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!