by Rita Charleston
In 2001, Dr. Benjamin Kendall, 83, ended a four-decade-long career devoted largely to delivering babies, and started delivering lines instead. He decided the time had come to retire from a successful career as an obstetrician/gynecologist, and he looked around for new ways to fill his days. Acting seemed to fill the playbill.
“In my freshman year of undergraduate work at Temple University,” recalled Dr. Kendall, “someone from the drama department tapped me on the shoulder and told me I was the youngest-looking freshman he had ever seen. I was 17 but didn’t look it. And since the department was looking for someone to play Donalbain, a 10-year-old in ‘Macbeth,’ he asked if I would take the role.”
Kendall agreed but said he was never so scared in all his life and vowed he’d never do anything like that again. But times and people change, and even with all the demands medicine put upon him, Kendall and his wife, Ginny, took time out for other activities, such as scuba diving, racking up more than 2,000 dives all over the world.
“During those dives I made my own underwater videos,” Kendall said. “I also decided to narrate them, but when I heard my voice, I didn’t like the sound of it at all. That’s when I decided to take some voice-over classes to improve it.”
Kendall then took some acting classes to further improve the voice on his videos, which he and his wife now show at various locations around the city. And soon, the old fears of standing on stage and facing an audience were gone, and, Kendall said, he was hooked. Since discovering he can feel comfortable on stage, Kendall has appeared in scores of roles at many theaters around town. He’s even done some film and TV.
“I found I enjoyed the whole process of acting, including auditioning for a role, the rehearsal process, and finally standing on stage facing my audience. I enjoy that transformation of being somebody else for a little while.”
Kendall will soon be seen in “Something Intangible,” Jan. 10 – 26, at Old Academy Players in East Falls. The play tells a thinly-veiled version of the battles between brothers Walt and Roy Disney as they fought to create something radically different, the animated feature-length movie “Fantasia,” in 1940.
In the film version, Leopold Stokowski conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra. “In the play, I portray a character loosely based on Stokowski,” Kendall said. “My character is pompous and flamboyant. He’s a sort of let-it-all-hang-out guy, the kind of character I really love playing.”
Dr. Kendall grew up in both East Oak Lane and West Oak Lane. He graduated in Central High School’s 189th graduating class. He graduated from Temple University in 1951 and from Temple University Medical School in 1955. He did his residency in ob/gyn at Jefferson University Hospital in center city, where he then practiced for most of his 40-year medical career. “I still go to all of my Central High reunions,” he said.
Now happily retired, Kendall said his new role fits him well, although he believes retirement may not be suitable for everyone. “I don’t see it as a one-size-fits-all thing. I think there are people who can be happy in retirement and some people who should never, ever retire.
“But I do believe if you are going to retire, you should find something to do that you view as important and valuable. For me, that something has become acting. I get great pleasure when I can make people laugh, even make them cry. But I definitely want to give them something to enjoy and give them something to think about.”
Happily married for 57 years and the father of three successful, grown children, today Kendall has dropped the title “doctor” and refers to himself as Benjamin Kendall. “I’d been Doctor Benjamin Kendall since I was 25 years old, but I realized that today I am much more than Doctor Kendall. That was only a small part of me. So you can call me Ben.”
Old Academy Players is located at 3544 Indian Queen Lane in East Falls. More information at 215-843-1109 or www.oldacademyplayers.org.
Want to support the Local? Join the Chestnut Hill Community Association. Membership helps fund what we do. Join today.