Jay Brooks Martin, a highly successful stage manager in New York for more than 40 years, died peacefully at home on July 27th 2015 following a long struggle with pulmonary disease. A charismatic and kinetic man with a wicked sense of humor and flair for the dramatic, he led production crews in a variety of theatrical venues and as a teacher at City College of New York, but ultimately spent most of his career with Staging Techniques helming industrial shows and conference meetings for major corporations.
His work took him far and wide, and he delighted in his trips to Europe, where he hung out at the George V and the Savoy (among other fine establishments), as well as throughout the United States. A company newsletter from 1985 joked about his “life sentence” in LA working on IBM shows: Systems Engineers Symposium, Administration Conference, 100% Club and Leadership Forum. It then pointed out he would get to travel to Maui later on for another IBM event. The job took him to Hawaii no less than four times. Memphis had him working in a theatre honoring jazz. Las Vegas was host to numerous shows, many of them tech-related. He called it Lost Wages. He was not a big fan of the Nebraska gigs but he made the best of it, always finding something to laugh about. He would rename the shows to reflect his take on them – a Clark Equipment show became “Forklifts in Space”; a work in progress for Broadway was “Disco Confuso”.
An early sequence of shows for Activision brought every electronic game they made into his home at the very beginning of the video game craze and he excelled at most of them. He was comfortable working on early computers, programming many of the 96 slide projector shows he worked on. Much of the work for Staging kept him very up to date about business – he worked on the Chrysler show that introduced the “K” car, the product that saved Chrysler in the 80s. He worked a launch of a new Boeing plane that had him in a harness suspended above the floor in a 747 hangar – a huge space and not the most comfortable seat in the house. But there were other shows that were not as felicitous. He was appalled by a “show” in which the entire room of attendees was fired via a video presentation. He had no respect for corporate high-handedness at the expense of the workers and this “show” broke his heart.
His crews knew him to be a perfectionist while working a show, but the life of the party in their off hours. It was while doing a long stint at a resort that he convinced his crew to buy a croquet set and a Weber charcoal grill, and from then on at every gig lasting more than a week, Jay and his “boys” could be found in the early evening playing a fierce game of croquet. They divided themselves into “shooters” (those possessing great skill with the mallet) and “lawyers” (those having great knowledge of the rules and keen eyesight). Jay was a lawyer in those games. They pooled their per diems to buy food and grilled for themselves. Jay showed them how to grill pork roast and sauerkraut and marinated lamb – recipes he’d learned from his family. It made being away from home a little easier for all of them. It was another big happy family in his life, and he was devoted to them.
Their tributes poured in following his death: “To know Jay was to love Jay. There was no other option.” “He was in all essence, my Yoda.” “I can still summon up the Jay of yesteryear...on 40th Street...elevator doors open and there he is...that smile and energy and always the big hugs…”” There will never be anyone to match his dark quick wit, his kind intelligence. I just loved how he laughed so easily. He was always encouraging when you needed it. He had an energy that was contagious.” “He was a great storyteller and liked to be loud.” “There are people in this world whose existence gives us some sense that all is right with the world. Jay was one of those.” “So many people in this world are better for knowing Jay.” “Bring out the croquet set and you will see the honorable Jay Martin Attorney at Law in full glory.” “He was the best of the best.” “You are well Loved because you have Loved well.” “He taught me how to call a proper show and I still use his advice to this day!” “I love Jay Martin... for his sense of humor and his grace under pressure I witnessed many times first hand.” “…taught me the art of cooking on a Weber grill!” “…funny, solid, and I was always glad to be on a show with Jay!”
Jay was born June 22, 1946 in Oak Park, Illinois, the second of four children of Arthur Stanley, a highly respected Chicago dentist and Betty Pickett, a teacher turned homemaker. He attended Oak Park/River Forest High and then Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. His love of theatre began in high school and was reinforced through his summers in the upper peninsula of Michigan at the Keweenaw Playhouse in Calumet. Beginning as an apprentice there doing eight-week musical summer stock with a professional company, he moved on to performing occasionally and assisting the stage managers. It was the best training imaginable for a career in theatre and he learned his craft well, from building and breaking down sets and lighting, to managing props, to calling a show and managing rehearsals. Eight shows a season provided a variety of challenges and helped make him an efficient and unflappable stage manager.
While at Drake he became interested in a radio station (KFMG) that played classical music. He and his roommate got themselves hired and on the air. His knowledge of classical music and ability to pronounce many foreign names was one of his unexpected talents acquired at home through his father’s love of classical music. Nevertheless, he soon moved on to managing the station. The son of the station owner and a fellow student said “…he was an integral, make that an essential part, of the show. Because he was JAY. It wouldn't have been any fun without Jay… he really brightened the landscape”. The radio staff produced a newspaper, Radio Thrills Monthly, and he was very proud when the FCC sent in their subscription request.
He also became politicized during those years. A committed anti-war protester and self-proclaimed hippie, he reveled in the 60s ethos of making love not war. A lifelong passion for studying history and the news made him a formidable debater on all manner of political issues, and he was loud and proud to be a Democrat. Right out of Drake in 1968, he ran a regional radio team for the McGovern campaign and was crushed when that campaign failed. He had no patience for bigotry, prejudice, lies and the Republican philosophy in general and would argue quite vociferously with anyone holding a differing viewpoint. A close friend said, “Jay's love of learning always made for such spirited conversations on a variety of topics history and politics being foremost.” News headlines of war, genocides and terrorism made him ineffably sad. He loved the Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War even though it made him cry every time he watched it.
Jay had great motor skills and fiddly fingers – the perfect combination for both games and for building things. He also had a fine sense of design and proportion and he used them to great effect building massive sets to fill the Great Hall at City College with crews solicited from the acting program. He had enough of the performer in him that the students related to. It was a testament to his ability to make the hard work fun that kept them coming back for more. Eventually he taught stagecraft and that provided him with steady labor for the many productions he built and designed. His carpentry skills also served to make a lot of the furniture he lived with. He claimed to be nothing more than a stage carpenter: it all looks great from ten feet away.
Supporting all his endeavors was his extended large, boisterous, loud and loving family. A cousin wrote, “When I was a kid none of my friends believed I really liked my cousins. Even in college people were skeptical when I looked forward eagerly to holidays. They just didn't have the right cousins. And to love and enjoy the extended members too. What a blessing. All those wonderful years - whether we were close geographically or not.” Jay was always a favorite with the younger generation because he would play and playact with them. They stole his shoes and giggled when he made a big dramatic fuss. He was silly and completely unselfconscious about it, a trait that everyone who knew him recognized and loved.
He claimed he wasn’t any good at sports, but was on his high school swim team where he excelled in the butterfly stroke. His brother and cousin taught him to scuba dive before anyone knew what that was. He met Jacques Cousteau when he was ten and got an autograph that said “Down you go” and so he did. He loved the water but especially Lake Superior where he spent time every summer until his final year. And he loved the 1929 Thompson wooden boat that was his father’s. He worked hard to maintain its integrity and then shared those skills with a friend at Staging Techniques who spent many years building a boat with lots of help in the shop on 39th St. He served as a “commissioner” of a rather large company football pool made up of employees, spouses and other interested friends, and was to be found watching a game on Sunday afternoons whenever possible. A friend and football fan remembers, “From my perspective I know I loved his silliness and word play. Always inverting things, Baby Horsies for the Colts always comes to mind.” In his later years he became a Yankees fan, though he continued to root for his hometown Cubs.
A New Yorker since 1972, he was a natural tour guide and advocate for his adopted city. His interest in both history and architecture was huge and he loved showing his city to visitors. While teaching at City College he met Deanna, known as Dee, a native New Yorker who had grown up in the theatre, and proposed in a hansom cab in Central Park four years later. A generous host, he and Dee held many dinner parties and other social events for friends and neighbors who became his NY family. A friend noted “He was always raving about Dee's cooking. She was amazing. Sweeping his hand over his plate and exclaiming how fortunate he was, even overcoming a life long antipathy to eggplant, such was the power of his love for Dee”. A downstairs neighbor dubbed them “The Louds” for the racket made cleaning up after such parties. In 1990 he and Dee bought a weekend house in the Catskills, and for the next 20 years they delighted in walking the deep wooded trails around the house, often with the cats as company, as well as swimming in the spring-fed lake. They enjoyed discovering critters and birds, though it was Jay alone who was forever rescuing chipmunks from the cats.
He loved comedy, from old episodes of the “Three Stooges” to “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” Victor Borge’s musical humor tickled him, but Monty Python made him howl with laughter. He loved to perform his own “Ministry of Silly Walks”. He was a huge fan of Pixar animation and Terry Gilliam films. In later years he wouldn’t miss Jon Stewart or Bill Maher for political satire. Devoted to public television and radio, he supported them and several animal rights organizations, along with the ACLU for many years. His musical tastes ranged from classical to folk and rock ‘n roll, but he had a particular love for old-timey jazz from the 20s.
Like the many cats he adored and lived with, Jay seemed to have nine lives. He was badly burned in the early 70s when a generator spewed gas on him and ignited while working with the Puerto Rican Theatre Company one summer in NY. He healed remarkably well and showed few scars other than a loss of hair on his ankles. Not particularly mindful of his health, he tore an ACL in a knee and later developed a hernia, neither of which he had surgically repaired – he didn’t want to take the time out of his busy and productive life. He had an accident with a power tool that required microsurgery on his left hand to repair tendons and nerves but eventually he recovered very well from that. He ran full tilt, lived large and loud, and did very little in moderation. His addiction to cigarettes ultimately caught up with him and he was diagnosed with emphysema and then in 2011 with lung cancer. Following years of treatments, he died at home in the company of Dee and others who loved him.
Jay will rest at the Copper Harbor Cemetery in the Keweenaw, the place he loved best, beside his parents and brother, Bruce, who predeceased him. There will be a graveside memorial service on July 28, 2016 led by Dan Rosemergy, his favorite pastor and friend to the Martin clan for many years. They come together every summer in late July for the annual Central Mine Reunion services in which Jay sang bass in the choir for more than 30 years. It was a highlight of his summer vacation. He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Deanna Greenwood (nee Weiner), sisters Carolyn Meyer (Charles), Constance Martin, and many loving cousins, nephews and nieces, neighbors and friends.