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LEGENDARY ABBOTT SEEMS OLDER THAN BROADWAY ITSELF

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George Abbott turns 107 on Saturday, and if all those years have given the playwright, director, actor and producer any wisdom he can share with those who aspire to make it on Broadway, it is this:

"If they have a talent, they should work on it," Abbott said backstage at the Tony Awards last week. "If they don't have a talent, they should get . . . out."Can't argue with that.

Abbott ought to know. He's practically older than Broadway itself - outliving even the theater that was named for him and used to stand on 54th Street - and he has had a hand in many of the shows that have made Broadway what it was and what it is, as well as what it likely will become.

This is not to suggest that Abbott is a mere museum piece these days. He travels by wheelchair, his speech is slowed and his hearing is diminished, but his mind is still nearly as sharp as that of someone one-fourth his age.

Most recently, he helped update the Tony-nominated revival of the "Damn Yankees," the 1955 hit musical he co-wrote and directed, which now stars Bebe Neuwirth of TV's "Cheers" in the role of Lola originated by Gwen Verdon.

"He's still involved in the profession which he has given so much," Verdon said on the Tony telecast, appearing alongside Abbott and her "Yankees" co-star Jean Stapleton.

"We were all younger then, but not one of us was as young in spirit and enthusiasm or as old in the wisdom of the theater as Mr. Abbott," said Stapleton, who would reprise the strained, shrill voice she first developed for Abbott and "Damn Yankees" when she assumed the role of Edith Bunker in television's "All in the Family."

The son of a failed New York businessman who moved the family to Wyoming, Abbott returned East with his acting debut in 1913. Eventually, he moved backstage and, for more than 40 Broadway seasons, he was responsible - as a writer, a producer and/or a director - for an average of two productions per year.

Besides "Damn Yankees," he figured in such memorable shows as "Three Men on a Horse" (1935), "Where's Charley?" (1948), "Call Me Madam" (1950), "The Pajama Game" (1954), "Fiorello" (1959), "Once Upon a Mattress" (1960) and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1962).

It is tiring just recounting all of that, and at his age, Abbott is hardly about to waste the time it would take to consider it all. "You think mostly about the last one," he said.

As for the current state of Broadway - where spectacular and special effects have become the rule - Abbott is open-minded.

"I don't know that I could put it into words," he said. "It's better in some respects. The English have made us open some notches."

Abbott attributes his longevity to "what I haven't done. I've led a fairly temperate life."

That doesn't leave much for him to do to celebrate his birthday this weekend, but that's all right with him. "I never paid that much attention to birthdays," Abbott said, and who can blame him at this point.