Last fall, one of my most popular posts among those who come here for the older stars was put forth. It was a collection of rare, regional theatre programs from the early-’70s that contained it-could-only-happen-at-The-Burt-Reynolds-Dinner-Theatre-style pairings such as Don Ameche, Karen Valentine and John Saxon in The Moon is Blue, John Gavin and Karen Lynn Gorney in Dracula or Joe Namath in Picnic! I had purchased a box full of the programs at a local estate auction and couldn’t wait to share their campy qualities with my devoted divers at The Underworld. (As an example of what I'm talking about, can you determine from this cover who it is that is enacting the role of Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly!? Answer in a moment...)
Imagine my surprise when, recently, one of my longtime friends, a theatre enthusiast who had helmed a local company for close to a decade, who has conceived and/or adapted a couple of locally-produced plays and even authored a book on musicals, came to me to announce that the mother of one of his other friends had been at a sale of some sort and had purchased a box of programs for him (again for a dollar!) Joe and I met for lunch and howled together as we perused the stack of programs, most of which, astonishingly, were from the very same theatre company as my own were (Kenley Players), but with not one duplication! There were other items in his stack that went beyond what I had bought, but which were equally fun. I instantly asked if he would be kind enough to lend me the stack of programs so that I might scan in some highlights to share with my readers at The Underworld and he graciously complied. So, here we go!
One aspect of Joe’s programs, by the way, which is as annoying as it is fascinating, is that the original owner for some reason felt the need to write not only the date of the day she saw the production in question, but also the name(s) of whoever she attended with! Thus, you will see this scribbling occasionally on some of the covers. The upside is that it usually pinpoints the exact year of a production, something that isn’t always completely obvious. (Theatre programs very often list the days of the month of a production, but hardly ever bother to denote the year!) As I will demonstrate below, though, even this isn’t always reliable. Unfortunately, thanks to the new blog photo viewer, in order to properly see and read the scans on this page you will likely have to right-click the images and choose “Open Link in a New Window.”
Kenley Players was founded by John Kenley, a peculiar, but very successful, producer of a Midwestern summer stock theatre circuit that began in 1950 and proceeded for three decades or so after. Kenley made it a point early on to bring name brand (if, perhaps, a trifle dusty) stars to his company, knowing that audiences who were typically deprived the chance to see such people would patronize the performances. Here is the billing info for the Hello Dolly! cover portrait from the top of this post. Yes, it was Miss Betty White!
Kenley was a most androgynous person, reportedly spending summers in Ohio as John Kenley and winters in Florida as Joan Kenley! (This in spite of his WWII stint as a Merchant Marine!) Merv Griffin stated outright in his biography that Kenley was a hermaphrodite! A longstanding tradition of his productions was that at the opening night party, the leading man of the show was required to dance the first number of the night with Kenley. Presumably, the gentlemen good-naturedly complied. In any case, he lived until the ripe age of one hundred three, passing away in 2009.
For his first show in 1950, he ingeniously used dynamic actress Susan Peters (tragically paralyzed in a hunting accident) in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, shifting the position of her sofa occasionally to suggest variety of movement. (She's seen here after her accident with close friend Cesar Romero and prior to her accident in a lovely portrait.) Peters remained under contract to MGM for a short time after her paralysis, but ran into understandable limitations when it came to parts. Though she put forth a valiant effort, even attempting a TV series called Miss Susan, she was dead by age thirty-one of illness and the effects of anorexia nervosa.
Some of the later Kenley combinations (which, sadly, I do not have programs for) included Joey Heatherton in Can Can, Florence Henderson in Annie Get Your Gun, Barbara Eden in Finian's Rainbow, Dirk Benedict in Oklahoma! and Robbie Benson in Evita (again in this post, I must employ the abused exclamation point!) I mean, you can't make this shit up! From here on, though, I’ll concentrate more on what I do have evidence of. The 1961 Broadway flop Everybody Loves Opal had starred Eileen Heckart, Stubby Kaye, James Coco and Brenda Vaccaro, but two key unfavorable reviews led to its premature closure. It later became a vehicle and potential comedic showcase for actresses of a certain age and is done in community theatre still today. In ‘72, Kenley’s production starred Phyllis Diller, depicted on the front and back cover (and inside) in ways that had nothing whatsoever to do with her eccentric, raggedy sort of character (a shabby hermit who is suspected of hoarding money and who is infiltrated by a gaggle of would-be murderers.)
The 1964 Broadway hit Luv had starred Alan Arkin, Eli Wallach and (his real life wife) Anne Jackson. It focused on two old college pals who discover that they are both miserable with one trying to offload his wife on the other in order to improve both of their lives. Ten years later at Kenley, the stars were Dom DeLuise, Joyce Van Patten and Bill McCutcheon. (Fans of Steel Magnolias will recall McCutcheon as Ouiser’s love interest Owen Jenkins.)
In 1934, Cole Porter’s Anything Goes had been a hit vehicle for Ethel Merman (who made an augmented film version two years later) and costarred William Gaxton and Victor Moore. It was revived Off-Broadway in 1962 with Hal Linden, Kenneth Mars and Eileen Rogers. Later, The Kenley Players production featured Frankie Avalon, Karen Morrow and Joe Flynn. Morrow was a veteran of quite a few Broadway flops who later worked on a lot of ‘70s television including the Bewitched spin-off Tabitha. In a strange interlude within his lengthy career, Avalon had determined to be billed as Frank Avalon versus the more familiar Frankie. The owner of this program had scrawled 1979 on the cover as the date she saw this, but that isn’t possible. For one thing, Avalon’s bio makes no mention of the gargantuan hit Grease in 1978, in which he played Teen Angel. It is unlikely that such a thing would be left out. More importantly, though, is the fact that costar Flynn could not possibly have performed in a 1979 production of Anything Goes (Weekend at Bernie’s, maybe…) Flynn, the star of McHale’s Navy from 1962-1966 and of several Disney movies, was found dead (and nude) in the family swimming pool on July 19th, 1974! He had apparently either drowned or had a heart attack that lead to drowning. He was forty-nine years old. This production was most likely done in the very early ‘70s as one of the costars, Leland Palmer, was nominated for a Tony for Pippin in 1973 and at the time of this show, such a thing had not yet occurred (though her earlier nomination for 1967’s A Joyful Noise is listed.)
High Button Shoes had been a George Abbott-directed/Jerome Robbins-choreographed musical, running for over 700 performances on Broadway in 1947. It concerned a con-man trying to fleece a New Jersey couple in a land deal, cheating people of the town in other ways all along, eventually being chased through Atlantic City in an elaborate number. The star then was Phil Silvers. In this 1983 production, Gavin McLeod was the headliner. For whatever reason, McLeod’s head shot in the program was merely one from his hit series The Love Boat, complete with captains hat! Perhaps they wanted there to be no doubt about the fact that a popular TV star was being put before the audiences.
Some of the programs that were in this bunch that I didn’t scan, but which I will mention for the curious, include: operatic tenor Jan Peerce in a July, 1971 performance of Fiddler on the Roof, a dry-run for his eventual stint as a Broadway replacement in December of that year, John Raitt in Camelot, The Smothers Brothers in I Love My Wife, Sally Ann Howes in The Great Waltz, Gary Sandy in Barnum (there were no revealing photos!) and McLean Stevenson in Under the Yum Yum Tree. We're also sorry that we don't have one for the hystercial productions advertised here to the left of a highly '80s-ized Morgan Fairchild and James Farentino starring in Goodbye Charlie!
A bit more interesting, to me anyway, is the 1983 production of Pal Joey starring Joel Grey and Alexis Smith, two people I do not associate together at all ordinarily. The Rodgers and Hart musical was done on Broadway in 1940 with Gene Kelly and Vivienne Segal (and June Havoc.) At the time of this production, Grey had already appeared in Kenley shows Cabaret (for which he’d won a Tony and, later, an Oscar), George M!, and 1776. Smith had performed with Kenley Players way back in the 1950s and had, by now, enjoyed her triumphant, Tony-winning stage success in Follies. She followed that up with The Women (as Sylvia), Summer Brave and Platinum, eventually touring as Miss Mona (!) in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. She also did Kenley versions of Mary, Mary and Applause. One of the cast members of this production would soon go on to greater fame. With Quest for Fire under his belt and The Ice Pirates about to be released, young, unusual-looking Ron Perlman would just a few years later become a cult favorite in the romantic fantasy TV series Beauty and the Beast, which ran from 1987 - 1990. He is still a busy actor today, a recent success being the biker-themed FX series Sons of Anarchy. Check out that ‘80s hair and stache!
Speaking of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, there was a program mixed in with the rest from a 1982 tour of the show that didn’t really star anyone of note. It did have a photo of some shirtless cowboys, which I am including not because they are particularly good-looking, but more as a way of pointing out how much the standards have changed since then with regards to the age and physical condition of shirtless chorus men! Lord, I could have done this next to these chaps without too much undue embarrassment…
Another one-shot oddity in the stack was a program from the concert group called The New 4 Girls. Initially called 4 Girls 4 with its inception in 1977, it was a quartet consisting of Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting, Barbara McNair and Rose Marie. McNair, who truly was not of the same era as the rest, quickly departed, replaced by Helen O’Connell. The old gals enjoyed staggering success in this venture among those folks longing for the nostalgic music they’d helped make famous. The ladies had occasional squabbles amongst themselves, most often involving Helen O’Connell, who somehow managed to aggravate virtually everyone despite the success were enjoying together. She was a woman apart, including, at first, her clothing. In a coincidence with regards to this post, it was reportedly John Kenley who said to her, “You look like you’re wearing pajamas next to the other girls.” O’Connell allegedly replied that she was wearing a designer dress herself, but he stated, “I don’t care… They’re all sequined and beaded and theatrical and you look like you just came out of the bathroom.” Eventually, Rose Marie grew tired of the stress and left, replaced by Martha Raye (who also couldn‘t bear O‘Connell.) Then, Whiting departed as well. When Kay Starr took her spot is when The New Girls 4 re-christening came about. In time, Raye was forced to reduce her time with the group and Kaye Ballard would fill in. Before it was over, Rose Marie was back briefly, as was Whiting, but without Clooney, and the whole thing eventually consisted of O’Connell, Whiting and Starr and was called 3 Girls 3! It petered out for good in the late ‘80s after considerable success. Today, Ballard is eighty-six, Rose Marie is eighty-eight and Kay Starr is eighty-nine. O’Connell died back in ‘93 at seventy-three, Raye died in ‘94 at seventy-eight, Clooney passed away in 2002 at seventy-four and Whiting died in 2011 at eighty-six.
While we're on Martha Raye, we have here a program from one of her own Kenley Players productions in 1983. In a rather interesting stroke of casting, she was given the role of Miss Hannigan in hit musical Annie. The original production had run for six years on Broadway starting in 1977. Dorothy Loudon was the first Mrs. H., followed by Alice Ghostly, Betty Hutton, Marcia Lewis and June Havoc. For some reason, the young lady playing Grace Farrell made no attempt to alter her name (Norma Jean Baker) even though (or maybe because) it was the real name of the legendary movie star Marilyn Monroe.
Next, we have a 1983 presentation of No, No Nanette, another old chestnut that was being revived. The 1925 three-act musical concerned marital confusion amongst three couples. After being adapted into a few movies, sometimes with significant alteration to its plot (such as with 1950’s Tea for Two starring Doris Day), the property was dormant for a while. Then, in 1971, a nostalgic revival starred Ruby Keeler along with Patsy Kelly, Jack Gilford and Bobby Van. The version at Kenley starred Van Johnson and Gloria DeHaven. Considering the allegation that Johnson’s already-controversial marriage came to an end when he fell for a chorus boy performing with him in a production of The Music Man in the late ‘60s, one parlor game might be to print off this shot of the chorus of No, No Nanette and guess which fellows either kissed up to or caught the eye of or had to fend off the advances of (or all three!) the leading man.
There was a collection of programs from another local company that I had never heard of, but which also had its share of stars come forth to perform in their shows. The James Alex Summer Theatre was founded in the early 1960s (and, sadly, I don’t know how long it lasted) by a former dancer and choreographer named James Alex. One thing is certain. For at least one summer, he managed to align a jaw-dropping selection of shows and stars. See the photo here for more evidence. It’s from inside the program of Damn Yankees, starring Rita Moreno as Lola (this right on the heels of her Oscar-winning 1961 turn as Anita in West Side Story!) and lists eight more shows in the series, each one with someone famous in the lead. Most mind-boggling of all is the order form at the bottom of the page for tickets. The price range for seats, from best to worst, was $2.85 to $1.50 (with $2.25 resting in the middle!!) Unbelievable.
The cover for Damn Yankees has Miss Rita in a scenario I’ll have to remember the next time I feel too fat to be featured in publicity photos. Her disembodied noggin, cut out of an old head shot, has been adhered to artwork showing a reed thin body in a one-piece costume and heels, brandishing a decidedly unrealistic looking baseball cap in one hand! She’s poised atop her “victim,” a ball player lying on his belly on the playing field.
A closer look at another James Alex Production reveals the musical Flower Drum Song, an Asian-populated Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that had run on Broadway from 1958 to 1960. (Do note that on this and the other James Alex programs, there is mention of the fact that Dayton, Ohio’s Memorial Hall is air conditioned, not an entirely commonplace thing at that time still!) Admirably, considering the date of this production and the geographic location of it, the vast majority of Asian characters were portrayed by true Asian performers.
There’s a more than exotic looking leading lady named Yin Sun. That’s quite a head shot! More interestingly, though, was my spotting of the name of one Chao Li. Playing the character Master Wong, I wondered, could this possibly be the same Chao Li I was thinking about?? I’m referring to Chao-Li Chi, faithful servant to Jane Wyman’s Angela Channing during nearly decade of Falcon Crest. Sure enough, thanks to a photo inside I was able to easily recognize the actor’s familiar gaze. It’s a lesser known fact that Chao-Li Chi (whose character on Crest was also named Chao-Li!) continued to work on TV in guest roles for close to two more decades after the soap’s 1990 cancellation. He died in 2010 at the age of eighty-three.
Dorothy Collins, a Canadian-born singer, had been popular in the 1950s on a series called Your Hit Parade, which highlighted through lavish production numbers the top seven songs in the U.S. each week. She appeared in the 1962 James Alex Production of Brigadoon (alongside someone with the highly unfortunate name of Jean Betty Weiner…) Collins would later take part in 1971’s Broadway smash Follies (as Sally, who sings Losing My Mind), scoring a Tony nomination, but losing to costar Alexis Smith. She died in 1994 of asthma-related illness at the age of sixty-seven.
These programs often feature hysterical advertising and this one is no exception. This page has an ad for an Academy of Dramatic Art run by a Norma Sharkey. Their big claim to fame is that someone called Sandra Sturdivant is now working in summer theatre. Wow… You, too, can be fifth shrub on the right in a splashy chorus. Sign me up!
This one cracked me up, too. Mam’selle Model Agency, owned and operated by Bette Jeane Shively, a Donna Reed-ish lady who is only too happy to straighten out and finish off career girls, teenagers and homemakers who are currently lacking in the proper social and physical graces. Don’t miss the ad at the bottom for Mike Longo’s in which $5.00 will get you a choice seat at the show plus dinner!
Looking at the next page, I thought poor Jack Carson (in town at the time to headline Bye Bye Birdie) had been arrested!! Luckily, he was just checking out the latest in a new fleet of local taxis, the officious-looking driver standing near. Look at some of the phone numbers in these ads. They are still using the old two-letter, five-number ones that are immortalized for many of us by the film BUtterfield 8.
There’s a program from a tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats that doesn’t really contain anything of interest, but which does have a couple of very “80s” ads. I chose to share this one with you for Dodge cars because it features a good-looking man in a revealing Speedo! (I’m always looking out for you folks. Truly!)
This next program is from a tour that came to Dayton (with my best guess of the date being 1977) and starred a very notable leading lady. Lillian Roth was a singer and actress whose career on stage began way back in 1917 when she was but seven years old. What followed was an up and down career, filled with alcohol and tumultuous relationships, that were ultimately recounted in a vivid autobiography called I’ll Cry Tomorrow. That tome was eventually made into a movie starring Susan Hayward, the part earning her a nomination for a Best Actress Oscar (losing to Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo.)
The costar here was Gretchen Wyler. Wyler was a Broadway veteran who I had never heard of prior to about 2006 when I saw her in the terrific documentary Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There. To be honest, I found her to be self-aggrandizing and more than a little devious, though she must be congratulated for her candor in any case. Breast cancer claimed her in 2007 when she was seventy-five years old.
I’m hopping back to Kenly now, trying to space some of the more interesting programs out a bit. This next one is 1983’s Artists and Models and Madness (which I believe is different from the other works that are simply titled Artists and Models, though I can’t be sure. The creators, Michael Sartor and David Sinkler, are unknown to me at any rate.) This one featured several known folks, not the least of which was its leading lady Mamie Van Doren (!), once a 1950s sexpot in the vein of Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe, she had trouble sustaining a legitimate acting career, especially after the 1960s. By the ‘70s, she was doing stage shows that the other blondes, Jayne and Marilyn, had enjoyed success with in their movie renditions (such as Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.) Does she not resemble a platinum blonde Marie Osmond in the shot at the far left?? A sizzling 1987 autobiography shed an all-new light on the blonder and less-covered-up than ever actress and she has continued to capitalize on this new level of notoriety, at varying levels of success, ever since. She is currently eighty.
Also in the show was ventriloquist Jay Johnson, who’d been a cast member of the TV sitcom Soap. Then there were Phil Ford and Mimi Hines, a comedy pairing who’d been together for many years (since at least 1958) and enjoyed considerable success. One of Hines’ most notable achievements was ably doing what was considered the impossible, replacing Barbra Streisand in the original Broadway production of Funny Girl in 1964. (She performed it for 18 more months.) Ford passed away in 2005 at age eighty-five while Hines is still with us at age seventy-eight.
Now, when the show The Unsinkable Molly Brown comes up, such a name as Tammy Grimes (who originated the role on Broadway from 1960 - 1962) or Debbie Reynolds (who portrayed her in the 1964 film adaptation) might come to mind. (Debbie had to practically ask Shirley MacLaine to turn the part down in order to land it, however.) What other names might come to mind as Molly when you look at this Kenley Players program cover from 1982?
How about Miss Connie Stevens?! We’ve remarked here before about her dead-serious desire to play Eliza Doolittle in the film version of My Fair Lady and the frustration she felt towards Jack Warner for not considering her. I guess she was still working out some of her thwarted musical theatre yearnings even by this time. There are several very UN-Molly Brown-ish photos of Miss Stevens in the program, but none more so than the one of her draped in fur with one long, pantyhosed limb jutting out from her pelvic bone onward. (This shot is from her 1976 undercover policewoman opus Scorchy, a film I’ve yet to see, but will celebrate with a display of fireworks when I finally get to do so!) Miss Connie is seventy-three today and is still lookin’ good (thanks, likely, to her Forever Spring line of beauty products.)
The final Kenley Players program is from Promises, Promises. That musicalization of The Apartment was a substantial hit on Broadway from 1968 - 1972, starring Jerry Orbach. Until recently, the show had never enjoyed a revival there, but in 2010, Kristin Chenowith and Will and Grace’s Sean Hayes headlined one that played for about three-quarters of a year. For this 1973 production, the big name was Rich Little, who I must say I never thought of as a singer. He is still alive today at age seventy-three. David Doyle also had a role in this one.
The fascinating thing about this production for me was the actress playing the role of Vivien Della Hoya (originated on Broadway by Donna McKechnie.) Vivien is one of the three ladies who perform the vivacious song “Turkey Lurkey Time.” In this production, nineteen year-old Pia Zadora had the part!! Zadora had one crazy, up-and-down career. Chosen by Burgess Meredith at the tender age of six to play against Tallulah Bankhead in Broadway’s Midgie Purvis, she soon thereafter was featured in the notoriously ghastly film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. She worked a couple more times on Broadway in short stints or small roles before taking to the road in various theatrical tours (meeting her first husband while working on Applause! with Alexis Smith.) In 1982, she reignited her film career with a string of splashy, sexy, trashy films like Butterfly and The Lonely Lady. She won a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer, but also landed three Razzies! Steve Allen made a wisecrack about her one year at the Night of 100 Stars benefit, resulting in her getting the chance to wow the crowd the year after with a startlingly good vocal performance. Having retired in 1999 and now with her third husband, she is fifty-seven today.
I don’t know for certain that I have “saved the best for last” this time out, but I have to put this next batch of photos last because it was really the only way I could work out the formatting. They are hilarious, though. These are pages from a 1975, 30th anniversary tour of Holiday on Ice. Do enjoy the funky costumes, the goofy poses and just the overall campiness of it all. See who is inside the giant, purple, skating cow. See what costume designer Helen Colvig was up to after having worked three times with Clint Eastwood. Find out why I think Jimmy Crockett was always a hit at closing night parties… I hope you had fun with these. It took quite a while to sort through them, gather info and scan them in, which is why it’s been a few days since my last post! I’ll be back soon with more Hollywood fun and frolic.