Thirty years ago, the stars magically aligned for Cambria’s Pewter Plough Playhouse. By 1984, J.B. Buckley and his beloved Lady O (Olga) were well into their eighth successful season staging theater productions attractive to Hollywood performers.
Buckley’s talent as a window designer for New York’s major retailers sparked his interest in theatrical set design. After serving in World War II, he trained at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. His career highlights include designs for NBC Matinee Theater, MGM, Disneyland and Movieland Wax Museum.
In 1970, he and his wife retired to Cambria. Olga Buckley ran an antique shop while J.B. Buckley intended to add an art gallery and prop museum to their property. Noticing visitors wandering Cambria after tours of Hearst Castle seeking nighttime entertainment, he recognized the potential for a community theater. They opened with Terrence Shank’s company producing “Look Homeward Angel.”
Flash forward to Hollywood in 1984. Actress Mara Purl was nurse Darla Cook in the popular television soap “Days of Our Lives” while Christopher Law mocked, “I was recognized more for my Revlon commercials than my 15-year acting career.”
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Serendipitously, Law was offered the lead in Gardner McKay’s “Sea Marks.” Purl’s agent knew the play was on her bucket list and she would travel anywhere to perform the female lead. The trio’s future destinies collided in Cambria during the summer of 1984.
By 2014, Purl and Law had different careers, but stayed in touch. Law was considering a return to acting after 17 years of family and career bliss guiding Duma African Safaris with his recently deceased soul-mate, Toni Law. Based on her award-winning Milford-Haven novel series, Purl was enjoying a writing career promoting her books and teaching women’s fiction at workshops such as the upcoming Central Coast Writers Conference at Cuesta College. She credited Buckley for advancing her career path since her novels morphed from a hit radio series based on Cambria characters she met while performing at the Pewter Plough in 1984.
At 101 years old, Buckley was, before resigning this year, artistic director for the PPP.
“I miss my son,” he said of James Buckley, who died last year. “He was my best friend and took care of everything at the Plough.”
A regular visitor to Cambria, Purl pondered how to thank J.B. Buckley for mentoring her and Law. She and Law offered to return as benefit readers for the theater version of “Sea Marks.” Law remarked to Buckley, “Thirty years ago, you gave me confidence I was a good actor. You also convinced me acting did not determine my self-worth.”
The duo will perform the full production of “Sea Marks” in 2015. But first, Buckley is auditioning for his November musical tribute to Duke Ellington — before his 102nd birthday in December.