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Treatment Action Group Remembers Marvin Shulman

May 17, 1932–January 15, 2014

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[from L to R: Russell Pritchard, Marvin Shulman, Mark Harrington, Jim Eigo, at ACT UP/New York’s Wall Street II action, March 28, 1988. Photo credit: Thomas M. Keane.]

January 15, 2014 – Treatment Action Group mourns the death of TAG’s founding treasurer Marvin Shulman (May 17, 1932–January 15, 2014), who died Wednesday in Miami Beach, Florida.

A beloved, compassionate, generous, and tireless AIDS activist, Marvin Shulman first joined the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP)/New York at the time of its Wall Street II action on March 28, 1988, where he was arrested as a member of the ACT UP affinity group known as Wave 3. Marvin quickly became an active member of ACT UP/NY’s leadership, serving as ACT UP’s treasurer for several years.

Marvin’s generosity was legendary. He hosted many Wave 3 meetings and a Wave 3 retreat during summer 1988 on Fire Island—at the house of Broadway star Tommy Tune, a longtime client of his. Marvin managed the business end of the careers of Tune and other Broadway legends such as Michael Bennett, creator of A Chorus Line. When TAG was founded in January 1992, Marvin became our first treasurer and hosted our weekly meetings for many years at his Fifth Avenue loft.

Barbara Hughes, president of TAG’s board of directors, said:

I fell in love with Marvin when we served together on the ACT UP coordinating committee. Perhaps it was because he was one of the few activists who was closer to me in age. Totally gay, totally not PC, a fierce activist. I followed Marvin and the Treatment & Data [Committee] gang to his Chelsea loft. There I discovered we had more in common—our mutual friend, artist Nancy Grossman. That sealed it for me. We remained friends to this day. After Marvin moved to Miami Beach, he would travel to the City to visit friends, catch up on theater, and have dinner with “the lesbians.” He was an official one of us—Andrea [Benzacar], Nancy, Elaine [Romagnoli], and sometimes others. Andrea and I traveled to see him last week. He was the same old Marvin. When I sat down to visit, he started the conversation the same way he has for years: How are you? How is Peter? How is TAG? He was the best. I will really miss him.

TAG’s founding director, Peter Staley, said:

One of the greats died today. Marvin Oscar Shulman, May 17, 1932–January 15, 2014. He was an early member of ACT UP/New York, and one of the few from his generation of gay men. He was a business manager for many of the greats on Broadway, including Michael Bennett and Tommy Tune. Having witnessed many of Broadway’s early losses to AIDS, including Bennett, Marvin joined ACT UP, and soon became its treasurer, and a dedicated member of its fundraising committee. He was TAG’s first treasurer as well, and provided the group its first home—all of TAG’s general membership meetings were held in Marvin’s loft apartment.

What I remember most was his campy humor. Marvin was very fun to be around, and every member of ACT UP he reviewed was appropriately referred to as “she.”

I can’t recall him saying “no” to requests for help. He famously allowed us to use his upstate property to test the giant condom that we eventually put on Jesse Helms’s house. The local cows had never seen anything like it. Marvin was one of the primary organizers of both of ACT UP’s art auctions, which helped the group raise over $1 million during its peak year.              

You’ll be missed, dear man.

ACT UP/New York’s Jim Eigo wrote:

Marvin hosted the first ACT UP treatments teach-in that Iris Long, David Kirschenbaum, and I gave in his skyscraper apartment, amid lots of art—Warhol, Lichtenstein, Nancy Grossman. He was responsible for the retreat of our mutual affinity group, Wave 3, at Tommy Tune’s Fire Island house.             

Although Marvin made his money producing and agenting on Broadway, long before his ACT UP days he had also funded the making of Wakefield Poole’s landmark gay porn movies,Boys in the Sand and Bijou (1971 and 1972). These were groundbreaking cultural, sexual, and social events, people! The likes of Jackie Kennedy and Rudolf Nureyev went to plush cinemas to see these films! Marvin has a cameo appearance in Bijou, getting splattered out in the street by a passing vehicle. I once saw a restored print of the flick at Anthology Film Archives with Stephen Gendin and we could not stop laughing….Thank you so much, Marvin.

Mark Harrington, TAG’s executive director, said:

I first met Marvin Shulman at ACT UP/New York’s civil disobedience training on March 20, 1988. In a large, sunlit room at the Center, 20 people with nothing in common save their wish to “put our bodies on the line” sat in a circle. We would demonstrate together on Wall Street. Some people would put themselves at risk for arrest by sitting in the street and blocking traffic, while others would serve as support by staying on the sidelines, keeping track of who got arrested and following us through the system. After the training, everyone volunteered to be arrested on Wall Street. We became the affinity group “Wave 3.”                

At Wall Street II, every member of Wave 3 showed up, and we were all—save for our support person, Kayeton Kurowski—arrested for blocking traffic on Rector Street and Trinity Place, one block west of Broadway. New York Newsday’s James Revson (a society columnist), quoted Wave 3’s Marvin Shulman: “I’ve never been arrested before. I’m not political, but we must do something. There is a memorial service once a month for someone in the theater.”1

Marvin threw himself into activism with joy, generosity, and tireless energy. He hosted many Wave 3 meetings and its first retreat on Fire Island in the summer of 1988, as we prepared for the historic “Seize Control of the FDA” action in October.

Later, when we formed TAG, Marvin hosted our meetings at his loft on Fifth Avenue and 20th Street. He was TAG’s first treasurer.

Marvin exemplified the joy of activism. His kindness, generosity, passion, and indefatigable activism will be missed, as will his sense of humor, play, and joy in life.

 


1.             James A. Revson and Richard Esposito, “Protest Tangles Wall Street,” New York Newsday. March 25, 1988.

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