I was saddened to hear that Jack Wrangler died last week. He was a one-of-a-kind figure in American entertainment: a porn star who also had distinguished legit credits as both a performer and a producer.
Born John Stillman (his father was a Hollywood film producer, his mother a dancer in Busby Berkeley musicals), Wrangler began his career as a child actor, then majored in theater here at Northwestern University. Starting in 1970, he spent about 15 years appearing in adult films aimed at both gay and straight audiences, while also occasionally working on the off-Broadway stage. But his main focus for the past 25 years was celebrating the music of the great songwriter Johnny Mercer. I interviewed Wrangler for the Reader in 1999, when he brought Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: the Concert to the Chicago Theatre. The production, which Wrangler adapted and directed, melded an array of Mercer songs–including collaborations with such composers as Harold Arlen and Henry Mancini–with passages from John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the chronicle of a murder that took place at the Mercer family estate in Savannah. The touring show featured jazz singer Margaret Whiting–Wrangler’s wife–as well as drag queen Lady Chablis, who had appeared in Clint Eastwood’s 1997 film version of Berendt’s book.
Wrangler passed away April 7 from complications from emphysema. He was 62. Oddly enough, his demise was quickly followed by the death of another 1970s porn icon, Marilyn Chambers, the blond model featured on Ivory Snow soapflakes boxes before she starred in the 1972 Behind the Green Door.