Utah actor honored by Hugh Jackman for his contribution to actors all over the U.S.

Jun 11, 2024, 2:48 PM | Updated: 2:53 pm

Mark Shipley pictured during his time in the Navy while stationed on Coronado Island, California. (...

Mark Shipley pictured during his time in the Navy while stationed on Coronado Island, California. (Josh Shipley)

(Josh Shipley)

SALT LAKE CITY — By the looks of his blooming career, Hollywood was a fitting place for a young actor like Mark Shipley in the early 1960s. But he’d eventually come to find Orem, Utah was the small pond he’d been inching for.

“It didn’t connect, I just didn’t care for it,” Shipley said, of Hollywood.

Born as “Arval Shipley” in Texas in 1937, Shipley would spend his adolescence discovering his own talent and observing the world from various stages. After a year and a half of college in California, Shipley joined the U.S. Navy in 1957, where he changed his name, and landed the part of a soloist in the Navy choir.

It was then, at the Globe Theater in San Diego, that a talent scout would hear him sing. The scout suggested he join the 20th Century Fox roster.

“The Navy was actually really good, they let me transfer to a new station so I could go to school, and be closer to the 20th Century lot,” Shipley said.

He would attend what was known then as the Ben Bard Drama school. Shipley was later signed by the Music Corporation of America, known now as Universal Studios.  The following summer, Shipley had been cast as the lead in “The Boy Friend,” and in 1959, Shipley won an Atlas Award for best performance in the musical.

Mark Shipley pictured with actress and presenter Piper Laurie and Midge Chambers at the 1959 Atlas Awards. administered by the Old Globe Theater. (Mark Shipley, Dennis Alstrand, “Mood Down Curtain Up”)

After he was signed, he was sent to the beach one day with a photographer, and encountered a familiar face: Marilyn Monroe. She had been filming her next movie there, “Some Like It Hot.”

“She said, ‘Hey sailor, wanna take my picture?’” Shipley said, giggling. “She posed for me and then said, ‘Come back this afternoon, my suit will be wet.’”

The picture he took would end up on the cover of the book written about him, by Dennis Alstrand.

A photo of Marilyn Monroe taken by Mark Shipley on the set of “Some Like It Hot.” (Mark Shipley, Dennis Alstrand, “Mood Down Curtain Up”)

Hollywood blues

The book, called “Mood Down, Curtain Up: Interviews With Mark Shipley,” discusses the events of his life, and his hidden battle with depression. Despite the exciting and glittery things happening in his life, Shipley still experienced bouts of sadness.

“I’ve suffered with depression all my life. That’s how I became so involved in the arts,” he said. “That’s what soothes me.”

It was after Shipley was discharged from the Navy in 1961 that he stayed in Hollywood. He was there for a year, trying to launch a career that would end up never fulfilling his ache for happiness.

He decided to get married and move to Upland, California. After dating on and off through the 1950s, he married singer Jeannie Black, a recording artist at Capitol Records, and “quite the celebrity at the time.”

The pair opened their own theater there in Upland, California, and eventually relocated it to Ontario. It would become beloved and cherished by many.

The Gallery Theater

The Gallery Theater pictured in Ontario, California. The building was originally a Nazarene church. (Josh Shipley)

The Gallery Theater was opened in Ontario, California in 1967. It would become his legacy and a place that many actors in America would call their home theater.

For some of them, it was literally their home. Shipley, his wife, and five kids at the time would welcome actors who needed a place to stay

“We always had a couple strays living with us there,” he said.

He said the volunteer staff consisted of mostly adult actors, but the productions put on included all ages.

“We just did one production after another, and it’s great what it can do,” he said. “People would come and audition and come just because they loved it. I’m repaying them now, because for many years there were people (who) came to the theater and performed volunteer, without pay.”

When speaking about the Gallery Theater, Shipley became easily emotional.

“Theater can be a really rough place with all the egos that went down. At the (Gallery) Theater, we never had that,” he said. “The actors were all loyal.”

Shipley would become fond of directing actors with disabilities and special needs, which he began in the 1900s. He spoke about it reverently.

“They’re so dear to me,” he said, amid tears. “I just have such a great love for them. They’re so pure, you know just wonderful.”

Shipley said the idea for a group began when a foster mother of a girl with cognitive impairment approached him, and Shipley then took in others with disabilities. Recently, Shipley’s daughter surprised him by bringing them back together, reuniting them for the first time in decades.

Mark Shipley’s daughter, Angela Adamson, coordinated a reunion with Shipley and some of his students in April 2024. (Angela Adamson)

One actor who attended the Gallery Theater, Branch Woodman, ended up becoming successful on Broadway. He was cast in “The Music Man,” which starred Hugh Jackman.

Unbeknownst to Shipley, who attended the show in New York, Hugh Jackman honored him at the show, thanking him for his contribution to actors everywhere.

“I heard a story today that moved me so much,” Jackman said. He went on to introduce Shipley’s former actor student, who hadn’t seen his teacher in over 40 years.

“On behalf of all of us, I want to pay tribute to you, Mark, and to people like you all over the country — all over the world, even Australia. Because without you, this lifes’ passion wouldn’t have happened,” Jackman said from the stage. “It is never ever forgotten Mark, and I know you didn’t just do it for him, but you did it for hundreds.”

Hugh Jackman and the cast of the Broadway musical “The Music Man” as Jackman gives tribute to Mark Shipley in the audience. (Josh Shipley)

“A perfect life”

After Shipley’s time at the Gallery Theater, he moved later in life to Orem Utah to be with his children, who attended college and settled down in Utah.

“They’ve all turned out to be artists,” Shipley said, of his children.

Shipley said one of his sons works at Disney, and another son was heavily involved with Utah’s own Hale Center Theater for years before recently accepting a position at Universal Studios.

Mark Shipley continues to perform a one-man show in care facilities all over Utah.

“I’ve been blessed because my voice is still just so strong,” he said. “I have to keep doing these programs!”

As for his battles with depression and feeling down, Shipley said he hasn’t had a day of it in over eight years.

“One of the things that helped me in getting rid of depression was believing you can do it,” he said. “You have to know you can do it and let the power of your mind help you through. It’s still there! Sometimes, I feel it trying to creep back in, and mentally I say ‘uh-uh.'”

Shipley said he enjoys looking back at his life, and was affected greatly by having to reflect with Alstrand during the process of writing his book. Shipley said there were many questions he had to “dig deep” for, and he had to rediscover some things he’d forgotten. And, to realize the amount of lives his affected.

“I feel like I’ve had a perfect life,” he said. “While I was doing it I didn’t realize, but now I look back and realize ‘Oh my gosh, what an influence this theater was.’ When I get letters from past performers, now I realize how powerful it was.”

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Utah actor honored by Hugh Jackman for his contribution to actors all over the U.S.