Beach Blanket producer dies

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Steve Silver, the creator and producer of the irreverent "Beach Blanket Babylon," died Monday night at his San Francisco apartment of complications from AIDS. He was 51.

Though best known for originating the country's longest-running musical revue, the San Francisco native also performed tzedakah by contributing to numerous secular and Jewish philanthropies in the Bay Area.

Born to a Jewish father, Silver wasn't a practicing Jew. But friends say he identified with the religion's principles.

"He strongly believed in the idealism and the ethical values of Judaism," said Anita Friedman, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services.

The show's 13th anniversary "bar mitzvah" performance in 1987 helped pay for the construction of a playground and the creation of a Beach Blanket Babylon Child Development Center at Parents Place, the parental resource center of JFCS. He also supported the JFCS' AIDS Project, Israel Bonds, and American Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The campy revue, which opened in 1974, used a continually changing series of parodies with exaggerated costumes and gigantic hats, including the renowned 33-foot-tall San Francisco skyline headdress.

Most characters were spoofs of fairy-tale figures and celebrities, ranging from Snow White and Dorothy of Oz to Elvis and Newt Gingrich. Occasionally, the show included Jewish shtick like the Jewish Mother, who wore fluffy slippers, an "oyvey" apron and a huge can of Campbell's chicken soup on her head. The show also included black-garbed Chassidic rabbis who wore giant Mogen David wine bottles on their hats and sang "Hava Tequila."

Marlene Siminow, regional executive director of Israel Bonds, remembers driving around the city with Silver at midnight in a convertible as he tried out new songs for the show.

"He liked to look at the upside-down side of life," she said. "He felt if you could laugh, nothing could go wrong in life."

Silver attended Lowell High School and San Jose State University.

He is survived by his wife, Jo Schuman Silver, his brother, Roger Silver, two nieces and a nephew — all of San Francisco.

A service was held Thursday at Grace Cathedral. Memorial contributions can be made to the Steve Silver Foundation, 470 Columbus Ave., Suite 204, San Francisco 94133.