Edward E. Colton, a theatrical lawyer who was an innovator in the financing of Broadway musicals and plays, died on Feb. 27 at his home in Venice, Fla. He was 97.
Colton was a summa cum laude graduate in 1927 from New Jersey Law School, now Rutgers. He practiced law for 65 years, specializing in the legal affairs of the theatrical world.
He represented theatrical producers like Harold Prince, Florenz Ziegfeld, David Belasco, George Abbott and Richard Rodgers; actors like Tom Ewell and Celeste Holm; playwrights like Tennessee Williams, William Inge and Robert Anderson; and the songwriter Hoagy Carmichael.
In 1998 he received the American Theater Wing’s Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater, the first time this award had gone to someone not directly involved in theatrical productions. In 1999 he was given the Theater Hall of Fame Founders Award for outstanding contribution to the American theater.
Soon after World War II, Colton became one of the first theatrical lawyers to start creating limited partnerships to govern the financial relationship between the producer of a new play or musical and the investors, known in the business as angels, who put up the cash to get a show on stage.
The backers are made limited partners in the venture, so that if it fails, their financial liability is restricted to the amount of their original investment, and they have a business loss to credit against ordinary income when tax time comes.
Colton was the motion picture negotiator for the Dramatists Guild of America, reviewing and countersigning every contract for the sale of movie rights to Broadway stage productions for about half a century.
He was also an adjunct professor of law at New York University Law School, lecturing on copyright and theater law.
Edward Emanuel Colton was born on June 21, 1905, in Kalgoorlie, Australia, where his father was a prospector. The family came to the United States in 1906.
He is survived by his wife, Grace; a son; a stepson; and six grandchildren.