RAY STRICKLYN WAS NOT A HOUSEHOLD NAME; however, his face was memorable. He and James Dean were friends in New York, often compared to each other, often going on the same auditions. Then Dean went to Hollywood. Two years later, Stricklyn followed. Ray wanted to be not only an excellent actor but also a Hollywood star. That part was not to be.
While under contract to 20th Century Fox, Ray made several films. I first saw him in 1959, in a play called Compulsion, at a little theater on Highland Avenue. His performance was so mesmerizing, I went back to see the play two more times.
Nearly 20 years later, Ray's path again crossed mine. He was then West Coast head of the John Springer Public Relations firm, and I was editor of Drama-Logue. We did interviews with many of Springer's star clients, and Ray's friends David Galligan and Kim Garfield wrote for me. And so, a long, rich and rewarding friendship evolved.
Ray was a private person, impenetrable, not one to gossip (though he loved to hear it), a model of gentility whether onstage or escorting Bette Davis to receive her AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1977.
One time Ray told me he wanted to restart his stalled acting career, which happened in a play called Naomi Court at the long-gone Pilot Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard. His friend Mary Jo Catlett directed it. Though Naomi Court was only a moderate success, it gave Ray the confidence to continue his career. Other plays followed, most notably Tennessee Williams' Vieux Carre, produced by Karen Kondazian, in 1983. Ray played Nightingale, a Williams prototype. It ran eight months at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, owned by acting teacher Milton Katselas.
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In 1985, Katselas commissioned a sculptured bust of Williams for the theater's courtyard and asked Ray to do a 20-minute dedication piece. Ray's prodigiously researched monologue ran for an hour, and Milton asked him to do a run at the playhouse. Confessions of a Nightingale was born. Eva Marie Saint and her husband, Jeffrey Hayden, took out a full-page trade ad exalting Ray's performance. It started an industry rush. Film and television roles were offered, as well as engagements of Nightingale all over the country, including a New York run and bookings in Europe.
In the late '90s, Ray was still touring occasionally but, due to his heavy smoking, had developed emphysema. I learned he was writing his biography, working feverishly as if against time. He asked if I would be his editor, and if I would finish it for him should he die before its completion. He lived two and a half years after it went to print, enjoying the book's excellent reception while enduring the ravages of his disease.
Near the end, he saw few friends, and, in moments, I saw a rage emerge from him that I'd never seen previously. He had realized his dreams. Well, many of them. As the book's title, Angels & Demons, implies, he must have been carrying both on his shoulders.
Lee Melville is the editor and publisher of L.A. Stage. A memorial service for Ray Stricklyn takes place Monday, June 24, 7:30 p.m., at the Canon Theater, 209 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills.