Chanhassen Dinner Theatres artistic director Michael Brindisi recalled a night years ago when his father came to a show. They watched as Dick Stanley took the stage, shouted a greeting and then recited from memory all the groups who were attending and then pointing out by table and booth who was celebrating birthdays and anniversaries that night.
“My dad said, ‘This is the best part of the show,’ ” Brindisi recalled. “People would always think it was a magic act because Dick could memorize all those names and he did it every night.”
Stanley amazed Chanhassen audiences, greeting theatergoers in the lobby and then warming them up after dinner. Over the course of 17 years, he was the face of the institution to more than 4 million people.
“They called him Mr. Chanhassen,” Brindisi said. “People thought he owned the place.”
Stanley, who retired in 2010, died Thursday night from natural causes. He was 78 and lived in Hopkins.
Stanley grew up outside Boston and joined the Navy after high school. He acted, directed and produced theater in New Jersey for several years before getting into public relations. In 1968, he moved to South Dakota and became the personal manager of country singer Sherwin Linton.
Brindisi hired him as a greeter in 1993, after Stanley impressed him with his knowledge and charm during a cable TV interview.
Actor David Anders, a longtime friend, would rehearse Stanley’s preshow patter with him.
“There was one night when an international group was out there and Dick rattled off all 26 countries that were represented,” Anders said. “He blew my mind.”
In a 2008 Star Tribune article, Stanley said the job was not without pitfalls. He was asked to read a wedding proposal one night from the stage and watched as the prospective bride refused.
“I decided I would never do that again,” he said.
He was also quirky. He didn’t like to shake hands or hug people (“germs,” he explained) and he never changed his wristwatch with the turn of daylight saving time (“Don’t believe in it”). He was a perfectionist in his appearance, wearing a tuxedo, pressed shirt and gold cuff links.
Anders and actor Keith Rice remembered a man who not only kept spirits high among audiences but had a deep concern for morale among the dinner theater’s employees. He organized golf tournaments, softball games and picnics.
“He would always encourage you, even after you hit a bad golf shot,” Rice said. “I’d say, ‘Dick, I hit it into the woods,’ but he’d say, ‘Yeah, but you got it up in the air real nice.’ He was a very sweet guy.”
Stanley is survived by a brother, Don, son Jon and a daughter. There will be a graveside service at noon on June 23 at Fort Snelling.