OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Region's theater icon Bill Wellman celebrates 90th birthday

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2014-06-18T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Region's theater icon Bill Wellman celebrates 90th birthdayBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Bill Wellman, our region's entertainment icon who started both Bridge VU Theater in Valparaiso and then helped launch Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, celebrated his 90th birthday on Monday.

Surrounded by family, friends and lots of cake, best of all, he was surrounded by one of his favorite things: memories.

He served up some of his best stories in his published memoir "It's Made to Sell — Not to Drink" (2006 AuthorHouse $29.95).

Wellman is the man who gave us Wellman's Restaurant in Valparaiso and the accompanying BridgeVU Theater, both popular hot spots in the 1960s and 1970s which led to him helping create today's Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, which opened in 1979.

Bill has a collection of Hollywood's who's who stories that are unparallelled. From Rosemary Clooney, Imogene Coca, Kenny Rogers, George Lindsey, Joan Bennett and Phyllis Diller to Count Basie, Perry Como, Duke Ellington, Jerry Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Henny Youngman, he worked with them all, and chronicles some very juicy stories in his book. A few copies of the book (which are even autographed) are still available in the gift shop at Theatre at the Center on Ridge Road in Munster. FYI: (219) 836-7418

Speaking of parties and show-biz stories, Bill's book offers some very interesting accounts of the "after-concert parties" held by hip-swiveling Tom Jones and his manager son Mark, along with 20 "specially selected" invited females from his audience, all sharing in the same festive fun and frolicking in the Star Plaza hotel suite Jones was provided when he performed.

Bill's sense of humor is one of his greatest gifts. One of my favorite funny stories in his book involves his father wearing "his birthday suit" at age 81 when he decided to join as a member of the Admiral Health Club in Merrillville, which also had an attached bar with a glass wall which allowed patrons to see the relaxing scenery of the club's indoor swimming pool.

Bill: "Dad, did you have a problem at the health club a couple weeks ago?"

Dad: "Yes I did. The young fellow who signed me up and gave me the tour of the place didn't tell me there was a women's dressing room on the other end of the pool. I took it for granted it was only a men's health club, so I [left the men's lockerroom] and walked around the pool naked."

In his book, Bill said he told his dad about how he had heard the story from two waitresses who were working in the bar area which was called The Sub Pub. "Oh my, there is a naked man walking around the pool!" one waitress said to the other. "That's Guy Wellman, Bill's dad! He's 81!" the other gal replied with shock, prompting the first waitress to comment, "For an 81-year-old man, he's not half bad!"

"My dad took in the rest of the story, then followed with a classic of his own, by asking: 'Which waitress made that statement?'" Bill said.

"That is exactly what I would expect to hear from Guy Wellman Sr., my father."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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