published in 1950. Times Square, he wrote, “was the one part to which all the ‘characters’ eventually migrated across the land at one time or another in their lonewolf scattering lives.” The young Kerouac, still very much in the grip of Thomas Wolfe, then looses a cataract of the incongruous: “The Broadway weisenheimer-gambler glancing at the old farmer with bundle wrapped in newspaper who gapes and bumps into everyone. . . . The mellow gentleman in the De Pinna suit headed for the Ritz Bar, and the mellow gentleman staggering by and sitting down in the gutter, to spit and groan and be hauled off by cops. . . . The robust young rosy-cheeked priest from Fordham with some of his jayvee basketballers on ‘a night of good clean fun,’ and the cadaverous morphine-addict stumbling full of shuddering misery in search of a fix.”
That Eisenstaedt photograph captured a Times Square poised on a kind of pinnacle. The census of 1950 was the last one showing that more Americans lived in cities than in towns or the countryside; the suburbs were soon to change the balance. New York was holding steady at eight million people, most fully assimilated and middle-class or at least working-class; the “urban crisis” was somewhere over the horizon. Most of the country’s wealth was still in the cities; most of its poverty was still in the countryside. Most cities were safe, clean, and orderly. And Times Square was the last word in seedy, thrilling urbanity at a moment when urbanity itself was still prized. Yes, it could feel dangerous, but usually just in the shivery way a funhouse did. As late as 1959, the cops in the fabled 16th Precinct, which covered 42nd to 50th from Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River, reported virtually no drug arrests (perhaps they weren’t looking too much harder than the tourists) and relatively little serious crime. Their worst problem, they said, was street peddlers.
THE IRONY OF THIS booming, bustling, frank, and jolly postwar Times Square is that it no longer made a cultural product that the rest of the country really cared about. The cross streets between Broadway and Eighth Avenue were still lined with theaters, but the numbers both of playhouses and of plays continued to shrink in the years after the war. People went to the movies instead; and then, increasingly in the fifties, they were staying home to watch TV. Much of the theatergoing and nightclub-going population had decamped for the suburbs. And since old fire codes had prevented the building of skyscrapers on top of theaters, though not of movie houses, the theaters became increasingly poor competitors in the Darwinian struggle of real estate values. Along 48th Street, known as the Street of Hits, first one theater, then another, closed up. By 1948, 80 percent of Broadway actors were said to be unemployed; by the 1950–51 season, only eighty-one shows were mounted in Times Square theaters. Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams were writing widely admired plays, and people were going to see them; but, as Brooks Atkinson remarked, “To go to the theater was like going to a minor, subsidiary social event.”
Yet, at the same time, live entertainment retained its old prestige. The great stars established themselves on the stage before the new gods, Hollywood and radio and TV, swept them into the ether. What’s more, the stars needed to reaffirm their bond with an adoring public through regular public appearances. And Times Square was still the capital of live entertainment. Ever since the twenties, the great movie theaters of Broadway—the Paramount, the Strand, the Capitol, the Rivoli, Loew’s State—had been showcasing the comedians and dancers and divas and leading men in the elaborate shows they mounted between movies. Of these, the greatest was surely the Paramount, a lavish Xanadu that Adolph Zukor, the czar of the studio, had reared on the west side of Broadway between 43rd and 44th, as a showcase for its talent. The theater, which opened in 1926 at a cost of $16.5 million, sat beneath Times Square’s tallest office building, which in turn was topped by a glass globe twenty feet in diameter. The globe was intended to signify “the world conquest by the motion picture,” a conquest soon to become all the more indisputable with the introduction of the talkie. A clock, facing in all four directions, had been incorporated into the globe, and it was well known that you could always tell the time in Times Square by looking up at the Paramount clock. The Paramount was a behemoth that seated almost four thousand patrons (proportions nevertheless rendered modest by comparison with the Roxy’s 6,200), and was widely admired for its splendid acoustics. All the great stars under contract to the studio played there in the twenties and thirties—Maurice Chevalier, Gloria Swanson, Gary Cooper, Eddie Cantor, Fred Astaire, Mary Pickford, Ginger Rogers, Rudy Vallee, Ray Bolger, Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, Bob Hope. Bing Crosby’s record-shattering ten-week engagement in 1931–32 vaulted him from stardom to superstardom. Like the other big Broadway movie houses, the Paramount was famous for immense, lavish productions. The theatre had its own corps de ballet, dancing chorus, choral group, and seventy-piece symphony orchestra. The two mighty Wurlitzer organs always cued the smashing finale.
In 1935, the Paramount began to regularly book the big bands, who had taken the nation by storm. Jitterbugging was said to have been invented when kids at a 1937 Benny Goodman concert began dancing up and down the aisles. There was no bigger gig than the Paramount; Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington, and Goodman all played frequent engagements there. On December 30, 1942, Goodman featured an “Extra Added Attraction,” a skinny kid who sang with Dorsey; he was, of course, Frank Sinatra. Sinatra stayed at the Paramount for eight weeks, and during that time he became an object of adolescent devotion such as no singer ever had before, nor would again until Elvis Presley, if then. He drove fifteen-year-old girls insane. The “bobby-soxers” would scream and faint and weep and hurl themselves at the stage; they came first thing in the morning, and left late at night.
At first, the Sinatra phenomenon was dismissed, at least by highbrow critics, as a momentary craze. But when Sinatra played a return engagement in October 1944, he sparked what became known as the Columbus Day Riot at the Paramount. Despite a curfew, kids began gathering at the box office the night before the first show. A line ten thousand teenagers long snaked down 43rd Street, up Eighth Avenue, and back down 44th. Twenty thousand more kids clogged Times Square. Hundreds of policemen were called away from the Columbus Day Parade to keep order. But to no avail: according to Arnold Shaw, one of Sinatra’s biographers, “The ticket booth was destroyed in the crush. Shop windows were smashed. Passersby were trampled and girls fainted. When the first show finished, only 250 came out of the thirty-six-hundred-seat house. . . . A woman on line with her daughter told a reporter that the girl had threatened to kill herself unless she saw the show.” It was an echt Times Square moment: mammoth crowds, unrestrained glee, more than a hint of danger, and, above all, the instant, irrefutable proof of public adoration.
In a world conquered by the motion pictures, Times Square still provided an indispensable stage for “legitimate” performance. But in a world conquered by television, performance itself became irrelevant. Why pay for the stage show at the Paramount when Ed Sullivan was dishing out the same fare for free? In 1950, 4.4 million American households owned a television set; by 1960, the figure had reached 60 million. And the great stages of Broadway went dark. The Paramount put an end to the shows in 1952 (though Sinatra played yet another sold-out engagement in 1956). The Capitol, at 51st Street, had long since shifted to an all-movies schedule. The Roxy, which had showcased Milton Berle and Jack Benny and Cab Calloway, gave up the stage show in 1948; in 1960, the theater, on the northeast corner of 50th and Seventh, was demolished to make way for an office building. The Capitol went soon thereafter.
Times Square had one last ratifying role to play for Hollywood. The blockbuster movies that Hollywood began to turn out in the forties and fifties—gorgeous Technicolor fantasies set in ancient Rome or Egypt or Hawaii or never-never land—may have been made in a studio backlot, but they almost all opened on Broadway. Movies like Quo Vadis? and White Christmas and Around the World in Eighty Days had spectacular openings in one of the great movie palaces, with red carpets, mega- and mini-stars, klieg lights, madly shoving photographers, and gawking fans. These events were minutely orchestrated by the studios, who knew that nothing generated better publicity than a boffo opening in Times Square. Cleopatra, which, thanks to the affair between the stars, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, arrived trailing glorious clouds of scandal, opened in June 1963 at the Rivoli Theatre, on 49th Street between Broadway and Seventh, with ten thousand fans straining at police barricades. “As each celebrity-bearing limousine arrived,” a reporter noted, “the people at the curb, their necks craning and their cameras ready, stood on tiptoe and leaned over at such an extreme angle that at times it seemed they would fall on the cars.” It was the crowd—the kind of crowd available only in the pulsing, borderline-lunatic world of Times Square—that proved the movie’s mass appeal. The Times Square of the middle of the century retained tremendous power as a symbol not of refined consumption, but of all-American fantasies and preferences.
ONE SPECIES OF THEATER still exercised a tight grip on the American imagination: the Broadway musical. Here is a very brief list of musicals from the 1940s alone: Pal Joey, 1940; Oklahoma!, 1943; On the Town, 1944; Carousel, 1945; Annie Get Your Gun, 1946; Brigadoon and Finian’s Rainbow, 1947; Kiss Me, Kate, 1948; South Pacific, 1949. The shows were incredibly popular; Oklahoma! ran for 2,212 performances. And of course every single one was made into a movie, usually within a few years, and then seen by ten or twenty times as many people. But musicals bulked large in American life not simply because they were more popular than straight plays but because they provided Americans with a common idiom: the show tune. This was the era before the rise of folk or rock music; pop music meant, to an extraordinary degree, tunes written for musicals. These were the songs heard on the radio, the songs the leading vocalists sang, the songs people played on the piano at parties. Think of just a few of the songs from the shows listed above: “Beautiful Mornin’,” “June Is Busting Out All Over,” “Too Darn Hot,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “A Wonderful Guy,” “Old Devil Moon,” “Almost Like Being in Love.”
Only a few musicals took anything like the thematic risks associated with serious Broadway theater. Most of them were fantasies designed to reaffirm the conventional world of the viewer. Beautiful girls walk around unwed until the right man comes along, at which point the two fall in love instantly; the greatest tragedy, from which one is providentially saved at the last moment, is choosing the wrong spouse; and, as they say in Brigadoon, “If you love someone deeply enough, anything can happen”— including suspending the laws of nature under which the hamlet of Brigadoon operates. Virtually all musicals drive their way relentlessly to marriage; the obstacles along the way tend to be fashioned from balsa wood. A work like South Pacific is exceptional not only because it involves yearnings that summon a man away from duty—the siren song of Bali Ha’i—but because something terribly serious—unexamined, bone-deep racism—must be faced and overcome before the marriage rites can be enacted.
But who went to a musical for the story? The story was the framework upon which the songs were hung. Many musicals featured a song that had virtually no relation to the action or the characters, but had been shoehorned in because it was just too wonderful to exclude, like “Too Darn Hot” in Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate. Indeed, Ethan Mordden, an indefatigable student of the musical, writes that “Kiss Me, Kate is a show we love not despite its sloppy realism and irrelevant hunks of Shakespeare”—it is a Broadway retelling of The Taming of the Shrew—“but because the score is so good that the rest doesn’t matter.” The score, by the way, includes “Why Can’t You Behave?”; “So in Love”; “Always True to You (In My Fashion)”; “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?”; and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”
Perhaps the prototypical musical—not the best or the most innovative—is Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun. It is worth pausing over the fact that this was the same Irving Berlin who had begun plugging tunes in Tony Pastor’s in the first years of the century. When he wrote “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911, Berlin introduced ragtime to America, and got the country up and dancing in an era when the group dances of the nineteenth century were still in vogue. During World War I, Berlin told a simple truth that delighted both soldiers and their loved ones when he wrote “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.” In the jazz age, he presented some of the most artful versions of the musical revue in his own Music Box Theatre. Berlin conjured up an unsinkable answer to Old Man Depression in songs like “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee” from Face the Music, and evoked the suffering of black life in New York in “Supper Time.” In the thirties, he wrote the songs for Astaire-Rogers vehicles like Top Hat (“Cheek to Cheek” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”) and Carefree. In the years just before and during World War II, he wrote “God Bless America” and “White Christmas,” two of the most popular songs in American history. And then, after all that, still just shy of sixty, he wrote Annie Get Your Gun.
Has there ever been such a career in the history of popular entertainment? It is not Berlin’s longevity that is astounding, but rather his ability to capture the sound, and the mood, of one era after another. He seemed, at all moments and in all settings, to retain his magical access to the hearts of his listeners. There was something almost mythological about Berlin, the unlettered Jewish ragamuffin who could barely read music but who had songs pouring from his fingertips—like the Shakespeare who had little Latin and less Greek. A misty-eyed patriot and a self-made American, Berlin was Broadway’s chief entry in the national pantheon; as Alexander Woollcott observed as early as 1924, “The life of Irving Berlin is a part of the American epic.”
Annie Get Your Gun, like Kiss Me, Kate, is a Broadway show about show business. The show opens with the rousing anthem “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” in which strolling stagehands offer a rapturous tribute to the world Berlin had known and loved for half a century—the world that was, for him, the center of the universe. Annie Get Your Gun is a backstage musical about the rise of a Broadway star and her quest for the summum bonum of all musicals—love. Annie Oakley is torn between her desperate, doglike love for her fellow sharpshooter Frank Butler and her skills in a field where women are not supposed to excel. Thus her lament in “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” which, like so many great Berlin songs, is a complex mechanism built out of what feel like remarkably simple parts: “They don’t buy pajamas for pistol-packin’ Mommas, / For a man may be hot but he’s not when he’s shot. . . .”
Annie cannot bring herself to sacrifice one for the other. She celebrates her unquenchable competitive fires in “Anything You Can Do,” an exercise in the kind of western braggadocio made famous by Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce that somehow morphs into a meistersinger competition in which Annie—Ethel Merman, in the original cast—holds a note until she busts. “Anything You Can Do” is both a song about virtuosity and itself an astonishing display of virtuosity: the story goes that Berlin was asked to supply a new song for the two leads, and fifteen minutes later called the director, Josh Logan, and sang the entire first chorus. “Most amazing thing I ever experienced in my whole life,” Logan later said.
When Fred, the songwriting sensation of George S. Kaufman’s June Moon, is ludicrously praised as the next Irving Berlin, an otherwise cynical showgirl immediately demurs. “There’s something behind his songs,” she says of Berlin. “They’re sympathetic.” Berlin never lost sight of the fact— never had to be told, for that matter—that in popular entertainment, all the ingenuity in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have the audience on your side. His songs were always sympathetic, even when they were busy doing something else. Annie Oakley wins us over by her artlessness and her ardor, and by the competitive fire that keeps getting in the way of her amorous designs. And she remains sympathetic even as she becomes a more worldly figure. The Annie who sings “Lost in His Arms,” with its lush, jazzy orchestrations, or the euphoric “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” is not the woman who belted out “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun”; but we root for her to win Frank, and to stay true to herself, every bit as much as we had before. Berlin was as beguiling as Cole Porter or George Gershwin; but he also knew how to hit you where you lived. He was the past master of what Gilbert Seldes called the lively arts—the art forms that seek to appeal to a mass public, that speak to concerns which are topical and local rather than universal, and which, nevertheless, at times transcend their own modest ambitions.
TIMES SQUARE IN THE forties and fifties, and even into the sixties, was a fabulously romantic place. The place showed its age, and its sores, in the daytime, but it was still glamorous and enthralling at night. The classy entertainment may have moved eastward, but in Times Square, and nowhere else, the night was charged with the glories of the spectacular. The giant bowl of Times Square, where Seventh Avenue merged with Broadway, was a great electrical circus. The theaters that lined both sides of Broadway had their names and their marquees picked out in lights; even the Horn & Hardart Automat at 46th and Broadway was brilliantly illuminated. And fantastic signs, with ingenious special effects, perched atop the low buildings on both sides of the street, as well as at 42nd Street, facing north, and 47th Street, facing south. To visit Times Square, in this last moment of its glory, was to be bathed in light.
O. J. Gude was long gone, of course, but the title of Lamplighter of Broadway now belonged to the charming, mercurial, and prodigiously inventive Douglas Leigh. Leigh was, in his own soft-spoken way, one of those mythical figures of Broadway, like Tony Pastor and Oscar Hammerstein and Florenz Ziegfeld, whose artfully shaped story was told again and again in the popular press. The son of a banker in Anniston, Alabama, he had come to New York to work as an adman, grown bored and frustrated with his lowly post, quit in the heart of the Depression, sold his beat-up old Ford, and set out to build spectaculars in Times Square. It was the kind of crazy impulse that comes only to the implacably selfconfident (or the crazy). Leigh kept his megalomania carefully hidden beneath a screen of southern politesse, unfailingly addressing the business executives with whom he dealt as “sir.” He was slight, and dapper, and always sported a fresh boutonnière; a writer once compared him to “a Princeton freshman.” He was, perhaps for this very reason, a salesman of the highest order. For his very first spectacular, Leigh imagined a giant coffee cup that would emit real steam from holes punched into the rim of the cup—a “special effect” none of his predecessors had ever tried. He then sold the idea to the A & P food chain and installed the sign at Broadway and 47th Street in late 1933. From this moment on, Times Square became Leigh’s canvas.
Leigh was a peculiar fusion of artist and pitchman. He would wander around Times Square looking for virgin rooftop and then lease the space for signage. Then he would sit in his office and dream up ideas for signs, or play with images already used by advertisers. A 1941 profile by E. J. Kahn in The New Yorker noted that Leigh “judged it would be artistically and commercially pleasant to place a large penguin over Broadway with a blinking red eye that would flash on every few seconds. He was influenced in his thoughts by the fact that the manufacturers of Kool cigarettes had been featuring penguins in their magazine advertising.” Leigh seemed to have a mind that naturally thought in advertisements. He lacked the technical expertise to make steam come out of coffee cups or make red eyes blink on and off, but he understood that the images would work, and he found engineers who could make them happen.
Leigh was, at least in his own mind, a visionary who dreamed in light, but not in light only. He was a great admirer of Henry Ford, and he spoke of going into politics, of starting a businessmen’s party, of delivering lectures over the radio. He once described to The New York Times a Times Square with wind machines blowing trees and flags, artificial snow and fog, signs that emitted smells, live animals, three-dimensional signs—the kind of brilliantly orchestrated fantasy we would now expect from Disney, or Las Vegas. He had an instinct for the new. In the late thirties, he purchased the rights to a new lighting technology called Epok, which allowed him to stage five-minute animated cartoons on the gigantic dimensions of a Times Square spectacular; it was an early version of the LED technology that has increasingly come to dominate today’s Times Square. Immediately after the war, he bought from the Navy dirigibles that had been scheduled to be cut up into raincoats; he attached rubberized fixtures lined with fifteen thousand tiny lightbulbs, and rented them to advertisers as spectaculars in the sky. MGM used one to promote National Velvet.
Leigh was also responsible for the most famous sign in the history of Times Square: the Camel cigarettes sign, atop the Claridge Hotel on the east side of Broadway between 43rd and 44th Streets. The ingenuity of the sign lay more in its conception than in its fabrication, for it consisted of a red-painted plywood billboard with a picture of a handsome, deeply contented smoker with a hole in place of a mouth. And through the hole, every four seconds, issued a perfectly formed smoke ring, made of steam, collected from the hotel’s heating system and driven by pistons through a yet smaller hole. Perhaps the most ingenious thing about the sign was that it didn’t depend on light. It was completed three days before Pearl Harbor, and six months before a blackout that switched off the lights in Times Square. But the smoker kept blowing his rings. Indeed, he continued until 1966, when, after a remarkable run of twenty-five years, the sign finally came down.
Leigh’s last masterpiece, and arguably his greatest, was mounted atop the Bond Clothing store, one block north of the Camel smoker, in 1948. Bond was the closest thing to an elegant haberdasher in Times Square, a place never noted for its stores. And what Leigh devised for his client was a block-long, ninety-foot-high montage of sex and swank, one of the most eye-popping tableaux ever seen in Times Square. Leigh ordered up fiftyfoot-high plaster casts of heroically proportioned nudes, a man and a woman, with swags of golden neon draped across their torsos like togas. At night, they seemed to be wearing evening gowns of light, and nothing else. The statues were posted on either side of a real waterfall, 27 feet high and 132 feet across. Ten thousand gallons of water tumbled over the falls and was recirculated by pumps at the base, while the scene was illuminated by 23,000 incandescent lamps as well as neon tubes. In Signs and Wonders, Tama Starr, whose family firm, Artkraft Strauss, built the Bond sign as well as many other Leigh inventions, explains that the waterfall was meant to conjure up Niagara Falls, and thus honeymoons, and thus sex.
Like Irving Berlin, Douglas Leigh ultimately became one of the Methuselahs of Broadway. In the early 1960s, he bought the Times Tower, stripped off its marble cladding, and turned the building into a giant signboard, which of course is just what it ultimately became thirty years later. In 1979, with Times Square in a state of what must have seemed like irreversible decay, he sold his seventeen prize sites there to Van Wagner, a big national billboard firm, and embarked on an entirely new career doing exterior lighting for big buildings, including the Empire State Building. As late as the mid-nineties he was planning a light show for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Leigh died in 1999, at age ninety-two. He was like Berlin, too, in his combination of canny salesmanship, creative brio, and almost childlike access to the wellsprings of pleasure. He was a genius of the lively arts, and a demiurge of Times Square.