Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

Impresario Gene Slott turned ideas into plays and movies

He approached strangers with right arm outstretched, already making an impression from the good shoes to the pocket handkerchief to the presumptive smile.

"Hi, I'm Gene Slott."

First impressions counted, especially in each of his careers. At various turns, Mr. Slott performed standup comedy, headed a public relations firm, sold insurance and guided businesses through mergers and acquisitions.

In between all that, he built a memorable Gulfport theater and produced five forgettable Hollywood movies.

He celebrated with red wine and roses and trips to Europe with his wife. He handled uncertainties, including the roller-coaster effect of his investments, with catch-all bromides, including "It is what it is."

Mr. Slott, an impresario who tried his hand at many things, often with impressive results, died June 4 at an Oldsmar nursing home, the result of Alzheimer's disease, his family said. He was 87.

His finest effort might come closest to home and with the least fanfare. In late 1963, while working in insurance, Mr. Slott transformed an old roller skating rink into a theater. The Pelican Playhouse at 1839 49th St. S held 260 seats, none of them more than 20 feet from the edge of a round stage.

He liked the intimacy of theater-in-the-round, an experience he said made it "almost impossible for the audience to be aloof."

Having wowed local audiences himself with leading roles in The Rainmaker and Death of a Salesman, Mr. Slott believed in the talent. "There are a number of theater groups around, but for the most part they don't have the professional guidance to stimulate actors and excite audiences," Mr. Slott told the Times in 1963.

To create that effect anew he hired Jack Bostick, a former Broadway actor who had directed professional theater in the New York area. The Pelican Playhouse opened in January 1964 with Tunnel of Love, a "Freudian farce" about adoption and infidelity. The theater closed because of insolvency after two well-reviewed seasons.

In 1967, while still operating an insurance agency, Mr. Slott was named president and chief executive of W.M. Zemp's Public Relations Associates. He dabbled in commercial real estate in the early 1970s, but the time wasn't right.

In 1973 he married Yetta Segal. It was the second marriage for each.

Two years later, the couple and their children headed to Hollywood. That year, Mr. Slott and St. Petersburg developer Joe Zappala produced their first movie.

Las Vegas Lady, starring Stella Stevens and Stuart Whitman, featured a trio of women intent on robbing the Circus Circus casino. While it doesn't show up on Internet highlight lists for 1975 films, Las Vegas Lady did play at Tyrone Six Theatres.

Mr. Slott and Zappala followed up in 1976 with Bittersweet Love, in which Meredith Baxter discovers that her new husband is actually her half brother, the result of a one-night stand by Lana Turner.

Mr. Slott went on with producing roles in The Last Chase, with Lee Majors; The High Country; and Baker County, U.S.A. (also known as Trapped and The Killer Instinct). He joined the Friars Club and became a board member, a friend of celebrities including Milton Berle, childhood pal Tom Bosley and many others.

"We had a wonderful life, but we lived from movie to movie," said Yetta Slott, 75.

Gene Marvin Slott was born in Chicago in 1927. After joining the Navy in April 1945, he used his talents as a DJ on the radio station in Guam. Much later, after Hollywood, he would mentor others in business, and was a master at the seemingly spontaneous presentation.

He returned with his wife to the Tampa Bay area in 1984 and sold annuities. The couple moved to Lutz a few years ago. Yetta Slott summed up his attitude with a rhetorical question.

"Was the glass half-full or half-empty?" she asked. "His was overflowing. It would drip down the sides."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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