Hollywood Agent Ben Pearson Dies

Times Staff Writer

A talent agent who booked actors in roles at regional theaters in the United States and Canada during his more than 40 years in the business, and whom TV Guide once called "the man to see if you need a TV star in your theater," has died.

Ben Pearson--dinner theater agent to Cesar Romero, Don Ameche, Dorothy Lamour, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Betty Grable and others--died July 5 at his Pacific Palisades home after a three-month illness. He was 74.

"Mainly what he would do is take stars to rural America, and give people an opportunity who never (otherwise) would have a chance to see stars on stage," said Jean Pearson, his wife of 30 years.

"Ben was very good at knowing the territory," she said. "He knew what actor would play in the South, in Texas, wherever. Any salesman needs to know his territory."

For example, Jean Pearson said, her husband believed regional theater patrons in Houston were interested in seeing Cyd Charisse--"a sophisticated town, a sophisticated girl"--but audiences in Amarillo, Tex., tended to prefer stars of old cowboy series "like James Drury," formerly of "The Virginian."

Pearson also handled game show personalities Peter Marshall and Monty Hall, Jean Person said. She said Buster Keaton was one of her husband's first clients.

Pearson was born in Palestine, Tex., and came to Hollywood in 1941 after graduating from Duke University and working for a while as a radio comedy writer in New York. On the West Coast, he wrote for Cecil B. DeMille's Lux Radio Theatre, where Jean Pearson said he "took movies and cut them to 30 minutes" for radio.

Forty years ago, Pearson started his own talent agency, initially finding jobs for actors in film and television, as well as on the nightclub stage. In 1960, according to his wife, Pearson "veered off into just representing actors on the regional stage" and continued to do so until he became ill.

Jean Pearson said her husband always loved the theater.

"Ben was a walking fund of information," she said. "He knew every play ever written. He never forgot that kind of trivia. Who played what part first. Who rewrote a show, where it played."

Pearson was cremated. He is survived by his wife; his daughter, Elizabeth, 41; two sons, Michael, 23, and Anthony, 19, and a grandson, Nicholas, 6.

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