The theatre world lost one of its brightest stars in 1987 when two-time Tony winner Robert Preston died of lung cancer. Preston, a character actor who worked steadily in mostly B-pictures was turned into a major star when he originated the part of Harold Hill in The Music Man, leading the 39 year old actor onto a new career path as musical theatre leading man. Not bad for a person who’d never sung before in his life.
The year of his death, the Tony Awards brought two of his leading ladies, Barbara Cook (The Music Man, 1957) and Bernadette Peters (Mack and Mabel, 1974) onstage in a tribute to their leading man, followed by a rendition of “76 Trombones” led by a chorus and an enormous marching band. Incidentally, Angela Lansbury, the host for the evening, costarred with Preston in the 1960 film adaptation of The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.