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Merrick was known for his love of publicity stunts. In 1949, his comedy Clutterbuck was running out of steam, but along with discount tickets, he paged hotel bars and restaurants around Manhattan during cocktail hour for a "fictive Mr. Clutterbuck" as a way of generating name recognition for his production, and it helped his show keep alive for another few months. Another famous stunt promoted the poorly reviewed 1961 musical Subways Are For Sleeping. Merrick found seven New Yorkers who had the same names as the city's seven leading theater critics: Howard Taubman, Walter Kerr, John Chapman, John McClain, Richard Watts, Jr., Norman Nadel, and Robert Coleman. Merrick invited the seven namesakes to the musical and secured their permission to use their names and pictures in an advertisement alongside quotes such as "One of the few great musical comedies of the last thirty years" and "A fabulous musical. I love it." Merrick then prepared a newspaper ad featuring the namesakes' rave reviews under the heading 7 Out of 7 Are Ecstatically Unanimous About Subways Are For Sleeping. Only one newspaper, the New York Herald Tribune, published the ad, and only in one edition; however, the publicity that the ad garnered helped the musical remain open for 205 performances (almost six months). Merrick later revealed that he had conceived the ad several years previously, but had not been able to execute it until Brooks Atkinson retired as The New York Times theater critic in 1960 since he could not find anyone with the same name. Merrick joined The Lambs in 1950.
Merrick worked with director Gower Champion who directed Merrick's production of 42nd Street. On the morning of August 25, 1980, Champion died of a rare blood cancer, and Merrick announced the news himself to the audience at the opening-night curtain call.
Merrick suffered a stroke in 1983, after which he spent most of his time in a wheelchair. He established the David Merrick Arts Foundation in 1998 to support the development of American musicals.
Merrick was married six times, to Lenore Beck, Jeanne Gibson, Etan Aronson (twice), Karen Prunczik, and Natalie Lloyd. He was married to Lloyd at the time of his death in London; all of his previous marriages had ended in divorce. He had two daughters according to Peter Filichia, writing in the Newark Star-Ledger on April 27, 2000.
An unauthorized biography by Howard Kissel is titled David Merrick: The Abominable Showman (ISBN978-1-55783-361-7).
In "What Does A Naked Lady Say to You?", a first-season episode of The Odd Couple, the director of the nude off-Broadway play Bathtub (itself based on Oh! Calcutta!) complains after police officer Murray Greschler (Al Molinaro) busts the production for indecency, "Murray, you wouldn't do this to me if I was David Merrick!"