The son of a movie and television producer and Busby Berkeley dancer, Mr. Wrangler had starred in dozens of sex films—some straight, some gay—when he met standards songstress Whiting in a New York club called Ted Hook's Onstage in 1977. She was 22 years his senior and had been married three times before. He invited her to his one-man show the next night. The lived together for many years and then married in 1994. Before they became a couple, the story goes, he told Whiting he was gay. She reportedly replied, "Only around the edges, dear." "Their relationship had nothing to do with sexual orientation," Jeffrey Schwartz, a friend, told the New York Times. "It was based on mutual affection and respect."
The two began to collaborate. Mr. Wrangler wrote and directed cabaret shows, including ones starring Ms. Whiting and Karen Akers. He was a master teacher at the Eugene O'Neill Cabaret Symposium in Waterford, CT, for several years in the early 1990s. He helped conceive the 1997 Broadway Johnny Mercer revue Dream, which starred Ms. Whiting. According to the Times, Mr. Wrangler is credited with the idea for a ballet based on the 1946 musical St. Louis Woman, which was performed by the Dance Theater of Harlem in 2003.
John Robert Stillman was born in Los Angeles on July 11, 1946. He began acting at the age of nine. He attended Northwestern University. Back in Hollywood in the early 1970s, a job go-go dancing led to roles in gay x-rated films. Soon, he was a gay sex icon. He took his screen name from the label on a work shirt.