THE URBAN COWBOY

THE URBAN COWBOY

Of the three famous cousins Ferriday, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley, Mickey Gilley was the youngest… and led a more normal life than his two cousins, free of scandal and addictions and self-imposed tragedies that marked the lives of the other two, free of the animosity many people had for the other two.

And in spite of all this, he had the shortest life, 86 years, and was the first to die, 5/7/2022.

Oh, I am not endorsing a life style like Jerry’s or Jimmy’s in order to have a longer life span. I am just stating a fact.

Mickey lived across the Mississippi River from Ferriday and his two cousins. But that did not stop him from coming under their influence. He often went with them at night to listen to the Blues at the Ferriday nightclub. He learned to play and the guitar from Jimmy, and the piano from Jerry. His family moved to Texas about the time he started high school. In Texas, traditional Country Western/Grand Ole Opry music prevailed, although he never forgot his roots in Jerry’s boogie-woogie and Jimmy’s gospel.

WINE

For someone whose drinking habits were modest, an occasional beer from a long necked bottle, Mickey Gilley was best known for selling beer. That is, he was co-owner in Gilley’s Club, the world’s largest honky-tonk saloon. Located in Pasadena, Texas, it seated 6,000, and was usually filled every night. It was the size of a football field and had tables for sitting at, tables to shoot pool at, tables to shoot the bull at while watching people getting bucked off the mechanical bull, and still have plenty room to line dancing. In short, it was a way of life for it’s regular beer drinking patrons.

Esquire Magazine did a feature on two of these regulars. James Bridges saw it as another Saturday Night Fever with C&W replacing disco. He sold the idea to a studio, wrote an adaption of the article, and directed the film.

John Travolta jumped at the chance to dance in another film. Debra Winger jumped at the chance to restart her stagnant movie career. Mickey’s partner jumped at the idea of Gilley’s as the film’s location. Mickey was noncommittal.

He saw it as an opportunity the club and himself, but…He had dislikes the magazine article and he hated the mechanical bull.

Gilley had been on tour when his partner bought and installed the mechanical bull without asking Mickey’s blessing,. Mickey hit the roof. He didn’t like the ugly piece of scrap metal and the loud excitement it created. He reasoned that somebody could get injured and sue them big time. But it was too late to remove it, it was standing room only with people, drinking a lot of long necked bottles of beer, waiting their turn to ride it and/or make a fool out of themselves. YIPPEE!!!

The movie had a talented cast, who had to compete with the other costars, namely, the mechanical bull, the Honky-Tonk saloon, C&W music, cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and domestic violence. The movie made Gilley’s an icon and a boon to the makers of cowboy boots and hats.

Surprisingly, the movie introduced Mickey Gilley to a host of people, but did little to enhance his record sales. Only two of his hits came after the movie. One from the soundtrack, a cover of the great Ben E, King song, Stand By Me.It did start him to establish a series of mini honky-tonks, all called Gilley’s. Then he opened up one of the first musical theaters in Branson, Missouri, helping it to become the entertainment mecca of middle America.

His cameo, playing himself in the movie, led to a minor career in TV acting.

As for the original Gilley’s, Mickey and his partner broke up shortly after the movie and they closed the place down. The vacant structure burned down a year later.

WOMEN

Good old southern boy, Mickey, married his first wife, Geraldine. when he was only 17. The marriage last 8 years and 3 children, who were raised by their mother. He married his 2nd wife, Vivian, a year after the divorce, and that marriage last until her death in 2019, and produced his 4th child.

His last marriage was to Cindy Loeb and lasted a shade under 2 years, ending with his death. She was a long time business manager for his night clubs and musical career Now she manages his estate.

Unlike his 2 cousins, Mickey never had a scandal that involved his wives and or other women.

SONG

Where else would a talented guitar and piano player living in Texas and listening to the endless C&W songs on the radio, go, but to Nashville, home of The Grand Ole Opry. He quickly found work as studio musician playing piano and or guitar.

Others in the group included Kenny Rogers, bass player and Glen Campbell, guitar player extraordinaire. This group of studio musicians played on most all of the songs cut in Nashville at the time, no matter who was doing the singing or what record company. It was steady work and good money for those musicians who were waiting for their chance to take the mic,

When his cousin, Jerry Lee, busted loose with A Whole Lot of Shaking, Mickey decided to make his move to signing. He cut his first single in 1959, Kenny Rogers on bass; but it was good he kept his day job.

His singing success was nil, just more cutting records that were never distributed. Only one of his recordings earned him some money. It was used in a TV ad selling baby food. But he kept trying.

Then 15 years from his first attempt, his singing career broke loose…and that was by accident.

Mickey was certain that the song She Called Me Baby would be a winner. He still needed one for the B Side of the record and chose, as a lark, to cover a hit from 1949, A Room Full Of Roses. When it was played back to him, he hated it. He complained that the steel guitar was too loud and that he had got lost in the piano solo, and… But the rep of the record said said enough is enough, it’s only a B Side fill- in; and the record company couldn’t afford to waste more money on Gilley..

Fill- in! That fill- in gave Mickey his first start as a C&W mainstay. Thanks to the B side, it was his first record to be distributed nationally. Mickey had egg on his face over his dismissal of the cut.. Kind of like his disapproval years later of the mechanical bull.

The record was one of the few hits for Playboy Records, a venture of Hugh Hefner to show case a girlfriend, Barbi Benton. More an attempt to impress a girl than to actually actually be a record producer, Hef sold the Playboy Records when Barbi moved out of the mansion.

Now at the age if 38, Gilley had the start of career in music that he dreamed for years.

Mickey followed through with a number of C&W hits in the traditional style of prevelent in Nashville during the 70’s.

There were other hotbeds of Country music besides Nashville. Memphis, thanks to Sun Records and it’s early stable of Elvis, Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. And in Austin, the Outlaw music of singer/songwriters Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson was coming on like a fast moving train. But Mickey stayed put in the Eddie Arnold/Grand Ole Opry scene in Nashville. That was the kind of man he was, loyal to the horse that brung him.

The 80’s saw a change in C&, even in staid old Nashville. Glen Campbell, Kenny Rodgers, and others were very successful in Country Pop, which crossed over into pop radio stations and introduced twang to a much larger audience.

Gilley never achieved the phenomenal success those two friends from the studio orchestra days achieved, but he did okay.

He had 39 Top Ten Country, singles, 17 of which hit #1 in the 15 years. But then in 1986, county music reverted back to it’s traditional roots with young talent like Clint Black, Randy Travis, and Reba McEntire racking up the hits. This time he didn’t follow the trend. He was content to ease into a life of semi-retirement.

He got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted along with his two famous cousins in the Delta Music Hall of Fame in Ferriday. The HOF is basically a museum dedicated to the three cousins. It’s not Graceland, but it draws a lot of visitors and keeps Ferriday on the map.

For 2 years he was The Academy of Country Music New Comer of the year, and in 1976 swept the honors as best entertainer along with best single and best album of the year, for the single and album, Don’t All The Girls Get Prettier At Closing Time,

He included some Gospel in his playlist, but never wore his religion on his sleeve like Cousin Swaggart. He did enjoy Cousin Jerry’s vocals and his piano style and played many duets, live and recorded, with The Killer over the years.

Mickey Gilley was popular, easy to talk t, good listener, and had a great many friends, in and out of the music scene. He never turned down a request to help a friend. In 2009, he was helping a friend move when a bench fell on him and broke his back. He went through extensive therapy but his back bothered him the rest of his life. It took a year but he did manage to get back to singing on stage, but he could never play the piano again.

This back problem was responsible for him taking a bad fall that resulted in brain surgery. His health deteriorated. His wife, Vivian, became more of a nurse than a wife, and preceded him in death by a few years.

Persuaded by his manager and soon-to-be-third wife, Cindy Loeb, he recorded an album, Kicking It Down The Road, a mix of some old, some new. This was in 2017. A year later he recorded another, Two Old Cats, all duets with his friend, Troy Payne. It was good therapy to help ease his pain.

. . . . . . .

I had worked Mickey on a few occasions, but had no direct contact with him. He came to the Minneapolis Auditorium in a package concert on in three concerts I worked. There was a Nashville promoter who would put several C&W B-List artists on one card and tour some big cities. He would bring a group to Minneapolis a couple times a year.

For the most part, the artists kept to themselves in a green room the promoter stocked with food and drink. The only one that spent any time backstage was Dottie West. She was friendly to the hands, especially Mark, the stage carpenter.

When Mickey became a name act, he performed at the Flame, a small C&W honky-tonk saloon, but never was booked in a big venue that the union worked.

Looking back now, I wish I had seen more of him. He rightfully earned a reputation as a talented, hard working professional, whose hat size never grew when he mad the big time.

Mickey never gave up

his chasing his dream

and finally caught it

Mickey Gilley passed away on 5/7/22.

His cousin, Jimmy Swaggart officiated at the funeral.

His other cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis was in a hospice

and would join Mickey 5 months later.

P.S. :The last of the three cousins coming up, next.

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THE KILLER

The Killer has vacated the arena!

On 10/28/22, Jerry Lee Lewis, age 87, died. His death was reported three days after he was falsely reported to have died. Since he was on the doorstep for several years, his death was not a surprise. His living that long was a great surprise. Considering the environment he grew up in, his life style, and the many tragedies suffered, both by accident and self-inflicted, the odds favored he probably wasn’t going to see 30. And yet he outlived every original inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; and had a life span greater than the departed members of the Country Western Hall of Fame in which he was recently inducted into as a performer and influencer.

The Environment: Ferriday, Louisiana. A dot on the map near the Mississippi border, just up the road from Baton Rouge. Aa town of mostly blacks and steeped in the Blues, highlighted at Haney’s Big House, a famous ‘house of the Blues’.

The small minority of whites in and around the town were poor farmers eking out a living, mostly blood relatives, sharing both a short living span and a Pentecostal religion that featured fire and brimstone preachers and hymns.

His Early Life Style:

Music. Church music and the Blues. This escape from the hard-pan reality of his home was shared with him by two cousins, Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart. Those three were destined to put Ferriday on the big map with a boast of more famous people per square foot than any other place in the USA.

Influenced by an older cousin, Carl McVoy, a big time piano player, the three adopted the piano as their get-out-of-Ferriday weapon.

Jerry’s parents mortgaged their farm to purchase a piano of his own so he didn’t have to beg to use Mickey’s or Jimmy’s. Then his parents sent him to a Bible Institute in Texas where he would play only religious music.

He got kicked out when he decided to add some back-home boogie-woogy at a church assembly. A strong indicator of his future life style. He pounded each day just as hard as he pounded the keys on a piano.

His dad then put a piano in his pick up and traveled from town to town so Jerry could entertain from the mobile stage. His mother told him to ’Kill them dead’. And thus his nickname, The Killer, was born.,

Tragedies:

His older brother died in an auto accident. His three year old son, living with Jerry’s ex, drowned in a swimming pool. Another young son died in a car accident shortly after. His 4th wife drowned in a swimming pool just before the divorce settlement was final. His 5th wife ODed just 77 days into the tumultuous wedding. His gun ‘accidentally’ went off and shot his bass singer’. The gate at Graceland was closed when he tried to drive in to visit Elvis.

His black-listing by the hypocrites in the pop music industry at the time when it was found out the 13 year old once removed cousin was not just on tour with him for kicks, she was his wife. Dick Clark, the tsar of determining whether an artist and or a single would be a hit or a miss, along with the payola- radio DJs judged Jerry Lee to be an unfit star even though he was a pioneer in the fledgling rock and roll industry.

Self Inflicted ‘tragedies’.

WINE:

Perhaps an occasional TBird or some bubbly but like a true son of the south, white lightning in poor times, Jack Daniels when he could afford it. His alcoholism was augmented with tokes of Blue’s grass, sniffs of snow, and above all, pills of many colors. His life might not have been as hectic if he had faced up to all his addiction not just the pills. He did go to the Betty Ford Clinic to overcome the pills that had caused a major removal of part of his stomach.

Every time he had a problem with a gun, both he and the gun were loaded.

In spite of these addictions, he outlived so many of his friends and compadres in the business with similar problems, like Elvis and Johnny, Waylon, Little Richard, etc..

WOMEN:

Seven wives! Wife #1 was a sometimes- thing competing with other women who often charged for their services. Wife #2 did not charge, but her brothers and their shotguns made Jerry pay a price by forcing him to marrying her, even though he was still married to #1.

Wife #3 was, Myra. the 13 year old 2nd cousin that he ogled when she was 12. Later he used the argument that he never was married to her because he was not divorced from #2 when he married #3. The ‘marriage’ last 13 years with, according to Mayra a total of only 14 nights nights they spent together.

Bigamy wasn’t a factor in ending the marriages to #4 and #5. Death was. Wife #4 moved out within a month but the divorce didn’t come until ten years later, shortly before the divorce became final Another accidental drowning in a swimming pool.

Jerry married Wife #5 less than a year later. This lasted 77 days. OD was the stated cause of death but the bruises on her body was enough for Rolling Stone Magazine to demand a Grand Jury investigation. Lewis was cleared. A year later he married Wife #6, Kerrie.

For 14 years she nursed him through his addictions and their aftermath…his roller coaster career which now included his revision of traditional country and western music. They were separated but remained married for another 17 years.

His 7th marriage, 2012 to his death, was to Judith Brown, former wife of his 3rd wife’s brother. From all reports it was free of things that marked his other marriages…things like adultery, physical and emotional abuse, not living together. Etc. Of course it took place in the twilight of his life when he was too old to do most of those things.

Other women besides his wives…well it seemed like he never passed up his opportunities, free or paid for.

SONG:

A pioneer in introducing Rock and Roll to the world. A pioneer in introducing Country/Western to a greater group of listeners with his boogie-woogie style.

His musical feats are too numerous to list in this blog…just as the performers he influenced are.

Every note he sang or beat out on a piano was pure Jerry Lee Lewis. Hymns – He would take a well known one like My God is Real, put a Jerry Lee touch to it, even if it got him in trouble. Rock and Roll – Move over Little Richard, this cracker is pounding the path to bring R&B into the world of R&R, no matter if Dick Clark finds me offensive or not. As much as he respected the talent of Hank Williams and Tex Ritter, he thought there was room to update the genre, be it a new song like What Made Milwaukee Famous, or an old standard like Mexicali Rose, or a recent hit like Crazy Arms, his first recording, and swing it, no matter if Eddy Arnold’s Nashville wants me in the Grand Old Opry or not.

There is music and there is music by Jerry Lee Lewis.

Always a big fan of his, I only had the opportunity to see him perform just one time

In 62, my pre-stagehand life, Lewis was slated to appear in a nightclub close to where my wife and I were going broke in a cafe we and the bank owned. Joe, the club owner promised us good seats for the show. It was canceled due to the drowning of Jerry’s little boy.

The next opportunity came when he appeared in a club where the Mall of America is now. The club was found to be a money laundering operation after about two years. The owners let it be known that if I, or any other stagehand union official, entered it, even via a paid ticket, we could expect to be used as batting practice. Needless to say, I passed up on seeing Jerry Lee perform there.

Finally, towards the end of my stagehanding days and Jerry’s touring days. I got to work his show at Orchestra Hall. It was promoted by an out of town promoter who had a Jerry Lee show in Iowa the previous night.

Seeing the difficulty Jerry Lee had in walking around backstage, it seemed unlikely he could perform onstage. He was escorted, helped, on with a stunning girl on each arm. He sat down on the piano bench… and reverted to the Jerry Lee Lewis of old. His voice was strong and he used all parts of his anatomy to pound on the keys of the piano. He played for close to an hour and one half, without leaving the stage. And then went to the front lobby to meet and greet.

We were almost done breaking down the sound and lights when the promoter came backstage to thank us and wanted to find out the number and size for our tee shirt tip. He never came back with the shirts;

He had been met and greeting by a cop and a warrant for his arrest. It seems the night before this snake oil slickster had not only skipped out without giving the hans the promised tee shirts, he also skipped out with the portion of the gate owed to the venue. We never heard if gave Jerry Lee his money or not.

So if by chance, Mr. Promoter, if you are out of jail and still alive, and you read my blog, you still owe me a tee shirt.

So to close, RIP Killer.

There will never be another like you.

And now I will listen to my favorite Jerry Lee Lewis cut, Mexicali Rose.

PS: Stay tuned for an upcoming post on Mickey and Jimmy, the other 2 famous cousins.

SKID MARKS II

Sam at the wheel.

Back in the day, before he got married, my son, Dirk, had a great dog, Sam. An Australian Shepherd. He was Dirk’s shadow They went everywhere together, except when Dirk went to work.

This is a story, Dirk told me recently about a grocery run with Sam along.

Dirk pulled his car into a space in the grocery store lot. Than, as usual, he turned off the ignition, shoved the gear shift, which was was on the steering column, into reverse gear. A common practice in lieu of putting on the hand brake. He rolled down the window enough to give Sam air but not enough that Sam could squeeze through. Told Sam to stay and went into the store.

Just as he was about to check out, he heard an announcement that the owner of a silver Toyota should report to the policeman outside. Dirk’s car. He went out right away.

The cop was standing there with a scowling man. When Dirk said the car was his, the angry man got in Dirk’s face.

‘Your goddamn dog almost ran me over with your goddamn car!’

Dirk was at a lose for words. He extended his hands, palms up, and looked at the cop, who stepped between Dirk and the man. Dirk’s first thought was the man was off his rocker.

‘Your goddamn dog almost ran me over!’

Before the cop could say anything, the man leaned over the cop’s back and repeated, ‘Your goddamn dog almost ran me over!’

Finally the cop got a chance to explain. It seems the car, which was no longer in a parking space but in the car lane and the dog was the only one in the vehicle.

‘If your goddamn dog can learn to drive, the goddamn dog can learn to watch out for people. He goddamned nearly ran me over’!

The three went to the car. Sam got all excited seeing Dirk. He began to jump around hitting the steering column several times.

‘See, your goddamn dog’s trying to run us all over!

Dirk looked in the window and saw the gear shift was in neutral. Sam must have been jumping around and knocked it into neutral. The parking space had a slight incline so the car coasted down into the driving lane…just as the man was walking by.

Dirk and the cop agreed that is what happened. The explanation didn’t matter to the man. He just walked away and shouted back over his shoulder, ‘Your goddamn dog! Your goddamn dog almost ran me over’

Dirk said he jumped in the car and pulled it back into the parking space and the spent about five minutes laughing before going back into the store. And all the while he was laughing, Sam was trying to lick Dirk’s face. Before he got out of the car, he put the shift into gear and put on the parking brake to boot.

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The Old Hand:

I watched a man trying to back his SUV into a parking space at the mall. There was at least six spaces empty on either side of the space he wanted. He tried about five times, finally just left it. One half of the SUV was in one space, the other half was in the space next to it. I noticed both spaces were posted for ten minute parking only. Since he was parked in two spaces, does that mean he can park there for twenty minutes?

I have a hard time understanding what is accomplished by backing into parking space. You might get out faster but since it takes the average driver seesawing back and forth about three, four times, whatever you gain in time on the exit, you’ve lost on the entrance by a long ways. And then if you want to put groceries etc., in the trunk, you probably have to pull the vehicle ahead. I saw a customer with van at a big box store loading plywood after he had parked backwards in the space. He had to actually pull the van into the driving lane, blocking any other vehicle from using the lane. He got the plywood loaded but he also caused a lot of horns to be honked and fingers to be waved.

I always get a leery whenever I see somebody back into a parking space when there is a bank close by. Is it because the driver might want to make a quick getaway?

Published St. Paul Dispatch- 7/14/13

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Another story about a car of Dirk’s.

No, there was no dog driving this time. Fact is there was no one driving it…and this time the car wasn’t just coasting…it was moving under it’s own engine power.

As told to me by my nephew, Rick:

Rick had a few days off from touring with WICKED and stopped off in town to see his folks and family. He had a chance to work a quick easy stagehand call so he went to the State Capital Mall for a quick load out. He said he would go over to Dirk’s for a bit.

But when he got to his car he looked back and saw Dirk standing by his car. He drove over and asked Dirk what was wrong.

‘Won’t start. Won’t even turn over. Dead. Probably the alternator. Get it home and I’ll check it out. I got Roadside Assistance. Might as well use it.’

Something went right that day…the tow truck arrived quickly. Rick and Dirk sat on a bench and didn’t pay any attention to the driver as he hooked up the cable to the rear of the car.

But he got their attention as soon as he pushed the button to start the wench. He swore and jumped back. The car’s engine had started and the car shot up the raised tow-bed.

The large trailer hitch on the car’s rear bumper hit the tow-bed’s front safety barrier with a resounding crash. Luckily the barrier held and the car’s engine died…otherwise the car would have ended up on the roof of the cab.

A perfect storm. Dirk had left the car in reverse and the key turned on. No biggie! The car wouldn’t start anyway.

But the tow truck driver committed two cardinal sins of towing a vehicle. Check the key. Make sure the ignition is not on. Pocket the key so it doesn’t get lost.

Make certain the transmission is in neutral. Had Dirk’s car been winched forward it would have ruined the transmission. Could you imagine if a Jag or Rolls were pulled against their gear setting what the cost would be?

And the fact it was in reverse and winched backward could have really done some bad damage had not the barrier held.

The Buck Stops At the Tow Driver.

Both Rick and Dirk ran over to the truck. But when they got within a few feet of the driver, they stopped and retreated. The driver was frozen in time. His face was ghostly pale and his pants were getting darker by the minute. And, oh, did he stink!

When the driver regained his composure, he managed to lower the flat tow-bed and get the cable taut and then had to get up on it to survey the damage. It was a sore sight to see him move with his loaded pants. Spread legged. Trying to make believe nothing was wrong.

‘The car’s okay!’ he screamed as he reached in and pulled the key and cracked the gear shift into neutral. He didn’t comment when he surveyed the huge dent in the safety barrier. Must have been doing a lot of silent swearing every time he had to move though.

At home, Dirk showed him where to put the car next to the garage and then both he and Rick stepped far back… and upwind of the guy. Nobody spoke as the car was unloaded and nobody said good by as the driver got in and drove the truck away.

‘Hope he stops off and cleans up before he has to explain to the boss about the dent in the barrier,’ Rick said.

‘Or the stink in the cab,’ Dirk added. ‘I guess that’s what they mean when they talk about being shit scared.’

And they both laughed.

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Old Hand::

Since my wife doesn’t drive, and I don’t shop, I spend a lot of time in nice weather sitting in the car, read a little, snooze a little, observe the life of the parking lot. I see children mistaking the it for a playground, shoppers, with full carts, blindly believing in the right-of-way of pedestrians, and drivers whose only focus is finding a parking space. I see a lot of accidents waiting to happen.

A few lots have speed bumps in their entrance lanes to help counter some of these potential accidents.. Most drivers see the bump, slow down, ease over it, and maintain a sensible rate of speed. Some don’t notice the bump and go flying over it. It’s amazing how, when their tires return to the road, and their right hands can no longer hold onto the steering wheels, their left hands always manage to keep holding the cell phones tight against their ears.

But the drivers that really make me shake my head are those that avoid the bump altogether. They speed up, pull into the wrong lane, then quickly get back into the correct lane once they are past the bump. Such a shame when something that is meant to promote safety becomes an excuse to drive stupidly. But then, some people don’t need an excuse to be stupid when they get behind a wheel, it’s just second nature.

So when you go into a store parking lot, remember the warning of the old sergeant in Hill City Blues TV and

be careful out there‘.

Don’t be a part of the accident that happens.

Pub St. Paul Dispatch 4/23/09

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Be careful out there is right.

There was 42,915 traffic related deaths in the US in 2021.

That’s almost as many deaths as gun related US deaths in 2021, which totaled out to 45,222.

Auto deaths are confined to roads.

Each year brings stricter laws to safeguard against traffic accidents.

Gun deaths take place anywhere, anytime, with or without a reason

And too often they are not accidental

And gun laws must not infringe on the 2nd Amendment.

There are 285.5 million cars in the US

There are 436.4 million guns in the US

Owning a car like a T Bird was cool

But owning an AR15 is the new cool

Joking about traffic is universal

Joking about guns is taboo

Guns makes the US unique.

SKID MARKS

The Old Hand: On days when it is so hot there are warning to stay inside, it helps to remember, not too many months ago, when there were winter warnings to stay inside. This story, that our friend Paula told us, happened on one of those days several years ago.

Paula had to drive her elderly mother to the doctor. The snow was almost causing whiteout, and sane drivers were taking it slow and careful. But there’s always some!!!

First, the black SUV came up fast, and just a few yards before it would ram her car, it pulled out opposite lane. And naturally, pulled back right, cutting her off. She braked and her car turned into a toboggan, sliding and refusing to respond to her steering. Luckily, as it began to spin, the front wheels hit the curb, and the car stopped.

She said she gripped the steering wheel and tried not to cry, and tried harder not to say anything. She knew any words that came from her mouth would be words that a person should not utter in front of one’s mother.

‘Paula, honey,’ her mother said and placed her hand on Paula’s, ‘Don’t let them bother you like that. Now I don’t know how it helps but try this.’ She held her fist up and then extended her middle finger in the direction the SUV took. ‘This is what they use to do to me when I was driving.’

So enjoy the summer even with the heat and mosquitoes. State Fair and going back to school is coming fast. Next will come raking leaves and prepping the snow-blower.

Bulletin Board 9/2/13

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I was driving my usual five miles over the limit when a car behind swung out, horn honking, got even with me, and I could make out the driver leaning across the passenger and flicking her hand about something. Naturally I had to keep my eyes on the road, so I just flashed the middle finger salute.

My daughter-in-law called later to tell me she spotted my car and tried to wave hi to me. She said she was excited and told her friend that she thought that was her father-in-law ahead.

When she pulled even and I flashed the middle finger salute, she laughed and said to her friend, ‘Yup. That’s my father- in- law alright.’

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When my father-in-law’s wife died, my son Dirk asked if my wife and I wanted to ride up to Bemidji with him, his wife, and kids. I didn’t have time to accept because my wife told Dirk we would love to.

‘You know how crabby your dad gets when he drives a long way?’

I was about to say it wouldn’t be so bad if I had a relief driver. (It had been years since my wife decided not to worrying about getting a driver’s license.) But since it was almost time for her to start making dinner, I didn’t say anything more then to tell Dirk we would welcome the ride.

After the church service we all went to a hall and talked, and laughed, and ate. Another son, Danny, couldn’t make the service but made it to the hall. After he gave condolences to his grandfather, he joined us at our table. He mentioned that he ran into a lot of traffic and asked Dirk how the drive was for us. We came the day before and stayed overnight in a hotel.

‘Well,’ Dirk said, ‘It went pretty good.. The kids behaved themselves… pretty good. We took a lot of back roads and stayed of the freeways. Prettier scenery. A lot of horses and cows. We saw a lot of deer.

‘And you know, I never had to swear at a bad driver. Not even once!

Dad did it for me.’

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If it sounds like I’ve reached the old age of ‘Darn you kids! Stay off my lawn! But I like nothing better than to watch kids playing ball on our couple acres of lawn. Just like my sons did when they were growing up. Memories.

My wife likes the kids playing on the grass also. The geese stay away when the kids are at play.

Now as far as my attitude about bad drivers, I’ve had that since the days when I would be riding my horse on the side of the road and some wise guy would honk the horn trying to scare the horse. And my attitude got worse when I began to drive. And it multiplies in this age of headphones and cellphones.

The wife of a co-worker told me how her husband finally entered the modern age. He now texts on his cellphone. Their daughter texted him to find out the time to meet him for dinner.

He texted her back ‘I can’t really talk right now because I am driving home. And I do not want to get into an accident while I am driving and texting. I could even get a ticket. When I get home I will call you on the phone.’

Since I know that he can’t type, I wonder how long it took him to text this epistle about the dangers of texting while driving.

When my dad taught me how to drive the Model A, he told me to keep an eye on the rear view mirror as well as to the front. And be leery if there’s a car stopped on a cross road. Bad drivers can get you from the back and side as well as the front. And even in those days, road rage was a part of driving. A lot of fist waving. Some mild swearing and never, ever using a dirty gesture’

But road rage has escalated beyond fist waving, swearing and finger saluting.

Today you could get shot.

I have learned keep my one fingered salutes below the dash

and hide my swearing with a fake smile.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

Stay Safe;

Be it behind a windshield or COVIC mask

STARRY, STARRY NIGHT

My last post, The Shadow Circuit, convinced me that interest in Don McLean was very high right now. His walk out of the NRA Convention. It is the 50th anniversary of his American Pie. His mental breakdown. His Starry, Starry Night/Vincent has surpassed American Pie in popularity today.

The Vincent Van Gogh Immersive Experience has taken major cities in the US and Europe by storm. Every time one of his paintings is auctioned off, it breaks fiscal records. To think the man died a pauper and only sold one of his works while he and his brother were living. His sister-in-law took control of his work and got him placed in the hierarchy of the Impressionists.

I thought this would be good time to re-post my blog Starry, Starry Night, from 2013. And last, but not least, it brings back fond memories of back-in-the-day, when I was a lot younger.

images (3)

House lights go down for the second act of VINCENT, but the stage lights remain dark. Then Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night fades on the two picture sheets that are upstage of the set. Music fades in, Don McLean’s recording of his song, Vincent, aka Starry, Starry Night. The song continues as a montage of Vincent’s paintings appear on the screens.

In the ambient light from slides you can make out the silhouette of Leonard Nimoy. He stands off to one side, his back to the audience, looking at and enjoying the art along with the audience.

The music fades out. Starry Night reappears for a moment and then fades out also. Backlights fill the stage and Nimoy turns as the front lights fade in and he resumes as Theo Van Gogh telling us about his brother, Vincent.

Selecting the Van Gogh paintings was hard because of the volume of great works and the little time allotted to show them. Selecting the music for the interlude was harder.

Leonard wanted Don McLean singing Vincent from the very start; however he had a friend he relied on for advice who thought the song was Pop, unfit to be part of ‘serious’ art. The friend, an artistic director of a regional theater, was pretentious to say the least. He never said Shakespeare, but always said ‘The Bard’. Theater was always spelled theatre and ‘Arts’ should never be coupled with ‘Crafts’. He backed off somewhat when it was pointed out that the very same recording was played hourly at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and a copy of the sheet music was buried in the museum’s time capsule.

young mclean

Don McLean, singer/songwriter, troubadour/poet, is an American treasure, but not exactly a household name. He is mostly identified with his American Pie aka The Day The Music Died, known for it’s mysterious lyrics and it’s extraordinary length. ‘Drove my Chevy to the levee and the levee was dry.’ His second most famous work is Vincent, his ode to Van Gogh. ‘And now I understand what you tried to say to me”.

American Pie represented a sad time in McLean’s life, the death of an idol, Buddy Holly. Vincent reflected the sadness of his early life especially after the death of his father when Don was only 15. It was written on a brown paper bag during a period of marital problems. McLean had always identified with Van Gogh, who was never appreciated during his lifetime, and is reflected the lyrics ‘They would not listen, they’re not listening still. Perhaps they never will’.

            Outside of an excellent rendition by Madonna, American Pie is left by other recording artists for McLean. His recording of it was voted #5 of the 365 Songs of the Century by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Vincent, on the other hand, is covered by many other artists, like Julie Andrews, Julio Ingesias, Chet Atkins, and my favorite cover, Jane Olivor.

His song, And I Love You So has been covered by the likes of Elvis Presley, Shirley Bassey, Glen Campbell, Howard Keel, a cover by Perry Como reached #1in the Easy Listening genre. His song, Wonderful Baby, was dedicated to and recorded by Fred Astaire.

In his recordings and his concerts, his repertoire includes his own compositions as well as songs identified with singers like Sinatra, Buddy Holly, his mentor, Pete Seeger, Gordon Lightfoot, and Marty Robbins.

When Ray Orbison released his song Crying, it was received just so-so. McLean cut a cover of it that hit #1 in the international market. Orbison made a rerecording of it, using some of the innovations of McLean, and it is now a classic. Orbison said McLean had the best cover of any of Orbison’s songs and said McLean had ‘the voice of the century’.

Don McLean was also responsible, indirectly, for another classic,  Killing Me Softly With His Song. Lori Lieberman, singer/songwriter, said that she was so touched by Don McLean in concert, singing his song, Empty Chairs, inspired by McLean looking at Van Gogh’s painting of The Chair,  that she wrote a poem as soon as she got home. The poem was set to music and Roberta Flack’s version was 1973’s Record Of The Year.

Dennis Babcock, Guthrie’s Special Events Producer, and the man who put the production and tour of VINCENT together, booked in Don McLean in concert during our VINCENT rehearsal period. Great concert! First time I ever worked McLean. First time Nimoy ever saw him in person and met him. McLean saved Vincent/Starry, Starry Night for the encore and dedicated it to Leonard and the upcoming tour of VINCENT.

As usual, I was house electrician for the concert. When I asked McLean about his lighting preferences, he just smiled and told me to do as I wanted. I did. Used various gels for mood, slow color transitions, sometimes just back light to silhouette him.

When we were knocking down the concert equipment, Eric, Nimoy’s dresser and the self appointed major domo for the tour, came on stage.

‘Don,’ he said, in his dramatic basso voice, ‘I know that your lighting of VINCENT is in the tradition of the stage; but frankly, it is vanilla pudding. Now your lighting of the concert tonight reflected Van Gogh and his paintings. You should incorporate that into VINCENT. Be bold! Spice it up!’

‘Well,’ I confessed, ‘I have often thought about doing just that, but I don’t know if Leonard go for it.’

‘Who do you think brought up the idea? And I agree with him. Leonard had to go out to dinner with Mr. McLean and he asked me to mention it to you. So you could perhaps have some of it in tomorrow’s rehearsal.’

I didn’t need much time at all. I had it pretty much finalized by the time rehearsals started the next day. The key was my use of colored backlights. In his last years, his most ambitious period, in and around Arles in southern France, he used a preponderance of cobalt blue and amber yellow In one of his letters to his brother, Theo, Vincent defended his use of new colors and bolder brush strokes talking of

“vast fields of wheat under troubled skies”.

500px-Vincent_van_Gogh_(1853-1890)_-_Wheat_Field_with_Crows_(1890)

The play’s set had two picture sheets a backdrop. The backlights hung downstage of them, in such a way as to avoid spilling any light on the sheets. There were three distinct parts of the set.

Stage Right was Theo’s office, a desk and chair. The backlight for this section was the cold heavy blue of Vincent’s midnight sky on cloudless nights.

“Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue”

Eyes of China Blue

Stage Left was Vincent’s studio. A rough built table with a paint smeared smock on it. A palette and brushes. A stool. An easel. This backlight was the yellow amber of Vincent’s home and sparse furnishing at Arles. His sunflowers.

“Morning fields of amber grain”

Van_Gogh_-_Weizenfeld_bei_Sonnenuntergang

Center stage was the neutral zone where the two colors combined. I controlled the intensity of the two backlight colors, in all three sections depending upon where  Leonard was and the mood at the time,

“Colors changing hue”

Starry Night

Leonard liked the new lighting. Erik liked the new lighting. Sandy, Leonard’s wife at the time, liked it.

I knew I had aced it when, on opening night, Alvin Epstein, the Guthrie’s Artistic Director, told me that my lighting was like bringing a Van Gogh painting to life.

But naturally there was a voice of dissent. The Pretentious Pal felt my lighting was vulgar, unfit to be part of serious art. He suggested that Leonard get a ‘real’ Lighting Designer. And naturally he knew the names of several of who he had used in his theater. Leonard said thanks but no thanks. When Leonard was approached by Babcock about a Guthrie production of the skeleton version Leonard first brought to town, Leonard agree and wanted me to be involved and to light it.

At the risk of bragging, theatrical reviewers seldom mention the lighting, and yet in almost all the reviews we got around the country my lights were not only mentioned but also praised. When we played a benefit for The Pretentious Pal’s theater, he really cut loose on me. After all I was a stagehand and lighting was art and the two should be kept separate. And I was not only a stagehand, I was a union stagehand!

I didn’t bother to tell him that this was not the first time this union stagehand designed lights at the Guthrie. And this union stagehand had crossed into his sacred world of ‘Art’ in another way. A few years before I won a prize in a national One-Act playwriting contest, and my play had been published and produced.

In respect of Leonard and Mrs. Nimoy, I listened his criticism and then silently walked away. After I left though. the Nimoys had quite a few words to say to him about his rudeness.

(Hey, Mr. Pretentious Pal, VARIETY  ‘The Bible of Show Business’ said in their review of VINCENT, “Donald Ostertag’s lighting was Excellent”. And they also liked the use Don McLean’s recording of Vincent, in the play.)

The entire of tour of VINCENT consisted of three separate legs. The first was produced by the Guthrie. The second was a month in Boston, Leonard’s home town, and was under Leonard’s production. Once again, The Pretentious Pal came and offered suggestions during the rehearsal. And once again, tried to get Leonard to drop Don McLean’s song and Don Ostertag’s lighting. Again, the answer was thanks but no thanks. The next year the third leg went back on the road to other cities. The third leg was produced by Leonard and another producer.

Neither Dennis Babcock nor myself took the show out on the third leg. Since it was no longer affiliated with the Guthrie, Dennis felt he should concentrate on his ‘day job’ at the theater. He found a Tour Manager to replace him.

My life had changed drastically. I had left the Guthrie and had been elected as Business Agent/Call Steward for the local as well as working off the Union Call List. My three oldest sons were working as stagehands and also going to college. In a few years, they would be joined by the two younger sons. I had missed so much of their growing up; but once I went on the Extra Board, I got something that few fathers get, a chance to work shoulder to shoulder with my sons. And over the years, I also worked with four nephews, a young cousin, and a future daughter-in-law. My days on the road were over as well as my days as a lighting designer foe the Guthrie.

When Leonard found out that I was not going out with him, he said he wanted two stagehands to replace me. I sent two out with him. Dennis and I were involved with the rehearsals, which took place in Minneapolis followed by a week of shows at the Guthrie. Then it was off to Atlanta with Dennis and I going along to help with the first real stop.

Oh, of course, The Pretentious Pal had come to Minneapolis town for the rehearsals, and again with the his suggestions to change both the lighting and the music. Again, Leonard stood firm on my lighting, but he did cave on the music. Don McLean was replaced by a classical piece of largely unknown music by an unknown composer.

The music had two things going for it. The composer had lived in Arles at the same time as Van Gogh, although they probably never met nor even knew of one other. The second thing in the music’s favor was the album cover was a Van Gogh painting of ‘A Bridge Near Arles’.

a bridge near arles

That leg of the tour ended with a filming of the production for VCR distribution and also to be shown some 50 times on the A&E network. That was also the end of Leonard Nimoy in the stage production of VINCENT.

I stayed away from the filming and left it to the two hands. I did however sit in with Leonard and a few others for the showing of the finished product.

I had been forewarned by the hands that although the credit read that the lighting was based on a concept of Donald Ostertag. Don’t believe it. It was basically, all the white lights available are turned on, then off.

As soon as the film started, Leonard wanted to know why my lighting wasn’t used. Julie, Leonard’s daughter, who was around during the filming and had worked with the camera crew on locations of  IN SEARCH OF, explained that the director said the colors and cues wouldn’t work in the film. Leonard didn’t like it that my lights were left out and said so. I just sat there, not wanting to present my view that my lights would have transferred to the film.

The excuse was bogus. Basically, this was a case of the LA boys going to fly-over-country, filming a VCR as quick as possible, and then back to L.A.. Surf’s up!

Leonard’s second comment was at the top of the second act. ‘Never should have replaced Don McLean with this music,’ he muttered. I guess you could say that The Pretentious Pal finally got his way, even if Leonard did not like it.

Thirty plus years later:

The VCR was upgraded to DVD with some added commentary and stories by Leonard for which he received a small fee. Now, he could have used it to buy photography equipment for his new profession or other things; but true to his nature, he divided up the money and sent checks to those of us who had worked on the VINCENT tour.

What a compliment to know your work was still appreciated some thirty years later.

And just recently, Don McLean’s past work was appreciated in a very big way. The notebook that he used to work out the lyrics of American Pie recently was bought at auction for $1,200,000, the third highest money ever paid for an American literary manuscript. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer, more talented artist. Just too bad he didn’t save that paper bag he used to write out the lyrics of his Vincent.

don mclean

And that’s a wrap – for today.

THE SHADOW CIRCUIT

There is an area of show business that I call the Shadow Circuit. What it is people in the public eye, be it politics, arts, entertainment fields, who come to a city to appear before a closed audience at conventions, business meetings, private functions, employee thank you parties, etc. In and out and the public has no idea they were ever in town. Sometime the public is aware of the appearance, but unless they belong to the sponsoring organization, or are big donors, they can’t attend.

To work the Shadow Circuit, the person’s name must appear on a list bookers have which is available for potential clients.

I don’t recall ever seeing Bob Hope appearing before the general public in the Twin Cities in my lifetime, but he was in St. Paul on the Shadow Circuit in 1984. He cracked jokes at the dinner honoring the 80th birthday of Herb Carlson, founder of Radisson Hotel chain, among other ventures.

He talked with the stagehands for a long time, after he asked ‘Just who is this old fart I am suppose to be best friends with’? He ate the dinner, gave a funny spiel about his ‘old friend’, and left.

Before he got into the limo that replaced the Winnebago dressing room he stopped to say goodbye to the stagehands and praise us for doing an honest days work, not like what he had just done. Lying about knowing a total stranger, just for a couple bucks and something to do.

And sometimes it more than a couple bucks. Margaret Thatcher, after she retired as British Prime Minister, let it be known, through an agent, that she would be touring the US on a speaking tour. The Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce was only too glad to be included on her stops. I worked the Iron Lady’s talk.

When I handed in the stagehand bill, the Finance Officer laughed at the small amount compared to what was paid for Thatcher to appear, 70.000 plus expenses for a 45 minute talk.

While I worked Shadow Circuit gigs with the likes of Maya Angelo, Eisner the CEO of Disney, countless politicians, and advocates pro and con on the issues of the day, entertainers were the largest group on the Circuit. Many of these entertainers I had also worked in public concerts.

Recently the National Rifle Association, NRA, the largest gun lobby in the U.S. held their annual Convention. This homage to guns was a few days and a few miles from the latest massacre of school children by a shooter armed with legally purchased guns. Both the convention and the killings took place in Texas, a state where the politicians have made the purchase and carrying of guns of all ilks, almost mandatory.

The entertainment as always was booked via the Shadow Circuit.

But when the news of the killing broke, the entertainers began to cancel out of the gig in respect of the poor children. The first to exit was singer/songwriter Don McLean, followed by the others. Lee Greenwood was the last to walk.

Rudy Giuliani offered to sing ‘God Bless The USA’; but the NRA told him just to send ‘thoughts and prayers’ like all good GOP politicians do, and canceled Entertainment Night.

Now for entertainment they only had the stand-up comic, Donald Trump, who did his usual shtick but adding a litany of the names of the murdered children, followed by a dance, before breaking into his Big Lies routine.

I worked McLean once in concert and one on the Shadow Circuit. Greenwood I worked numerous times on the Circuit.

I worked McLean at a Guthrie concert just prior to the start of the Leonard Nimoy’s Vincent tour. McLean’s recording of his song Vincent was used as background during a segment of Van Gogh’ paintings projected on the screen. The recording was also played hourly at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

I worked McLean also on the Shadow Circuit for the Dayton Department Store at their annual fashion show to raise funds for the Children’s Hospital. At that function, he sang his biggest hit, American Pie. When I suggested to Eric, the Event’s manager that McLean should also sing Vincent, Eric said he never heard it. I told him that another title for the song was Starry, Starry Night. Eric wasn’t familiar with that either. But a few years later, McLean’s recording of it was used in a segment of the fashion show.

That show also featured Brooks Shield, emceeing off the Circuit. I am happy to report, she is as beautiful in person as in the media. And her personality and warmth are genuine.

In praising the exit of McLean from the convention, one comment was why did he ever agree to sing there in the first place. Well, an appearance at a Shadow event in no way endorses the event’s purpose. Like stagehands, (I worked events at the NRA Convention when it was held in Mpls., and had to hold back my feelings throughout the event.), people working the Shadow Circuit do so to make a living and project their job.

Don McLean had recently suffered a mental break-down that resulted in domestic violence. I image the Shadow Circuit was his only source of work.

The Shadow Circuit was the main source of work for the last entertainer to pull out of the NRA Convention, Lee Greenwood, for a good many years. I worked his show numerous times. He is a favorite Shadow Circuit singer for conservative groups who pride themselves for their love of God and Country.

His show is about 45 minutes of C&W and then a black-out just long enough to trip the kabuki drop and the lights come back up to a backdrop of his gigantic US flag.

Lee busts loose with his biggest hit, ‘God Bless The USA. The crowd goes wild. At show’s end the audience is happy and Lee pockets easy bucks on the Shadow Circuit.

By walking out, Greenwood has the most to lose. An ultra right winger who is a main-stay at Trump rallies. An avid gun lover who said in his press conference on Fox News, ‘That weapon killed children’.

Pro gun advocates never forget that kind of talk. He’s going to have to do a lot of singing at Trump rallies to get back in their good graces.

Shadow Circuit bookers find entertainers people like to hear and see, singers who once were big and now…The one that I always enjoyed the most was Chubby Checkers. The audiences loved his singing and dancing and his getting everybody to join in on the Twist. Heck, he almost had me dancing several times.

Another favorite booking was Frankie Valli singing the Four Season’s hits. This was prior to the musical, ‘Jersey Boys’ opening on Broadway in 2005. The musical features the songs and lives of the Four Seasons. After the musical made it big, Frankie and his three cohorts were back on the concert circuit, too big for the Shadow Circuit.

PS: Frankie does not speak with a falsetto voice. His voice is gravely and has the gruff of New Jerseyites. He is also easy to work with.

Some entertainers use the Circuit to show off talents that are not evident to the public. Jim Belushi, actor and younger brother of the great comic actor, John Belushi, fronts his R&B, The Sacred Hearts. (I have no idea as to why he choose that title.) For years, it was a frequent booking on the Shadow Circuit.

Jim Belushi’s musical talent, like his acting talent, is in the so-so range. His biggest asset is his the fact he is John Belushi’s brother.

But show biz is in his rear view mirror thanks to his new vocation that pays better and not much hard work. He is a California State Sanctioned cannabis grower. John would be proud of his kid brother.

Not all Shadow Circuit acts are appreciated though. I worked Doug Krenshaw, the Cajun Fiddler at a closed event. He was big in Louisiana and some of his work was getting national air time. He got a big applause for his playing, but then he decided on a little comedy relief and told, what he thought were a few funny jokes. They might have been funny in the Mississippi Delta, but in the head waters of the river, they were way too raw for the audience. They booed him off the stage.

Backstage I could hear the booker shouting at Krenshaw for using that language. And all the while the booker was screaming in worse language than what Krenshaw had had used. I never worked him again and if he still managed to work the Shadow Circuit, it would have been events in Bayou country, where he just got honored in the Louisiana Hall Of Fame.

Another example of riling up the audience was Joan Rivers in a Shadow Circuit booking for Jewish Women’s Charity Drive. When she asked, ‘Can we talk’, she talked in some very unladylike language. She went so far as to think since both she and the audience were Jewish, she was free to revert to old Jewish stereotypes. She even tried to get humor out of the Holocaust. Raunchy, racist, and tasteless, she ignored the boos and kept on digging her hole deeper.

One of the committee members ran backstage and tried to turn off my lighting consul, thinking it it controlled the mic. When she walked off stage she gave the audience a middle finger salute.

Rivers got a lot of boos and I bet a lot of bucks for that Shadow Circuit event. And a big red warning flag to any bookers via the Shadow Circuit.

I worked her show in a theater venue…once. Her public concert made her Shadow concert seem tame; but since the audience bought tickets, they should have known what kind of show they were in for.

Big companies use the Circuit for various reasons. Target Stores had a yearly event where they brought in managers of their stores from all over. The event was rich with name singers, who were releasing new CD’s. Some of the biggest names like Tony Bennett or Celine Dion would release a CD, say with tens songs and also a CD sold only at Target stores with four additional songs on. Always a lot of talent appearing before a closed audience.

Best Buy, in the years of their orginal founder, used entertainers off the Circuit for parties. For non management employees Best Buy corporate campus was turned into a festival. Free food, soft drinks, bands for dancing, and several big names like Lennie Kravitz. The management had their party in the Convention Center with food and drinks and rows of arcade game and big time entertainment. One year, Elton John headlined. Elton John… and the public never knew he was in town.

In 2007, Tom Collins, of Champions on Ice fame, rented the Target Center for a birthday party for his wife, Jane. The biggest array of greatest figure skaters in the world came and performed before the closed audience of family and friends of Janie. Everyone present knew that it would be Janie’s last birthday. She died a few months after. After the death of his wife of 41 years, Tom Collins sold Champions On Ice.

I never thought I would ever write anything in my blog praising Cosby but I have to give the devil his due. Nobody worked the Shadow Circuit like he did. He mastered it.

When he was offered a Shadow Circuit event, he contacted Mystic Lake Casino, and arranged for a day or two of two performances per day. Next, a call to Minneapolis booker to get several days of two a day performances in a Minneapolis concert venue

He was an easy sell, did not need much advance publicity, sure sell out every performance, not many stagehands.

For stagehands it was apiece of cake to set up and take down. Even on spots it was a snap. Pick him up as he came on stage. Once he sat down, you could lock down the light because he never moved until the end. His show lasted about an hour and another started an hour later. Two performance pays in the time it usually takes for one regular show.

For Cosby, it was also a snap. Sit in an easy chair, smoke a big cigar and repeat some of the old stories he has told, recorded, written in books, for years.

A Shadow Event that generates another dozen or so performances! And for over a decade, he did this n in the Twin Cities three or four times a year; and he worked Shadow Events all over the country. Cosby ruled the Shadow Circuit…until!!!

The names and faces that were on the Circuit since I worked it may have changed, but it is alive and well yet today; and it remains a big source of income for entertainers, celebrities, and stagehands..

KGB AND THE ZAMBONI

As told to me a few times by Morrie Chaflen. In his own style and his own words as I remember it. Here’s his adventure in the USSR.

“Hubert Horatio Humphrey came to the U of MN from a small, very small, town in South Dakota. The biggest business in the town was his dad’s drug store and soda fountain. The biggest events were the Church Fall Festival and the summer arrival of a traveling circus. The kind that consists of one extended family that change into the next act by changing costumes. So the lion, (one old toothless lion), tamer also was part of the high wire act, and so it went with everybody. Nobody was a one-act performer.

The one who never changed costumes was the head man. He wore his clown suit as the head clown and the emcee. Hubert said that clown was the best part of the show.. Hubert really liked clowns; and when he found out that the Moscow Circus with Popov, the Russian Sunshine Clown, was performing t the Brussels’ World Fair, he got the State Department to appoint him as a U.S. Ambassador to the fair. Once there he widened the culture exchange, got the city that had elected him mayor years before, Minneapolis, the first week engagement of the Russian Circus, and even got his old friend, me, a tour in Russia. And darn near broke up that old friendship when those two yahoos had their guns pointed at me.

But wait I’m getting ahead of myself.

The kids were all gung- ho about the tour, chance to see great ballet, art museums, Russian history and culture…but what they saw was USSR Collective farms, Collected factories, and Collected ruts on the roads we had to travel on. Each day had a short bus tour to see the sights and listen to somebody from the Propaganda Ministry drone on about how the USSR life was the best in the world. After the first couple rides, nobody wanted to go on another; but Smith, our State Department overseer, said we had to have a few go on each tour, and he suggested using a round robin so each skater went on one bus in every venue.

On the tour, our food was centered around the beet. Beets fixed every way imaginable… and dark bread, and chicken. To drink, there was water, vodka, water mixed with vodka. Most all of us stuck with the water, even if it had a gray color and a taste that varied from city to city.

But heck, we were making more money than ever before on a tour, thanks to the State Department. We had a small per diem to spend in the USSR, and the rest waiting, tax free, in our bank accounts back home. Since any money you received in the USSR had to be spent in the USSR. You couldn’t take it out of the country. You could leave it in an account and spend it when, if, you came back.

I was allowed to bring in one hand to be the stage carp to Russian hands. One wardrobe mistress to handle the Russian wardrobe gals. One sewing machine that the Russians never used…they argued they could sew better and faster by hand. And one ice-maker/Zamboni mechanic/driver…and Wee Willy was the best there was.

Wee Willy stood about 6’4”. He had a build that would qualify him to play tight end for the Vikings. Strong as a Russki weight lifter, gentle as a lamb, and a natural mechanic. I called him just Willy. Darned if I was gong to call someone wee when I to look up to talk to. I asked him once what was with the nickname Wee, and he said because he was the runt of the family. Hate to foot the food bill for that bunch.

I had hired him shortly after we got our first Zamboni. We were in Charleston, WV and the machine needed a tune-up. Our driver didn’t want to get his hands dirty and Willy, who surfaced the arena ice by hand, asked to take a shot at fixing the machine. Half hour later he was driving it like a pro. Hired him on the spot.

When the Russian tour came up, Willy had also just returned from a short visit to the factory of Peter Zamboni, the man who conceived and built the first Zamboni, the Model A.

Peter had built it just to use at the Zamboni brothers ice skating rink. Sonja Henie heard about it and demanded he build one for her tour. Now when Sonja spoke, the figure skating world listened and pretty soon Zamboni was making his machines for all the big skating shows, including Holiday.

We got one of his first Model B’s. Now, instead of just putting the ice scraper on top of a Jeep, it was on top of a frame built for it. And some new improvements to the scraper. We took a Model B on the Russian tour just like Humphrey told us to.

When we got to the first city we were briefed by Smith, the State Department liaison.

‘Glad to me you, Mr. Smith.’

‘Not Mr. Just Smith.’

‘Is Smith your first or last name?’

‘Both.’ Then he points over to the 3 men wearing black leather coats. ‘And these are your translators.’ I started to talk to them but Smith grabbed my elbow. ‘Don’t bother. They can’t speak English.’

‘Then why?’

Kilo. Golf. Bravo.’

‘Oh! What’s their names, Manny, Moe, and Jack? Hey, maybe…Larry, Moe, and Curly? Since they couldn’t understand English, I figured I’d get a poke at the bad ass KGB I heard so much about.

‘Yeah, the second sounds about right. If you need help talking to a Russian, go through me or Svetlana. I was told she’ll be with us all the time.’ He nodded to a woman talking to Willy. ‘Call her Svet for short.’

There was nothing short about Svet. In her work boots, she was only about two inches shy from looking Willy straight in the eyes…when she wasn’t checking him all over. That gal had plans for Willy; but so did a lot of the skaters, and they had all struck out. Willy always put them of by saying he had a fiancée back home in the mountains, but that didn’t put off Svet. His mountains where far away.

Svet became his shadow. She sat next to him when they ate, or on bus rides, and was behind him when he was tuning up or driving the Zamboni. After the first venue, she knew enough to take over for Willy, if needed.

(It didn’t dawn om me at the time but Willy had a second shadow, Moe. On bus rides, Larry and Curly sat in the last row. Moe behind the driver. Willy and Svet in the next row. If Willy and Svet were not on the ride, neither was Moe.)

On the first day of our second city, Willy complained to me because Svet kept pestering him to let her drive. ‘Boss, I keep telling her, if you want to drive, get your own. And she says she can’t. There isn’t another Zamboni in the whole USSR. And then she says but there will be soon. I figure they must have some on order with Mr. Zamboni. Oh, and Boss, she keeps volunteering me to go on those darn bus tours’.

I couldn’t help him with Svet but I knew how to keep Willy off the tours. Once I said he has piano playing fingers, long and slim. When I asked if ever played piano, he said no, just my harmonica and he played You are my sunshine. I asked On the him to play another tune but he only knew Sunshine.

Next day tour I asked him to play a song for us. When he finished playing Sunshine, everybody applauded and asked him to play again. So we got another Sunshine. A little later, I asked him to play a tune for us… Yup no more demands from Svet that they go on the day tours.

We sold out every performance in the tour. Standing room only, even in the aisles. They sure loved figure skating. Smith said they grew up with ballet and skating was ballet on ice. I laughed and asked if they had a Bolshoi Figure Skating. He gave me a small smile and commented maybe in the near future.

The audiences liked the show, but the biggest applause was always reserved for Willy, Svet, and the Zamboni. Some of the audience came early to watch the ice being surfaced for the. They stayed in their seats at intermission and waited after the show until Wee Willy finished and parked the Zamboni. I thought maybe I should have left the skaters at home and just brought the Zamboni. Smith said those Zamboni lovers were workers at Russian ice arenas.

All in all, I was very happy with the tour. I had already talked to Smith about a possible China Tour. Get a little détente going there too. And then after the last performance of the tour, I got bite where it hurt most!

Looking in the rear view mirror, I should have known! But Russian mirrors are foggy. Heck, they’re so foggy, I grew a beard, for fear of cutting my throat shaving.

I had wrapped up the paper work, aka Red Tape, and was about to check on the final load out when Slats, our head carpenter came running. He was shouting something about the Zamboni.

I took off running. They weren’t going to pull something like that on me. No way! But I pulled up in a hurry when the KGB’s answer to the Three Stooges came from behind the Zamboni.

Moe, with his hands in the pocket of his black leather ankle length coat, stood in the center of his two stooges. He had that come-on-I-dare-you look on his face.

Larry and Curly were wearing their black leather knee length leather coats. And each had a BIG pistol pointed at me.

Thinking back I should have been praying; but at the time all I could think of was, “What in the name of Hubert Horatio Humphrey did I get into???”

Willy was standing by the machine watching as a herd of Russians, supervised by Svet, were tearing the Zamboni apart, piece by piece. He held out his hands palms up and came toward me; but Smith, who had placed a hand on my shoulder, waved him back.

As much as I wanted to stay, the sight of those BIG guns and the look on Moe’s mug, were more than enough to allow Smith to get me in his assigned car and drive away.

I cut loose with a string of swearing for a good five minutes. Once I got my over it, I apologized to Smith for my language. He said no sweat, he had heard the words before. So then I cut loose with some I figured he never heard before because I was making them up as I went along. And I didn’t stop until we got to the hotel.

I told Smith I had already packed and brought my luggage to the arena. Why did we come back to the hotel. Smith said to pick up something I forgot.

There was an U.S. Embassy ‘translator’, complete with a BIG bulge under his suit coat sitting in front of the room door. He nodded to us and stepped aside so Smith could unlock the door. I followed Smith into the dark room. No light on. Shades down over the window. Once we were in and Smith shut the door, he turned on the light.

I used a couple words Smith had heard before! On the bed, there was U.S. greenbacks scattered around, a lot of them; and when I looked closely, they all had old Ben Franklin’s picture staring back a me. Now in those days, a hundred dollar bill was as rare as a two dollar bill today. And a flock of them were sitting on the bed.

‘Should be enough to pay for the Zamboni,’ Smith said.

‘Probably three,’ I said, ‘And enough left over for a couple steak dinners when you and I get back to the good old USA.’ Smith laughed and said it was a date.

Then I came back to Earth.

‘Hell,’ I said, ‘We have to spend it all here. There’s no way we can get it out of Russia. Damn! Damn! Damn!’

Smith laughed and put them into a large metal attache case that had US Diplomatic Pouch painted on top and bottom with a chain welded to it and a handcuff on the other end. And while he took care of the money, he told me it was tax free to do whatever I wanted with it, and said there is also a new Zamboni waiting back in Minneapolis.

‘Now, let’s go home.’

In the car he broke the news that Willy was staying in Russia for a while. He and Svet had work to do, seeing that the parts the Russians had duplicated were assembled correctly to make ‘Russian Zambonis’, and Russians were taught how to drive them. For how long he was staying, who knows. There’s a lot of arenas in the USSR, and if Svet has her way, he might never come home.

‘Nah,’ I told Smith, ‘Wee Willy’s got a girl back in the mountains waiting to marry him.’

I fell asleep in the plane as soon as I sat down and buckled up. Hours later I woke up and immediately asked Smith how much did Hubert Humphrey know and when did he find out?

‘He was briefed last week,’ Smith said, ‘And ordered not to let you know. Then your old friend did some ordering of his own. That new Zamboni waiting for you…Senator Humphrey ordered that that be added to the money you would get because you lost your Zamboni to the Russians. Then he ordered that everyone on the tour receive a nice tax free bonus on top of their wages.’

‘Sounds like the Hubert Horatio Humphrey I know’, I said. ‘How about you? Did you get a bonus too?’

Smith smiled and told me no bonus but a jump up one pay grade and all his wages during the Russian tour were made tax free.

‘Good! Great!’, I muttered and went back to sleep.

After a couple weeks vacation, we began another tour. One stop was in West Berlin, as close to the wall as possible, hoping to spread a little detente by osmosis. I was in my office wagon with my back to the door when it opened and let the sunlight in, briefly, then disappeared because of the large man entering. Wee Willy was back!

‘Come to tell you, Boss, I’m back. Smith had told me I would still have a job when I was ready.’

I didn’t bother to look up. ‘Since when is Smith telling me who I have to hire?’ I said in the gruffest manner I could without letting on how happy I was. He began to hem and haw and I jumped up and gave him a hug. Well, as much as I could, my arms were too short to wrap my arms all around him.

I made him sit and tell me what happened after we left.

Seems the mechanics were working in 12 hour shifts turning out the machines. Soon as they built one, Svet would try it out. She had last say on whether it passed the test. Next was to line up the would-be driver and Willy would be the instructor. If any of the mechanics or drivers screwed up, Svet’s brother, Ivan, would ship them off to a collective farm.

‘He sounds like a real bad ass.’

‘He was bound and determined I was going to marry Svet. He didn’t want me to go back home because that would mean Svet would take charge of all the Zambonis in Russia and he didn’t want to see her with that kind of authority. Said he was going to see that I could never leave Russia.’

‘A Real bad ass. Glad I didn’t have him around on the tour.’

‘Boss. You did! Only you called him Moe

‘Little Moe was big Svet’s brother! Must have had different fathers. So how did Svet take it when you said you were leaving?

‘She loved it. Forgot all about trying to marry me. She said with me gone she’d be number one Zamboni expert in the whole USSR.’

‘So when is my number one Zamboni expert ready to get back to work?’

If it’s ok with you, I’d like some time yet. See I’m flying home and marrying Li’l Lou.’

I had to laugh. Wee Willy and Li’l Lou. ‘Lil’ Lou? She the runt of her family?’

‘Oh, no, Boss. She’s regular size. Li’l Lou is nickname. Her folks were thinking their first born to be a boy and name him Amos after his Pa, and have nickname of Junior. So when the first born was a girl, they named her after Lou Ella, her mom. And they nicknamed her Li’l Lou instead of Junior. They saved the nickname Junior for their first boy.

‘And what does Li’l Lou think about having a husband on tour most of the time?

‘Well, Boss,’ Willy said, ‘I know you have a hard time finding good wardrobe people and then keeping them. Li’l Lou can sew by hand or by machine. Can make a dress from a pattern or just from a drawing…’

Willy had it all figured out.

‘Tell you what, Willy,’ I said, ‘Get married and go on a four week paid vacation for my wedding present to you. Then come to Minneapolis and I’ll give Li’l Lou her present. A job so you both will be on the same tour. Now get moving.’

He wanted to say more but I waved him out. ‘Oh! Just one more thing, Willy. Play me a song.’

That sure made him smile and he launched into You Are My Sunshine. I never thought he had time to learn anything else to play like maybe the Russian National Anthem.

So now, anytime you watch a Russian win a medal for figure skating or a Russian score a goal in hockey, you can bet that the ice they learned on was surfaced courtesy of a descendant of the Zamboni the KGB got from me.

Of course, if you mention the word Zamboni to a Russian, he’ll tell you, with a straight face, it’s another earth-shaking invention the Russians came up with.”

And then when Morrie finished his story would hum a little of

You Are My Sunshine.

Like I said

Morris, (Call me Morrie} Chaflen was

One-Of-A-Kind

a risk taker, a warm human being, and

a great story teller.

If you ever met him, you would never forget him’

I know that for a personal fact.

ON ICE PART III

The other of the big three ice productions came about when Maurice Chaflen took his ten year old roller blade touring show, Skating Vanities and converted the idea to an ice show, Holiday On Ice. It differed from the other two in that it had several productions traveling all at the same time and it carried it’s own ice making equipment, which meant they didn’t have to confine the tours to cities with ice arenas in the US or around the globe.

Holiday began it’s US operation in 1945. The first international company was called Ice Vogues and started with a tour of Mexico in 1947 and toured Mexico and South America. In 1956, the name was changed and Holiday On Ice now toured all over the globe.

Except for a few years when Sonja Henie joined the company, the show did not use big name skaters. It featured the spinning wheel, skaters linked arms one by one, ending in the spokes of the wheel skating from a central hub. Each performance ended with a kick line and fireworks.

To attract a new audience the reviews introduced kiddie themes like Bugs Bunny, Peter Pan, Ali Baba, and the like, the first of the costumed ice show that led to today’s Disney On Ice.

In 1964, the North American show was sold to Madison Square Garden, leaving Chaflen as owner of Holiday International, which grew to have three companies traveling around different countries at the same time breaking new ground in Russia and China. The US version ended in 1985, but the International shows are still touring.

Tom Collins, a Canadian skating champion, joined Holiday, and when his skating days ended, he and Morrie Chaflen started Champions On Ice. No sets or chorus lines. Just figure skating champions performing the routines that brought them fame.

Morrie Chaflen sold out his share to Tom, but not until he married Tom’s sister, Martha, also a Canadian champion skater.

At first Tom could use only amateur champions but when the rules were changed to allow professionals he brought in names like Brian Boitano, Katrina Witt and Michelle Kwan, and every big name skater in the 40 years he had Champions. Sometimes he used skaters that hadn’t made their mark yet, just talent and promise. One such promising youngster was 12 year old Dorothy Hamil.

When he staged his final tour in 2007 and sold his company, shortly after his wife died, he was regarded as the most powerful person in figure skating.

Tom’s father had been a gold miner, but never found a mine as rich as his son found in figure skating. He was grossing over 50 million a year. But when he was sitting backstage talking to hands like myself you would think he just one of the guys.

But Tom Collins wasn’t one to sit back and enjoy retirement. He went on tour with Neil Diamond and revolutionized the selling of swag at concerts. No more just a CD was for sale. Tom had T shirts and caps, posters and autographed pictures. Swag was now big business. He went on tours with other performers and bands. His brother, Butch, had been working for me as a stagehand and Tom got him involved in selling Swag for Sesame Street Live whose headquarters are in Minneapolis, and I lost a good hand in Butch.

The big shows of Ice Follies and Ice Follies are now just show business memories like Ziegfeld Follies and Vaudeville. Their time maybe over but they broke ground in figure skating. They proved there was a market for skating shows, and a career for skaters even if they never became household names giving a reason for the hours needed in the grueling task of becoming a figure skater. And they introduced the art of figure skating to a new audience, an audience that continues to support the ice shows that followed.

The people behind ice shows, past and present, had for the most part, one thing in common, ice skating was a big part of their life since they were old enough to have skates laced on.

But one of the biggest mover and shaker in the business was a non- skater, Morris Chaflen, a true entrepreneur. Chaflen, ‘call me Morrie’, was a man who dove into things without worrying about the depth of the water. Once you met him, you never forgot him.

Morrie grew up in Minneapolis. He was still in knee pants when he started his first business, selling newspapers and candies on a street corner. His first big-boy enterprise was a combination pool hall and bowling alley.

I knew a lot about hawking newspapers and playing pool. That’s how I grew up, not shooting basketballs or ice skating.’

In 1947, he and his partner, Ben Berger, bought the Detroit Gems, a professional basketball team, to Minneapolis and renamed it the Minneapolis Lakers. Luck of the draft brought them George Mikan when the Chicago team he played for two years folded. Mikan helped establish the NBA into a major sports organization and was name the Greatest Basketball Player of the 1st half of the 20th Century.

In 1957, he and Berger sold the team to Bob Short, another Minneapolis entrepreneur and politician, who moved the team to Los Angeles, three years later’. It broke a lot of hearts including your truly.

Yeah, Short was always running in state or federal elections. Running but never winning. Maybe some voters figured he’d sell them out just like he did with the Lakers. You think?’

Morrie was active in politics also. A behind- the- scenes worker. Never a candidate. In 1944, he was in the liberal arm of the MN Democratic Party when, under the leadership of Hubert Humphrey, merged with the larger MN Farmer Labor Party. He became friends with Humphrey from the time Humphrey came to study at the University of Minnesota and he worked for Humphrey’s city, state, and federal campaigns, as Humphrey went from Mayor of Minneapolis, to MN’s Senator in DC, to Vice President under Johnson, and back to Senator. The two remained close throughout their lives.

US Senator at that time, Hubert Humphrey met with Morrie Chaflen at the 1958 Brussels’s World Fair and the meeting resulted in a warm up of the Cold War and the beginning of the Cultural Trade Treaty between the USA and Russia as it was originally intended to be.

When Hubert worked out that exchange of the Moscow Circus and Holiday On Ice, a lot of people said it wouldn’t work, but we showed ‘em. Up til’ then it was just we’ll send you a piano player and you send us a cello player. After we went to Russia, the exchange went big time with theater groups, museum things, opera, and ballet. Just think, without ballet companies coming over, all those dancers never would have defected.’

Humphrey had purposed that the US would send over the Ringling Brother’s Circus with America’s famous clown Emmett Kelly, even though Kelly was no longer with Ringling. In return, Russia would send the Moscow Circus with it’s great clown, Popov. The USSR said da and nyet. They would send Popov and the circus to the US, but they wanted Holiday On Ice, instead of a circus…and it had to bring everything including the ice making equipment and the machine that shaves the ice.

Without asking Chaflen, he quickly signed the agreement, He knew Morrie would be more than happy to take the show to Russia. Humphrey had a caveat though. The first stop on the tour would be a week’s engagement in Minneapolis, MN where he started his political career.

Soon after the Russian adventure, Holiday broke the barrier of another closed nation, China.

Chaflen traveled around the world with his Holiday On Ice shows playing before European Royalty and World leaders like Nikita Khrushchev, and a Who’s Who of celebrities at the time like Princess Diana and Elvis Presley.

Morrie lived a life he never could have imagined as that ten year old kid standing on that corner in Minneapolis back in the day.

But it also had two tragedies that could have had driven him into a life changing depression, if he had been a weaker man.

On St. Patrick’s Day 1960, his wife, Martha Collins Chaflen and their three children, ages 2, 6, 7, were flying to Miami when the plane broke into pieces in the air and crashed. Morris Chaflen’s beloved wife and children were among the 63 people who lost their lives in that still unexplained horror.

On Oct 31st, 1963, at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Arena, just as the opening night performance of Holiday was into the finale, a leak from a LP tank, stored under the bleachers, was ignited by an electrical short and blew up, killing 81 and injuring some 400 more. Morrie was not there and none of the cast or crew were hurt; but the fact that there was 81 deaths and so many of the over 4,000 in the audience, and a statement from the sheriff stating that if the show had not started 15 minute late, the deaths and injuries would not have been as great, hit Morrie hard.

Criminal charges against six of the arena’s staff were dropped after more investigation. The arena reopened and hosted a cattle show six weeks later, and The Beatles a year later, followed a month later by a return of Holiday On Ice, which broke the arena’s attendance records.

It took Morrie quite awhile to get back to being the easy going person he was before, but slowly he reverted to the man who was so much fun to be around. He remarried and had two sons with his second wife. He lost his ownership in Holiday International by a court ruling over a stock issue. He started Chaflen International and dabbled in various businesses. He died in 1949 at the age of 72, a year after the death of his good friend, Hubert Humphrey.

Morrie was a natural story teller, and you never forgot him or his stories. He loved to sit backstage and regale young stagehands like your truly.

Now did I ever tell you about…’

You probably heard the story before but any story Morrie told was worth hearing again. He had a twinkle in his eye and just a slight accent. He used his hands in telling a story. He could have had a career as a story telling comedian.

He had that gift of entertaining through the art of telling stories that seems to be second nature to those who lived in the shtetls of Eastern Europe. Like the Boston barber, Max Nimoy, father of Leonard Nimoy, who told stories of living in and escaping from a shtetl in Ukraine.

And like Myron Cohen who came to the US from Russia at the age of two. Cohen was a traveling salesman who endeared himself to his customers by telling them funny stories. He was talked into performing at comedy clubs and soon became a household name because of his appearances on the TV variety shows of the 50’s.

And like Zero Mostel,’If I were a rich man’, who, when cast as the original Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof’, balked at the concept that the original stories by Sholem Aleichem, who lived in a shtetl in the Ukraine before coming to the US, being ‘too Jewish’ to succeed. Using stories he heard from his father of life and dreams of the inhabitants of an East European shtetl, he crafted the Fiddler we know today. And over the years his Tevye was adhered to by actors like Herschel Bernardi, Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy among others.

Morrie’s favorite story was what happened on that first Russian tour. It also is my favorite Morrie story.

I took off running. They weren’t going to pull something like that on me. No way! But I pulled up in a hurry when the KGB’s answer to the Three Stooges came from behind the Zamboni.

Moe, with his hands in the pocket of his black leather ankle length coat, stood in the center of his two stooges. He had that come-on-I-dare-you look on his face.

Larry and Curly were wearing their black leather knee length leather coats. And each had a BIG pistol pointed at me.

Thinking back I should have been praying but at the time all I could think of was, “What in the name of Hubert Horatio Humphrey did I get into???”

Whoa! Whoa! Morrie’s story needs a post of it’s own.

Stay tuned for KGB AND THE ZAMBONI.

MUSIC/MEMORIES/MEDICINE

CBS TV showed parts of the Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga concert at Radio City in Special touted as the last time you will see Tony Bennett, who is 95 and has Alzheimer’s. What a cold way to sell a show!

I watched one song in it. Tony was standing in the crook of the piano singing ‘Love For Sale, while Gaga danced. I turned it off. I felt that it was a case of taking advantage of Bennett. See the old man try to remember the words. Kind of like going to an auto race hoping to see a crash. Going to a hockey game hoping to see a fight. Slowing down driving by an accident to see if it was more than just a fender bender.

But Danny Bennett praised both the concert and the special. Said it was good for his father. And Danny loved his father. He gave up a musical and producing career to save his father’s life and get him back to being the man that Tony Bennett was before he hit rock bottom.

In an interview on CBS’s Sixty Minutes, Lady Gaga also said that working with his music again helped Tony Bennett. She described how during rehearsals and the first of the concerts, Bennett sang his Standards without missing a beat; but she said he was oblivious to her and everything else. But then when she came on stage in the second concert to do her duets with him. Tony watched her as she approached him. He broke out in a big smile and said, ‘Lady Gaga’. He remembered her.

Her words were a breakthrough in my understanding how the music helped Tony Bennett, even if only for a short while. I thought back on the countless times I held a fussy baby in my arms and sang,Hush, little baby, now don’t you cry.’ Or cuddled a little one in my lap and sang,’You are my Special Angel, sent from up above’. While the song brought to the little one it also helped the singer’s disposition.

Familiar music brings back warm memories of bits and pieces of my life when I hear a certain song. There isn’t a day that I don’t tell Alexa to play songs from my library.

Jan and Dean were pioneers in Surfing Rock music. One of their biggest hits was Dead Man’s Curve. It dealt with a dangerous curve in a highway outside of L.A.. At the peak of their career, Jan Berry, driving his usual dangerous speed rammed into a parked truck a few miles from the curve. He was thought dead at the scene; but he manged to live, even if it took years before he could regain a semblance of his past life.

During these rehab years, Jan went on tour with Dean. One of the concerts was at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. I worked the lights from the stage right wing. Prior to half hour I went into the green room to get a cup of coffee. Both performers were sitting there. Dean was friendly and talked a good bit with me. Jan didn’t look at me. He stared out the window all the time. When they came into the wing waiting to go on stage. Dean smiled as he led Jan in. Jan had a hard time walking and just stared ahead.. My first thought was there was no way there would be a concert with Jan in that condition. I took the house lights out, the band began, stage lights up and watched as Dean holding onto Jan’s hand led his partner to the mic.

When the applause ended, the two began to sing. Jan gazed out into the darkness but he sang his parts without any problem. At the end, Dean led him off stage and Jan was back to his blank stare persona.

Eventually, Jan recovered and led a normal life in the music industry, albeit, with much physical pain. Then, 38 years after the accident, Jan suffered a stroke and died. But for that second lifetime, music was his medicine.

Back in 2016 I read where one of favorite lyric poets, singer/songwriter, Kris Kristofferson was in the early stages of Alzheimers. Kris was living on his ranch in Hawaii with a large portion of his 8 children, their children, and just about anyone who wanted to spend some time there. His wife took him to their place in California where the only extraneous noise would come from the music that Kris liked best. His memory improved in the solitude and in the fact a California doctor’s diagnosis was Lyme Disease, not Alzheimers, and changed the medicine. Kris announced his retirement in 2020, not because of health concerns but just old age. His wife says he is constantly filling up scraps of paper with new lyrics. So music helps but so does Second Opinions.

Brian Wilson was the musical genius behind The Beach Boys; the writer, producer, co-lead singer; but he thought the music was pedestrian, and aspired to compose in the manner of George Gershwin and others. His first nervous breakdown came on tour in Australia. He was replaced by a fine studio musician, Glen Campbell.

His bouts with mental illness led him to enlist a handler, Eugene Landry, a self professed expert, (aka con man), in helping the mentally disturbed. Landry soon became the biggest influence in Wilson’s life, taking over Wilson’s finances and in return ‘rehabilitated’ him with LSD, coke, opium, booze, junk food, etc., and cutting him off from his old friends and family.

In one of the rehab years, Wilson’s brothers Carl and Dennis, persuaded Brian to go on tour with the Beach Boys. One of the stops was Northrop Auditorium at the U of MN.

When it came time for Brian to take part in the concert, it was as if I was seeing Jan and Dean again. Brian’s two brothers led him to the mic. As he was led past me. I saw that blank stare Jan had had .But when it came time to join in, to co-lead sing, he did so just as if he was back in his old form. The same way Jan had done.

It took several years before he came back completely and when he did he broke off on his own. His two brothers were dead. Dennis drowned and Carl died of cancer. Their was bad feelings and lawsuits between Brian and the other members of the group.

Once again I witnessed the effect that music had on a person who was in grave need of it.

Age can also bring about a softness in the heart. I see where Brian Wilson is going to reunite with cousin Mike Love and Al Jardine, two other founders of The Beach Boys, and former unfriends, in a reunion tour of the group. You think maybe a new album will come out of the tour?

I worked many Frank Sinatra concerts over the years. Heck, I even paid to see him, once prior to being a stagehand and once while I was in the business. I worked the Rat Pack Tour in 1988 just after Dean Martin pleaded sickness and was replaced by Lisa Minnelli. The tour was just two years after Sinatra was hospitalized with a serious intestinal malady. It hadn’t slowed him down. His road manager told me that Martin left, not because of illness, but because of the antics of Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., like lighting firecrackers in the hotel corridors late at night.

But his age and past life caught up with him soon after. His heart, his lungs, his stomach began to slow him down. And he developed a form of dementia. One of his last concerts took place at the Met Ice Arena in Bloomington, MN., during the Super Bowl Week festivities in the Twin Cities in 1992. He had regressed greatly since I worked him in 88.

I got a hint of his problems during the stage set up. We put three very large video monitors across the front stage. In the test I saw the words to songs Sinatra had sung for years. The band was conducted, not by names like Nelson Riddle or Buddy Rich, but Frank Sinatra Jr., whose main concern was not so much the conducting as taking care of his father.

After sound check Jr. left to bring his father to the arena. I was there when he helped Frank out the limo in the corridor. Of all the times I worked Frank Sinatra he always pointed at me and said he remembered the hat. Always. He had always joked with the stagehands, but not this time. He looked only at his son.

I held a flashlight and walking backwards up the escape stairs to the stage shined it so Frank could see the steps, while Jr. followed, placing a reassuring hand on his father’s back.

He was breathing heavily as he struggled up the stairs. He paused midway up and spoke.

‘Hey, kid, where did you say we were?

‘Minneapolis, Pop.’

‘I’ve been here before, haven’t I?’

‘Couple years ago on the Rat Pack tour.’

‘They with me tonight?’

‘No, Pop. Just you. You’re the big act for the Super Bowl shindig.’

‘Super Bowl! Who won?’

‘It’s next Sunday, Pop. We’ll watch on TV at home’.

I tried to swallow the lump that was in my throat. We waited stage left as the band played the introduction. Stage lights to dim and Jr. brought his dad to the large glow tape X where the vocal mic stand stood. Frank took the mic, held it the right distance from his mouth and launched into his first song, Night And Day’.

His voice was raspy but he still pronounced the lyrics distinct as he always did. He gave a good performance, relying on help from the video monitors. A few times he went up searching for what was next in the song; but Jr. and the band covered until he was back on track.

His familiar music was working a transformation. With each song’s ending, he seemed to regain more and more of his personality. His old patter returned, the wise cracks, even his remembering that it was Super Bowl week. But his voice was sounding more and more tired. Near the hour mark of the concert, the band cut loose with ‘Come Fly With Me’. At the end of the song, the stage lights went down. The applause erupted. The lights came back full and Sinatra sang ‘My Life’. Each time I find myself flat on my face, I just pick myself up and get back in the race.’

The lights dimmed and the applause was louder than before. Sinatra’s encores always consisted of six or more song; but when the stage lights returned, Frank was at the top of the escape stairs with Frank Jr. and me and my flashlight.

‘Do I go back on, Kid?’

‘No, Pop. We’re going back to the hotel and then fly home tomorrow.’

‘Good. I am tired.’

Thank goodness the set had not included Frank singing ‘My Way’; but ease time I hear the song and the words ‘And now the end is near and I must face the final curtain’, I think back on the last Frank Sinatra concert I worked.

Frank Sinatra died two year later. But his music is still a favorite way of mine to relax me.

Glen Campbell suffered from Alzheimers for several years. His last tour is the subject of a documentary by James Keach of his last tour. The title of the film is ‘I’ll Be Me’. If you have a couple hours free and a couple boxes of Kleenix, I would recommend watching it.

In the first part Campbell is happy go lucky, singing his songs, carrying on with the three of his children who are in the band, doing Donald Duck impressions, teasing the young son of the bus driver, and fighting back against the loss of memory. But helpful as the first part of the tour was to Campbell, the second part broght out the horror of the disease. It showed Campbell in a foul mood most of the time, constantly complaining about the way the music was being played, the audiences, and wandering around the stage changing songs on the fly. Making up things to rant about. Forgetting importing things. At peace only when he was deep into singing or talking to his daughter.

His music had helped him but the length of the tour just was too much for anyone, much less a person with his mental problems.

The film premiered in 2015 and was updated in 2017 when Glen Campbell died.

The award winning song, ‘I’ m Not Going To Miss You,’ came about from a quote of Glen Campbell’s one day when he grew tired of trying to answer questions about his Alzheimers. ‘I don’t know why everybody’s worried about. It’s not like I am going to miss anyone anyway.’

And to Jan Berry, Kris Kristofferson, Brian Wilson, Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell, and Tony Bennett, we understand about the times you didn’t miss anyone; but believe me I will always miss you and your music, memories, and medicine.

And I, for one, use your music as a balm to help overcome the anxiety of growing old.

And in the words of William Congreve

Music has charms to soothe a savage breast’

TONY BENNETT-AGE 95+

Tony Bennett – Age 95 +

On his 95 birthday, Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga performed at Rockefeller Center. They did another show the next day. The advanced billing proclaimed it was the last time Bennett would ever perform. His son/manager, Danny Bennett announced that because of age frailty his father official retired.He did not mention that his father was afflicted with Alzheimers.

A month later Tony cut an album, Love For Sale, with his costar Lady Gaga.

Singing was an important part of his life even as a youngster. At the age of 10, standing next to Mayor La Guardia, Anthony Dominick Benedetto sang at the opening of the Triborough Bridge in New York City. Even though he had to drop out of school to help support his family, he continued to try and advance his singing career by working as a singing waiter and going to amateur singing contests, landing a small gig at a club in Paramos, New Jersey, under the stage name Joe Beri.. And all the while trying to earn a decent wage in Hoover’s Depression, a impossible task that made him an outspoken Democrat from then on.

When he tuned 18 he was drafted. The War in Europe was nearing the end. The Battle of the Bulge had reduced the German Army to slow combative retreat. The Allies were pushing the Germans back to their Father Land but at a heavy cost on both sides.

In March of 45, Benedetto was sent to the front in the 255th Infantry Regiment which had suffered enormous casualties in the Bulge and continued as it led the assault to push back the Germans to their homeland and hopefully their surrender. As Tony described the fighting as a ‘front row seat in hell’. House to house, hedgerow to hedgerow. Wondering if the next dawn would be his last. Somehow he escaped death and physical damage. But the insanity caused Benedetto to be an outspoken pacifist from then on.

He took part in the liberation of a German concentration camp which held a number of American POW’s. This event only increased his hatred of War.

After VE Day he was assigned to Special Services as a singer. But that plum duty was short lived.

He was seen dining with a soldier, a friend from high school, a black soldier. Demoted for this US Military ‘crime’, he was transferred to a desk in Grave Registrations. Funny, while he couldn’t dine with a black soldier, he could work on registering the proper graves of the dead soldiers, irregardless of their color, religion, or any other difference. This punishment did nothing to change his acceptance of people.

Nor did he take a hiatus from his goal of being a professional singer. He found he could entertain in the military by using his old stage name, Joe Beri.

His discharge brought Tony a chance to advance his singing via the GI Bill. He enrolled in the American Theater Wing, a school more dedicated to the theater arts rather than the teaching of music, especially pop music. He was taught in the bel canto method, a 19th Century Italian Operatic school of preserving one’s natural voice and respecting both the melody and lyrics.

He adopted the style of certain musicians, like Stan Getz and Art Tatum. And he followed Frank Sinatra’s respect for the lyrics of the song, No crooning like Bing Crosby but crisp and precise pronunciation of each and every word.

There were several recordings done in a small studio under the Joe Beri name, but none took off. Pearl Bailey hired Tony to open her show in Greenwich Village where Bob Hope saw him and hired him to go on tour. Hope told Tony Benedetto to shorten his name to Tony Bennett. After sending a demo to Columbia he was signed by Mitch Miller to help fill the void of Sinatra who had just left Columbia.

The first Columbia recording for Bennett was a cover of The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, accompanied by the Marty Manning Orchestra and it had a modest success, which prompted Miller to have Bennett work with Percy Faith.

Faith, the originator of ‘easy listening’ put a lush arraignment to Bennett’s singing Because of You, a song from the movie I Was An American Spy. Ten weeks #1, way over a million record seller. Tony Bennett made the big time. With the song still on the charts, Tony did something he would be known for his whole career, he introduced himself to a brand new audience..

Hank Williams was the hottest C&W artist of the time, one of the best of all time. Williams had a big C&W hit of hisCold Cold Heart and recognizing the greatness of the song, Tony Bennett cut a recording of it. It helped both men because it introduced them both to a new audience, one of the first crossover hits. Williams telephoned Bennett and told him how much he loved Bennett’s version and he plays it on the juke box all the time.

Bennett’s next record, Blue Velvet was hit with the teenagers and he played a run of 7 concerts daily at the Paramount Theater in New York City. Rags to Riches followed and was another #1 hit. The producers of the upcoming musical Kismet got him to record A Stranger In Paradise, a song from the show in order to promote the opening. It worked and the recording hit #1 in Britain, and the young man from Queens became an international sensation.

In the late 50’s Ralph Sharon became Bennettt’s pianist, arranger, conductor, and confidant. Sharon persuaded him to get back to his jazz roots, to forget the sugary songs, and work with jazz instrumentalists like Herbie Mann and Art Blakely. Sharon worked with Bennett for over 50 years.

Sharon almost made a grave error when he put a copy of a song in a drawer and forgot about it; but years later, he remembered it and brought it out for a tour that included San Francisco. I Left My Heart In San Francisco far exceeding the boundaries of the Bay Area and became Bennett’s signature song.

(The first time I worked Tony Bennett was a two concert night at the Guthrie. When we were almost done with loading out the sound equipment, Tony came up to me, shook my hand, told me how much he enjoyed working with us, and asked if he and Ralph could work out something on the piano, which was still on stage. I told him fine and when the sound was loaded, I sat backstage and enjoyed a private Bennett/Sharon concert.

What I didn’t know at the time was Ralph Sharon had taken a few years off from working with Bennett to avoid the endless touring and this was their reunion concerts, and I was privileged to be present when they worked out details of what they thought should be improved on.

Although I worked Tony Bennett many times, one concert was at Orchestra Hall. In addition to Bennett, I worked Anthony Benedetto.)

The other talent Anthony enjoyed as a youngster was drawing, painting when he could afford oils and canvases. Once he became an established singer he turned to art as a relaxation. Oils, water colors, still life, landscapes, and portraits of the likes of Ellington, Fitzgerald, Gillespie, Mickey Rooney, and others.

His amateur status as an artist soon became professional. His works are in in galleries round the world. There are three hanging in the Smithsonian. All his art is singed Anthony Benedetto, which allows them to stand alone, not on the crutch of the famous ‘Tony Bennett’.

(The concert at Orchestra had a large screen and Anthony Benedetto’s art was projected on it as Tony Bennett sang downstage. I was on a spotlight in the balcony, a perfect place to see the painting projections and hear the Tony sing and Ralph on piano. What a treat!)

The 70’s s started out strong for Tony. He worked and recorded with jazz greats like Basie and Adderly. Then the Beatles turned the pop music into the dominating force. Bennett tried his hand at pop and failed. He tried acting and one picture convinced him to forget it.The one positive was he participated in the Civil Rights marches.

He moved to London and became a modest hit with his own talk show. Came back home and started a recording company which turned out two fine Bennett jazz records; but with no experience in distribution, the company failed.

At the end of the decade, Bennett had the IRS on his back along with a cocaine monkey. His music career was nothing except for gigs in Vegas. He almost died from a drug overdose. Enter his son, Danny, an aspiring musician whose career was going no where fast. He devoted his time to getting his father’s life and career back on track.

He convinced his father to stick to the American Standard tunes with jazz backing. Forget Vegas. Take gigs in small venues. He brought back Ralph Sharon just in time for me working the two of them at the Guthrie. Thank you, Danny.

While Tony’s fans stuck with him, he and his songs were unknown to the younger generations. To cure that Danny got him booked several times with Dave Letterman which led to MTV taking an interest and Tony Bennett Unplugged resulted in bringing not only young fans but also a contract again with Columbia, which led to Unplugged winning Album of the Year. Like Sinatra had done, he forewent recording singles and concentrated solely on albums.

Theme albums featuring the works of a great such as Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong followed along with his Duets album where he sings with a pantheon of great singers like Barbra Striesand. Elton John, Paul McCartney, among others. Albums with just him backed up by jazz artists.

He teamed with the talented K.D.Lang in both recording and live concerts. Later he would do the same with Lady Gaga, who would sing with him in Duets II, along with the voices of Willie Nelson and Amy Winehouse and others.

As the accolades and honors poured in, he continued to work for charitable and political causes. He wrote two books of his memories. There was a big to-do when he reached the age of 80, little did anyone suspect he would have another 15 years of work ahead. At age 88 he recorded another Grammy winner, Cheek to Cheek, which debuted at #1 on Billboard. And he went on an extended tour with Lady Gaga. There was another big to-do when he reached 90, followed by a singles recording of Fascinating Rhythm which he had recorded a few weeks short of 69 years before. At the age of 95, he cut his album. Love For Sale.

The last time I actually spoke to Tony Bennett was New Years Eve, 2015, in an elevator at the Paris Casino in Las Vegas. Bennett was appearing that evening at the Paris where my wife and I were staying. Tickets for his performance had been long sold out and much too expensive for us anyway.

(I was going to the lobby when the door opened up and Tony Bennett got in.I offered condolences on the death of his friend, Ralph Sharon. Tony smiled and said it was a great loss after all those years working with his friend.

Tony asked if I knew Ralph; but the elevator stopped at Bennett’s floor and ended our conversation. He wished me a Happy New Year.

And as the door closed he gave me a thumbs up.

ON ICE – II

During the heyday of Ice Follies another big ice show, Ice Capades, toured the country. It’s birth was as unpredictable as was it entire life. Capades grew out of an idea of John Harris, manager of the Pittsburgh ice arena, who hired the Swedish ice skater and movie star, Sonja Henie, in 1936, to skate between periods of the hockey games, hoping to build ticket sales for the team. It worked and soon other team owners followed suit with other figure skaters.

Four years later he and other arena managers around the Eastern states joined together and started Ice Capades.

Although it never attracted many big name stars like the Follies did, it was very popular for several decades. It made no pretext to be a serious art form and relied on corny, crowd pleasing acts for the most part. And it did not bother to develop stars. It relied on getting established stars from other shows and ice skating medal winners.

In the late 80’s, when all the ice shows began to decline, it managed to get Scott Hamilton under contract for a short time before he started his Stars on Ice, a show that stuck to the routines of the skaters without any extra things like sets or chorus lines. In 1991 it went bankrupt.

Then Capades was purchased by Dorothy Hamill, America’s new skating darling, an Olympic Gold Medalist and several times World Champion. And whose hairdo, ‘the short and sassy look’ became a fad.

She tried presenting a version of Cinderella on ice. It lasted only two years, just long enough to borrow a great deal of money to keep it afloat. Hamill sold the company to the Televangelist Pat Robinson. An investment only. I don’t think he used it to convert more potential donors.

Capades bounced around for several more years in some form or the other, but finally gave up the ghost in 2009, stranding skaters and crew without pay and running out of it’s suppliers.

(One of my favorite Woody Allen lines comes from HANNA AND HER SISTERS. Woody is discussing the afterlife and someone reminds him that there is a belief that when you die you just relive your life all over again. ‘Oh, great,’ Woody whines,’That means I have to watch Ice Capades over again.’)

We had the pleasure of working with Dorothy Hamill for two Decembers when she did her Nutcracker On Ice at the Orpheum in Minneapolis. It was a ‘cute’ show but it could not really compete with the many Nutcrackers that are danced every year in the Twin Cities.

Dorothy was a real pro, treated her audience and her crew with respect, in spite of the fact she was very unhappy at the time. She suffered from depression all her life. Twice married and twice divorced to Dean Martin Jr., she was devastated by his death when his National Guard jet plane hit a mountain.

She was married to her second husband during her two seasons of Nutcracker on Ice. He was the complete opposite of his wife. He was abrasive, rude, and treated the time-honored traditions of show business with all the slickness of a used car salesman. He regarded her as his property instead of his wife.

One of his publicity stunts was to buy matching fur coats for himself and Dorothy. The coats were humongous and hideous to boot. Dorthy hated them but he insisted that the coats would be worn to and from the theater. Somehow on the very first day of them wearing them, protesters from PETA and like fur coat haters, were there in full force and each day the crowd grew bigger. Dorothy would run into the theater in tears while he stayed back and made fun of the protest. He loved it. He was also accused of leaking the wearing of the fur coats to PETA from the start.

She has another husband now. I hope her marital disasters with her first two husbands has taught her something and she found one who will be a good partner and appreciates her for herself and not just celebrity arm candy.

The third major ice show was Holiday On Ice. This show came about in 1942 when Emery Gilbert developed a portable method to make an ice rink anyplace. He brought the concept to a Morris, Morrie, Chalfen, a Minneapolis entrepreneur, who saw a way to compete with the two major ice shows, put traveling shows with smaller casts, 20 girls, 10 boys, where the major shows could not visit because there were no ice arenas. As Morrie loved to say, ‘Have rink. Will travel’.

At it’s peak, Holiday had companies in the U.S., Europe, Central and South America. It’s first tour out of the country was to Mexico in1947. For a few years, Sonja Henie headlined a company, first in Paris, finished off in South America.

More about Holiday On Ice and Morrie in the next On Ice Post.

ELTON IN THE USA

@The Guthrie

Elton John is on his ‘Farewell Tour of the US’. But wait, that could change. The multi talented French star, Maurice Chevalier, enjoyed his first farewell tour of the US so much he took two more farewell tours after.

I worked many Elton John concerts in arenas, theaters, and even a private show for the managers of Best Buy stores. The finest was at the U of MN’s Northrop Auditorium. The 1st half was John on piano and Ray Cooper, the fine percussionist from the UK, on a variety of things including a large gong. He was actually on the gong at one point, hanging on and beating time. The 2nd half was Elton going alone. The sound system was a new package of the Clair Brothers, the top audio company on the road. What a concert!

I worked Elton John’s 1st US tour when he came to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Sue Weill, promoter extraordinaire of the Walker Art Center booked him, and I handled the lighting. Gosh, thinking back I can’t get over how shy and polite this young man was then. Little did anyone realize he would be the UK’s biggest star after the Beatles.

Here’s a reblog from March 2013 of that experience from the Old Hand.

Elton John’s first USA tour was in 1970. One of his stops was the Guthrie. Like all these concerts at the theater in those days, the sound was provided by a local company and the lighting by the Guthrie. Sometimes the acts brought in a lighting designer; but most of the time, I was the designer as well as the electrician. Even if a lighting designer came with the act, I usually ended up designing the show because very few designers knew how to light on a thrust stage.

When Elton came for sound check, I asked him about his lighting needs. He just shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know and would leave it up to me. He said that he didn’t require anything fancy. Such a polite ‘chap’. He always called me ‘sir’.

As usual, we did two shows that evening. Both were sold out. Elton put on two great shows. In the last show, he loosened up and did things that he didn’t do in the first show. He really attacked the piano. Hands, feet, standing up, spinning around on the bench.

His manager sat next to the lighting board up in the booth. He clued me in on what the next song was going to be so I could think of what kind of ‘look’ would work. At the end of the last show he asked what I thought of Elton. ‘What do you think? Do you think he’ll make it big? I mean really big.’

‘Well’, I said, ‘He puts on a good show, that’s for sure. I really like his Jerry Lee Lewis  piano playing. Good voice. Should do good. Except –  those glasses. Get him contacts. Nobody is going to make it really big wearing glasses.’

We were tearing down the sound and Elton came on stage and thanked us. When he shook my hand, he mentioned his manager had told him that I liked the shows. Nothing was said about my not liking the glasses though.

I worked him many time since, but never again at the Guthrie. He outgrew small venues quickly and played the big arenas like TargetCenter. Like any arena show, big effects were added, often at the expense of music. Nothing like the pure concert he did at the Guthrie.

Although, well after he made it big, he did forego the arena shows and did an acoustic tour. He played at Northrop, at the U of MN. He reverted back to his ‘not requiring anything fancy’. It was minimal, great sound system, and basic lighting. The first half, Ray Cooper, the great percussionist, joined him. The second half it was just Elton. Certainly one of the best concerts I have ever worked. In spite of the fact he still was wearing glasses.

A while back, a very talented cartoonist, Joel Orff, had a weekly cartoon, Great Moments in Rock and Roll, in a local paper called The Pulse. A stagehand, Rich Labas, suggested to Joel that he get together with me and do some of my stories. I asked him to use the name Old Hand on our stories. That’s the Old Hand in the hat. He did several, Elton, Prince, James Brown. And then the paper folded. Joel does his magic for a paper out in California now. Here’s his cartoon of my story.
Joel’s work can be seen at much better at:
http://jorff.com/

http://jorff.com/rock/EltonJohn.html

EltonJohn

For his farewell to the Twin Cities he is playing the Xcel Center, an arena in St. Paul. While I worked his 1st Concert here, I won’t be working his ‘last’ one.

ON ICE – I

Another Olympics. Another scandal. Some of the usual suspects…Russia/young figure skater.

This one had the best excuse I have heard in a long time, ‘I took my grandpa’s medicine by mistake’. But even with the tears and excuse, she finished fourth.

No skating scandal in the 1968 Winter Games though when Peggy Fleming won the only Gold Medal for the US, just gasps of awes. And those awes, some of them mine, were heard again every time she took to the ice in the Ice Follies.

Here is a reblog from the past.

Ice Follies 63This started out to be another KGB story; but then as I got writing I realized that large Ice Show revues are a thing of the past… just like vaudeville. So as I began to give a brief backstory to the intended story, KGB AND THE ZAMBONI, then I decided to delay it and write a longer version of ice shows as I remember them and as I worked them.

Back in the day when ice shows were full blown revues, ala Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, only on ice, and not today’s costumed skaters presenting a cut-down Disney movie, there were three major ice shows touring the country. Big shows. Big sets. Large casts that included solo stars, chorus lines, comedy sketches. And they used a large number of local stagehands. Spectaculars!

The original was Shipstads & Johnson Ice Follies. It was launched by the two Shipstad brothers, Eddie and Roy, and Oscar Johnson. The three friends grew up in St. Paul, MN and were regular ‘Shop Pond ice rats’. The Shop Pond was behind the Great Northern railroad shop where the neighborhood kids had adopted as a rink for hockey and figure skating. It was on this pond that the Shipstad brothers and Oscar Johnson worked out routines and entertained audiences who were standing in the cold at the edge of the pond, and it was here that a new kind of entertainment was created. The world of lavish ice skating productions.

The three friends started the company in 1936. They were featured in the Joan Crawford movies, THE ICE FOLLIES OF 1939, starring Joan Crawford and Jimmy Steward, hoping to compete with the Swedish ice skater Sonja Henie’s popular movies. It flopped and didn’t put a dent in Henie’s popularity, but it put Ice Follies on the map. Sonja Henie eventually worked with the two major ice shows that followed the Follies; but she never worked for Shipstads and Johnson, because they had their own stars.

Over the years they presented many stars of the ice, for instance the comedic skating duo from Switzerland, Frick and Frack. Prior to bring in this act, Eddie Shipstad and Oscar Johnson were the comic skaters, with their skid row routine. They were good but Frick and Frack were great.

Vastly popular, their stage names were adopted into the English language as a term for two closely identified people. Some of their routines are seldom performed because they are just too hard to do.

When Frack retired, Frick continued as a ‘solo’, using various young skaters as second bananas, who were never given a name as part of the act. One reason being the young skaters changed quite often. Some quit the act after just few performances. Frick was not an easy person to work with. He was very good but not as good as he thought he was. He was popular on the ice but not backstage. He was not friendly to his fellow skaters or the stagehands.

Roy Shipstad was a talented figure skater. He skated under the name Mr. Debonair. Recognizing that his age and front office work would force him to discontinue his Mr. Debonair routine, he scouted for someone to eventually take over the role. He found a youngster who was so good they didn’t wait for him to replace Roy Shipstad. They gave him a spot in the show under the name Young Mr. Debonair. He became a fan favorite from the start.

Young Mr. Debonair, Richard Dwyer, grew up in the show. Starting out as a preteen he continued skating well into adulthood. He went to high school in every city they stopped that had a Christian Brothers school. A few weeks here. A few weeks there. Had assignments to do from school to school. Got his high school degree working and touring.

Like Roy Shipstad, Richard was the epitome of a gentleman, before and after he dropped the ‘Young’ from his introduction, skating a classic form, dressed in a tux with a flower in his button hole. He always skated with six beautiful women in flowing gowns and gave out roses to women in the audience. And off the ice he was also a gentleman. A favorite of any one who worked with him, including the local stagehands like me.

Then there was a second generation Shipstad, Jill. Daughter of Roy, her routines were athletic and used some humor. Skating to music with a jazz beat, she seemed to be jitterbugging rather than the traditional graceful gliding.

One of Eddie’s son, Bob Shipstad worked in the front office and helped develop routines for the skaters. For one season the show presented Sesame Street costume skaters. When the Follies went full time Disney, Bob worked several years helping Vince Egan develop Sesame Street Live, (no ice skating), into the block-buster it is today.

Another star developed by the Follies was Karen Kresge. That gal was quite an athletic skater. And her routine was sexy with a capital S. Every male in the audience, that might have been nodding off, woke up when she was burning up the ice. In later years she, like many of the ice skating stars, worked for Holiday On Ice and also did choreography for both skaters and dancers. She worked with Woodstock Productions, a Charles Schultz company, for over 30 years. She was a great favorite of Snoopy, Schultz’s famous creation.

Charles Schultz grew up only a few miles from the Shop Pond albeit several years after the Shipstads and Johnson were on the Pond ice. Like many kids in that neighborhood Schultz loved ice skating all his life. In his later years he owned an ice rink in California and has an ice rink named for him in St. Paul.

(A little aside. Although Shipstads, Johnson, and Schultz grew up in St. Paul they had problems with their hometown. Feeling they were slighted at their start, the Ice Follies refused to perform in St. Paul. All their Twin City performances were in Minneapolis and its suburbs. Schultz had his first strip ‘Lil’ Folks run the St. Paul Dispatch and then in 1950 the paper dropped him. A few years later they begged to have him back, but he vowed never to allow his strip, now re-titled as Peanuts, run in the St. Paul paper and it never has.)

And my all time favorite figure skater is Peggy Fleming, Gold Medal winner in the Olympics. Three times World Champion. Went on to be one of the biggest stars of Ice Follies. And like Richard Dwyer, one of the nicest people to work with.Peggy Fleming

Such a sweetheart! I made certain I had the same task each time the show was in town. After she finished her routine I would hold a flashlight so she could ‘walk’ up the rubber mats on the ramp to her dressing room. She asked me my name the first time I helped her, and she always remembered it over the years, and thanked me by name each time up the ramp. And always with her warm smile.

She changed her act each season but the one I remember the most her all blue routine. The ice bathed in blue light. Peggy wearing a blue gown. The eight follow- spots spread around the arena capturing her every movement, every facial expression, in their soft pale blue lights.

And, even though the show trouped an orchestra, she skated this routine to a specially made tape of Frank Sinatra singing, IF YOU GO AWAY. Slow, sad, graceful skating as the lyrics lamented the thought of ‘you’ going away. Fast, gleeful skating as the lyrics changed to ‘but if you stay’. Back to the sadness of ‘if you go away, as you know you must.’ And ending in a slow face to black with the words, ’please don’t go away.’ Frank Sinatra singing a great song and Peggy Fleming skating in a blue world! The poetry of a real ice show.

Peggy married her high school sweetheart and they have two sons, and three grandchildren. She overcame breast cancer and is a spokesperson for early detection of the disease.

She keeps her hand in ice skating as a TV commentator.

Beloved by millions, her biggest outspoken fan was Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog. Charles Schultz devoted many a panel on Snoopy’s love for Peggy.

The Follies went downhill in a hurry as a lavish ice revue when the Felds, father and son, bought it. The father, Irving, was a show business promoter specializing in rock concerts . He brought his son Kenneth into the business and the two became big time promoters, with their flagship show, Ringling Brother Circus. In 1979 they bought Ice Follies and in 1981 they worked out a deal with Disney and Ice Follies was no more. The only big ice show now is the Disney costumed show centering around a Disney movie.

The Felds were not innovators but grew rich from the hard work and genius of others. The name Feld is not popular the show business community. The skaters of the Follies complained that the Felds were trying to make their show a circus on ice. They took acts like trained dogs and traditional clowns from the circus and introduced them into the ice show as additional acts that worked on rubber mats. They also introduced common circus practices such as low pay and disregard for their workers and performers. They helped grease the skids toward the extinction of the big ice reviews.

(In 1984 the Follies were doing their yearly stint in the Twin Cities. We had just finished up the between-acts preset and as we walked up the ramp we heard a lot of clapping and gleeful shouting in the dressing rooms hall. I asked a skater if what the clapping was about. ‘Somebody win the lottery?’ He said that the stage manager had just announced over the horn that Irving Feld, (the father), had just died. Ooh, applauding this. Cold, cold!)

I don’t know about the popularity of the Ice Follies around the country prior to the plug being pulled, but I do know they were selling out in the Twin Cities. I often thought that the show changed to Disney On Ice was because the big-name skaters did not want to work for the Feld Organization. It was much easier to control youngsters wearing Disney costumes, who are thrilled just to be in show business, then skaters who upheld the tradition started by the Shipstads and Johnson way back on a little ice pond behind the railroad garage in St. Paul.

After the Ice Follies began, two other organizations put large scale ice shows on the road. Ice Capades and Holiday on Ice. In On Ice Part 2, I will write about them.

Ice Follies

STRANGERS ON A STAGE

A reblog of a reblog

In honor of the Man, Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, being honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Singer/Songwriter be so recognized, I am bringing back this post. Oh, there’s also a memory of Prince there also. And now this Singer/Songwriter/ Nobel Prize winner has just sold his Songbook for umpteen millions.

And a memory of Prince whose estate was finally settled by his family.

And a memory of the lovely lady with the lovely voice, Judy Collins, has just struck a blow for the fight against COVID by refusing to allow Spotify play her music because of their allowing  on COVID LIES to be broadcasted on their station.

To most people having an encounter with a ‘celebrity’ is an unusual event. But to stage hands, it is an every day occurrence. Except! Sometimes a ‘celebrity’ shows up by surprise.

 Old Guthrie II The Old Guthrie

 

It was a Leon Redbone concert at the Guthrie. Tom, the deck stage hand called me up in the booth to tell me about the guy who just wandered in backstage. Tom said he looked like some homeless guy, tee shirt, jeans with holes in them, sandals, a goofy looking hat, longish hair, a week’s growth of beard. I asked Tom if he had any trouble throwing him out.

‘Well’, Tom explained. ‘I told him he would have to leave. Grabbed his elbow and showed him the door. Then when the light came from the open door, I realized that I was about to kick Bob Dylan out. Apologized and he just laughed and he understood. I gave him a chair. Damn! Bob Dylan! And I almost kicked him out the door.’

We had just finished a matinee of The White Devil. Joey B, the deck stagehand called me up in the booth. ‘Don,’ he said, ‘You better come backstage. There’s a guy down here and I ain’t about to kick him out. You do it!’

‘Come on, Joe,’ I got a lot of gel changes to do. Just boot him out.’

‘I ain’t gonna,’ Joey argued. ‘He’s the meanest looking guy I ever saw.’

I went backstage. The man had his back turned to me, looking down the hallway to the dressing rooms. I explained to him that nobody was allowed backstage.

‘Sorry,’ he said in a very soft voice. ‘I was just waiting for my daughter.’ He turned and faced me.

I found myself looking into the face of one of my favorite actors, Jack Palance. His daughter Holly was playing the lead in The White Devil. I shook his hand and told him he was more than  welcome to stay.

When I told Joe who Jack Palance was, Joe just shook his head. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Holly must take after her mother. She sure don’t look like her dad. – Thank god!’

I was laying on the Guthrie stage, my shoulders and arms extended down a trap hole in the floor. Joey B was below the stage. We were trying to fine tune a schtick that didn’t work at tech rehearsal. Bill, the sound man, was behind me, as usual making wise cracks. I was losing my patience, and the bolt I was trying to take out was turning.

Without looking back, I extended my arm back and told Bill to give me your f—–g C-wrench.

A soft voice, which definitely wasn’t Bill, answered, ‘Sorry. I must have left my f—–g C-wrench in my other purse.’ And there was a lot of laughter behind me.

I rolled over and looked up. I didn’t recognize the face for a beat or two, and then it dawned on me, it was Judy Collins. Her talking voice had the same crystal quality as her singing voice.

Next to her stood Stacey Keach, the actor, and Jon, one of the Guthrie stage managers. Behind them was Bill. I was the only one on stage that wasn’t laughing.

‘Oh, he’s a smooth talker,’ Bill quipped. ‘And would you believe that’s only his second best pickup line.’

More laughing and from down below, Joey B, who had no idea what had happened, began to holler at me to quit screwing around and get back to helping him fix the god darn piece.

Jon told me that he and Stacy were classmates in college. Stacy and Judy were in town for something, and Jon was giving them a tour of the theater. I tried to apologize for my language, but Judy just laughed and said next time she would be sure and pack a C-wrench in her purse. But first I would have to explain to her what a C-wrench was.

One of my favorite piece of music is Judy Collins singing SEND IN THE CLOWNS, and every time I play it, I always think to myself, ‘but be sure and tell them to bring their C-wrenches’.

big northrop Northrop Auditorium @ U of MN

In ’82, the Metrodome’s opening was an extravaganza, Scandinavia Today, featuring the King and Queen of Sweden. The one special request the King asked for was that Swedish born Ann Margret bring her Las Vegas show to Minneapolis sometime during the week- long fest. The Minnesota Orchestra honored his request and booked it for two shows at Northrop Auditorium.

At the top of the first show, young Joey R and I were in the #2 wing, on warn for the mid-black to come in after for Ann Margret danced her way downstage. There was a quick reset once the curtain came in. We couldn’t see Ann Margret until she was even with us.

When she came into our view, young Joey bellowed out, ‘HOLY S–T!!!’

Now I don’t know if the King and Queen, sitting in the front row, heard his shout, but I do know Ann Margret did. She did a quick double take look into our wing and flashed us a quick smile.

The blackout curtain came in and the hands ran out to set the next portion, while Ann Margret was downstage, welcoming the King and Queen and singing a song in Swedish for them. As Joey and I went into the wings, I jumped on Joey for being so unprofessional. He stammered how sorry he was. It was just he had never seen her before, never even heard of her and….

‘She does have that effect on men,’ the man standing in the wing said, ‘Even me. And I have been married to her for fifteen years.’ It was her husband, Roger Smith. Outside of the fact he needed his two canes to stand steady, due to his having MG, he looked as dapper as he did when he use to walk out the door of 77 SUNSET STRIP.

Once in the stagehands’ room, the other hands teased young Joey. His comment had carried clear across the stage. I told him from now on he should find out a little something about the show he was going to work so as not to make a fool out of himself like he just did. And I advised him to go to a video store and rent BYE BYE BIRDIE and VIVA LAS VEGAS.

We’ve been lucky in the Twin Cities that she has come back here a number of times, including acting in the film, GRUMPY OLD MEN. Believe me, if you looked up the definition of a really sweet person, you would see a picture of Ann Margret.

Orpheum Minneapolis Orpheum

I was on my knees in a downstage wing paging a mic for Patti LaBelle. Her concerts were always very fine, except her set belonged in an arena, not a theater. Very crowded on stage. And since wireless mics were still unreliable, a stagehand was needed to page the cable to keep it from tangling in a set piece. You have to concentrate. For that reason I didn’t realize that there were people in the wing with me until they had me surrounded.

I saw a short pair of legs clad in tight purple pants. I didn’t have to even look up to know it was Prince.

The second pair of legs were much more interesting. Much longer. Disappearing in a pair of short shorts. Tight blouse. It was Sheila E.

The third pair were longer still. The shorts, shorter still. The blouse, tighter still. It was Kim Basinger.

Prince might be short in stature, but he more than makes up for it in self-confidence. Not many men would dare attend a concert with both an ex-girlfriend and a current girlfriend. Or maybe it was a current girlfriend and an about-to-be ex-girlfriend.

But this was Prince, The Artist Formally Known as Prince, The Love Symbol. The two ladies were probably both current girlfriends. And for all I knew, Madonna, Carmen Electra, Vanity, etc., etc., etc., might all have been at Paisley Park waiting for the three of them to return so they could all ‘party like it it’s 1999‘.

Yup! The stage is indeed a strange land, and often you meet a stranger there. And often the stranger is stranger than most.

Please take the advice of Judy Collins

Listen to the Medical Scientists

Not the Anti Vaxxers

 

ARSENIC AND OLD PEOPLE

 

A Reblog 

I saw on FB that today is a very big birthday of Peter Michael Goetz, one of the shining actors in the Golden Years of the Guthrie Theater. Although Peter has acted on TV and movies, I think of him as a stage actor. From an acting intern at the Guthrie to Broadway, from small parts to playing leads, from comedy to intense drama. A wide range of roles and captivating in each of them.

This is one of my favorite memories of Peter on the Guthrie stage where he not only played the male lead, he also almost acted as the head usher…albeit it doesn’t portray his acting skills as much as it is an example of why working with him was always fun.

It was a Wednesday matinee of Arsenic and Old Lace, at the Guthrie. There was a large contingent of senior citizens.

(I don’t like that term. I guess I am a senior citizen, but I don’t remember every being called a junior or sophomore citizen. Why can’t we just be called old people? Some people don’t like the idea of growing old; but it certainly is better than not getting any older.)

Anyway, the play had reached the critical exposition scene. The two old aunties, played by Barbara Bryne and Virginia Payne*, are telling their nephew Mortimer, played by Peter Goetz, who the dead body in the window box is and why they put arsenic in his elderberry wine, and about the other dead bodies buried in the cellar.

Three senior citizens, a man and two women, came down the center aisle. The man was holding some tickets and looking down the rows. When they reached the moat, the section that separates the audience from the stage, they continued walking along the audience right of the moat. In the booth the stage manager was trying to get a hold of an usher, and the sound man and myself were laughing. On stage the three actors were trying to keep the play going while glancing slyly at the three patrons.

The three stopped walking the moat, and the old man carefully stepped up the steps to the stage. He held out the tickets and spoke directly to Peter. ‘Sorry we are late. Can you help us find our seats.’ An usher ran down the center aisle and offered assistance to the three.

Surprisingly, the audience didn’t react, perhaps they thought it was a part of the play. Up in the booth though, all three of us reacted. We were laughing so loudly the patrons in the balcony turned around to see where the noise was coming from. And the actors!!!

Peter and Barbara lost it. They both headed upstage and faced the scenery. They tried to keep their laughter from being heard but their bodies shaking gave them away. Thank goodness for Virginia Payne.

Virginia had played the other aunt a year before in the Alley Playhouse in Alley Theatre in Houston, so she was familiar with Barbara’s lines as well as hers. She turned what should have been a dialogue between three people into a monologue. It was a work of art. It moved the play along and gave the other two actors a chance to regain their composure.

Later, in the second act, poor Barbara lost it again. She swatted at a fly that was buzzing around her face. The sleeve of her dress got caught on her earring. Naturally, Peter lost it also. Luckily, it was the end of the scene and the blackout gave them a chance to get offstage.

Just as they did in the first act, both got on the horn backstage and apologized to the stage manager for losing it on stage. And in both incidents, the stage manager told them they weren’t alone. The three in the booth were holding their ribs to try and stop laughing.

There were other times during the run where the cast added additional comedy to the already hilarious production.

In the original script, Peter, whose character is a drama critic. When he first enters he says that he has just come from the Bellasco Theatre. The director, after the first preview decided the audiences weren’t literate enough to know about Bellasco, changed it to the Helen Hayes Theater. Sometimes Peter remembered and said the Helen Hayes Theater, and sometime forgot and called it the Bellasco Theater. Once he forgot both names, paused for a second, and finally blurted out the Cloris Leachman theater. That cracked the booth crew up.

The stage manager told Peter how the electrician and the sound man had a beer bet on if Peter would say Bellasco or Helen Hayes. The following matinee Peter came onstage and looked up at the booth and hollered out that he had just come from the Edmond BOOTH theater. Naturally that cracked the booth crew up.

Another time, thank goodness it was also a matinee, the actor, playing the next old man that the aunties picked out for their arsenic elderberry wine, was sick. His understudy had gotten the job, not because he could act, or even remember his lines; but because he was old.

The understudy stuttered. He stammered. He went up on his lines and he had to get whispered cues from the aunties, on what to say next. Suddenly, with still many lines to say, he bolted for the door. He tripped and fell on the two steps leading to the door. His cane cracked a vase glued on a stand next to the door. He tried to open the door in, forgetting it opened out. He pulled on the door so much the set shook and a stuffed bird, that was on a sill above the door, fell and nearly hit him in the head. When he finally got the door opened, he was holding his cane horizontal, which hit the door and the side of the jam, preventing him to exit. Finally he dropped the cane and went out the door. We cracked up again in the booth.

Ken Ruta, who played the evil brother Jonathon, like to see if he could get Barbara to crack up. He got her one time. The aunties admit while his voice is Jonathon’s, his face isn’t. He pulls out a photo to show them how he looked before his plastic surgery. He always had different picture, like Clark Gable or Marilyn Monroe. The time she cracked was a picture of a naked body builder with the face of Barbara’s husband, Denny Spence, superimposed on it.

*Virginia Payne was the one and only Ma Perkins. Ma Perkins was the most successful daytime soap opera on the radio. It was sponsored by Oxydol Soap, and hence the name of soap opera was born. It was so popular that it ran on NBC and CBS at the same time.

 It was the story of an old lady who was loved by all and gave out down home advice. Virginia got the part from the first even though at age 27, she certainly was not an old lady. In the 27 year run, five days a week, Virginia never missed one episode. When the show finally ended, Virginia was the highest paid actor in daytime radio. 

She was Ma Perkins. In the season she was at the Guthrie she was loved and respected by everyone at the theater. She only spent that one season because the next year she was too sick to work. She died shortly afterwards. What a sweet person!

(The old Guthrie Theater building is long gone, replaced by a beautiful complex overlooking the Mississippi. The old system of having plays in repertoire by a season long acting company is also long gone. Some of the actors, Peter being one of them return periodically to act in a play; but like the years at the old Guthrie, most of them are just memories of us Senior Citizens.)

The Guthrie has just reopened with a new production of

A Christmas Carol

A tradition started back in the day of the Old Guthrie

Please Stay Safe these upcoming holidays

Vaccinations-masks-avoid big gatherings

MEN OF THE USS WARD

A Reblog to remember December 7th, 1941

Even the open sea had adopted the Sunday morning calm of the towns that outlined the clover-leaf shaped harbor. The glow from the lights of Saturday night had dimmed several hours before. Now the only lights were those needed by the people who were going to church and those who were working the Sunday shifts.

On board the USS Ward an easiness had replaced the uncertainty of the night, the first night of the Ward’s task, patrolling the mouth of the harbor…the first night under the new captain..the first night the young crew felt they were part of the actual Navy.

When he felt comfortable with how it went that day, Lt. William Outerbridge had decided it was time for him to go to bed. He was tired. The hectic last couple of days had had drained him. Arriving on board of the Ward on the 5th, taking command, and setting out to sea duty on the 6th.

Outerbridge had his first command of a ship…albeit it he only had been in the Navy a scant fourteen years. He went to bed that first night, content and confident that he was capable of his new appointment. His ship handled well in this it’s first day of patrol duty…albeit it was old. His crew proved they were competent and more than willing…albeit, they were young in both years and experience.

The destroyer USS Ward had been built in just 17 days in the early days of WWI. She saw action in both the Pacific and Atlantic. At the end of the war, she was put in dry-dock until she was recommissioned and refurbished in January of 41, and then sent to the Pacific to be commanded by Outerbridge and crewed by the 47th Division of the Naval Reserve, called to active duty in January of 41.

Almost all of the crew were from St. Paul, Minnesota, the home of the 47th Reserves. St. Paul, an unlikely home for a naval reserve is the furthest city from any ocean in the U.S.. The men’s training had been mostly in the classroom, a little on the Mississippi River, and two weeks each summer on the Great Lakes. It wasn’t until they were activated that they experienced the taste of salt water.

They were raw and eager to learn. They were also young. Children of the Depression. Aged and steeled in the hollow life of the economic catastrophe. Russell Reetz, for instance, 24, tried to find decent work while in high school and after graduation; but each job he managed to find, crumbled shortly after. Some like Richard Thill were still in high school when they were activated.

They joined the reserves because it gave them a little money and a social club. A short meeting once a week followed by a few beers and penny-ante poker. Even the yearly two- week summer camp was an enjoyable respite from their daily lives. As the world war grew and the drums calling for the U.S. entry grew louder the reservists took their training with a much more serious attitude; but still the thought of protecting the Great Lakes seemed a better option than being sent overseas. Hence the call-up and the realization they were in the Navy proper, woke them out of their dream of easy sailing.

Still in all, it was a regular paycheck and a huge break from the breadlines of the Depression. Their life so far had been one of hard times and served them well in their new lives. They attacked the work with the zeal of one unwrapping a much wanted present. Having a job makes a person walk tall.

Sunday morning- 12/7/1941: At 0342 A.M. the USS Condor, in the open sea outside Pearl, experienced a wake that was deemed by the ship’s deck officer to be caused by a small periscope, possibly that of a mini-sub that Japan was known to use. The Ward, which was the closest to the harbor mouth, was notified.

Lt. Outerbridge called General Quarters and pinging began hoping to find the sub, but to no avail.

At 0458 A.M. the harbor’s torpedo safety net was opened to allow a number of small ships entrance, among them the SS Antares, which was towing a target into port. At 0630 at PBY plane spotted the submarine following the Antares and notified the Ward.

At 0635 AM., a lookout on the Ward spotted the periscope. Lt. Outerbridge, covered in a kimono robe, gave orders to attack. Since the vessel had not requested entrance to the harbor, Outerbridge’s order was justified by International Law. When the Ward got within range, the ship’s #1gun fired a shot…the First Shot of the USA in WWII. It missed high.

At once the men on #3 gun fired a second shot, lower and aft of the periscope. There was an eruption of water, black smoke, and the periscope laid over as it sank into the depths.

Outerbridge ordered the Ward to go to the spot and four depth charges were dropped to make certain.

Not only had these citizen sailors fired the First Shot, they also scored the First Victory in the War

These acts of war was radioed at once to both the Naval HQ of Pearl, under the command of Admiral Husband Kimmel, and the Military HQ of Pearl, under the command of Lt. General Walter Scott.

SNAFU! Busy lines, missed connections, the ongoing ‘feud’ between Kimmel and Scott, and the fact Kimmel wanted better confirmation such an incident did occur, all combined to nothing being done until it was too late.

At 0755 A.M., an hour and twenty minutes after the Ward entered the US into WWII, Kimmel’s confirmation was answered in spades. The gates of Hell opened in the form of 383 Japanese bombers and fighters in two waves of destruction.

Kimmel had believed that such an attack would be on Wake Island not Pearl and had taken no extra precautions to protect Pearl. The stubbornness of General Short in demanding that all the ships in the harbor be packed together in one section, made it much easier to attack them.

Within two hours, 18 ships were sunk or damaged…2402 US sailors, soldiers, and marines were killed…another 1247 hospitalized. As well as a large number of civilians killled or wounded.

The Day that Lives in Infamy. The next day the U.S. made it’s long awaited entrance into WWII a formality.

Three days after the attack, U.S. ships were allowed to enter the harbor. The Ward was the first…the first to see the carnage, the horror, experience the smell of death. And it all stuck with the men of the Ward for the rest of their lives.

Lt. Outerbridge was presented with the Navy Cross for his actions taken prior to and during the attack. The men of the Ward were given a pat on the back for their actions. While they were given credit for firing the First Shot, there was a reluctance from the War Department Brass to accept the ‘story’ they sunk the Japanese min-sub. After all these men were young reservists who ‘probably had a vivid and wishful imagination… something to tell the girls back home’.

Ten days after the attack, both Admiral Kimmel and General Short were relieved of command, demoted, and fast-tracked on their way out altogether. Both barely avoiding court martial.

The Ward was re-outfitted into a ‘fast’ destroyer with better armament and sent for duty in the Pacific where it engaged in fighting and transporting. In mid 1943 the men of the Ward were replaced as was Lt. Outerbridge. Most of the civilian sailors were sent states side to a much safer way of life. Outerbridge was assigned to a desk in D.C. until he was given command of the destroyer O’Brien just prior to D-Day. His first assignment, station the ship off the coast of Normandy and shell the German defenses. His next, do the same at Cherbourgh.

From ETO,the O’Brien was sent to the Pacific. Both the O’Brien and the Ward were engaged in the battle of Leyte Gulf. December 7, 1944, exactly 3 years to the day of the Ward’s great achievement at Pearl Harbor, she came under attack by Japanese kamikazes. One struck the Ward mid-ship. The ‘new’ men of the Ward abandoned ship and were all picked up by Outerbridge’s O’Brien.

After rescuing the crew of the Ward, Outerbridge was ordered to open fire on the Ward and sink her. In 1957 William Outerbridge retired as a much decorated Rear Admiral. In 2017, the remains of the Ward were found.

(A Little Aside)…In January of 43, while given shore leave from the Ward, Russell Reetz stood in my grandfolks’ living room and married my Aunt Loretta. I was a shy five year old who was fascinated by this tall stranger dressed in a navy outfit. Little did I realize at the time just how good of friends we would become.

Those civilian sailors, those men of the Ward, were discharged in the fall of 1945. All with a chest full of medals. For the most part they went home to St. Paul where they took advantage of the GI Bill, got training for good jobs, got GI loans for houses, and settled into everyday postwar living. One thing though held them together, the USS Ward on 12/7/41. They formed a brotherhood and called it the First Shot Naval Vets.

Damn if their feat of sinking that submarine was not officially recognized, they knew the truth and told the story to whoever wanted to hear it, schools, organizations, the media. In 1958, the group managed to get the #1 gun from the Ward and have it set on the State Capitol Grounds as a monument to commemorate the reservists from St. Paul firing the First Shot in WWII.

In 2000 a feeble attempt to find the mini-sub was undertaken for a National Geographic documentary emceed by Tom Brokaw. My uncle, Russell Reetz and Will Lehner, a shipmate on the Ward, were included in the search, along with Japanese veterans of the min-sub’s mother-ship. During the search Russ was heard loud and clear shouting that they were looking in the wrong location. They were a good 5 miles off. Nobody listened and the search was finally called off.

Uncle Russ figured they had no intention of actually finding the sub seeing as how the two Japanese vets would be greatly embarrassed.

In 2002, a probe by the University of Hawaii proved without a doubt the Ward had indeed sunk that min-sub as they said. They found the sub and there with the hole in it’s side just as the men of the Ward said, in the location where the men wanted the search to occur. It took 61 years but the men of the Ward got the credit they deserved.

Russell Reetz had his daughter, Cindy, write a letter to the admiral that was vocally opposed to the thought that a shell from the Ward could have penetrated the sub enough to sink it. The admiral sent back a letter with a left-handed apology, stating he was glad to see ‘miracles can happen’.

Uncle Russ died in November of 2004. He contracted pneumonia while sitting in the light rain in Washington D.C. at the dedication of the WWII Monument. He is buried along with a number of his fellow Ward shipmates in Fort Snelling Veterans’ Cemetery.

With the death a few months ago of Dick Thill, the baby of the group, all those civilian sailors, those young reservists, these Men of the USS Ward have left us…having earned a special place in our history.

We thank them and salute them, on this anniversary of Pearl Harbor… along with all the men of Pearl Harbor Attack, and the entire “Greatest Generation’.

AND THAT IS A WRAP FOR TODAY

STAY SAFE

NO HOLIDAY FOR BLIZZARDS

November 11th 2021 – The 81st Anniversary of the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940.

October 31st 2021 – The 30th Anniversary of the Halloween Blizzard of 1991.

The Armistice Day Blizzard lives in infamy because of the lose of lives attributed to it. There was 49 deaths in Minnesota

13 in Wisconsin

4 in Michigan

Conditions over the 3 days also were responsible for

A freight train colliding with a passenger train killing 2.

The sinking of 3 freighters and two smaller boats on Lake Michigan killing 66.

The Halloween Blizzard dumped a record amount of snow in Minnesota

27 inches in the Twin Cities, 37 inches in Duluth

Twenty two deaths in out-state Minnesota.

None in the Twin Cities area. Thank goodness! Although our 4th son, Darren had a harrowing experience of almost an hour, trapped and having to dig himself out of his snow-buried car, in late afternoon in, of all places, downtown Minneapolis.

Eleven counties in Minnesota and fifty two in Iowa were declared Disaster Areas.

For days the low pressure conditions racked havoc all over the United States. Snow followed by ice, followed by record low temperatures for Autumn. Schools closed, highways closed. Power lines down for over a week. Nobody, including the Weather Bureau was prepared and countless lives were lost in the nation.

And the storm hit the Atlantic Coast with such a fury that it not only caused destruction on the Eastern Seaboard, it moved to the ocean and developed into a hurricane.

It is known as The Perfect Storm.

The death of six fishermen who lost their lives at sea during it, is depicted in the movie The Perfect Storm.

In addition to having started on a holiday, both blizzards were preceded by very unseasonable warm days. The beauty of rare Autumns. When the wind changed and the snow began people were sucker punched, not ready for cold weather, let alone snow and sleet, and ice.

Armistice Day in 1940 was during duck hunting season in Minnesota. Duck hunting in summer clothes. Temps of 65 F. The Mississippi River Bottoms was strung out with hunters from the Twin Cities. They left their cars at the end of the Gun Club road and walked along the river bank to a place where they could be some distance from other hunters. The hunting was good and when the wind changed, it was excellent.

‘There were thousands of duck flying over,’ one of the hunters related. ‘We were so excited we didn’t pay attention to the dropping temperature and the rain that turned to snow.’ By the time they did realize the danger, the snow covered the ground and stopped them from getting back to their vehicles…covered the fuel sources that could provide fires to warm them or cook the ducks that were buried in the drifts. Soon they were left with digging out shelters in the snow. Solo hunters had nobody to cuddle to for shared body heat and walking to others was an impossibility. One of the survivors credited his life to nestling with his two Lab Retrievers. Most of the 49 deaths in Minnesota were duck hunters.

There would have been more deaths if it were not for Max Conrad, a pioneer aviator and Bob Bean, a flight instructor, who flew dangerous missions up and down the river, looking for survivors and dropping life- saving food and supplies.

A great many Minnesotans had much to be thankful for that Thanksgiving, but a turkey dinner was not one of the blessings. The blizzard killed a million and a half turkeys in the state.

The tag line for the Armistice Day Blizzard was ‘if you were living at that time, you would never forget it’. I was only two at the time so that’s my excuse for knowing about it only from the words and writings of older folks.

Not so with the Halloween Blizzard of 91.

That one is etched in my mind.

What a week leading up to it! The Minnesota Twins beat the St. Louis Cards in what was the closest and most exciting World Series on record. Two days later the victory parade followed, and thousands watched in the warm weather. And two more days later the Blizzard hit.

The Minneapolis stagehands were in the process of reopening the State Theater of Minneapolis with the Minnesota Opera production of Carousel. The State was built in 1921 as a vaudeville house, later became a movie theater and then a church for the Jesus People. In 1989 the City of Minneapolis bought the, the Orpheum, the State, and the Pantages theaters and refurbished them into venues for live entertainment. We opened them up in a course of several years in that order.

We had already put in several 12 to 14 hour days mounting the production and we intended to put in another that Thursday. There was a lot of grousing by the hands for having to work indoors when it was so nice outside. After all the nice weather wouldn’t last much longer. But we had no idea of how quick that the weather would change.

There was word of heavy snow south in Iowa, but the Weather Bureau, stationed in Chicago, assured us our nice weather would continue. By mid afternoon the blizzard had made it into the Twin Cities. We called it day and left while we still could drive on the road.

Out son, Darren, had moved his car at lunch and parked it at a meter near the theater. When he got to it the snow from the storm and the sidewalk snowblowers had covered the passenger side right to the roof. He had to walk down the sidewalk and then up the street to get to the driver’s side. He managed to unlock and pull open the door when he saw the warning lights of a snowplow in the next block barreling toward him, blasting the snow on the same side of the one-way street as his car.

He dove inside his car and closed the door just in time. His car was buried. He had to roll down the window little by little and push the snow away. It was slowed by snow sliding down from the roof of the car and new snow from the blizzard. And the temperature tumbled lower. Finally he got the window open all the way and crawled out. There was a janitor in front of the theater clearing the sidewalk with a snowblower. He took his machine and freed the car.

I had parked in an underground garage and even though the going was slow I made it home without incident. Our street was plowed because a neighbor was a volunteer fireman and the city kept the street clear in case he was needed. I got out my snowblower and go the car in the garage.

One by one our boys called, checking in and asking if we were okay. Darren was the last. My wife and I said a silent prayer of thanks.

All the hands were back at work the next morning and this time Darren parked in the underground garage. The snow continued, albeit at a lesser rate, for two more days. Then the weather changed. The warm autumn returned. The snow melted and the grass was greener than before the store. We opened Carousel on time. It got rave reviews.

Thanksgiving would have been a joyous holiday with a plentiful supply of turkeys; except we got another blizzard, albeit, it was just an ordinary blizzard. Not too memorable. Even if it did fall on a holiday.

A word to the wise from one who lived through both of those blizzards: If the autumn is unseasonably nice and a holiday is coming, keep your snow shovel handy and snowblower full of gas; because you never can tell.

November 11the 1940 Blizzard is a seldom remember event in our history books.

November 11th of 1918

Armistice Day/ Remembrance Day/ Veterans Day/ The 11th Day of the 11th Month

Is a day that must live forever in our hearts.

And to all my fellow Vets

Vaya Con Dios

Stay Safe

Get those life saving shots

For your good and the good of your loved ones.

I KNOW NOTHING

HOGAN’S HEROES was a weekly prime sitcom consisting of 168 episodes running from 1965 until 1971. Set in a German POW camp, it’s humor revolved around an inventive group of Allied POW’s outwitting the inept group of German overseers. It scripts and cast continue to amuse us even today on cable.

This reblog is from 2014. While it doesn’t deal with the TV show directly, it hits on my experience of the show’s acceptance on 2 former POWs and also a time Leonard Nimoy asked a question..,and was sorry he did..

One reason for the reblog is the excellent work being done by John Holton in his blog The Sound of One Hand Clapping. After a post on the Allied characters/actors, and another on the German characters/actors, John is writing a complete synopsis of each of the 168 episodes. Fine, entertaining writing, whether or not you are familiar with the show or not.

https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com/hogans-heroes-episode-index/

-Schultz-hogans-heroes-I Know Nooothing

On Memorial day weekend (2014) I read an angry letter posted on the web. The writer, a young (?) Politically Correct activist was railing out against the fact the old TV comedy, HOGAN’S HEROES, was still being shown on cable TV. She felt it was a great disservice to all those who were POW’s of the Germans in WWII. She wanted the series to be hidden away like the old AMOS & ANDY SHOW. In a way I could see her point; but… (It was the first TV show where Black actors had main roles along with the White actors.)

Two of my favorite coworkers at the Guthrie Theatre spent a large part of WWII as prisoners of war in German camps. Chuck Wallen, an American, was a stagehand and set carpenter at the Guthrie. Michael Langham, an Englishman, was the Artistic Director of the theatre. They were in different camps but they both had similar experiences during their years as prisoners.

Chuck, an Air Corps navigator, was on his first bombing run when the plane was shot down. He parachuted out, landed in a cow pasture and broke his back. A village doctor set Chuck’s back as best he could, but the setting would have left Chuck unable to ever stand straight again. A German doctor, seeing the problem, fought red tape and got Chuck to a hospital where the doctor rebroke the back and set it correctly. Chuck spent the rest of the war in a POW camp in Germany, but at least he could stand straight.

Growing up, Michael Langham’s hero was the Duke of Wellington. Because of this, Michael  went to Officers’ Training School where he received an officer’s commission just in time to take part in the final days of the Battle of Dunkirk, namely the retreat to the beach. When the Miracle of Dunkirk was accomplished, Michael was not one of the lucky ones that were transported back to England. He was in the group that missed the boats and were captured by the Germans and placed in a POW camp, where he spent the duration of the war that he really never got to know first hand.

It was the camp where the Great Escape took place, although the tunnel was in a different barracks and Michael was not involved or even aware of what was going on. To kill time in the camp, Michael joined the theatrical group. Sometimes Michael acted, sometimes Michael directed. By the time the camp was liberated, Michael no longer thought of himself as the next Duke of Wellington. Instead, he pursued a career in the theatre, substituting Tyrone Guthrie for the Duke of Wellington as a role model.

It was the years of HOGAN’S HEROES in prime time. The day after each new episode aired, Michael would make his way down to the shop where he and Chuck would spend about a half hour or so going over the episode, laughing and comparing characters on both sides of camp to people in their camps. Since I was working the show the nights the series aired I never got to see it until years later in reruns. Sometimes though when I was working during a day when Chuck and Michael got together, I was privileged to listen to those two reminisce.

So, now when I find myself laughing at the antics of Hogan and the gang, I don’t feel any guilt. After all, two members of the Greatest Generation, who had first hand experience in POW camps laughed at the same antics many years ago.

On the other hand, another favorite acquaintance, Jim Daly, who survived the Bataan Death March and the ensuing years in a POW camp in the Philippines, would not have found anything funny during his hell on earth.

  

We doing a week of VINCENT in Scottsdale, Arizona about nine months after Bob Crane, Hogan of HOGAN’S HEROES, was murdered in this posh city of many rich retirees. Mr. ‘Just Call Me Bob’ Herberger, founder of the Herberger’s department store chain put on a big fete for us at his house. He had enjoyed the play and especially liked the fact that it came from the Guthrie in his home state of Minnesota. I think he spent more time talking with another Minnesota native, namely me, as he did hobnobbing with Leonard Nimoy, the star of VINCENT. It was a fun time with only one slight bump in the road.

Almost all of Mr. Herberger’s invitees were, like him, enjoying their retirement in the land of the sun. There wasn’t a Ford or a Chevy mixed in with the Rolls and Caddies, and although the it was Arizona casual dress, it wasn’t the casual dress wear that came off the rack at a Herberger’s Department Store.

There was one group of men that seemed to hang together. They looked like they could have been extras in THE GODFATHER. Maybe one of them brought the cannoli to the party. A couple of them were more interested in talking to Leonard about Dr. (sic) Spock than about Van Gogh, something that always irritated Leonard; but he remained a gentleman and answered their questions about Spock and STAR TREK as the old timers wanted.

Then Leonard asked them a question. ‘You know, Bob Crane and I use to be friends back in the days we were auditioning for jobs, and then when we both were in hit shows. Hadn’t seen him years though. Now,’ Leonard said in a quiet voice, ‘What’s the real skinny on Crane’s murder?’

You don’t yell fire in a theater, and you don’t ask these old men about murder. Their silence was deafening. They didn’t have to talk. They just gave Nimoy  – the look. Finally one of them spoke up in a raspy whisper. ‘Don’t ask about that guy again around here. You don’t want to know! Understand?’ Leonard nodded and the subject was dropped. He smiled at the group of men and left to get a refill on his Beefeater’s martini.

In the words of Sergeant Schultz, ‘I know nothing.

CHARLES GRODIN – R.I.P.

Actor, Author, Director, Talk Show Guest Extraordinaire, Talk Show Host, Political Activist

And a Great Guy to to be around

In the spring of 1972, Charles Grodin was filming The Heart Break Kid, his first starring picture. He had had a great many small parts in TV and two small roles in movies. He played an inept buffon who turns into a rapist/murderer in Catch 22 and he played the doctor who delivers the ‘Baby’ in Rosemary’s Baby’. Hardly roles that foretold his future as a fine likable comic actor.

In that same spring, I had the pleasure of working for a month or so on the film portion of Heart Break Kid that finished the filming in Minneapolis after filming the first half in Florida. Up until then, I only had a little filming experience in a few TV ads, a local documentary, and two days working a car chase in Slaughter House Five. None of which foretold of the fun I had in spite of working the long hours, the exhausting labor, having to work under three jerks from the New York film local… fun because Charles Grodin brought a great sense of humor and reality to the proceedings.

Charles greeted everyone that came on the set the first time, shaking their hand, asking their name; and he never forgot their name, or failed to talk to them. When things got rough, Charles lightened things up, sometimes with intellectual humor, sometimes with a little corn.

For instance, one day after a hard rain, I was laying out heavy electrical cable, slogging through the mud. It was one of those times I wished I was back home at the Guthrie, which was dark for several months, in spite of the big bucks earned working the movie. Charles walked by and stopped and watched for a bit.

‘Just remember, Don’, he said and he burst into singing, There’s no business like show business’.

I flashed him a one finger salute and he laughed and went on his way still singing the song, ‘They smile when they are low…’

He played to a much larger audience when we were filming the marriage scene. It took place in a small church and the actual minister of the church performed the fake marriage. He thought that being in a movie would be fun. The ‘guests’ in the church had answered an ad asking for extras. They thought being in a movie would be fun. The cast and crew knew different; but we were being paid, they were not.

Elaine May, the director, was in a ‘Cut! Take it again from the top’ mood. After a few cuts, the minister looked at his watch and the audience gave a collective sigh of ‘oh no, not again’.

After another cut, Charles spoke to the guests. ‘See, folks, this is how movies are made. Sometimes filming a scene of a movie marriage lasts longer than some real Hollywood marriages.’ The crowd laughed and settled back. The minister looked at his watch. And Elaine said ‘Take it from the top.’

After a couple more takes we heard the welcome words, ‘That’s a wrap.’ The guests began to leave and the minister looked at his watch again. This time he smiled.

But Charles wasn’t through. ‘Folks. Folks,’ he said, and the guests sat back down. ‘I wanted to explain that our minister isn’t an actor but the actual pastor of this church. And the reason he kept looking at his watch is because in a short time he has a rehearsal of an actual wedding that will take place here on Saturday. He was getting nervous we wouldn’t finish up in time and he also realized that if he flubs his lines at the real wedding, nobody is going to yell ‘Cut. Take it from the top.’ The guests laughed.

Oh,’ Charles added, ‘He also wants you to know that you are welcome to stay and watch the real rehearsal.’ That got a big laugh from both the ‘guests’ and the minister.

Charles was a god- sent for Cybill Shepard. This was only the second movie for Cybill. Her first movie, The Last Picture Show, propelled her into a circle that was totally different from her successful teenage modeling career.. Plus she didn’t have her mentor, and current lover, Peter Bogdanovitch, holding her hand like in her first movie. He wanted to come along with her, but Elaine May said no way. It was also Elaine’s second movie as a director and she didn’t need Bogdanovitch interfering.

In her first movie experience, A New Leaf, she was screenwriter, director, lead actress, and had Walter Matthau as her costar and hand holder. It was critically praised and a tough act to follow.

The only true movie vet in the cast was Eddie Albert. Although his acting background was more in TV than films, he had been nominated for an Oscar seventeen years before. (He would receive and another Oscar nomination for his brilliant performance in Heartbreak Kid.)

Eddie was not on the set when he wasn’t in the scene being filmed. During off hours Eddie was busy catching up with old friends from his college days at the University of Minnesota.

Eddie was more than happy to help Cybill with her acting, but she needed someone to help with her insecurity about acting…and life in general. She was only four years removed from high school. This is where Charles and his humor saved the day. He always managed to get her to relax before a scene by cracking jokes. He also found time to listen and advice her.

And Elaine May was no stranger to his method of easing tension. Both Elaine and her former partner in the great improv- comedic duo of Nichols and May, Mike Nichols had been so impressed when they saw Chuck Grodin on Broadway, that they both used him as soon as they could. Nichols in his Catch 22. May in her Heartbreak Kid.

Both of these roles were great risks to him because of the dark character he portrayed and could have poisoned him with the public and future producers. He took them both in gratitude to Nichols and May for believing in him.

Elaine May soon discovered that not only did he have the talent needed to create his character, Lennie, as a jerk, who would not alienate the movie goers, he was also a wonderful friend to work with. He always seemed to know what to say and when to say it.

The key grip had been involved in the Florida filming. He told me how in the first few days, the screenwriter, Neal Simon, a celebrated veteran of stage and screen, thought he was the last word in this film and tried influence May’s decisions and methods. And also, Peter Bogdanovitch, via phone to both her and Cybill, tried to influence how Cybill should act in her role and how Cybill should be treated.

Elaine stood up to both these men and told them to butt out. And Charles spoke up and backed her ultimatum to these two pests. His actions against these two influential men could have hurt both his movie and his stage career. But he did what he thought was right.

Mission accomplished. Elaine was left to direct her movie and guide Cybill in such a way as to get a fine performance from her, and helped the young actress develop confidence in herself.

Charles Grodin went on to a successful career in movies. Robert De Niro, his costar in Midnight Run, praised Grodin, not only as an actor, but as a funny intellectual person that improved the movie with his suggestions and ad libs. He credited Grodin for making the film a success. And the two became life long friends. I imagine a great many who worked with him agree with De Niro.

Charles excelled in many more fields in the Arts and as an advocate for Human Rights. Sad to say I never had the pleasure of working with him after Heart Break Kid. I would have jumped at the chance to work with him again.

And now we have lost another fine human being who enriched our lives, but left us a fine legacy of his accomplishment… and for lucky ones like me, good memories of having known him.

R.I.P. Charles Grodin.

You can read more about the filming of Heartbreak Kid, in my blog post https://donostertag.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/holy-week-1972/