John V. Starcevich—1936-2021

The Canyon ChronicleBy The Canyon Chronicle

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John V. Starcevich—1936-2021
Photo courtesy of the Starcevich family Topanga Realtor Tanya Starcevich (l) and Dr. Lara Starcevich (r) in a shared moment with their father.
Final Curtain for Stark’s “One-Man Show” John Starcevich, also known as John Stark, was a Canadian actor, director, and film producer, who started his own theatre company in Vancouver in the 1960s. Early on, his production of Eugene O”Neill”s play, The Iceman Cometh, earned him national recognition. Beginning in the 1970s, his one-man show, An Evening with Stephen Leacock, toured internationally and was recorded by RCA at the National Arts Center in Ottawa, while also airing on CBC, PBS, and Channel 4. He received a Juno Award nomination for Comedy Album of the Year in 1982. He was involved in more than forty productions in Canada, the U.S., and England, including Sons of Freedom, a historical screenplay based on the lives of the Doukhobors, or “Spirit Wrestlers,” a group of Russian emigres who fled Canada to escape religious persecution; Chekhov and Maria (written by his wife, Jovanka Bach), an award-winning feature film that aired on PBS, Russian television, and Super Channel Canada; and Me Myself And I, by Himself, an autobiographical one-man show; A Play on Words about a college professor who faces the challenge of her life; and his most recent work, The Death of Angelique Vitry, a gripping story of the British vs. French during the struggle for possession of Canada. In the 1970s, he traveled to the former Yugoslavia to obtain Miroslav Krleza’s permission to translate and adapt his works. Krleza, widely considered to be Croatia’s greatest writer of the 20th century, granted it to Stark who then translated his “Family Glembay” trilogy, as well as “In Agony,” both staged by Stark in Los Angeles, Canada, and off-Broadway, New York. John V. Starcevich was born and raised in Rossland, British Columbia, Canada. He was the son of John and Vera Starcevich, but since most school kids mispronounced his name, they’d called him “Son of a Bitch” instead. That was one of the first jokes you’d ever hear from Stark, and like most of his jokes, he’d be the first one to laugh. Like the inimitable pattern of swirls in his signature or fingerprint, laughing at his own jokes was just part of his lifelong one-man show. “V” stood for Valentine and he was a hero and a heartbreaker to many. Born in 1936 on Valentine’s Day, Johnny radiated love. He was struck by cupid twice: once with June Stone who passed away in 1977 to cancer, and later to Jovanka Bach, who also had cancer and passed in 2006. As he loved to recall, John met June in Vancouver when they were in their 20s. She was sitting next to her sister Valerie on the beach when he spotted her beautiful legs. He asked her if “this seat was taken,” and the rest was history. After June died, he bravely took on the role of both breadwinner and father, boldly leaving Canada because June had urged him to keep pursuing his career. When he later married Jovanka, a Serbian playwright and medical doctor, his oldest friend, Paddy Bell, said she would make his mother happy because Jovanka was a fellow Yugoslav. Together, they continued to raise John’s daughters, while collaborating on Jovanka’s plays in Los Angeles, New York, and London. Both onstage and off, Stark loved to entertain. In his Stephen Leacock show, Stark tells the story of when Leacock almost killed someone with laughter. Dressed up in cap and gown like the professor, Stark (as Leacock) describes how the audience is afraid to laugh after a man is carried out on a stretcher, at which point he’d say, “My aim was now to kill another one of them…[pregnant pause]...and they knew it.” Even if it was only one person like a cabdriver, his primary objective was to get a smile out of you. He might break the ice with “Have you seen my show? An Evening with Stephen Leacock? Check it out on my website, Did you know that Leacock was a famous humorist? Canada’s Mark Twain. He’d say, “My fee for a lecture is quite reasonable. I find out how much money you’ve got and I promise never to charge a cent more.” If there was a guitar nearby, he’d be playing “Worried Man Blues.” If the moment called for a more philosophical outlook, he’d be quoting Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica,” or preaching his own philosophy: “The beginning of existence can be traced to the first cause which is God, and the essence of God is existence. God has no past or future. God is the eternal present.” John Starcevich was a unique character. He wrote his own story, performed it, and as long as it earned him a laugh, he was content. By the end, he had collected a smorgasbord of homemade (and borrowed) punny delights to suit any occasion, like: “If you haven’t paid your dollar as you came in, please do so as you pass out.” Or, “Sorry to see you go, here’s your hat.” “Sleep tight… I mean, sleep sober.” “If I don’t see you in the spring, I’ll see you in the mattress.” If you asked him, “How are you doing?” he’d say, “I’m doing without.” And then, sometimes he’d say, “Guess what? I quit smoking! Yup! I ran into the shower.” In his last few sweet months, our dad—John V. Starcevich—called everyone a LOT. He was an actor who needed an audience but he also just loved people. Often, when he ran out of things to say, he’d proudly announce in his booming voice: JOHN V. STARCEVICH!!!!!!!! And then hang up the phone. That was our dad, to a “T.” Or rather, a “V.” If you were one of the lucky ones to be on his call list, your phone won’t be ringing now but just know that he’s still working on his next film! The curtain may have closed here on Earth, but it remains open to all the people John V. Starcevich hopes to join him in the wings of his Maker. Adios, Daddios, Dr. Lara E. Starcevich Tanya Starcevich, Realtor
The Canyon Chronicle

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December 24, 2021