The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture
THE STANDLEY PLAYERS.
An Oklahoma entertainment staple from 1931 to 1954, three generations of the Standley family shared music, humor, and skit performances with the people of rural Oklahoma. The patriarch of the family, Jack (1878–1961), and his wife, Myrtle (1886–1972), began their careers on the vaudeville stage in 1905. After moving west to be part of Harry Sadler’s Tent Show, they were partners in the Merry Frank Players in the 1920s. By 1931 The Standley Players had their own tent and were following the wheat harvest through Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The show wintered in Oklahoma. Joining Jack and Myrtle on the stage were their children, Johnny (1912–92), Marjorie (1911–91), Eleanor (1917–92), and Martha (1914–2012).
Johnny Standley played the “Toby” role. He also played the “G-String,” or old man character. In 1952 he recorded one of his acts, “It’s in the Book,” and produced the first million-selling comedy record. At that time he worked in the Horace Heidt Review. Marjorie Standley played the female lead for most of the tent show plays. After The Standley Players folded in 1954, Marjorie and her parents toured the region with a life-sized wax re-creation of “The Lord’s Last Supper.” Eleanor Standley performed several roles, usually the child or ingénue. By the late 1940s she had moved to California.
Martha Standley Knott performed as an actor, comedian, musician, and singer for The Standley Players. Martha married Bobby Knott (1913–97), a musician who toured with the tent show. In the early 1950s the couple settled in Oklahoma City. Bobby formed an orchestra and played at clubs, garnering a long-term job at the Petroleum Club. Martha had a radio show on KBYE titled Cousin Nellie, which was similar to Minnie Pearl’s style comedy with an element of country music. Martha acted in and directed many productions of Oklahoma City’s Mummers and Lyric theaters.
The Players’ tradition continued after the troupe disbanded in the 1950s. In the 1980s Martha’s and Bobby’s son, Robert Knott (1956– ), joined the family profession. He has acted in dozens of movies and wrote and produced Appaloosa (2008), a film starring Ed Harris.
“OKC Theater Standout Martha Knott Dies at 98,” The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 27 March 2012.
“Oklahoma Entertainer Dies at 79 [Johnny Standley obituary],” The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 2 June 1992.
“Rites Pending for Tent Show Man in Yukon” [J. T. Standley obituary], Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 14 October 1961.
The Standley Players and Knott Family Collection, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.
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Actors and Performers
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Larry O’Dell, “The Standley Players,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=ST063.
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