Mark A. Marple

Kenley Players

John Kenley had seen some of my handiwork at the Cabaret Dinner Theatre and approached me to come on board at Kenley Players as his Assistant Administrator. I would work with all of the stars, their A.E.A. contracts, lodging, autograph signings, etc. I said I would as long as I could perform in one of the shows that season and that I could still retain my position as Producer at the Cabaret Dinner Theatre and President of M&M Productions (the touring arm of Cabaret).
He agreed and I was in for a whirlwind season.
 


There will only be one John Kenley to walk this earth and no one will ever replace this talented giant of Summer Stock theatre. John was unique in so many ways
but I will tell you that he had a wit and crazy charm that could win over anyone. He used to call me Whitey although he knew my name well, but it was this nickname because of my blonde hair that he found endearing. He also would say the strangest, sexually explicit things to just about anyone (he toned it down for Debby Boone) and constantly tried shocking me. After the first couple of weeks where I showed I was completely unfazed, he went onto easier targets.

I worked long hours in every department at E.J. Thomas for Kenley Players and occasionally bumped heads with Ethel, David and Jerry (the Kenley clan who would inherit the business), I really had kevlar skin and wasn't a threat as I was more interested in learning from the Master than taking over the realm. Because I was self motivated, and other than when John was in the office and I had to type Equity contracts, I was on my own to sell program ads, choreograph fight scenes and work with the new lighting board. It was a grand experience.  








Ken Berry

Ken Berry was a terrific hoofer and our first star of the season. I have a wonderful memory of him standing for over an hour doing autographs after the show and a young girl in a wheel chair had the biggest crush on him and stayed, even though she had been first in line. He was gracious and had a gentle and patient soul.






Debby Boone

This was my first chance to meet David Landay and Larry Kasha of Kaslan Productions who were doing a pre-Broadway tryout of "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" starring the marvelous and beautiful Debby Boone. A kinder soul has rarely walked the planet and she had an angelic voice. She sure could dance too!

I remember one day, David Landay was asking me how I was putting all of these marketing projects in place ("Bye Bye Birdie" bike, 10K worth of donated office furniture for "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying", etc.).
I am sure it was a precusor to him hiring me to go to L.A. and be
Promotions Director for Kaslan Productions.





Robert Urich

Robert Urich was larger than life to me. First he was a Lambda Chi so it made us fraternity brothers. Second, I watched him for hours with his wife Heather Menzies on stage and he was a perfectionist. He would go over a scene dozens of times to get the comedic timimg perfect. I couldn't absorb enough of his craft as he methodically went to work. He knew the "business" side of show. Heather was sweet and matched Robert step by step like in a fine dance routine. When
Vivian Blaine blew onstage it was like a small tornado. I kept replaying in my mind the scenes with Frank Sinatra in "Guys and Dolls". This was a terrific tribute to
Neil Simon's play.

Years later I would meet another FSU alumni and football player at
Florida State University, Burt Reynolds. I also ended up getting my
Masters at FSU. Small Theatre world!



Robert and Heather



Vivian Blaine



I was out doing a great deal of schmoozing for other shows when the Fifth Dimension was rehearsing so I didn't get to see the process but sure did enjoy the end result of them in "Ain't Misbehavin'".





I negotiated a motorcycle from Rick Case Honda to be on display as a
"Birdie Bike" and we had people going to their location to sign up for a contest to win it. There was no purchase necessary but they had to be at the wrap party 
at the end of the week's run to see if they won and pick it up. We sold out that Sunday performance before any other night and we had a lot of subscribers for Friday and Saturday.  



Bert Convey




This was the show I wanted! I sang for John and he said I was a good crooner but not "star" material. He told me that he had said the same thing to John Davidson years earlier. That he wasn't a "Robert Goulet". Davidson went out in the entertainment world, became a well known performer and came back to star in a Kenley show. I didn't have that luxury or time. John said he really liked my acting so he had me understudy Ernst and play bit parts like the Taxi Driver in the run.
I also danced in the routines and lifted Billy Crystal up on a chair. And, I was the only one who could really whistle and had the solo in "Tomorrow Belongs To Me".
All of this and still doing my daily duties as John's Assistant Administrator.

Billy actually wasn't the headliner. It was Donna McKechnie from "A Chorus Line" She was very gracious and threw a lavish cast party. Billy was very serious backstage and totally focused. His wife Janice was in the kissing couple sequence and she was fantastic.
 




Billy is walking towards me in this still. I have the vest and arm bands.
This is from the song "Tomorrow Belongs To Me".












John Davidson for those who may not remember him.




I don't know where the original Kenley program went to but I will use
this one for now. This show starred Don Ameche and Fred Grandy, Gopher
from "The Love Boat". I had a breakfast meeting with Don Ameche and
Peter Bellamy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Peter was interviewing
Don Ameche for an opening week article. It was all that I could do but burst
out laughing as the interview progressed from someone who at 7:30am
smelled like a brewery (more like whiskey) who asked questions of
this talented gentleman of stage and screen. Heck, I remember watching
Don Ameche as Alexander Graham Bell (re-run on T.V. - I'm not that old).
Mr. Ameche just continued on as if the odor and slurring were not noticeable
and I have to admit that Peter's article was a gem.

Another memory I had of this show was when I told John that I had
his set taken care of (I received $10,000.00 worth of office equipment
donated for a backstage pass to meet the stars of the show).



Don Ameche



Fred Grandy



Camelot starring Ed Ames was a fun show that gave me the chance to use the couple of years of broadsword traing I had in L.A. to teach fight choreography. I also spent every night for a week with Ed going over his lines and lyrics.
Now that I am older I can understand how tough it was for Ed to memorize. Even opening night I was stage right running lines and lyrics with him.
 


Ed Ames



After the run Ed gave me a photo and on the back he wrote:
To Mark: With Many Thanks for all your help. To a fine "theater man" -
Regards Ed Ames



"The Music Man" originally was to star Gavin MacLeod, Captain of
"The Love Boat" but we got a call that he had broke his leg and
Dick Gautier was hired to replace him. He did a great job!



Dick Gautier



Gavin MacLeod for those of you who might have forgotten.



"The Greenwich Village Scandals of 1923" was John's big show of the season. He spoke of it all the time despite what show we were working on. This was a show where he brought in Imogene Coca, Cyd Charisse and Rip Taylor.

 
Imogene Coca

Imogene was a delight. She couldn't see very well due to a car accident she had been in so we had glow tape everywhere for her to use. Funny and gracious, I had a chance to meet up with her later at the American Stage Company where she had come to see a production.



Cyd Charisse

 I didn't have a lot of interaction with Cyd Charisse. I remember thinking
what great legs she still had. She stumbled over a dancer on opening night who was laying on the floor but she recovered nicely.




Rip Taylor

OK. I picked up most of the stars at Cleveland Hopkins airport and would
drive them to Akron to the Quaker Square Hilton. Most were wonderful conversations and I would fill them in about the theatre, the town and
sometimes about John. Picking up Rip Taylor was like the
first time on a roller coaster.

When I first met Rip Taylor as he came off the plane, he handed me a
brown paper bag and in a very loud and theatrical voice said
"Here you go My Boy!" and spotting a magazine store that sold candy,
he strode right to it. He bought several pounds of hard candy and
asked for the brown bag. Inside were crumpled up twenty dollar bills.
He grabbed several and threw them on the counter saying to
"Keep the change!" I then followed him out as he rushed to
the escalator throwing hard candy everywhere yelling
"Here you go!"

 After getting his luggage loaded, we paraded to the car with Rip talking with everyone he could. On the trip to Akron, he kept asking me if I could get
taps put on his tap shoes. I said that it would be my mission in life
and he made me laugh the whole way from Cleveland to Akron.
When he got settled in his room, I went off to get new taps. 

When the season was over, I went on to mount "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" one last time at the Akron Civic Theatre. It was on Halloween that John came to see it and the was the last time I would see him.
After the show I headed to Beverly Hills to work for Kaslan Productions.

The one thing that always stuck with me that John said about producing
was "You always want to get your stars on the way up or on the way down,
but never at their peak! It keeps the budget in line."
There never will be anyone quite like John Kenley.


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