Marjorie Kurdle

The Baltimore Sun

Marjorie Kurdle, who performed on local stages for nearly four decades and became an assistant to New York producer David Merrick, died of lung cancer July 28 at Stella Maris Hospice. The Towson resident was 68.

"Marge was a leading lady in every way," said F. Scott Black, liberal arts dean at the Community College of Baltimore County and a theater director. "She was a Baltimore theater light. With that husky, deep voice, she could belt [out] a song with the best of them."

Born Marjorie Sires in Monticello, Iowa, she earned a degree at Stephens College and attended the University of Iowa. While pursuing a singing career in New York City, she met and married a Baltimorean, Joseph Kurdle, a jazz musician.

They moved to Baltimore, where she was cast as Dorothy in a 1962 Baltimore Actors Theater production of The Wizard of Oz at the old Ford's Theatre on Fayette Street.

Years later, she performed with the same company as Glinda, the Good Witch.

A 1975 Evening Sun article said she played that role "with pretty elan and blond panache."

"She was a very good actress and a very good singer," said her sister, Marilyn Baker, who lives in St. Augustine, Fla. "She had that charisma, too. You couldn't keep your eyes off her when she was on stage."

From the 1960s through the early 1980s, Ms. Kurdle had leading roles in local productions of Hello Dolly, Carousel, Oliver, The Pajama Game, Follies and West Side Story. She was Maria in The Sound of Music, Desiree in A Little Night Music (where she sang "Send in the Clowns") and the ebullient, indefatigable Mame Dennis in Mame.

"On the stage and in her personal life, she was the personification of Auntie Mame," said Jim Handakas, a close friend and Baltimore Opera Company official who directed her in that role on three occasions. "She was an amazing person. She did not take no for an answer."

He recalled her clear voice. "You could always hear Marge," he said. "And while she could belt over the orchestra and not need a microphone, she could bring an audience to tears with a tender song."

In the early 1980s, Ms. Kurdle returned to New York and became a personal assistant to producer David Merrick.

For several years, she was a touring company understudy in the Merrick production of 42nd Street and often went on for stars Dolores Gray and Bibi Osterwald. When the show played Baltimore, she performed at the old Morris A. Mechanic Theatre.

"I thought it a daring move for Marge," Mr. Handakas said. "She was then 42 years old and wanted to make it in New York. But she always had incredible stage presence."

She moved back to Baltimore about 15 years ago and joined the staff of the Baltimore Opera Company, where she planned promotions and fundraisers.

A memorial service is planned for the fall.

In addition to her sister, survivors include a son, Aaron Kurdle, of Sedalia, Mo.; her mother, Daisy Sires, of Adel, Iowa; a brother, Douglas Sires, of Polk City, Iowa; and a granddaughter. Her marriage to Mr. Kurdle ended in divorce. She was also divorced from Sam Pace.

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