Saturday, August 3, 2019

All the World's A Stage With JK - Pt III

Once Upon A Time In Toronto

The current hit film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is set in 1969 and climaxes with a fictional riff on the horrifically real murders of starlet Sharon Tate and other victims by the Charles Manson "family".

However, this isn't the first time the killings have been viewed through a prism of make-believe. Only five years after the actual murders occurred, a play premiered in Toronto which cast Sal Mineo as a Manson-like cult leader, with Jack Kelly portraying one of his victims.

And, the opening night audience was outraged.

Here's how this curious chapter of JK's stage career began:

In March 1974, syndicated newspaper columnist Dorothy Manners reported that Janet Leigh and Mineo would star in Sugar and Spice, penned by Arthur Marx, son of Groucho and a successful author in his own right. The play was set to tour during the summer before premiering on Broadway in the fall.

Things had changed by that September, though, when Ms. Manners announced that Ms. Leigh had bowed out of the play because she didn't wish to spend an extended length of time away from her family. 

However, another reason Ms. Leigh bailed was revealed years later by author Michael Gregg Michaud in his biography of Sal Mineo. Ms. Leigh told Michaud that although she was keen to do theater and the play had originally been pitched to her as an Alfred Hitchcock-type thriller, she found she couldn't even finish reading the script because it was "beyond awful".

Indeed, the play had a shocking plot: A wealthy Texas couple assumes custody of the wife's troubled teenage daughter after she participates in a mass-murder orchestrated by Mineo's character. The parents try to rehabilitate the girl, but soon realize she's more sociopath than "sugar and spice". She tries to seduce her stepfather, and when the cult leader she betrayed pays a vengeful visit, all hell breaks loose. The parents end up being slaughtered by the girl and her murderous guru.

Sugar and Spice was then slated to premiere in November 1974 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, Canada. Michaud wrote that by the time Mineo arrived to start rehearsals in mid-October, the production was "in shambles", with constant rewrites, bickering and a director who would be fired by the time the play premiered.

Veteran character actress Virginia Gregg was hired to replace Ms. Leigh. John Ireland was to play opposite Ms. Gregg, but he was quickly let go. Ireland was replaced by Jack Kelly, who arrived in Toronto for rehearsals on October 28, 1974.

I don't know how JK reacted to the chaos, but Michaud noted that Mineo was so distraught over the situation that he became physically ill. He tried to quit the play, claiming he had hepatitis. A doctor diagnosed Mineo with simply a case of the flu, however, and the show went on.

Sugar and Spice opened on November 11, 1974, after being advertised in Toronto newspapers with a rare "parental guidance" advisory. That should have been the audience's first clue about what was in store for them.

According to theatre critic Urjo Kareda, who reviewed the play for the Toronto Star, "A kind of history was made: a play was last night booed off the stage of the Royal Alexandra Theatre. A steady line of fleeing patrons filled the aisles during the final quarter-hour of the piece, there were hisses and catcalls, and in the final curtain call, there was a wall of 'boos' for all the actors. Had the author and director appeared onstage as well, there might have been bloodshed. Mind you, it'll be a long time before a play and its author more unreservedly deserve this kind of loathing than did Sugar and Spice, which opened last night, and its author, Arthur Marx, who seems to have closed some time ago."

Kareda continued, "One wouldn't want to say that Sugar and Spice was beneath contempt; above all, one wouldn't want to spare it contempt. A dim-witted, foul-mouthed piece of work, it pretended to be making some sort of statement about fanatical violence while it disgustingly took every opportunity to exploit that same violence...Arthur Marx, this peculiar playwright, uses the background of the Charles Manson 'family' and the Sharon Tate murders to work up our sense of dread.

"In his story, Amanda, a former member of the cult family who was in fact responsible for turning in the leader, comes to live on parole with her mother and stepfather on a luxurious Texas ranch...Things do not go well. Amanda's mother (Virginia Gregg, understandably twitchy) suggests needlepoint and clean thinking as therapy; whereas the girl is much more inclined...toward 'kinky habits' [including] stunningly unsuccessful seductions of [a] farmhand...and her stepfather, the now tubby Jack Kelly.

"...Relief comes for Amanda in the form of 'Gloves' Gibson, played by Sal Mineo in two-inch lifts which still leave him looking about four feet tall. Gloves is, you guessed it, from Amanda's other 'family'...[and is] itching for revenge. It's when that revenge is finally demanded on the stage of the Royal Alexandra Theatre that this great first-night audience felt it had been pushed to its limits."

Kareda reported that an angry patron yelled "[Theatre owner Ed] Mirvish is desperate for money!" and concluded, "Given the nature of Sugar and Spice, and given the guidelines provided by the audience, the only moral thing left for Ed Mirvish to do is to close the show as soon as possible."

However, Mirvish stood his ground. Quoted in a UPI news story about the controversy, he insisted that Sugar and Spice would complete its scheduled three-week run, though possibly with some tweaks.

"I feel very sorry," Mirvish explained. "It's very offensive and we have to be much more careful in the future. But, I can't demand changes. It's a new play and they can be dangerous. But sometimes it's more dangerous to suggest changes."

He added, "Personally, it's not my taste. I prefer Lawrence Welk."

The same article stated that producer Michael McAloney and Jack Kelly both angrily disputed Kareda's claim that the opening night audience had booed the play off the stage. McAloney said, "There were some boos, admittedly. And, some people walked out. But, the large majority were there to the end, when many cries of 'Bravo' were heard."

Whatever actually happened that night, Sugar and Spice finished its brief run and was quickly forgotten. Tragically and ironically, Sal Mineo's own life would come to a violent end less than two years later when he was stabbed to death in Los Angeles.

And, Sugar and Spice would be one of Jack Kelly's final stage roles. The venues where he'd romped in frothy comedies, such as the Summer Arena in Canal Fulton, Ohio, had begun fading away by the mid-1970's. JK moved on to different stages for the rest of his performing life, focusing on TV guest roles, his business interests and politics.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Where's Jack? :)

Can you find a young Jack Kelly in this photo? (No, he's not under the sheet.)

I'm sure you can...and you can no doubt name the film, as well. (Hint: its French title is On Murmure Dans La Ville.) Bonus points if you can identify the movie's stars, who are also in the pic.

Please stay tuned for more fun with JK in TDS!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Can You Spare Me a Rib, JK? :)

Howdy Everyone!

The 4th of July is almost here, which means it's time for fireworks and firing up the grill.

As I've noted before here in TDS, Jack Kelly got a real kick out of cooking. And, I found a vintage newspaper story which tells of his love for barbecuing. (Love that goofy pic of JK with wife Donna Kelly/May Wynn!):

"Jack is great at cooking meats either at the barbecue or in the kitchen," Donna told the reporter.

Jack added, "Our barbecue is a popular place. Even in the winter or rainy season we cook things out there and bring the food in and sit on the living room floor at the fireplace to eat it."

The story even includes JK's special recipe for glazed spareribs:

Unfortunately, I don't have a grill, but if anyone else is able (and brave enough) to fix these mouth-watering ribs, let me know and you can tell us all about it in a guest post in TDS! So, toss on your toque and "Kiss the Cook" apron and get grillin'! :)

Monday, June 24, 2019

More Scraps of "Maverick" :)

Happy Monday Everyone!

A one-of-a-kind English artifact recently joined the Kellection. On the outside, it looks like an ordinary composition book:

But, on the inside are pages and pages of neatly arranged 1950's newspaper and magazine clippings about the American west--both the historical and the TV versions.

I wish I could post every page of this amazing scrapbook here, but there are simply too many. So, I'll just concentrate on the pages which feature pix of Jack Kelly and James Garner in Maverick

First, here's a group of clippings of JK and some of his fellow TV westerners--Peter Graves and Bobby Diamond in Fury and Ty Hardin in Bronco: 

A close-up of JK:

A more formal view of Bart:

The caption for the pic of JK and JG on this page is interesting because it says, "Jack (Bart Maverick) Kelly (right) with his TV brother Bret (James Garner)"--it's usually the other way around! And, notice the pic for Gunsmoke. That's the radio version of the series--the TV version was called Gun Law when it was first imported to British screens:

A closer look at the Maverick brothers:

Another page of western favorites. Aside from JK, there's Clint Eastwood and Sheb Wooley from Rawhide and Ty "Bronco" Hardin again. And, another ad for the radio version of Gunsmoke, with William Conrad as Marshal Dillon and Parley Baer as Chester Proudfoot (who, of course, was called Chester Goode and played by Dennis Weaver in the TV version):

Love that smile! :)

Finally, one last page with the Maverick boys (upper right), plus John Russell of Lawman and Peter Graves (this time in Whiplash, an Australian western):

Unfortunately, there are no clues to the identity of the devoted western fan who painstakingly clipped and then pasted all of these images into a simple spiral notebook. But, whoever they were, I'm glad they took the time and effort to preserve this wealth of ephemera from the era when westerns rode the airwaves--even in England. :)    

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Maverick On The Record :)

Hello Everyone!

There's one Maverick Kellectible which you've probably all seen but not heard: a cardboard "record" which was handed out as a promo by Jeep dealers during the heyday of the Maverick TV series. It has a sweet photo of Bret and Bart on the front:

...and a plug for Maverick and Jeep vehicles on the back (this particular example in the Kellection came from a Buick dealership in Sheboygan, Wisconsin): 

This Maverick record shows up now and then on eBay. There's one being offered now for $195 ("Never seen another like it, very rare" the seller claims). Sorry, this Kellectible is cool, but not $195 worth of cool. There's another one for sale at $50, which is still kind of on the high-ish side.

I actually have two of these records. I was delighted to find the first one not long after I "discovered" Jack Kelly in 2009. But, my delight turned to dismay when I read the little blurb on the front: "This is a record. Play it on your phonograph. 78 RPM."

Uh-oh. At one time my family had a record player with 78 capability, but it was given away before we moved when I was a teenager. And that was like in...well, before 2009.

So, I asked around my family and friends, but no one had a turntable that went up to 78 RPM...or even a turntable, for that matter.

So, I figured my little Maverick records would just be kool Kellectibles, silent conversation pieces, items which would be seen and never heard.

Until now.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I finally found a 78 RPM turntable! And, I set forth to free Bret and Bart from their prison of obsolete audio technology.

I feverishly took the turntable out of the box and plugged it in. I gingerly placed the needle on the record and flicked the "on" switch.

Then, I breathlessly waited to hear JK's and JG's voices. What would they say? Would it be "'Hi Bart!' 'Hi Bret!' 'Let's tell the folks all about the new Jeep!'" and other snappy patter?

Well, if you're holding your breath to find out: exhale.

What I heard was the Maverick theme song followed by a low-key James Garner going on about how much he loves playing Bret Maverick, and how Maverick is about two brothers who make their living by playing cards, and the stories take place in different locales, yadda yadda yadda. And, oh, brother Bart is played by "Warner Bros. star, Jack Kelly".

In other words, stuff anyone who's watched five minutes of Maverick already knew. The whole spiel sounded like copy cranked out by the WB publicity department, which it no doubt was. And, yes, I listened to both records, just in case JK spoke on the other one. Nope, both records are exactly the same, with only JG's voice.

So there you have it, JK fans. No need to pay nearly $200 (or even $100) for this glorified piece of cardboard.

Unless you just like the picture on the front. ;)