Saturday, February 14, 2015

Jack Kelly: A Valentine's Mystery Solved? :)

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone!

On February 14, 1963, the Ocala (FL) Star-Banner reported that Jack Kelly had arrived out of the blue at Six-Gun Territory, a newly opened Wild West-themed attraction near Ocala. According to the news story, the park's PR director, Frank McDowell, was mystified by JK's unscheduled appearance.

Although JK explained that he had dropped by "to see a friend", it still seemed odd to see him unexpectedly strolling the streets of Six-Gun Territory...on Valentine's Day, no less. Had the actor become a real-life maverick? Why had he suddenly appeared in Florida?

Actually, a follow-up story printed in the Star-Banner on 2/17/63 shed a little more light on JK's seemingly impromptu visit to the Sunshine State. This story identified the friend he'd visited--Bob Marks. Marks was a Thoroughbred horse farm owner who later became president of the Ocala Jockey Club. (Trivia: In 1972, a colt born on Marks' farm ran in the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. The colt's name? Smiling Jack--but he wasn't named after JK.) 

Betty Wardlow, the writer of the 2/17 story, noted, "Jack Kelly, who looks very much at home at Six-Gun Territory, is a tall, good looking gentleman, much better looking in person than on television, who likes to hunt and fish. No, I didn't ask him if he had any money pinned inside his coat, but I was tempted."

JK told Ms. Wardlow that this was his first visit to Florida and he was quite taken with the Ocala area and its beautiful horse farms. The article even included a photo of JK showing card tricks to Marks. It also added that JK had gone on from Ocala to "Crystal River on business".

Thanks to a 1963 press photo which recently joined the Kellection, I think I know what that "business" was:

Yes, that's JK blissfully piloting a golf cart with his lovely wife Donna (May Wynn) smiling beside him.

The photo caption says, "RIDING GOLF RANGE--Maverick star, Jack Kelly, and wife saddled golf cart during vacation at Florida's newest resort, Paradise Plantation Hotel and Country Club at Crystal River on Florida's west coast. Kelly broke from work developing a new western series to vacation at hotel's opening weekend."

And, guess when that opening weekend was? Articles in the Star-BannerLakeland Ledger and the St Petersburg Times announced the $1.5 million resort's grand opening would occur on February 15, 1963--one day after JK made his surprise appearance at Six-Gun Territory.

Well, the mystery behind JK's visit to Florida may be solved, but it's no mystery now that his marriage wasn't really all that sunny in 1963. He and Donna divorced in 1964. The Paradise Plantation resort also went through some rough patches, but it still exists today. It's now known as The Plantation On Crystal River.

And, that "new western series" JK was reportedly developing? In early 1963, there was mention of a possible TV series based on the 1940 film Boom Town which would have paired JK with his former Warner Bros stablemate Clint Walker. That may have been the series the photo caption was referring to, but, unfortunately this Boom was a bust and never came to fruition.