Memories of a theater veteran

J.E. Ballantyne Jr. shares memories and tons of backstage stories in his new book, “Why I Did It! It’s in the Book.”

Over his 54-year theater and TV career, Ballantyne has been a writer, actor, director, producer and stage manager. Because he worked with just about everybody in the area during that time, his book is like a history of local theater – from his insider point of view, of course. It includes more than 100 photographs, and also some pointed criticism where necessary.

Over the decades, Ballantyne accumulated many tales, and they make his memoir a lively read for anyone interested in the local theater scene.

He said the idea to write a book came from other people. As he would share his stories over the years, he was often told to write them down. He started to do just that about four years ago.

To tie all the vignettes together, Ballantyne couches them in the story of his own life, starting from his childhood.

In “Why I Did It!,” he talks about his early years in Pittsburgh, when he worked with the late and legendary Fred Rogers on the TV show “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.”

He also takes readers through summer stock with the Kenley Players in Ohio and the Civic Light Opera in Pittsburgh.

In the Mahoning Valley, Ballantyne was the executive director of Salem Community Theatre and held a similar post at Victorian Players Theatre. He was a founder of the Youngstown Area Community Theater Awards, and spares no detail on why the program came to an abrupt and ugly end.

Ballantyne had brushes with a few famous entertainers during his career – including Paul Anka, Rich Little and Barbara Eden – and he shares them.

He also worked with just about every local theater person, and includes his thoughts on Bentley Lenhoff, Bob Vargo, Molly Galano, Lynn Nelson Rafferty and more.

To purchase the book, send a check for $28 (includes shipping charge) payable to J.E. Ballantyne Jr. to J&B Production Arts Services, 7130 Locust Ave., Suite 12, Youngstown, OH 44512. It also can be ordered by calling 330-799-6176, on from


Mary Jo Maluso and Rick Blackson, the husband-wife cabaret duo based in Youngstown, are longtime friends of Ballantyne, and they wrote the foreword in his new book.

They will perform holiday music Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at Fitzgerald’s Wine Bar, 1023 Bridge St., in the historic Ashtabula Harbor district.

Never been there? The district is a strip of restored old brick buildings that now house some cool shops and nightlife spots.

Guy D’Astolfo covers entertainment for The Vindicator.

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