Harvey Sabinson resigned March 1 as executive director of the League of American Theaters & Producers. Sabinson, 70, expressed a desire to turn the reins over to a younger leader, though people close to him say health considerations also figured in the decision. He retains his title until a successor is named – soon, he hopes.

Formerly one of Broadway’s top press agents – best known as David Merrick’s flack during the flamboyant producer’s heyday in the 1950s and ’60s – Sabinson joined the League in 1976 as special projects director and became executive director in 1982, when the trade group was still known as the League of New York Theaters & Producers.

Sabinson’s announcement comes as the League is about to begin critical negotiations with Local # 1 of the Intl. Assn. of Theatrical Stage Employees that could lead to a stagehands’ strike when the union’s contract expires this summer.

For the first time in recent memory, independent producers have wrested away some of the theater owners’ closely held negotiating powers; those producers, determined to change what they perceive to be costly and archaic work rules, will have a major presence in the negotiations, expected to commence this spring. The producers include Cameron Mackintosh, Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Walt Disney Co.

Sabinson’s colleagues paid him fine tribute, acknowledging his contributions to an organization populated by members with different and usually conflicting agendas. And even though he was occasionally nasty to me in print, I’m happy to add a “so long, see you on the rialto, pal.”

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