Zev Buffman was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1930. His parents were early pioneers from the Ukraine. His initial involvement in the performing arts began in 1947, while in the 89th Commandos. At the age of 16, he debuted as a stand-up comic throughout Israel, entertaining troops in periods of cease fire during the War of Independence. Zev served from 1947-1950, and returned for the Six Day War as well as the Yom Kippur War. He came to the United States as a foreign exchange student in 1951, moved to Hollywood, California, and worked as an actor while attending college. His first role was playing an Arab guard in the film Flight to Tangier. His most memorable film work was a role in the Cecil B. DeMille classic The Ten Commandments.
By 1960, he had produced his first Hollywood to Broadway-bound musical, Vintage 60, in partnership with Broadway's David Merrick.
In 1962, Buffman purchased and renovated the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, Florida, and until 1971 he was the President/CEO/Owner He also established the Coconut Grove Arts Festival. In 1967 he ran the Parker Playhouse, Ft. Lauderdale's first theater, for 23 years.
From 1976-1990, he was President of the Jackie Gleason Performing Arts Center, located in South Miami Beach. He helped renovate the theater complex and brought in Broadway performers, including Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli, Angela Lansbury and Yul Brynner. The opening of the 3,000-seat performing arts center was part of the real estate comeback of South Beach and the nearby Lincoln Mall.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, he launched the "Zev Buffman Broadway Series" in Ft. Lauderdale, St. Petersburg, Palm Beach, Orlando, Jacksonville, Norfolk, New Orleans and Chicago, as well as the first three seasons of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (known now as the Straz Center for the Performing Arts) in Tampa. Buffman sold his theatre interests to Pace Theatrical in 1988.
Buffman was a general partner/ producer at the Chicago Theatre from 1977-1981, along with partner Frank Sinatra. At this national landmark theater, he partnered with the city of Chicago to oversee a $50 million restoration and reopening. Upon completion, Buffman presented Broadway shows and concert performances by internationally known artists.
He also purchased and fully restored the vintage 1927 3,000-seat Saenger Theatre in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Working with his partners at Pace Theatrical of Houston, the Saenger Theatre became a national landmark and New Orleans' new home for the performing arts.
In the 1990s, Buffman began a new partnership with Wayne Huizenga of Blockbuster Video to become a major player in the concert business. As the President/CEO he planned, built and oversaw four new 20,000-seat outdoor amphitheaters in Phoenix, Southern California, Charlotte and West Palm Beach. The venues were sold to SFX in 1997.
In 2003, Buffman became CEO of RiverPark Center in Owensboro, Kentucky. While there, he founded the International Mystery Writers' Festival.
Currently, Buffman is the President & CEO of Ruth Eckerd Hall, Inc., a performing arts venue in Clearwater, Florida that also operates the Capitol Theatre. He collaborated with the city on the renovation of this historic theater in downtown Clearwater, which reopened in December, 2013. Ruth Eckerd Hall, Inc. also produces concerts for the Major League Baseball team the Tampa Bay Rays, and other organizations and events throughout the United States.
Buffman became involved with producing Broadway shows while living in Hollywood, California. The first show he produced was Vintage 60, an original musical revue that played at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in 1960. He has worked with James M. Nederlander, The Shubert Organization, and his partner of many years, Elizabeth Taylor.
He brought Taylor to her Broadway debut in The Little Foxes. Later, he brought Elizabeth and Richard Burton together to the Broadway stage in the 1983 revival of Private Lives. He also collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber as lead producer of the original Broadway production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Mr. Buffman has also produced many national tours. From 1967-1995, Buffman produced shows as owner of Buffman Entertainment and Sports. He also produced film, television and cast recordings of Broadway shows under his company, Zev Buffman Entertainment, Inc.
Motion pictures and television
A five-year contract with Universal Studios as Producer- Special Projects. With partner Hugh Hefner as co-Producer, they delivered the first part-animation, part live-action film The Naked Ape, based on the best-selling book by Desmond Morris.
A long-term contract with NBC and CTV (Canada) to produce a 39-segment series based on his Broadway hit show Story Theatre.
A pilot for ABC television, Fantasies Fulfilled, starring Walter Matthau, later to become hit series Fantasy Island.