Even newcomers to Provincetown usually know within a few days the names of the theatrical luminaries who have spent time at land’s end; beginning, of course, with Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams. So I’ve long been mystified as to why it’s not better known that this was the summer home for years of Abram S. “Abe” Burrows (1910-1985), the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, lyricist and director. His two best-known musicals, Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, have probably been seen — in one incarnation or another — by more people than have ever attended an O’Neill or Williams play (for better or worse). Moreover, Burrows played an active role in local life in the 1950s and ’60s.
This had been the home of Burt H. Paige (±1891-1950), the proprietor with his brother William of the Paige Brothers Garage, 205-209 Commercial Street, which is now the Aquarium Marketplace. The Paige brothers were also the operators, from the 1910s through the 1930s, of open-air omnibus service known locally as the “accommodation.”
Burrows and his wife, Carin, bought the property in 1958 from Justice Watson. They had been coming to Provincetown since 1952, two years after Guys and Dolls, written with Frank Loesser, had placed him in the Broadway firmament. “We love it here,” Burrows told The Advocate. “We’re very fond of the town and the people. My greatest joy these days is to cut the tide table out of The Advocate and clip it on my desk, so that I can check the time when the tides come and go. And I also look forward to the daily trips of the Boston Belle. We have a wonderful view of the harbor from our back porch.” (“Advocate Archives,” The Banner, 26 July 2007.)
Burrows created a happy sensation in 1958 by serving as M.C. and chief entertainer for the annual Provincetown Art Association ball. In the Drama Desk column of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Harold V. Cohen wrote, “Mr. Burrows sang a group of his original songs, including the memorable ‘The Girl With the Three Blue Eyes,’ and left the big gathering screaming for more when he hurried home again to burn the midnight oil working on the book of the musical version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.” He probably should have performed an encore that night instead. First Impressions, the musical in question, lasted only 92 performances in 1959. Among the more successful productions with which Burrows was involved were Can-Can (with Cole Porter), which opened in 1953; Silk Stockings (with Porter and George S. Kaufman), which opened in 1955; and Cactus Flower, which opened in 1965. How to Succeed, also written with Loesser, ran from 1961 to 1965 in its original production and was revived as recently as the 2011-2012 season, with Daniel Radcliffe and Nick Jonas as J. Pierrepont Finch.
Abe and Carin Burrows also owned 546 Commercial Street. And as a stakeholder in the neighborhood, Burrows was very much involved in the fight against the Surfside Arms and Motor Inn at 543 Commercial. He and his wife sold No. 551 to Irwin Metz in 1977. Metz sold it in turn to Gail Bliss.