Jay Stanley, 1929-2014

Jay Stanley, 1929-2014

Longtime American Theatre Critics Association member Jay Stanley, who loved theatre and ran his own Marquee Awards for 35 years – at first in Los Angeles and, later, New Orleans – died peacefully in his sleep on March 8, 2014. He was 84.

Stanley, who in his youth was known for a wavy head of thick black hair and a moustache to match, was a social trendsetter. He and his partner, Jim Chastant, threw lavish parties for celebrities like Carol Burnett, Billy Dee Williams, Diana Ross and Deborah Kerr during the holiday season.

At a time when two men could rarely live together in public, they also pushed the norms of society. The couple adopted an eight-year-old girl, Mara, who hailed from Ontario, Canada. “I met them, fell in love with them and was adopted by them. They were my two dads,” she recalled. “They were the best people in the world.”

The two partners traveled extensively throughout the globe and were often seen in the couple of Co-Co, a capuchin monkey they rescued, who lived with them for more three decades and had her own “passport” with records of her rabies and distemper shots. A menagerie of pets including dogs and several birds – blue macaws, gold-crested cockatoos and a Malaysian parrot – lived beneath their sunny California roof.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1929, Stanley enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was stationed for a time in Japan. Discharged in 1954, he worked in theatre as a set and costume designer and was noted as a very talented sewer and tailor. He acted in several roles and helped to manage the Mayfair Theater in Santa Monica and was involved with the Colony Theater in Burbank.

Eventually, Stanley turned to writing as a critic for the Herald Examiner and, later, its subsidiary, the Herald Dispatch. He began writing his column “Jay Walking in Hollywood” in 1978. He attended most every significant premiere from the late 1970s through the 1990s.

Stanley created the Marquee Awards as a means to acknowledge local theatrical productions throughout Los Angeles and the adjacent valleys.

When Chastant retired from his import-export business, the two moved back to his hometown of New Orleans in the mid-1990s. He and Stanley maintained an opulent, three-story mansion in the Garden District for several years until Chastant’s health began to fail and he was unable to negotiate the stairs.

The two sold their home and moved to nearby Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where they purchased a ranch style, one-floor home. Stanley continued to commute to review theatre in New Orleans, even after his partner passed away in 2003. His “Jay Walking in New Orleans” column was published in the “Viva La Vie!” newspaper and several of his critical pieces were run by the Jewish Civic Press.

Following the destruction of his home and the loss of most of his possessions in the fearsome winds and storm surge from Hurricane Katrina, Stanley relocated back to New Orleans.

The Marquee Awards were given out for 15 out of the past 16 years (with the exception in 2006, following Katrina) to deserving New Orleans area theatre companies and individuals, even when Stanley’s health had deteriorated and he could only move with the assistance of a walker.

He was a longtime member of the Big Easy Theatre Awards Committee that also promotes the local theatre community.

A memorial service was held to remember Stanley’s life on Saturday, March 22.

— Alan Smason

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