Burt Boyar wrote a nationally syndicated Broadway column for the Annenberg and Newhouse newspapers for 10 million daily readers, a weekly column for TV Guide and feature articles for Esquire and New York Magazine. He, with his wife Jane, collaborated with their close friend Sammy Davis, Jr. on his two autobiographies, Yes I Can and Why Me? Burt and Jane lived on the beach in the south of Spain for twenty-eight years, until her death in 1997.
Burt was born in 1927 of Lillian and Benjamin A. Boyar, in New York City. Ben Boyar was Broadway producer Max Gordon's General Manager; therefore Burt was brought up in the theater. At age 12 he became a radio actor: Billy Batson on Captain Marvel, Dexter Franklin on Corliss Archer, and had running parts in the Superman, The Goldbergs, and Pepper Young's Family commercials, as well as appearing frequently on the nighttime radio shows: The Aldrich Family, Cavalcade of America, etc. This occupation qualified him to attend and play hooky from The Professional Children's School. He did not go to college. In fact he did not graduate high school. But he always excelled at English composition.
After radio: working at various jobs he found his niche at a New York publicity firm writing column items, jokes and gossip, and was so successful at it that he and an associate opened their own publicity office. As press agents in the early 50's they represented numerous Manhattan restaurants, the Carlyle Hotel and El Rancho Vegas, one of the then three hotels on the Strip in Las Vegas. Burt met Jane Feinstein, a Finch College student, on Halloween 1953 and they were married on June 26, 1954. The marriage lasted forty-four years until Jane's unexpected death of heart failure in 1997 at age 64. They never spent a night apart.
Hoping to become a columnist himself, Burt wrote a weekly column, paid to have it set in type, and sent mats to around 150 weekly newspapers that bought it for a dollar a week. He did not quite break even but it landed him a daily Broadway column on the front page of Triangle Publications' Morning Telegraph and in all the Daily Racing Forms. The column, Burt Boyar's Broadway, and/or Beau Broadway by Burt Boyar was picked up by the Philadelphia Inquirer and then all of the Newhouse newspapers. The Register & Tribune Syndicate had begun selling it even more widely when he took a one-year leave of absence to write Sammy Davis, Jr.'s life story, Yes I Can. He and Jane continued writing the book for six years and after being turned down by every major publisher in New York it was published by Farrar Straus & Giroux, the most prestigious of them all. Roger Straus had the acumen to see past the show-biz glitter and recognize what was to become a ground breaking indictment of American racism.
Yes I Can was a major critical and commercial success, staying up high for twenty-eight weeks on the NYT Best Seller List, against such tough competition as the two big Kennedy books by Sorenson and Schlessinger and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Yes I Can accomplished "the hat trick", the front cover reviews on both the Sunday New York Times and Herald Tribune on September 19, 1965. Unfortunately all New York newspapers went out on strike four days earlier, on September 15th and those pre-dated book review sections withered in the warehouses. However, the rest of the country was publishing and today Yes I Can is in virtually every public library of the United States; it is required reading in numerous public school systems. It has been translated into fifteen languages and in English, French and German alone has sold over seven million copies. It was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize, losing to a three-volume work on Henry Adams.
No longer having a daily column to write, nor missing the deadlines, Jane and Burt began researching a novel, which they would set in the world of tennis. This was before the tennis boom, when the best players in the world, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, were not earning fifty thousand dollars a year. Jane and Burt joined their tour, traveled the world with them for two years trying to understand the dynamics of the world-class athlete. Their novel World Class was published by Random House in 1975.
Jane and Burt went to the south of Spain to spend the Christmas holidays with Lew Hoad and his wife Jenny in 1969 and they virtually never came back. They rented a small house on the beach with three hundred feet of frontage and nothing in front of them but the Mediterranean and occasionally the fishermen hauling in their nets. The house belonged to the Marquesa de Villaverde whom they were astonished to later learn was the daughter of the Chief of State, General Francisco Franco. In short time they became acquainted with that family, then intimately friendly with them, spending weekends together over the next twenty-eight years.
In Spain they wrote the book Hitler Stopped by Franco. Also, an historical novel, Invisible Scars that will be published later this year.
Quincy Jones optioned Yes I Can and Why Me? to be made into a Broadway musical "SAMMY" planned for Broadway and Las Vegas in December 2002.
Jane and Burt traveled from Spain to Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Beverly Hills and wherever else Sammy Davis, Jr. was playing in order to write the second half of his life story, Why Me? published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in 1989.
Jane and Burt collaborated in 1989 with Margaret Hunt Hill to write H.L. and Lyda: Growing up in the H.L. Hunt and Lyda Bunker Hunt family, as told by their eldest daughter.
When Jane died on March 28, 1997, Burt returned home to the United States, to Los Angeles where he writes and lives alone in an apartment on the Wilshire Corridor but enjoys an active professional and social life. He is currently working with Dwight Hemion, television's most honored director of specials (17 Emmys, 45 nominations) on the latter's life story.