Until 1971, Chuck had never done any live theater (or "legit" as they say in the business). But he was always open to work as an actor, so when he was offered the play Mary, Mary, at the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago, he jumped at the opportunity. And Chuck later starred in several dinner theater plays in the 1970s, including The Button, My Three Angels, and Love on the Cusp.
These plays usually ran for eight weeks after two weeks of rehearsals. In all of the plays that Chuck starred in during the 1970s, he was the top-billed lead player in every case. After a trial run of one-week at the Sahara Tahoe in the spring of 1971, Mary, Mary opened at the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago in November for an eight-week run. There were performances seven days a week, and two shows on Saturdays and Sundays.
Mary, Mary was a three-act comedy by Jean Kerr and Chuck was cast as Bob McKellaway, a publisher by trade who makes his home in New York City. The setting is Bob's living room in his apartment, which is also his home office. Bob's divorce from Mary (Faith Quabius) is within two weeks of being final, and he plans to marry his new love Tiffany in a fortnight. Bob's main problem is his finances, which are being exacerbated by the $5,000 in alimony he will have to pay to Mary each year.
Bob's old friend and tax lawyer is Oscar, who comes to Bob's apartment to straighten out his messy tax problems and finances. Oscar also invites Mary over to Bob's, despite his protests, because she knows his finances better than anyone. Also visiting Bob is Dirk Winston, a Hollywood leading man who wants Bob to publish his memoirs, a book that Bob considers unpublishable. Bob jokingly tells Dirk that if he will marry Mary, he will publish the book in exchange.
Dirk takes this joke seriously and asks Mary out to dinner, and when Bob later catches them kissing, he gets jealous. Oscar suggests to Bob that the best thing for his financial problems is to get back together with Mary, but Bob calls that suggestion ridiculous. Because of a raging snowstorm outside, Mary spends the night at Bob's while he sleeps on the couch. The next morning Tiffany comes to the apartment and jumps to the conclusion that Bob and Mary slept together and Mary doesn't correct her. When Dirk comes by to take Mary with him to New Orleans, Bob locks her in the hall closet. By now, Tiffany and Dirk, and of course Oscar, have realized that these two nuts are perfect for each other - their neuroses are perfectly matched. Bob and Mary also realize how much they really love each other and they get back together again.
Chuck and Faith Quabius also took Mary, Mary to the Showboat Dinner Theater in Tampa, Florida in May of 1972. Of the four different plays that Chuck did in the 1970s, this was probably his favorite. The play had originally been done on the New York Stage with Barry Nelson in the lead role and Nelson also starred in the 1963 filmed version with Debbie Reynolds as Mary.
Chuck did the final stage work of his career in the early weeks of 1979, in an eight-week run of the comedy by Roger Karshner, Love on the Cusp, at the Drury Lane Theater. Chuck was cast as Jerry Graham, an All-American male who goes to pieces when his wife Eleanor (Faith Quabius), an astrology nut, informs him that they can't have sex for thirty days because her planet is in retrograde. Eleanor is advised by Rhoda, a sexy astrologist who bilks her clients with fake advice. Things get worse for Jerry when Eleanor becomes infatuated with a TV repairman named Joe, who is only after her money, and Jerry is forced out of his home and into a crummy apartment. But Jerry is a brilliant manipulator and reverses the situation, winning back his wife's love and exposing Joe and Rhoda as the con artists they really are.
Chuck had a fabulous time with his legitimate stage work in the 1970s, most of which was done at the famous Drury Lane Theatre in Chicago. Drury Lane owner Tony DeSantis, who owned the theater from 1951 through the present (1995), recalled Chuck as a competent actor who was very popular in Chicago, and sold out the theatre all the time. Chuck would always sign autographs after each performance, and DeSantis recalled that, "He was one of the good ones."
In those days the Drury Lane would get many big stars as headliners, and DeSantis remembered some of the names like Ginger Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Claudette Colbert, David Janssen, George Hamilton, Shelly Winters and Gene Barry.
Mr. DeSantis recalled that at one performance in the early 1970s, a member of the audience was Muhammad Ali, the great heavyweight champion, who came to see the play, Mary, Mary. And after the show, there was a private party at the theatre and Ali had several photos taken with the star of the play, Chuck, who was a big boxing fan. In one photo Chuck and Ali are mugging a little bit and shadow boxing each other, and another shot was him giving Ali a friendly bear hug.
Tony DeSantis was a dedicated theatre man who remembered all the great stars from the old days. When asked for a final comment about Chuck, he came right from the heart when he said, "When it came to being an individual, he'd be a nine out of a ten. He was a great guy, down to earth." Courtesy of David Fury, Author
Chuck Connors, "The Man Behind the Rifle"
My Three Angels
The year is 1910. The scene is French Guiana, a region where on Christmas Day the temperature has graciously dropped to 104 degrees. Three convicts are employed as roofers by a family whose roof is in desperate need of maintenance. On their way from France is an evil-minded cousin who wants to oust the father of this family from the business and his cold-blooded nephew, who is jilting the father's daughter for an heiress.
The three convicts—two of them murderers, the third a swindler, take the visitors on. Feeling compassion for the prisoners repairing their roof, the convicts are invited to stay for Christmas Eve dinner and to spend the night. In return, “Angels” Joseph, Jules and Alfred show their gratitude by helping the family in many ways: cooking dinner, setting the table, carrying luggage for guests, waiting on customers, helping with bookkeeping and giving advice. The angels make themselves very comfortable in the environs of a home instead of a prison, showing there may be good in everyone, even those who have killed people. All three convicts have warm hearts and are passionate believers in true justice. In doing so, they redeem themselves as real life angels to the grateful family.
Chuck also served as narrator at the Kansas City Starlight Theatre in a production of Untamed Land. Untamed Land was a musical extravaganza that featured the Americana Dance Theatre in a moving portrayal that presented a colorful interpretation of the settling of the American Frontier. The show was a feast for music lovers. Enhanced by folk instruments, harmonicas, guitars, banjos and mouth harps and the performers touched on all facets of America's overflowing musical heritage. Songs ranged from the chants of the Atlantic seaboard to the fiddle tunes from the Ozarks, hoedown tunes from the Smokey and Blue Ridge Mountains and cowboy songs from the Western prairies.
Chuck has the lead role in this comedy stage play. He stars as Frank Forbes, an alimony-fleeced divorcee. Even with three jobs Frank is destitute and his life is unbearable. Desperate, he plans to murder his wife's attorney and then commit suicide. Frank goes to the attorney's office and aims a gun at him, but Frank wants the satisfaction of having his ex-wife hear the gunshots ending her alimony payments. He forces the attorney to try to reach her by phone. At the same time, the attorney and his secretary (who is also the attorney's mistress) and the attorney's wife (who is also a politician), are held in the attorney's office for a couple of hours while Frank tries to shoot the attorney. They eventually get the gun away from him and as the gun passes from hand to hand each person gets their own taste of Frank's appetite for murder.