Howard Atlee, an eclectic publicist who represented award-winning shows during a now bygone Broadway era and, as an avocation, also bred dachshunds that won best in show at dog competitions, died on March 15 in Silver Spring, Md. He was 97.

His death, in a hospital, was announced by his friend and caretaker, Harpreet Singh.

Transplanted from an Ohio city of 10,000, Mr. Atlee set his sights on Broadway after attending his first professionally staged production while serving in the Navy in Boston. After he was discharged, he was a theater major in college.

As a publicist, he would help launch the career of the playwright Edward Albee by promoting his first full-length play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” at the Billy Rose Theater in 1962. Some critics dismissed it as salacious, but Howard Taubman raved in The New York Times that it was written by “a born dramatist” and “marks a further gain for a young writer becoming a major figure of our stage.”

Mr. Atlee also helped found the Negro Ensemble Company, which offered opportunities to fledgling Black actors and other theater professionals, including would-be publicists.

In 1956, when he was 30 and working as a press agent for a summer theater in Camden, Maine, Mr. Atlee began what became more or less a behind-the-scenes gig, even for a press agent accustomed to operating backstage.

“One day driving to the theater I saw a kennel,” he told The New York Times in 1970. “I stopped, and when I left I owned a smooth dachshund.”

He started to show dogs in 1962. Four years later, Ch. Celloyd Virginia Woolf, a dachshund he had gotten as a birthday present, was a top winner. He later donated a bronze sculpture of her to the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog.

“I named her for the hit show ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,’ which I was handling,” Mr. Atlee told The Times. “The play ran for 18 months and my little dachshund was constantly in the headlines, for she was doing her big winning.”

Mr. Atlee and Mr. Albee had been associated since Mr. Albee’s early days at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village. When the producers Richard Barr and Clinton Wilder gave Mr. Atlee a copy of “Virginia Woolf,” which, even when trimmed, would run for a loquacious three hours, they declared, “Here it is, if you can get through it.”

“Atlee read it through at one sitting and immediately telephoned Barr and Wilder and told them they were going to win a Tony Award for the play,” Mel Gussow wrote in “Edward Albee: A Singular Journey” (1999).

“‘I was just so sure about it,’ said Atlee,” Mr. Gussow continued. “‘It was so dynamic on the page.’” (As Mr. Atlee predicted, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” won the Tony Award for best play.)

Howard Atlee Heinlen was born on May 14, 1926, in Bucyrus, in northern Ohio. His father, Howard E. Heinlen, was at various times a cabdriver, a firefighter and a real estate agent. His mother, Blanche (Neumann) Heinlen, managed the household.

Howard graduated from high school in 1944 and then attended the Ohio State University. He was drafted and joined the Navy during World War II and, after serving, enrolled in Emerson College in Boston, where he earned a degree in theater in 1950.

In New York, where he became known professionally as Howard Atlee, he briefly worked as an actor and theater manager before becoming a publicist for a range of productions, from Off Off Broadway to Broadway, including the 1969 revival of “The Front Page” (1969), “Bette Midler’s Clams on the Half Shell Revue” (1975), the Neil Simon-Marvin Hamlisch-Carole Bayer Sager musical “They’re Playing Our Song” (1979) and “Children of a Lesser God” (1980).

He was also a press agent for the Theater of the Absurd and the Women’s Interart Center.

Mr. Atlee began breeding dachshunds in his Manhattan penthouse; he later bought in upstate Stone Ridge, N.Y., where he also kept two Salukis he imported from Sweden; two whippets, one from England and the other from Puerto Rico; three golden retrievers; two bassets; and one bloodhound.

He founded the Knickerbocker Dachshund Club and served as a judge at many competitions, including five times at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

He retired as a press representative in the 1990s and returned to acting, appearing onstage in “Dancing at Lughnasa” and other plays and in bit parts on television series like “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

He met Barbara Anne Schumacher, an Amoco Oil Company marketing executive, at a competition where she was showing her Salukis; they married in 1977. She died in 2013, after the couple had moved to Maryland, her home state. His closest survivors are nieces and nephews. Six siblings died before him.

For several years, Mr. Atlee lived in Laurel, Md., with the family of Mr. Singh, who was a taxi driver when he befriended Mr. Atlee and now makes custom shirts.

For Mr. Atlee, breeding dogs and competing in shows was a serious pursuit. But as an occasional actor, he rarely took himself too seriously.

He was often credited with suggesting what became a Westminster Kennel Club tradition: feting the winner at Sardi’s, the landmark theater district restaurant, where he or she is served, seated at a table, with paws resting on a white tablecloth.

Mr. Atlee was also the president of the Dog Fanciers Club of New York, whose regular meetings included one at which a talent scout advised owners on how to get their pets into show business. But, he explained to The Times in 1993, the members of his club did not engage in the sort of envious rivalry that some dog owners display.

“That only happens at dog shows,” he said.


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