Theatrical talent agent, Broadway actress dies at 88

Memorial services will be held 1 p.m. Saturday at Forest Lawn in Burbank for Ruth Webb, theatrical talent agent and Broadway actress. She died Dec. 4 in L.A. at 88 after a long pulmonary illness.

She began her showbiz career in her early teens with her aunt, Mary Ann Dentler, who was producer of stock company the Bandbox Players. She lied about her age to get cast in her first show, “Behind Red Lights.”

Her summer stock credits included roles in productions of “Auntie Mame,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Wonderful Town,” “Pal Joey,” “The Boy Friend,” “Damn Yankees,” “Naughty Marietta” and “Showboat.” She performed at the Latin Quarter and East Side clubs during the off-season.

She appeared on the covers of Town & Country and On the Town magazines and was featured model for a national Chesterfield ad campaign.

Her Broadway career included roles in “Marinka,” “Early to Bed” and the original production of “On the Town.”

In 1961, she went to work for her agent, Laura Arnold. One year later, she opened the Ruth Webb Agency. Initial clients (and former co-stars) included Broadway’s Nolan Van Way, Dean Dittman and Darrell Sandeen.

Her claims to fame also include first agenting for such discoveries as Al Pacino, Ben Vereen and Bernadette Peters.

In the 1960s, she married her leading man, Robert Cosden, who remained her partner in the Webb-Cosden Agency for almost a decade. When their marriage ended, her agency expanded to the West Coast and she shifted her focus to Hollywood.

She became known as the “Auntie Mame of agents,” and the queen of summer stock, with a focus on dinner theater, repping Kathryn Grayson, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers, Rhonda Fleming, John Carradine, Dorothy Lamour, Donald O’Connor, Gloria Swanson, Gig Young, Ann Sothern, Martha Raye and Mickey Rooney.

In TV, she repped a who’s who of talent, including Milton Berle, Don Knotts, Don Adams, Steve Allen, Robert Alda, Morey Amsterdam, Chuck Connors, Patty Duke, Ann Jeffries, Tiny Tim, Robert Morse, Phyllis Diller, Frank Gorshin, Rose Marie, Julie Newmar, Bert Parks, Abe Vigoda and Della Reese.

She was a driving force on the creative team for the original Broadway production of “Man of La Mancha” and represented a major portion of the original cast. She was instrumental in getting Yvonne De Carlo cast in “Follies,” Gene Barry in “La Cage aux Folles” and Rooney in his seven-year Broadway run in “Sugar Babies.”

More recently, along with partner Sherri Spillane (who continues to run the Ruth Webb Agency under the guidance of Webb’s business manager for the past two decades, Harold J. Levy), Webb was among the first to turn everyday people into reality television stars, repping more than half the original cast members of CBS’ “Survivor.” She also mentored a number of agents.

In addition, she was an animal activist and writer who recently completed her autobiography.

She is survived by two sons and three grandsons, plus companion Jamie Stellos.

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