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John Mara Jr. chooses theater career over working for Giants

John Mara Jr. at rehearsal for the Broadway

John Mara Jr. at rehearsal for the Broadway production of "A Christmas Story." (Nov. 4, 2012) Credit: Mark Ledbetter

John Mara Jr. had a surprise waiting for his father when the Giants president opened his Playbill to Who's Who in the Cast for the recent Broadway show "Magic/Bird."

"A special thank you to his father," the bio read, "who coached his childhood basketball team and always put up with him singing show tunes on the court."

"He read it and turned to me with the biggest grin on his face and just started laughing," John Jr. said.

Said his father: "I read it and laughed and said, 'How true.' . . . He'd be singing some tune or something, which his mother and other people in the crowd always got a kick out of. But the coach wasn't always understanding."

The coach part of him might not have been, but the father part was and is.

John Mara Jr., whose great-grandfather Tim, grandfather Wellington and father have been at the helm of the Giants for nearly a century, has found his passion elsewhere -- as an aspiring theater producer.

If there is any sense of disappointment in the family over that, there is no evidence of it.

"My family has always been really supportive and always pushed me to do whatever I wanted to do," John Jr. said, "and I'm really grateful for that."

Said his father: "He's very happy doing what he's doing, so his parents are happy about it, also."

John, 28, is the third of John and Denise Mara's five children, and the only son. He is a fan of the Giants and goes to most home games. He was unable to attend Sunday's loss to the Steelers but kept track on TV during a rehearsal.

Still, he never has embraced the sport itself in traditional Mara fashion.

"From a very early age, it was pretty clear to us he had different interests than I did as a kid," the elder Mara said. "He was always much more interested in the Tony Awards than the Super Bowl, unless of course we were playing."

Said John Jr.: "Growing up, every game was sort of a family reunion, so of course I would get excited about them, but also about the fact there was a big Broadway star singing the national anthem who I could meet on the field."

Not surprisingly, he had no desire someday to lead a fourth generation of Maras in running the Giants.

"People ask me that all the time, as if it's a monarchy or something," he said. "I don't think so. We joke about it."

Mara's father said his son's lack of interest in the job will not endanger the family's 87-year history with the team.

"That's the least of my concerns," he said, laughing. He noted John Jr. has four siblings and 38 first cousins. "We are not worried about there being enough of a supply of the next generation."

Father and son have meshed their worlds as best they could. John Jr. fondly recalls trips to road games on which his father would find a show they could attend together.

In 1997, they saw "Showboat," with Tom Bosley, in Tempe, Ariz., then saw the Giants beat the Cardinals, 27-13.

John Jr. served as a producer for both "Lombardi" and "Magic/Bird," and is working on the Broadway revival of "Annie."

He also serves as a "wrangler," coordinating child actors in a musical based on the 1983 movie "A Christmas Story" that begins previews Wednesday.

"I never wanted to use my family's name to do anything," he said. "I'm working from the bottom up and learning things myself in a world my family has had no involvement with whatsoever."

One of the stars of "A Christmas Story," Dan Lauria, also worked with Mara when Lauria played the title role in "Lombardi."

"He's doing it the right way, learning all the jobs," Lauria said. "He's like a sponge, constantly asking questions. Watching John grow, I'm sure within five or six years, he's going to be producing his own show."

That is the general goal, but he has specific items on his wish list, including producing a show featuring his cousins, actresses Kate and Rooney Mara.

"They are two of my best friends," he said. "I think one of the reasons we are so close and have been since we were children is we were in this family and wanted to do something completely different."

He also hopes to produce a show based on the life of his late grandfather, to whom he bears a striking resemblance. Wellington tried never to miss a show John acted in and was upset when illness kept him from a production of "The Music Man."

"He was really supportive of everything, just an incredible person," John said, his voice cracking.

John since has moved from acting to behind-the-scenes work. "I know this sounds corny, but it reminds me of my grandfather," he said. "His favorite place to be was in his own backstage, with players and coaches, getting the game to go on.

"And my favorite place in the world is to be backstage at a theater."

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