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Arthur Seelen of Drama Book Shop Dies
Kevin Howell -- 2/21/00

Long-time Drama Book Shop owner Arthur Seelen died February 7, after a lengthy illness. He was 75. Seelen bought the Manhattan bookstore in 1958; it is widely considered to be the oldest performing arts bookstore in the U.S. It opened in 1923.

In a 1999 New York Times profile, Seelen, who was born in Flatbush, noted that although he graduated from the City College of New York as a chemical engineer, he always acted "on the side." He was quoted as saying that buying the Drama Book Shop "was one of those life-changing decisions made in 30 seconds." His wife, Rozanne, joined the shop in 1969; the two were married in 1980.

With 40,000 titles focused on the performing arts, Seelen had said, "Our motto is 'If we don't have something, we want to know why.' " In the same article, he noted the couple spent at least 10 hours a day at the store and that the last vacation they had had in the last 10 years was a three-day weekend. But he felt running the bookstore was "not a "job" job we have here. There's some emotion to it."

Chris Kerr of Parson Weems' Publisher Services remembered meeting the Seelens more than two decades ago. "For me, and so many others, they were the most delightful, welcoming people in town," he said. "Their friendship and constancy have been extremely important to a lot of us; Arthur, in particular, was notable for his puckish humor and gentle irony, as well as his great story-telling gifts, so many of them Damon Runyon-like stories of the Shop, its famous and less well-known customers and the many actors and struggling theater types for whom it was safe harbor."

Two years ago, Seelen told Bookselling This Week about his most memorable customer. One day in 1957, Marlene Dietrich appeared in his store, "a vision in white," he remembered. She was looking for a copy of Witness for the Prosecution, which she was about to film with Billy Wilder. The store didn't carry it, but it sent a clerk to a nearby drugstore to buy it for her for 35 cents. He sold it to her for cost. "It was worth it," Seelen said, "just to see her face."

Rozanne Seelan asks that donations be made to the Alzheimer's Foundation in Arthur's name (Alzheimer's Research and Education Foundation, P.O. Box 492060, Leesburg, Fla. 34749-2060; 877-265-9919).
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