Exploring the other Maverick

Linda Alexander favors an underdog.

The 56-year-old Maryland author's intent is to give a fair shake to those who haven't been a staple of the public eye.

Hence, the late Jack Kelly, who died in 1992, served her well as the protagonist of her latest book.

"If you mentioned Jack Kelly, people would say, 'Who is he?'" Alexander said about the actor who played Bart, Bret Maverick's brother, on the TV series "Maverick," which aired between 1957 and 1962. "If you said, 'Maverick,' they would say, 'Oh yeah, James Garner.' But one was no more a star than the other."

It is that lack of visibility that Alexander sought to tackle in her 350-plus-page biography, "A Maverick Life: The Jack Kelly Story." The book will take center stage Saturday at the Huntington Beach Central Library.

Organized by the Friends of the Huntington Beach Library, comprised of nearly 750 volunteers who raised approximately $200,000 for the library last year, the luncheon and fundraiser will start at 11:30 a.m., while the buffet-style meal will be served at noon. Admission is $20, and the event will feature a speech and signings by Alexander, book sales by Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, and an opportunity to meet Kelly's widow, Jo, along with his first wife, May Wynn (a.k.a Donna Lee Hickey), and longtime girlfriend Peggy Cantwell.

"Most of us are very interested in reading, and that's why we've been involved with the library for probably 30 years," said Program Chairwoman Dorothy Boesch. "It's just fascinating for us to hear from authors about how they got involved with writing."

Alexander approached Boesch last year because it was in Huntington Beach that Kelly and his wife laid down roots — an ideal place to celebrate him.

For the writer, the library event is a much-awaited opportunity to put faces to the names of people who helped her get to know Kelly as someone who "lived life his own way." This, she said, is the most rewarding aspect of the entire process.

It was through interacting with his friends and colleagues that she gleaned further insight into Kelly's experience as a guest star and voice-over artist. The book also discusses Kelly's time as a councilman and mayor of Surf City from 1983 to 1986.

"There are biographies out there that list celebrities' resumes, and I personally think that you can find that information in a book, on the Internet, anywhere," said Alexander, whose previous books include biographies of actors Robert Taylor and Allan Lane. "What you can't find that easily is who was at the heart of who that person really was. If I can provide a personal portrayal, I've done my job."

It was Alexander's forthright yet sensitive personality that put Jo Kelly and her daughter, Nicole, at ease when the author reached out with her story idea in 2009.

The couple came face-to-face for the first time on July 4, 1969, Alexander learned, and were married six weeks later after Kelly proposed in the back seat of a limousine.

"He was the love of my life," said Jo, 73, a resident of Huntington Beach. "He had a personality — a tremendous stature — and when he entered a room, everyone noticed."

These are the kind of intimate details that fill this book, which hit bookstores in 2011 — a reflection of two-and-a-half years of in-depth conversations and exhaustive research, during which the writer also battled lymphoma. Now, fans often reach out to her describing a "lump in the throat" when faced by pictures and anecdotes that help them piece together the reality of Kelly's life.

Having read and enjoyed the book, Jo is at peace with the knowledge that it does justice to Kelly.

"It's the truth," Jo said. "I'm OK with it."


Twitter: @RMahbubani

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