Hank Beebe, right, with his wife Nancy in Portland in 2002. The couple founded Schoolhouse Arts Center in Standish. Photo courtesy of Selby Beebe-Lawson

Harold “Hank” Beebe Jr., a prolific composer and musical theater creator who had success on and off Broadway for years before moving to Maine in 1980 and helping to revive and build theater communities here, died this month. He was 96.

Beebe’s family said he died in his sleep on Feb. 5.

Beebe is best known in Maine as the co-founder, with his wife, Nancy, of Schoolhouse Arts Center, a community theater in Standish, and of Embassy Players, which produced dozens of his original musicals at theaters across southern Maine and beyond.

A headshot of Hank Beebe during his industrial show career in New York City in the early 1960s. Photo courtesy of Selby Beebe-Lawson

Before he came to Maine, Beebe’s work, often co-written with Bill Heyer, was shown and heard on big-name stages in New York and elsewhere. The most successful play, “The Cowboy and the Tiger,” ran at the off-Broadway stalwart York Playhouse for two years and was adapted for television in 1963.

Beebe also had a lesser known but equally influential career creating so-called “industrial musicals,” which were commissioned by major corporations – General Motors and Coca-Cola, among others – and had the same lavish production as Broadway shows but were shown not to members of the public but to company employees as a way to motivate sales.

“If they hadn’t been effective, they wouldn’t have lasted three decades,” Beebe told the Press Herald in 2015. “Seeing the new products revealed to them with singing and dancing and fireworks made (the salespeople) more enthusiastic, and enthusiasm is what you need to sell.”


His role in the industrial musical movement was highlighted in a 2013 book, co-written by Steve Young, a former writer for David Letterman, called “Everything’s Coming Up Profits,” that served as the basis for a 2018 documentary film, “Bathtubs Over Broadway.”

“Hank Beebe represented the best of humanity in so many ways. We will miss him terribly, we’re grateful that we knew him, and we’re grateful that we had the honor of sharing him with the world,” wrote Young and Dava Whisenant, the director of “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” in a post about Beebe’s death.

Selby Beebe-Lawson, one of his two daughters, said the songs of those industrial musicals, songs about tractors and diesel engines, were “the soundtrack of my life.”

“He did them to earn a living, but he treated them the same he would anything he created,” she said.

Zachariah Stearn, managing artistic director of Schoolhouse Arts, got to know Beebe in his later years, after he had mostly stepped back from the center he founded.

“He was always writing shows. He wrote constantly and had this massive career. Even with these industrial musicals, they were sort of a novelty of the time, but he was the master,” Stearn said. “One of the last times he came out to the theater, we sat and talked for a while. There’s no question the impact that he had, not only on the greater theater community but in particular Schoolhouse, is still felt today.”


On top of the dozens of original musicals Beebe wrote, he also composed hundreds of pieces of choral music, many of which have been played in churches all over.

Hank Beebe playing the piano in 2015 with sheet music he wrote. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Beebe was a New Jersey native who served in the U.S. Navy in World War II before returning home to attend college at the University of North Carolina.


He and his wife, who were married for 71 years, lived for a time in Philadelphia, where he studied under composer Vincent Persichetti at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, and then moved to New York, where Beebe’s career matured.

In addition to “The Cowboy and the Tiger,” Beebe had success with the musical “Tuscaloosa’s Calling Me,” which ran for more than 400 performances off Broadway, and “Hellzapoppin,” which starred Jerry Lewis and Lynn Redgrave.

Beebe and his writing partner, Bill Heyer, found even more financial success with industrial musicals.


Hank and Nancy Beebe bought their Portland home in 1965 as a sort of refuge from New York City, their daughter said, but they didn’t move there full time until 1980. Even then, he didn’t slow down.

The Beebes immediately got involved in local theater.

Stearn said the story goes that Beebe used to host performances. People would bring a lawn chair and listen. After a while, so many people came that they ran out of room. Nancy said they needed to find something bigger.

They leased the former Standish High School in 1987 and founded the nonprofit Schoolhouse Arts Center a year later. The first performance there was Beebe’s musical “Hold On, Molly!”

Schoolhouse celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. The Beebes also founded their own theater company, Embassy Players, which produced 30 of his original musicals at venues all over southern Maine, and helped bring live theater back to other venues, such as City Theater in Biddeford and the State Theatre in Portland.

Stearn said the thing he’ll remember most about Beebe is how much he believed in the educational value of performing arts.


“He was always asking, how do you enrich the lives of performers, writers and others by the process of doing?” he said.

Beebe-Lawson said her father was serious about his work and worked hard, but he made it a part of his personal life, too.

“He always involved anyone and everyone in what he was doing,” she said.

A memorial service and sing-along (featuring his own compositions, of course) will be held at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

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