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Episode 8: The women behind the men of ‘Harmony’

From the characters of Mary and Ruth to the real-life people who inspired them and beyond, learn about the women tied to the Comedian Harmonists in the podcast “Who Were the Comedian Harmonists? The True Story Behind Broadway’s ‘Harmony’” — produced by Broadway News and “Harmony.”

(L-R) Suzanne Collin, Erich Collin, Fernande Holzamer Collin and Deborah Tint (Credit: Courtesy of Deborah Tint)

Bruce Sussman’s original draft of his book for the musical “Harmony” included double the number of principal characters. Not only did Sussman introduce the Comedian Harmonists, he also included all of the women they were involved with. “You needed a scorecard. It was just too many characters,” Sussman said. “The women were all there and I had fun writing it, but the guys paid a price, and I had to pull back.”

In its final version, “Harmony” includes two romantic relationships — one between Roman Cycowski and his wife, Mary Panzram, and another between Erwin Bootz and a woman named Ruth, a character Sussman created. While the details of all the romantic and familial relationships presented too much material for a musical, they are perfect for the podcast “Who Were the Comedian Harmonists? The True Story Behind Broadway’s ‘Harmony.’”

The series’ eighth episode digs into the individual stories of the women linked to the singers, which highlight lesser-known stories of survival.

When Erich Collin fled Germany, he did so with his wife, Fernande, and their daughter, Suzanne. Collin, along with Harry Frommermann and Roman Cycowski, reestablished a new singing group, the Comedy Harmonists, that toured the world; but Fernande and Suzanne’s story diverges.

“They ended up back in Paris … and just kind of keeping a low profile,” Suzanne’s daughter, Deborah Tint, told Broadway News of her mother living in occupied France during World War II. “I remember my mother saying once that she was in the habit of going to swim in the Seine because they were living in Paris, and one day there was an air raid and she had nowhere to go, and she was running through the streets trying to find somebody to open a door. And finally somebody opened a door and she got in there and she was able to take shelter.”

Erwin Bootz’s first wife, Ursula, also experienced the dangers of the war. She fled Germany in the early 1930s. She was still married to Bootz at the time. She, too, landed in Paris. “One night somebody came knocking on the door very intensely and saying, ‘Here’s a ticket to a train that’s leaving tomorrow, here’s a ticket to a boat that’s leaving tomorrow, be on them,’” recalled Ursula’s daughter, Beryn Hammil. “It was literally the day before the Nazis walked into Paris.”

And these women are more than their survival. Just as the Comedian Harmonists led dynamic lives, so, too, did the women associated with them. Frommerman’s wife, Erna Eggstein, became a hairdresser and a salon owner; Collin’s daughter, Suzanne, a political activist; Cycowski’s wife, Mary, a pillar of their California community.

From interviews with relatives, historical records and the perspective of the actors who played the two women in “Harmony” (Sierra Boggess as Mary and Julie Benko as Ruth), learn about the circle of women that ensconced the Comedian Harmonists and keeps their history alive.

Want to know the specifics of the fortune and fate of the group and its members? Listen to the full debut episode of “Who Were the Comedian Harmonists? The True Story Behind Broadway’s ‘Harmony’” with the player above or download and subscribe to the podcast on platforms including Spotify and Apple Podcasts. New episodes of “Who Were the Comedian Harmonists?” (produced by Broadway News and “Harmony” A New Musical and edited by Daniel Piñeiro) are released on Wednesdays.

Listen to the podcast’s trailer here.

Listen to “Episode 1: The Comedian Harmonists” here.

Listen to “Episode 2: Harry Frommermann, the founder” here.

Listen to “Episode 3: Erich Collin, the intellectual” here.

Listen to “Episode 4: Josef Roman Cycowski, the peacemaker” here.

Listen to “Episode 5: Robert Biberti, the manager” here.

Listen to “Episode 6: Ari Leschnikoff, the nightingale” here.

Listen to “Episode 7: Erwin Bootz, the virtuoso” here.