Arts & Culture
Remembering the remarkable Mr. Starcke
Published: November 2, 2011
We lost a genuine San Antonio original with the passing of 90-year-old author, Broadway producer, New Age lecturer, confidante to stars and scalawags alike, world traveler, bon vivant and raconteur sans pareil Walter Starcke on October 25, 2011.
Though born into an old German-American family in Seguin (Max Starcke Park is named after his uncle, a former mayor of Seguin) Walter grew up mostly in San Antonio. His dentist father, Walter Sr., died early on and he and his sister, Ella Mae, were raised by their widowed mother, Juanita (Knolle). Walter would frequently exclaim when passing through former stomping grounds, “I used to ride my bike down this street!” or “You do realize that building over there was a bordello during the war?” My favorite “Walterism” was the confidence he shared one afternoon while driving through a local park, “Oh look, that’s where I lost my virginity. Why, it hasn’t changed a bit!”
Graduating from Jefferson High School in 1939 he went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from Trinity University in 1943. Soon afterwards he joined the Navy, serving as an officer till the end of World War Two. Ending up in New York, Walter became an immediate habitue of the theatre world. He quickly found acting jobs in several Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. He beat out an up-and-coming Marlon Brando for a role in “Night Must Fall” with the English actress Dame May Whitty. He then met the esteemed Broadway playwright and director John Van Druten (“I Remember Mama”) and they soon became, in the vernacular of the time, “great and good friends.” Walter stayed with Van Druten for almost 10 years, in the process becoming his assistant director on the Broadway premiere of “The King and I.” What really got Walter noticed in the entertainment world was his original Broadway co-production of Christopher Isherwood’s story, “I Am A Camera,” starring Julie Harris, which later evolved into “Cabaret.” From there Walter produced several more New York plays, his swan song being a work by James Herlihy (“Midnight Cowboy”) called “Crazy October” starring Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Blondell, and Estelle Winwood. The play was a flop but Walter and Tallulah remained great friends.
After visiting Tennessee Williams in Key West, Fla., Walter bought a home nearby and relocated there in the early 1960’s. He opened Key West Hand Print Fabrics and became one of the developers of the Old Island Restoration Foundation. Rubbing shoulders with the island’s gay literati (Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, etc.), Walter was definitely in his element. Tallulah herself came to visit several times and Walter’s frequent cocktail-hour retellings of “Tallulah and the Boys in Key West” was always high hilarity. One of his favorites involved going to the cinema in Key West with Tallulah to see Tennessee’s film version of his play, “The Rose Tattoo.” Apparently Tallulah and Tenn had a falling-out and she was nervous about seeing Tenn at his home afterwards (fearful she might say the wrong thing about the movie, which she hadn’t cared for). Arriving at Tennessee’s home for drinks afterwards, Tallulah, unable to contain herself burst into the front room and dramatically pronounced, “Oh Tennessee, they’ve simply ruined that bad play of yours!”