Legendary producer, John Kenley, passed
away peacefully on October 23, 2009. He was 103.
Over 60 years ago, John Kremchek appeared with Martha Graham as a dancer-acrobat in John Murray Anderson’s
Greenwich Village Follies. Mr Anderson told young Kremchek to change his name to Kenley where it has remained ever
John Kenley’s family
moved to the Tremont area of Cleveland from Denver, Colorado when John was a teenager. From Cleveland he moved to New York
City to break into show business.
years of his long, celebrated life have been spent in the theatre. From the early 1920’s into the depression years,
Kenley hoofed and sang, did acrobatics and mimicry. Once he quit performing he found a job as Lee Shubert’s assistant.
As Shubert’s assistant he did many jobs including performing the important role of script reader.
Starting in 1940 in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, Kenley became
a summer theatre producer. Then came World War II and Kenley joined the US Merchant Marines as Pharmacist’s Mate. After
the war, Kenley returned to Deer Lake to continue his summer theatre operation there and in other cities in the Coal Region.
And in 1950, Mr. Kenley became the first producer on record to bring desegregation into live theater in Washington, DC.
The Kenley Players first came to Dayton, Ohio
in 1957. One year later he opened a theatre in Warren, Ohio, followed by one in Columbus, Ohio in 1960.
His Warren operation moved in 1978 to EJ Thomas Hall in Akron, Ohio and for a short time into the Akron Civic Theatre. In
1984 Kenley moved into the prestigious Playhouse Square Center in downtown Cleveland which featured the 3,000 seat State Theatre
as its jewel.
Over the years Kenley
produced thousands of plays and musicals with some of the biggest stars in show business including: Gypsy Rose Lee, Arthur
Godfrey, Hugh Downs, Burt Reynolds, Ethel Merman, Mae West, Billy Crystal, William Shatner, Betty White, Florence Henderson,
Mitzi Gaynor, Robert Goulet, and Tommy Tune to name a few.
Only George Abbot had a longer career in show business. John Kenley can boast that he loved every
star that appeared for him and they loved him in return. Very few producers can say that…and only one lived to the
youthful age of 103.Charitable donations may be made to the Cleveland Animal Protective League (www.clevelandapl.com).