By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Robert F. Gray, a theater professional who touched many lives in the Mahoning Valley through his work at the Youngstown Playhouse, died Jan. 14 in Grand Rapids, Mich., of pulmonary fibrosis at age 79.
Gray’s theater career included long stints as an actor and director in New York, Youngstown and Grand Rapids, Mich., where he is also revered as a theater legend.
He performed in “The Fantasticks” off-Broadway in New York from 1969-72.
Gray, a Michigan native, was director in residence of the Youngstown Playhouse for 14 years, from roughly 1972 to 1986. After that he took his career to New York, but returned intermittently for directorial jobs at the Playhouse.
Bentley Lenhoff, former Playhouse executive director, knew Gray for more than 60 years and worked extensively with him in Michigan and Youngstown. Lenhoff will deliver the eulogy at Gray’s funeral Saturday in Grand Rapids, where Gray has lived since 2005.
“The last time I worked with Bob was in Youngstown about four years ago,” says Lenhoff in his eulogy. “He was directing ‘On Golden Pond.’ The actor playing Norman Thayer could not learn his lines. Bob asked me if I would step in and direct and he would play the part. We had five days before opening. But Bob learned the lines, an incredible feat considering his age, and did he ever play the role. Magnificent.”
In 2009, Gray received the Best Male Actor award for community theater in Grand Rapids for his role as Norman in “On Golden Pond.”
Louise Haladay, who now lives in Erie, Pa., also knew Gray well from her work at the Youngstown Playhouse.
“Working with him was a joy, learning from him was a treat,” she told The Vindicator. “He was a perfectionist but so am I, so we complemented each other. His knowledge of fine arts was extraordinary. He was as brilliant offstage as he was onstage.
Traveling with him here and abroad was sheer delight in that he could point out things that no guidebook could. A perfect gentleman, a Renaissance man, his influence on the lives of ‘the old Playhouse gang’ is indelible, especially mine.”
Joe Scarvell, a longtime Playhouse veteran, recalled Gray’s skill as a technical director. “There was a choreography to how he moved people on stage,” said Scarvell. “He knew where he wanted the audience to look and he made them look there.”