by Michael Dale
Legendary playwright Robert Patrick shares some thoughts and remembrances of the late Jack Wrangler...
Jack Wrangler, the man who invented porn stardom, has died in New York, "peaceful and comfortable," according to his doctor, Wendy S. Ziecheck. Jack, a Hollywood child (Marilyn Monroe baby-sat him), was getting nowhere much as an actor when a porn movie was offered him. He consulted with his father, a producer of Bonanza, who told him, "just be the best." Jack took his screen name from his jeans and became the first identifiable personality on the tiny, blurry screens of gay porn. At a time when most "adult" actors wore socks and even masks, he created a persona modeled on the Marlboro man - butch, beautiful and unashamed. And imitated! The gay "clone" look (plaid shirt, jeans) was inspired by Jack's signature outfit. Having conquered gay porn with no real competition, he moved on to the more lucrative straight area, and, according to him, lost his heterosexual virginity on camera! He then met and married singer Margaret Whiting, magically compatible because they were both "Beverly Hills brats." They were enviably, and to many people inexplicably happy. Jack successfully produced and directed many stage shows, but wryly remarked that all publicity about him, even thirty years after he took off his jeans forever, still began "Porn Star Jack Wrangler." Jeffrey Schwarz's excellent documentary, Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon, just last week won as Best Alternative Release at the Gay Video News Awards.
In 1980, John Glines got Jack to appear in my play T-Shirts. The role of Jack's roommate called for a funny fat man, who had a funny fat nude scene. Every fat actor in New York turned it down, so I played it. Jack was rigorously professional, a joy to work with. There was but one rough spot. The third character, a stray twink, was played by one Dale Merchant. Halfway through the play, Dale and I had a scene while Jack was out to the store in a rainstorm. Just before he re-entered, a stagehand would toss a pan of water on him. Jack, I repeat, was a professional. Dale and I were more freewheeling. At each performance, our scene would expand as we improvised new jokes. A page before Jack's re-entrance cue, the stagehand splashed him. But Dale and I continued, Jack dried up, and the stagehand wetted him again. Finally, at a matinee where he had to be doused a third time, he slammed the door open before his cue and acted the ensuing scene with clenched teeth. When I got too close to him as I hurried to catch up with the staging, I got a professional elbow in a kidney with a force that would have knocked a lighter clown down. The scene returned to normal length.
Photo by Wren De Antonio: Robert Patrick and Jack Wrangler in Patrick's play, T-Shirts, produced by The Glines, 1980
After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Shea Stadium pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.