Gene Persson, co-producer and co-creator of the original 1967 production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and the 1999 Tony award winning Broadway revival, died June 6 of a heart attack in New York. He was 74.
In 1967, Persson and Arthur Whitelaw co-produced and co-created the small musical based on the Peanuts characters by Charles M. Schulz, which has gone on to be one of the most produced musicals ever. The book by John Gordon was a pseudonym; they, along with their creative team adapted the book.
Born in Los Angeles, Persson was a child actor, appearing on radio, in feature films, and live television. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, appeared in B movies including the cult hit “Earth vs. the Spider,” “Bloodlust” and Paramount’s “The Party Crashers.”
In 1959, he married actress Shirley Knight, and turned from acting to producing for the theater. Together, he produced and she starred in plays in New York and Los Angeles, starting with the early plays of LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka); “Dutchman,” “The Toilet” and “The Slave.”
They went on to do several plays on Broadway including “Room” by Stanley Mann. In 1967 he produced the controversial play, “The Trail of Lee Harvey Oswald.”
Also in 1967, he produced “Dutchman” with Shirley Knight and Al Freeman Jr. with first time director Anthony Harvey, which is still shown in museums and film festivals.
He was divorced from Knight, but they remained friends. She said, “He was a producer who took chances and produced plays that other producers would shy away from.”
He moved to London in 1969, producing the first five plays by British playwright Peter Barnes, including “The Ruling Class.”
In 1973 he produced the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” for television. In the mid 1970s he worked closely with Tennessee Williams, producing “The Red Devil Battery Sign” in the U.K., a U.K. revival of “The Glass Menagerie” and “This is (an Entertainment) in San Francisco, as well as “An Evening with Tennessee Williams” also in San Francisco.
Over the next decade Persson produced dozens of stage productions including “Snoopy!!! The Musical,” which he produced and directed.
At the time of his death he had been working on a new musical stage version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
He is survived by his wife of 36 years, artist/actress Ruby Persson; two sons, writer/filmmaker Lukas Persson and musician Markus Persson and a daughter, actress Kaitlin Hopkins.