TERRY GROSS, host:
We're remembering Jack Wrangler, who died last week at the age of 62.
People who didn't know Jack Wrangler and Margaret Whiting were mystified by their relationship - a former gay film icon married to a famous singer more than 20 years older than him. But they were together for decades, although they didn't marry until 1994.
Margaret Whiting is the daughter of songwriter Richard Whiting. Johnny Mercer was like an uncle to her. Jack Wrangler produced a couple of Johnny Mercer tribute shows Margaret Whiting starred in.
In 1988, she told me how she met Wrangler back in 1976.
Ms. MARGARET WHITING (Singer): There's a wonderful place in New York where everybody would go in show business and everybody else called Backstage. And there was a piano player there, and we would be introduced by the owner, Ted Hook. And he had introduced this charming gentleman that I was looking at across a table. But I thought I knew him. And they said, his name was Jack Wrangler, and he was doing such and such a picture - I wasn't paying much attention.
Then, they introduced me, and I got up and took a bow, and then Jack came over to the table. He said, I've loved your singing and I'm an admirer, and I think you're terrific.
I knew I knew him. Now, I had met him as Jack Stillman who was a director in Chicago and doing all the top shows there. But he had gone to a gym, and his body had changed and he's changed his hairstyle. So, I said I didn't recognize him. I said, what are you doing here? And he said, well, I'm doing my act.
So, I said, good, I love to see it. He said, well, you can come next Wednesday night, I'll have stage manager leave tickets. So, that was that, and he left. And Ted Hook came over to me and said, you said you were going to see his act, I suggest, he said, you know what he does.
I said, no. He said, well, he makes porn pictures. I said, you're kidding. He's so charming. He says, he is charming. I said, Ted, I don't understand. A week ago, you introduced me to Jaime Gillis, who was going with a gal that's a wonderful food critic, and he's in porn pictures.
I said, two weeks before, you introduced me to Harry Reems. What is this? He said, well, they're all great guys and they all come to the restaurant. So, anyway, it was too late. I thought about it, and so a girlfriend of mine and Ted Hook and somebody else went with me. We went to the theater. Jack couldn't have been nicer. He was very charming.
He got up. He talked about how he got into porn pictures, and some of the funny things that had happened. And he introduced me. And I got up and took a bow. And then he came to - out front and said, I'd love to see you again. So we made a date for brunch and we sat at my house for awhile and went downstairs to brunch, and I found out that he had the same kind of background I did.
He came from Beverly Hills. He had been a kid star. He'd won an Emmy for "Faith of Our Children." And he'd been directing, and then suddenly I don't know he wanted to get out of that. He wanted to go back to Hollywood and act and he couldn't get a job - he tried. So he got a job in a play and I guess, he took his shirt off and then he took his pants off. He wasn't nude, but somebody came to him and said, do you want to do another play?
And some film man saw him and said, would you do this part of this picture. And that's how he got into it.
GROSS: He made his reputation in gay porn films…
Ms. WHITMAN: First, and then he went into heterosexual films.
GROSS: It must have been - it must've seen a potentially very treacherous kind of relationship that you're involved in.
Ms. WHITING: Yes. Yes. And I had no intention of getting involved. But we had the same kind of background, we went to the same schools, years apart, went to the same dancing school. And then - you've met Jack, and you know the kind of person he is. He's a very fine person. And I realized that he'd gotten into this somehow and he didn't know how to get out.
But then, I talked to Jack and I said, look, you're a very fine director and you're a good actor, you should come to New York where they're far more forgiving and understanding. And he realized that there was no future in it, but he was stuck in it in a while. There was nothing else he could do.
GROSS: There's a 20-year age gap…
Ms. WHITING: Yes.
GROSS: …between you - 20 years older than he is. Now, what has, being in a relationship like that, has made feel you older or younger?
Ms. WHITING: It's made me feel just as I always feel. Age never meant an important thing to me. And Jack and I have a terrific time. We've worked together - he'll do my act, he'll direct my act, he'll find me material. I help him with what he's doing. I listen to every scene that he writes. I helped him with his book.
I mean, I read every chapter and made suggestions. And we're very helpful to each other, and as people we find there's a need for each other. And we never even worried about the age.
GROSS: Margaret Whiting, recorded in 1988. Jack Wrangler died last week. We'll close with Whiting singing the song with music by her father Richard Whiting and lyrics by her mentor Johnny Mercer.
I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of song, "Too Marvelous for Words")
Ms. WHITING: (Singing) You're just too marvelous, too marvelous for words.
Like glorious, glamorous and that old standby amorous.
It's all too wonderful, I'll never find the words.
That say enough, tell enough, I mean they just aren't swell enough.
You're much too much, and just too "very, very"
To ever be in Webster's Dictionary.
And so I'm borrowing a love song from the birds
To tell you that you're marvelous - too marvelous for words.
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