Sunday, November 01, 2009

NY Times obituary neglects to mention that theatre producer was alleged hermaphrodite who lived as John... and Joan

If Wikipedia and other sources are to be believed, the New York Times left some very colorful-- and essential facts out of its obituary for Midwest theatre impresario John Kenley.

The Times notes that Kenley, who died October 23rd at an astonishing 103, made his name "taking large-scale productions to small towns and cities and festooning the shows with headliners like Mae West, Gloria Swanson and (Cloud 9) star Burt Reynolds...

"Mr. Kenley was known to book stars, even unlikely ones, for their box office potential. He cast the television host Hugh Downs, for example, in 'Under the Yum Yum Tree' and the talk show star Merv Griffin in 'Come Blow Your Horn.' He hired Jayne Mansfield, the actress who had been promoted as the next Marilyn Monroe, to star in 'Bus Stop.' (Ms. Monroe starred in the film version.) And he recruited Joe Namath to play the drifter in a 1971 production of 'Picnic,' when he was still near the height of his career as quarterback of the New York Jets..."

Now why would The Times fail to report several colorful facts about Kenley that show him to have been even more of a pioneer in the past century? From Wikipedia:

"Griffin fondly recalls his 1963 appearance and remembers being taken aback by what he did not know was an opening night tradition. At the cast party, the first dance was reserved for Mr. Kenley, and the play’s leading man.

"Indeed, in his 1980 autobiography, Griffin puts in print what had frequently been rumored by many and known as fact by few, 'John Kenley is a registered hermaphrodite.' For his part, Kenley’s retort was, 'I’m not even a registered voter,' but there are many now who state that Kenley spent many a theatrical off-season in Florida as a woman, Joan.

"In his unpublished memoirs, Kenley writes, 'People have often wondered if I am gay. Sometimes I wished I was. Life would have been simpler. Androgyny is overrated.'"

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