Saturday, July 17, 2010

Jack Kelly - This "Way" For JK! :)

Hello Everyone!

Hope you're ready to do some time travelin'. And, be sure to dress warmly, because the Wayback Machine is set for December 1964. Location: The historic Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, PA.

A new comedy is having a try-out in Philly before heading on to Broadway. It stars an erstwhile TV gambler and a young actress who had recently played an important role in a now-legendary film.

As we take our seats, we glance at the cover of the Playbill we were handed as we entered the theater. Wow! :)

It's Jack Kelly and Collin Wilcox in The Family Way. (Well, that's the name of the play, anyway. ;->)

Our tickets were a bargain:

(The highest ticket price listed is $6.50, for New Year's Eve. )

The Playbill has a nice biography of JK, and to pass the time before the curtain rises, we read all about our favorite Maverick. Hmm...he's no stranger to the stage, that's for sure. JK debuted on Broadway at age nine in Swing Your Lady, then went on to School House on the Lot, Stopover, St. Helena, and Ghost of Yankee Doodle. As a grownup with five seasons of Maverick under his belt in 1962, he performed in summer stock and on Broadway in Sidney Kingsley's Night Life.

There's lots more interesting info in JK's bio, but the play is starting...

A couple of hours pass and it's time to go back to 2010. I'm sure we enjoyed watching JK on stage as "Phil Brennan", an agent who becomes romantically involved with a widowed actress (Willcox) whose precocious young son wants his mommy to be in "the family way" so she'll get a new husband and he'll get a new daddy.

Unfortunately, though, the play wasn't exactly Neil Simon, and, not surprisingly, the critics didn't think much of The Family Way.The production made it to Broadway in early 1965. However, it lasted a mere five performances at the Lyceum Theater. The New York Times attributed its swift demise to "negative reviews".

One of those reviews came from the Times itself. It begins:
"The story of The Family Way takes place in Los Angeles, and it's a pity it didn't stay there."

But, a review in the Los Angeles Times was scathing as well. It described The Family Way as "a sniggering attempt at comedy" and "a dim-witted, blatant and tasteless charade". (Ouch!)

In an interview years later, Ms. Wilcox (who passed away in 2009) described The Family Way as "an awful play".

Which is mystifying, because it involved a lot of talent. Besides Jack Kelly and Collin Wilcox, there was playwright Ben Starr (whose curriculum vitae includes episodes of just about every classic TV show) and director Michael Gordon, who'd helmed successful film comedies such as Pillow Talk with Doris Day.

Well, sometimes plays just don't gel, no matter how skilled the personnel.
And while The Family Way was stinkeroo, the Playbill is still boffo for JK fans. It's full of wonderful, quirky little details. A credit reads, "Mr. Kelly's accessories from Countess Mara and Arden for Men". Another credit states, "Scotch courtesy of J & B Rare Scotch. Gin courtesy of Old Mr. Boston Gin. Bourbon courtesy of Heaven Hill Bourbon. Champagne courtesy of Eugene Cliquot." (I wonder if these potent potables were used on-stage, or off-stage to help cast and crew forget the bad reviews? ;->)

There's also a lengthy article in the Playbill titled "The Insiders Speak Out", which presents "some fundamental facts about the day-to-day economics of Broadway." One of the industry "insiders" quoted in the article says, "Since World War II, the audience for serious plays has diminished to a considerable extent in New York." His name? Warren Caro, who was the Executive Director of the Theatre Guild-American Theatre Society--and Jack Kelly's brother-in-law at the time.

Lots of photos from The Family Way here--enjoy! :)


  1. Great playbills ... love your funny commentary and the tidbits of info you passed along.

  2. I know this post is old but I work right across from the Walnut Street Theater. Too bad the play was bad but cool to think Jack Kelly was at one time so close to where I work. Actually quite a few famous stars performed there.

    Not anymore today while still a beautiful theater it is mainly used for more local productions of famous plays. I would love if it could be used for Broadway tryouts again.