Abe Burrows, 74, a renowned wit and comic writer who was a major figure in the Broadway theater as a director, Pulitzer prize-winning playwright and "play doctor" who saved the failing works of others, died May 17 at his home in New York after a long illness.

Mr. Burrows was widely regarded as one of the principal developers of the sophisticated on-stage blend of song and story that typifies one of America's characteristic art forms -- the musical comedy.

A grandson told the Associated Press yesterday that Mr. Burrows had Alzheimer's disease.

The raspy-voiced New York City native was particularly well known as the author or coauthor of four major musical hits of the 1950s: "Guys and Dolls," "Can-Can," "Silk Stockings" and "Say Darling."

His Pulitzer Prize for drama came in 1962 as coauthor of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," an exuberant and high-spirited satire on the climb up the corporate ladder, which poked fun at the soberly conformist success ethic of the 1950s.

Mr. Burrows also directed that play, as he did most of the others that followed "Guys and Dolls," his first Broadway production.

That smash hit play, based on short stories by Damon Runyon and peopled by raffish, gruff-talking hustlers and gamblers, premiered in 1950 and won the New York Drama Critics Award.

As a so-called play doctor, Mr. Burrows was appreciated by theatrical insiders, who spread his fame, but he believed that the ethics of his behind-the-scenes aid to others forbade him to disclose his achievements.

"It would be," he once explained, "like a plastic surgeon who, when a guy walking along the street with him says, 'Gee that's a pretty girl,' replies, 'Yes, but you ought to have seen her before I fixed her up.' "

Before winning fame on Broadway, Mr. Burrows had achieved a considerable reputation for comedy as the writer of radio scripts and as an occasional cabaret performer of satirical and unconventional songs.

They bore such names as "Leave Us Face It, We're In Love," "The Girl With the Three Blue Eyes," and "I'm Strolling Down Memory Lane Without a Single Thing to Remember."

In his role as performer, he also enlivened radio and television panel shows with his wit.

A man who once sought to bring Jane Austen to the stage, he demonstrated on these shows an erudition that some found surprising, given its delivery, in a voice that was likened to a laryngitis-stricken foghorn.

He came by this style naturally, growing up as a boy on the streets of the Bronx and Brooklyn, the son of a businessman with a soft spot for vaudeville.

After two years at the City College of New York, and a period at New York University's school of finance, where he studied accountancy, Mr. Burrows went to work in Wall Street, rising from messenger to bond salesman.

Later came stints in the employ of his father in the paint and wallpaper business, and as a salesman of maple syrup and of garment labels.

One day during his years in commerce, he said later, he learned that good prices were being paid for a commodity he could readily produce: humor.

"Somebody told me comedians were paying high prices for jokes. Two dollars a joke."

These led to performing on New York's Catskill Mountain hotel circuit, a legendary training ground for comedians, and to writing entire scripts for nightclub acts and radio.

After a few years, in which he established a following among comics and wits on both coasts, he became the chief writer for "Duffy's Tavern," one of the best-known radio comedy shows of the 1940s.

Although he could poke fun at a wide variety of serious targets and conventions, Mr. Burrows was a firm believer in certain show business institutions. He valued the star system, explaining that performers' professionalism made his work easier.

He also believed in certain regularities of dramatic structure.

"I think you should be able to say 'The End,' " he once told an interviewer. "I'm tired of taking people to the theater and having 'em say 'Is it over?' My role as a playwright is to make an audience go out feeling complete.

"You may have saddened them but you owe them a satisfactory exit," he said. "You know, catharsis, or whatever you call it."

Mr. Burrows married Ruth Levinson in 1936. They were divorced in 1948.

Survivors include his second wife, Carin, two children, a brother, a sister and three grandchildren.