Actor James Whitmore was always, long before I knew him, one of my personal and professional heroes, a Tony and Emmy winner, as well as a two-time Academy Award nominee. As a young actor myself, I admired the versatility of his work: from Broadway to TV to films, from comedy and musicals to serious drama. You can see “Jim”, as I got to know him, in such disparate roles as the bumbling musical comedy gangster (alongside Keenan Wynn) who sang “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” in the film version of “Kiss Me, Kate”, and then watch him in the lead role of a film like “Black Like Me”, which was a very bold film for it’s time.

I met Jim in 1969, when I was hired to play the dual role of his son/ younger self in a new play by Evan Hunter (“Blackboard Jungle”) that was receiving a try-out production at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They brought in a top-notch New York cast, including Audra Lindley, who later married Jim. We all hit it off instantly and remained sporadically in touch after the production had closed. In early 1976, I was called by casting director Gordon Hunt to come in to audition for a production of “The Magnificent Yankee” in Los Angeles. I was in New York at the time and could not get back by the audition appointment. I had read in Variety that Jim and Audra would be the stars of “Yankee”, so I asked Gordon if he could mention to them that I was interested in working with them again even though I was unable to get to the audition. Gordon said he thought it was doubtful because I had never worked before with director Peter Hunt, but said he would ask anyway. The next day, Gordon called me in New York to say I had the role, that Jim and Audra had said they would be thrilled to work with me again and had vouched for me with the director. That show turned into the most memorable theatrical experience for most members of that lucky cast. We played Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Washington, D.C. and were the closest-knit cast I have ever experienced, largely due to the warmth and good will of the two stars. Immediately afterwards, Jim and Audra became the god-parents to my first daughter, Jessica.

Now he is gone. My condolences go out to his family, including his son James, Jr. and grand-daughter Aliah, who teach classes and produce plays at my theatre, the appropriately named Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center.

Edmund Gaynes
Artistic Director
Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center

The Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center is operated by Edmund Gaynes.  If you would like more information about renting the theatre for performances or classes, contact Edmund at 818-679-6160.

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