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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

ASHLEY, JOHN ROGER (1934‒1997).

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, actor John Atchley was adopted soon after his birth by a Tulsa doctor and his wife,  Roger and Lucille Atchley. John Atchley attended Will Rogers High School and received a wrestling scholarship to Oklahoma State University (OSU). He graduated with an economics degree. He had joined the Sigma Chi fraternity. On a trip to Los Angeles, California, he contacted a fraternity brother, Beverly Barnett, who had also attended OSU and was a publicist for Gene Autry and John Wayne. Barnett advised Atchley to finish college, after which he would help him with a show-business career. When Atchley returned to California, he took “Ashley” as his professional surname. He soon landed the lead role In Dragstrip Girl (1957).

For the rest of the 1950s Hollywood cast him in movies aimed at teenagers. Most of the films played in drive-ins; these included Motorcycle Gang (1957), How to Make a Monster (1958), Hot Rod Gang (1958), and Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958).A talented singer, Ashley signed with Dot Records, released several singles, and in 1958 toured North America with Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, and Gene Vincent.

In the 1960s he starred in “beach blanket” movies with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. The films included Beach Party (1963), Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). In 1962 Ashley married fellow actor Deborah Walley. They had one son and then divorced in 1966. He had a brief marriage with Nancy Moore, and in 1977 he married Janice Coury. In the 1960s Ashley partnered with Earl Snyder and began buying or building movie theaters in Oklahoma. They eventually named the company Home Theaters Incorporated.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ashley began producing and starring in horror movies filmed in the Philippines with Eddie Romero, starting with Brides of Blood (1968). They followed it with Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968)and Beast of Blood (1970). Ashley and Romero created Four Associates, Ltd. to finance their movies. They made bloody films such as The Beast of the Yellow Night (1971), The Twilight People (1972), The Woman Hunt (1972), and Beyond Atlantis (1973), all of them aimed at drive-ins. Because Ashley was in the Philippines when Gray Frederickson and Francis Ford Coppola were filming Apocalypse Now (1979) in that country, Ashley served as an associate producer.

In the 1980s Ashley began producing for American television. He was the co-executive producer for the A-Team (1983‒87) and was the narrator. He produced made-for-television movies, including Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy, Dark Avenger, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. On October 3, 1992, John Ashley died of a heart attack at age sixty-two while filming a movie in New York City.

Larry O’Dell


John Wooley, “John Ashley: Oklahoma’s Drive-in Dynamo,” in Larry O’Dell, comp., Oklahoma @ the Movies (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2012).

Clyde Pritchard, “Former Oklahoma State Student Scores Success as Singing Star,” The Daily O’Collegian (Stillwater), 10 January 1958.

“Tulsan Has a Way to Become a Movie Star: Tap Your Fraternity,” Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City) 2 March 1958.


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Larry O’Dell, “Ashley, John Roger,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=AS009.

Published October 20, 2023

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