Dayton theater founder Tony Thornburg, 68, dies |

Dayton theater founder Tony Thornburg, 68, dies

Sally J. Taylor
Kay Thornburg

Tony Thornburg, the co-founder and heart of the Dayton Misfits Theater Group, died from complications of lung cancer on Sunday. He was 68.

Thornburg loved the theater. He started in high school and “brought it wherever we went,” his wife of 46 years, Kay Thornburg, said Tuesday surrounded by family and friends who had gathered at their Dayton home.

“It was kind of our family thing to do (plays),” she said.

Tony Thornburg discovered along the way he could write plays. He loved melodramas because of the fun for writer, actors and the audience.

“So many people have a lot stress in their lives and they can come and be with us and laugh for two hours,” said Carol Bauer, who helped co-found the Misfits in 2004.

The Thornburgs settled in Dayton upon Tony’s retirement as superintendent of a school district in California. Within a few months they started a new theater group. About 20 people showed up to the first meeting.

They found a home stage and a name in the historic Odeon Hall in Dayton, where scenes were filmed for the 1961 movie “The Misfits” starring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.

The Dayton Misfits Theater Group staged its first play, “The Love Child” written and directed by Tony Thornburg, in July 2004.

Since then, the Misfits Theater Group has produced about two melodramas a year, mostly written or

co-written by Thornburg.

In recent years, the Misfits have spread out, doing productions in Minden, Virginia City and Carson City. Productions often were fundraisers for community needs such as Meals-on-Wheels and the V&T. The group maintains a fan mailing list of 400 people.

As Thornburg’s health deteriorated, others picked up more of the responsibilities for the productions, although Thornburg stayed involved and was re-elected to the board of directors in January.

After a stay in the hospital last week with pneumonia, he was doing well Saturday and Sunday, his wife said. After an afternoon nap Sunday, he woke up shaking and was taken back to the hospital where he died later that evening.

“Tony inspired us. He inspired us to do more than we thought we could ever do, either by acting or directing,” said Bauer, who now directs the plays, including one scheduled to open April 9. “I believe it would be Tony’s wish that we carry on. We’ll continue in his legacy.”

In addition to his wife, Thornburg is survived by three children, nine grandchildren and a great-grandchild due in April. A celebration of his life is being planned for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Dayton Senior Center.