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Commentary: KERA's Lee Cullum Remembers Roger Horchow

Roger Horchow in his Dallas home in 2013.

Editor's Note: Tributes have continued this week for Roger Horchow. The businessman and theater producer died in Dallas over the weekend at age 91. Here commentator and host of KERA's CEO Lee Cullum remembers what led to his success.

Roger Horchow was a brilliant merchandiser, in a league with Stanley Marcus and that’s saying a lot. He was with Neiman Marcus in its glory days, but came into his own with the Horchow Collection which rode a rising wave in the catalogue business to become the best of all of them, an elegant harbinger of online shopping. It’s wasn’t just undeniable talent, however, and a gift for  timing that propelled Roger Horchow. There was something else: As his wife Carolyn, who  left this world too soon, about ten years ago, once said, “Roger doesn’t waver.” For some, building a successful business and selling it on highly favorable terms  might have been enough, but Roger was too creative to think in ways so prosaic, so quantifiable. 

Always on to the next adventure, he took tennis lessons but seldom played an actual match with an actual opponent. Ever an extrovert, he was nonetheless a solitary performer. Competition for its own sake meant nothing to him. Roger was a winner without ever giving a thought to winning. His interests were elsewhere. He got himself  a license to officiate at weddings, plus  a black stovepipe hat and long jacket to match for these occasions. Looking like Abraham Lincoln, with tall excellent posture, he brought joy to his friends in many more ways than one. He turned to piano lessons and that worked out better for him than tennis. Roger became a glorious pianist, specializing in the songs of Broadway, and for his 90th birthday cut a CD that we have now to remember him by.

But why merely play show tunes when you could produce the shows yourself?

Roger’s next great triumph was in New York with "Crazy for You,” a new musical based on George and Ira 

Credit (AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett)
Roger Berlind, left, and Roger Horchow, producers of "Kiss Me, Kate," accept the Tony award for Best Revival of a Musical at the 54th annual Tony Awards ceremonies Sunday, June 4, 2000, at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Gershwin's 1930 show, "Girl Crazy."  Others followed: "Kiss Me Kate,” “La Bete”, “Bandstand” and “Chorus Line” whose up-coming revival  was to have been his last fling with the theater. Of all the song writers Roger admired surely  his favorite was Gershwin. Not as bracingly brittle as Cole Porter or as divinely sentimental as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin was sophistication itself, sophistication with a heart—just like Roger. After all, just behind the glamour that drew the world inexorably to him was a great reservoir of kindness, generosity and love.

When Carolyn Horchow was still here, the two of them had a last lunch with some close friends from Houston named Jessica and Henry Cato. All of them were mortally ill except the durable Roger, and they knew they would never be together, just  the four of them, again. It was a lovely time, Roger said later, and the nicest  thing  was that “everybody looked good.” Style matters. Roger knew that and gave  his life to shaping style and creating more of it, the better to enhance the lives of others.  Style mocks fate. Style keeps fate, keeps death, at bay. It worked for him for a long time.

Lee Cullum hosts CEO on KERA Television.

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Lee Cullum was the host of CEO, KERA’s original monthly series of interviews with North Texas business leaders that previously aired on KERA television and radio. She is a commentator for Morning Edition on KERA-FM and contributes columns to The Dallas Morning News. A veteran journalist, Lee was previously a commentator for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and All Things Considered on NPR. In addition, she was editor of the editorial page of the Dallas Times Herald and host of Conversations, a series on KERA with major newsmakers. Lee also worked as a reporter, on-air moderator and executive producer of Newsroom on KERA.