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PASSINGS: John Kenley, Jeanne Brodeur

Kenley ran a summer stock theater circuit in Ohio; Brodeur was an official at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach

November 03, 2009

John Kenley, 103, a theater producer who ran a legendary summer stock circuit in Ohio that attracted Broadway and Hollywood stars as varied as Ethel Merman and Burt Reynolds, died Oct. 23 at the Cleveland Clinic from complications of pneumonia, friend and press agent Anita Dloniak said.

His Kenley Players started in Dayton in 1957. He later opened theaters in Warren, Columbus and Akron before moving to Cleveland in 1984. His method was the same no matter the theater -- casting stars and personalities for his plays and musicals.

"You'd see them in your home in black-and-white on the Jack Parr or Steve Allen shows, and then Kenley would present them in living color onstage," dancer and choreographer Tommy Tune told the Columbus Dispatch in 2004.

His roster of actors over the years included Billy Crystal, Arthur Godfrey, Mae West, William Shatner, Joe Namath and Cathy Rigby. By the 1970s and '80s, he was casting TV stars such as Pam Dawber of "Mork and Mindy," who played Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady" one summer.

Kenley was born John Kremcheck on Feb. 20, 1906, in Denver. He began acting in the 1920s and once was an aide to famed producer Lee Shubert. Kenley recalled in 2006 how he read four scripts a day.

"Mr. Lee was brilliant, but he was practically illiterate," Kenley told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I barely had a high school education, but I knew what would work onstage."

He became a summer theater producer in 1940 in Deer Lake, Pa., and worked in other eastern cities such as Washington, D.C.


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