Professor Maryellen Clemons of the theatre department died on Feb. 7 at the age of 64 after battling lung cancer.
She served as a faculty member for more than 30 years and acted as executive administrative director of the teenage drama workshop for high school students each summer for 16 years.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from CSUN in the 1960s. After earning her master’s degree at Wayne State University in Detroit, she came back to teach at CSUN in the 1970s. Clemons retired in 2005.
As a child of vaudevillian parents, she acted in 1950s movies such as “The Glass Slipper” and “The Night of the Hunter.”
Clemons was also the chair of the search committee that brought current theatre department chair Peter Grego to CSUN in 1984.
“When she came here to get her bachelor’s degree, she was a showgirl in Vegas,” Grego said. “She would go to classes and then she would drive Friday and she’d do the shows the whole weekend as a showgirl with the bangles and the beads and feathers and all that.”
“She was obviously talented enough and the grades were good enough that she legitimized herself and she got her graduate degree at a very prominent program in Detroit,” Grego said. “She literally went from showgirl in feathers and jewels to Shakespeare when she went to graduate school.”
“She was most proud of the years that she was the director of the teenage drama workshop, the summer program,” Grego said. Mare Winningham, a member of the 1980s brat pack, was one of Clemons’ students in the drama workshop.
Clemons was especially devoted to her mother and her pets, and “she always had a huge van or SUV,” Grego said. “I’d never know what I’d see in that back window, dogs, cats, anything.”
“Her brother told me that when she was put in intensive care in October, they told him she would survive a week,” Grego said. “(She survived) four months.”
“When a faculty member visited (her), they said she’d be gripping onto that bed, but she was not about to let go,” Grego said. “She was very strong-willed.”
“I think she produced her (own) memorial,” Grego said. “It was very show biz. There was a recording of her singing a song called ‘I’m Still Here’ and it was really quite a theatrical choice that even in death she’s still here.”
There were also bagpipes at the service. Grego said she will be fondly remembered for her wry sense of humor.
“She touched a lot of people,” theatre manager William Taylor said. She directed, choreographed and acted in shows, he said.
CSUN alumna Ann Gibbs worked with Clemons on two productions and called her “a generous, fluid actor.”
“Working on stage with her was a study in acting,” Gibbs said. “I was saddened to hear of her passing, but am confident that the fruits of her labors will continue through the work of her students.”