Paul Gregory, Risk-Taking Showman in a Golden Age, Is Dead at 95

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He was born James Burton Lenhart on a farm near Waukee, Iowa, on Aug. 27, 1920, to James and Esther (Taylor) Lenhart. When James was 9 the family moved to Des Moines, where he attended public schools.

He absorbed literature, and at 14 read stories and comic strips on a local radio station. He acted in school plays, wrote essays on subjects like prime interest rates and won a scholarship to Drake University in Des Moines.

As a student he promoted campus concerts. But, wanting to be an actor, he quit college after a year and moved to Hollywood. He was handsome, and MGM, glimpsing another Gregory Peck, signed him up and changed his name to Paul Gregory. But after a few minor roles he quit acting.

While working as a soda jerk, Mr. Gregory booked dates for a church choir and met the singer and actor Dennis Morgan, who introduced him to his agents at the Music Corporation of America. In 1947, MCA hired Mr. Gregory for its New York office, to book tours for orchestras and prominent entertainers. In 1949, after seeing Mr. Laughton give a televised Bible reading, Mr. Gregory persuaded him to undertake a national tour reading classics. It was a hit, and the partnership launched Mr. Gregory’s career.

He continued to produce plays in the 1960s, but never repeated his early successes. In the 1970s, he taught at San Diego State University.

In 1964 he married Janet Gaynor, the star of silent and talking pictures who won the first Oscar for best actress in 1929, when the Academy Awards began. She died in 1984. He married Kathryn Obergfel, an art collector and gallery owner, in 1998. She died in 2001. Mr. Gregory, who lived in retirement at Desert Hot Springs, about 10 miles north of Palm Springs, apparently had no immediate survivors.

In reporting on Mr. Gregory’s death in November 2016, nearly a year after it occurred, The Desert Sun noted that the Desert Hot Springs Historical Society had designated Mr. Gregory a “Living Treasure” in 2005.

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