A Major Academic Voice in Utah Theatre Education is Silent Today June 8, 2019
Marion Jeter Bentley was a consummate academic and a gentleman who brought London Theatre and Broadway Musicals to Utah’s Dixie and advanced theatre throughout the State
Born in St. George October 27, 1928 of Brigham Young Academy graduates Herbert Roy and Leonora Snow Bentley, Marion was a “U Man” who enjoyed over 30 years at BYU. Bentley graduated Dixie High School and Dixie College (Valedictorian); Drama School and Summer Stock, Plymouth and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; University of Utah (High Honors Graduate, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Theta Alpha Phi); Stanford University (Masters, Henry Newell Scholar); and University of Utah Doctoral Program with Theatre Studies in London: Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts; Central School of Speech and Drama; London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts; and Webber-Douglas School in London, England (the land of his fathers).
Dixie College President, Arthur Bruhn, in hiring Bentley in 1954, quoted U of U Theatre Dept.Chair, C. Lowell Lees: “Marion Bentley is the finest theatre student ever to graduate from the University.” G. M. Trevelyan said of Richard Bentley who was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge from 1700-1742: “…of the 18th Century the history of our College can be summed up in one word. Bentley.” So might the history of Dixie College be summed up by students, colleagues and community who shared the Marion Bentley years.
From 1954 until 1968, Bentley was a professor at Dixie College. He also served as the Chairs of the English Department and later the Division of Fine Arts. But Bentley is distinguished for having brought London Theatre and Broadway Musicals to Utah’s Dixie. He enjoyed numerous productions, drawing from the general student body(including football players) to perform. His musicals were particular favorites of students and the community who both played with zeal on stage and in the audience.
Bentley’s supreme, unequaled dedication to his students’ lives was ever foremost his focus. His Dixie students, Jeffrey Holland (nephew), Bruce Hafen, Jon Green, George Talbot, became his closest BYU colleagues and friends. Holland as President: “Above all else and to a degree increasingly rare, Marion is a student’s teacher. He loves them, he inspires them, and his service at BYU is principally for them.” Hafen as Provost and Assistant to President Dallin H. Oaks: “Marion Bentley is without question among the handful of truly superior teachers I have ever known, either as a student or as a faculty colleague.” Green as Humanities Professor: “Marion J. Bentley opened the door to most of the good that has happened to me since that day in 1957 when he took a chance on me and we both won,” referring to Green’s being cast as the lead in Dixie College’s production of Oklahoma. Talbot as Director of Travel Study: George asked Bentley travelers, “Would you commit to Marion’s next tour not knowing where, when, or cost?” Response: “Yes!” “We would go anywhere with the Bentleys.”
When appointed as BYU President, Oaks brought Hafen to the University and hopes of a new General Education Program. Hafen approached Bentley who was then faculty at New Jersey’s ivy-league Rutgers University. The gist of Hafen’s pitch was that “BYU needs you, but we don’t have a budget to afford you.” Bentley understood and gave notice to Rutgers (trading Broadway song “Nobody Ever Died for Dear Ole Rutgers” for BYU’s “Cougar Song”).
This move came with the rich friendship of the Oaks and the ecclesiastical roots of pure learning in the disciplines. Brigham Young had simply stated: “It matters not what the subject be, if it tends to improve the mind, exalt the feelings, and enlarge the capacity. The truth that is in all the arts and sciences forms a part of our religion.” Although Bentley believed in the importance of theatre as all encompassing of arts and science–the mirror held up to nature–he agreed with Konstantin Stanislavsky: “The Person You Are, Is a Thousand Times More Interesting Than the Best Actor You Could Ever Hope to Be”
It was also said of Richard: “He was not only England’s supreme classical scholar of all time; he also had ideas far beyond the general academic purview of his age.” Later cited as “a principal architect in formulating BYU’s General Education Program,” Marion Bentley “also had ideas far beyond the general academic purview of his age.” BYU Honors Director Robert Thomas said: “Marion Bentley is the only person who can keep a low enough profile for the Program to survive.”
Testament to Bentley’s rigor and innovation in theatre and cross-campus studies are the following. Reba I. Keele, Dean and Professor of Management, University of Utah said “I use every day in my present position skills and content that [Marion Bentley] helped me to learn during the time that I was director of the Honors Program and he was responsible for general education … I believe that the contribution to good teaching by enlightened administrators is often overlooked. Honors Colloquium, still unique to BYU, exists today because Marion was willing to take a risk ... Was his name on the course? No. Was his stamp of quality on the course? Yes. Has he ever been recognized for this effort? No. Has he ever expected any recognition? Not his style. Did he make a difference to the quality of education at BYU? I have no doubt about that.”
For over a decade, Bentley was one of three faculty members teaching an Honors Colloquium at BYU called “The Family in Fiction.” The course dealt with single life, courtship, marriage, divorce and death. Student responses consistently listed this as a life-changing course in preparing them for the adjustments and relationships involved in family life.
Bentley received numerous awards during his career, including an Alcuin Award for teaching excellence. His project, The Directorial Spine, reflected and explained the diverse skills involved in producing a play. In addition to introducing the various disciplines it also served as a framework for the “Introduction to Theater” Course that could be incorporated into an interactive format for use in-class and out, and served as a prototype for internet access to digitalized course offerings from departments across the campus, including mathematics, music, visual arts, dance, and theatre.
Throughout his academic career, Bentley put on more than fifty-five theater productions, which ranged from Shakespeare to Sondheim and virtually everything in between. After his retirement, he continued to direct plays at Tuacahn in St. George, as well as serving on its board of directors. He also served as a member of the Provo City Arts Council, Utah Arts Council, Utah Theatre Association, Association for Theatre in Higher Education.
Beginning in 1972, Bentley took student groups and others on international tours ranging from singular study tours to Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Bali, Japan, China, Russia, Africa, and three around the world trips. He conducted Study Abroad programs in London in 1986 and 1992--during both sessions of which he planned and led the group of approximately 40 students on a month-long tour of continental Europe.
Bentley served as a Military Training Officer in the U.S. Air Force from 1951-1953. He was a life-long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served as a teacher, bishop twice, a High Councilor and Counselor in Stake Presidencies, in addition to many other callings. He was a Home Teacher until this November second when he fell and was no longer able to visit families. He passed away peacefully in his sleep on June 8, 2019.
Marion took pride in his sisters (Alice Holland, Erma Sandburg, Mildred Dailey, Helen Nisson Jolley), brother (Herbert Roy Bentley) and son Shawn Marion Bentley who preceded him in passing. He is survived by wife DeAnna Hawkins Bentley of Provo and sons Jared LeRoy of Alpine [Amanda and children Addison (William Montgomery), Jacob (Jessica), Ethan, Hannah, Joshua, Samuel]; Derek Lowell of Las Vegas, NV; Justin Carter of Burbank, CA [Claudette and daughters Luna and Stella]; Christopher Snow and Richard Gavin of Provo [Nicole and children Bianca, Christian, David]; and Shawn’s wife Becky and daughters Kathryn and Samantha of Fairfax, Virginia.
Funeral services will be held on Saturday, June 22nd at 11a.m. with a viewing from 9:00a.m. to 10:45a.m. in the Oak Hills Stake Center, 925 E. North Temple, Provo. Graveside services will be held on Monday, June 24th at 11:30a.m. in the St. George City Cemetery, 650 E Tabernacle St, St. George. To express condolences visit www.NelsonMortuary.com
In lieu of flowers go enjoy the theatre!