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.

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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.

TRUCKING IN THE BIZ

Trucks are as much a staple of today’s show business as computers and exorbitant ticket prices.

The first use of a truck as the sole transportation of a Broadway show was in 1949 when the hit show, Mr. Roberts., went on a national tour. But the transformation of trucks as the prime mover in show business didn’t happen overnight.

The standard method for the moving of scenery and equipment centered around railroads. The traveling shows used horse and wagons and then graduated to trucks to get everything from the theater to the boxcars and from the boxcars to the next theater. Railroads had a made big investments in spurs, side tracks where boxcars could be taken off the main rails and left to sit while they were loaded and unloaded, building them convenient to theater districts in the large cities.

For the most part the system worked, and producers were reluctant to change even though trucks as sole transportation eliminated the cost of double handling and having to book trucks in two cities. It served the major cities of the east and even extended as far west as Chicago. The consensus was they could not sell many tickets in the ‘lesser’ cities, like ‘Peoria’, cities that had no railroad spurs for show business.

The interstate highway system we take for granted today did not begin in earnest in 1956. People might have ‘got their kicks on Route 66’, the main road to the west coast, but their kicks involved a lot of driving on narrow unpaved sections of road and found that gas stations and diners far far apart. Taxing the people for good highways was out of the question, a socialist idea.. Therefore, the winning reason for our interstate highway system was we needed good roads to transport missiles needed to fight the Cold War. And the highway system that changed the face of America was begun… even though the overpasses were too low to allow missiles in transport to pass under.

Also the modern diesel engine that is the standard in the trucking industry wasn’t introduced until 1964. It rapidly replaced the fleets of gasoline straight-trucks with 18 wheelers tractor-trailers which hauled much more freight and cut back on the cost of fuel and drivers.

Clark Transfer, the company that took Mr. Roberts on that first tour, was well established around the Philadelphia area as it had trucked theatrical posters and such for years. TV Guide started in the Philadelphia area and Clark was it’s trucking company to carry the increasingly popular magazine to major cities in the northeast.

The company, after the success of the Mr. Roberts’ tour continued to press the idea of live shows being trucked across the country. In 1954 they had eleven shows on the road. Oklahoma and Guys and Dolls were the big musicals of the day and Clark brought them to cities that would never get them because of the lack of a railroad spur. These tours proved that even the ‘lesser’ cities, like Peoria, were well worth stopping at. Clark also hauled some legit shows, several large ballet companies, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Up to the early 60’s, these tours were basically one truck and one bus. Then there was a big mistake made in the Met Opera Spring Tour. The railroad took the opera sets for Norma to Memphis instead for Atlanta. Clark had trucks with the tour that were used to get the sets to and from the theater to the trains, and Clark came to the rescue. Charlie Hackett, Clark’s main teamster, took a truck to Memphis and brought Norma to the theater in Atlanta and the show opened just a half hour late, a feat that impressed Sir Rudolph Bing, the artistic head of the Met Opera, and Joe Volpe, the head carpenter of the Met, who would go on to replace Rudolph Bing as the Met’s artistic head.

Volpe took two major steps prior to the next tour. He told the railroad ‘forget it’ and hired Clark Transfer to do all the moving from city to city for the Spring Tour. Charlie Hackett was in charge of the forty to seventy truckloads needed to put on the seven different operas in a six day period. That masterful juggling of trucks foreshadowed the multi- trucks extravaganzas of today’s overproduced and overpriced shows like Phantom, Les Miz, and the many modern ‘operas’ of Andrew Lloyd Weber and others that are so popular today.

Northrop Auditorium of the U of Minnesota was the keystone of the Met’s spring tour since the inception in 1945. It’s almost 5,000 seat were sold out for each of the operas into the mid 1980’s. It is also where I first began my show business career. I came the second year of the change to trucks so I never worked the rail travel of the Met or any other traveling shows…except one, which I will write about in coming posts.

And just as a mistake with the Met Opera that changed the way a segment of show business traveled, a mistake in the Beatles first tour of the U.S. opened the door to the overproduced and overpriced rock/pop/country concerts and festivals with their multitude of semis trucking them to major cities, ballparks, farm pastures and the like… semis that carry staging, lights, sound and more sound, even musical instruments, and of course the swag, overpriced tee shirts etc..

In 1964 the Beatles came to the US with performances at Carnegie Hall, Washington D.C. ballpark and on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their fans demanded more. In 1965 the Fab Four performed 32 sold-out shows in 26 venues in just 33 days all across the U.S.. While their screaming fans, from teeny- boppers to housewives, didn’t care if the shows were for the most part technical disasters, the industry noticed both the vast potential of this expansion of the music industry and the fact that the technical atrocities of the tour had to be addressed if it would succeed without the need of the tsunami of Beatlemania.

The tour had been organized by a New York corporation; but the local promoters in each venue were responsible for the stages, lights, and sound, which were handled by local companies that had no experience in large venues. Some outdoor venues, like Minneapolis, put stages put in the center of the field with the audience surrounding the performers who moved their sets four times each performance to face another segment of the audience. Lighting was weak.. often relying on a couple of carbon-arc spots lights too far away to do a decent job.

And the sound!!! Forget it! The squeals of the audience mixed with the feedback of the speakers drowned out the weak sound systems. The audience knew all the songs by heart and sang along. Nobody demanded their money back… but not all concerts would feature an act like the Beatles.

The logical solution was to supply the right staging, lighting, sound and experienced technicians and the idea of trucks to move everything from venue to venue. Now even small town America, like Peoria, could pay outlandish prices to see the same live music as large city audiences enjoyed.

Trucks brought much needed work to stagehand locals that had lost so much when vaudeville died.

Clark Transfer took a stab at getting into the rock and roll trucking; but the pop music industry had always been a cut-throat business, singers, musicians, composers were cheated out of their rightful dues, and the eruption of this music in the 50’ and 60’s amplified the no-holds-barred way of business. Clark backed off and stuck with the stable business methods of the ‘fine arts’, leaving rock and roll trucking to small, often one- owner-one-truck, outfits. These were soon gobbled up by large corporations that also got into other aspects of the business, like promoting, oversupplying equipment, providing roadies at cheap wages, tying up artists and their works, selling expensive tickets and adding surcharges, etc.. But the music public must not mind it because…

And these corporations, for the most part, no longer own their own fleet of trucks. Now most of the show business trucking is done by owner-operators with the companies acting as an agent to give work to the least expensive truckers. This gives the blue collar the romantic aura of ‘independence’, he desires, and the white collar still has control and greater profits, he desires. But the music truckers must not mind because…

Another growth aspect is husband and wife owner-operators. One drives while the other sleeps. The shows gets to the next venue in time without the practice of keeping two log books, one to show the boss, one to show the highway cops. And the only losers are the prostitutes working the truck stops.

And now that I have bitten the hand that fed me and my family for so long, I would add that show biz trucking has given me a lot to laugh about. Stay tuned for some of the laughs.

And Stay Safe.

2020/2021

PHIL

This photo says more than anything I could ever write about the year 2020

Phil is one of the millions of Front Line heroes, around the world, risking their lives to fight for our safety, to help bring back the normalcy we had less than a year ago.

Phil is a medic in England, but he represents, in my belief,

Medics, First Responders, Essential Workers, Teachers, etc.

in every county.

Truly, a united world wide fight.

And these Phils have families

Loved ones.

Some who work also on the Front Line.

Some who stay back

and support their Front Line Heroes.

This photo of Phil was taken by his loving and supporting wife, Fraggle, a professional photographer, who captures amazing art in her photos. More of her art can be seen in her WP Blog: https://fragglerocking.org/

This is what she wrote to accompany her photo:

‘Our year has been coloured by Phil working on the front line coping with the Covid procedures in his Operating Theatres and having a horrendous time being dressed up in Hazmat gear that steams your glasses up, is uncomfortable, hot, hard to do your job in and generally is a nightmare. I’ve tried to support him, make home a sanctuary and listen to his woes and tribulations when he needs to get things off his chest. So this is the shot I did to sum up the year.’

Please don’t let the work of the Phils go in vain.

STAY SAFE

OBEY THE ADVICE OF MEDICAL SCIENTISTS

The sooner we all strive to do our part to overcome this plague

the sooner we will get back to normal lives.

And the sooner we will have a

HAPPY NEW YEAR

2021

And that is a wrap for a year we wish had not been one we will never forget.

NIMOY’S 48TH BIRTHDAY

The VINCENT tour was in Aurora, Illinois, an outer most suburb of Chicago. We had been looking forward to a full theatrical week, six evening, two matinee performances, at the recently remodeled Paramount Theater, an old vaudeville/movie theater converted to a live entertainment venue. That week was going to be the one that would help monetary- wise for the many benefits and small theaters we had on the tour. To insure good houses for the week, a Public Relations man was hired to make Chicago and the environs aware of the show.

The young man hired was the nephew of somebody the Nimoys knew. After he was hired, he confessed he was a cub in the PR business in fact this would be his first PR gig. But Leonard kept him on. After all it was Chicago, a great city for the Arts. It wasn’t so much of selling the show, just getting the word out.

The closer we got to the that week though, the worse the news, as far as ticket sales and interviews, was.

The manager of the Paramount suggested getting a Chicago PR firm, pointing out that the Cub, as he referred to the young man, wasn’t cutting it. He said had made several suggestions as to where the Cub should be working; but the Cub stuck mostly at the Student Center at Northwestern University, more interested in chatting up the coeds than selling the show.

By the time the week arrived the eight shows hoped for was down to four evening performances.

I set up the show on Monday as planned even though the 1st performance wasn’t until Thursday.

Leonard had an interview, the only one, that day on the radio station of Columbia College of Chicago. The Cub picked Leonard and his wife, Sandy, up in a limousine driven by a young woman that looked more like a model than a limo driver. The Nimoys were placed in the back seat. Cubby made sure he sat in the front next to the driver. Sandy said that once he introduced them to the radio host, Calley Nelson, he made a quick exit to ‘keep the limo driver company’. The Nimoys got first hand knowledge of what the Cub’s main interest in show biz was…trying to pick up girls.

Before Sandy had left for the radio station she stopped at the theater to remind me that it was Leonard’s birthday and there was a private celebratory dinner that evening in a restaurant close to the hotel. And she warned, nothing fancy, just dress casual, and no gifts. In short, it was like so many meals the company had together on the tour. There would be only three outsiders, the manager of the Paramount, the Cub, and Art Park, an old friend of Leonard’s, who lived in near Aurora. She assured me we would not have to sing Happy Birthday.

When I got to the party, Leonard hurried over to me to ask how the Set-Up went. ‘Piece of cake,’ I told him. ‘Good crew. How did your interview go?’

He smiled. ‘Piece of cake. The emcee went over the ground rules with me and the small audience. A little about acting in general. A lot about VINCENT in particular. Everybody stuck with it. Not once was there any damn questions like “‘does Spock die in the movie”.

Once we sat down and ordered drinks, Leonard introduced us to his friend, Art Parks. He said Art was a foremost graphic arts designer and the man who created the Bunny logo for Playboy Magazine.

‘Playboy!’ The Cub, who had been uncharacteristically silent until then, came to life. ‘Playboy! Did you know George Langelaan? He wrote the short story The Fly …’

Mr. Parks tried to answer but the Cub just kept up with his motor mouthing.

‘Playboy published it in ‘57. It was made into the movie in ‘58. David Heddison…’

‘And our good friend,Vincent Price,’ Sandy Nimoy interjected. ‘You know, Art,it was Vincent that persuaded Leonard to put together a one-man show. He has several ready to go whenever things get slow in the movies.’

‘It was Vincent, huh?’ Art Park remarked . And once he managed to talk he kept on. ‘Now as far as The Fly and Langelaan is concerned, I never met him. He sold the story freelance. But aren’t you a little young to have read the story or seen the film? They’re a little before your time. ‘

‘Oh,’ explained the Cub, ‘I am a sci-fi affectionado. I have researched sci- fi extensively and I think the story and the film…’

At this point the manager of the Paramount said in a loud voice, ‘You know, Cubbie, if you had shown this kind of enthusiasm about the show you were paid to publicized we might have sold eight performances instead of four.’

That shut the young man down; but after he devoured his steak, he took off again on The Fly. ‘Now I know sci-fi might not be a favorite of yours, but, believe me, there are some very excellent sci-fi …’

‘Not a favorite!’ the manager spoke up in a hurry. ‘Not a favorite! What do you think Star Trek is, a Western?’

‘Enough talking about bugs,’ Sandy Nimoy said as she hit her spoon against her glass.

My first thought was she was going to make us sing Happy Birthday. I was relieved when she continued, ‘I am going to tell you how the Birthday Boy spent some hectic moments in his birthday’… Leonard made a motion for her to stop, but she gave him a wifely glare and continued. ‘I have to… because I know he won’t.’

Leonard shook his head and busied himself swizzling his Beefeater martini. His face turned a light shade of red. And the Cub’s face turned a deep shade of red. He looked around as if to find a way out of the room.

Sandy continued: We were done with the interview and heading home. Leonard and I were in the back. Cubbie was up front with the oh-so-beautiful driver. I suppose he was regaling her with how he could get her into show business.’

Leonard shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Cubbie finished off his drink.

Whatever,’she waved her hands and continued, ‘Leonard and I were talking when all of a sudden there was a lot of noise and a crowd of people standing outside. The driver had stopped and she was screeeeaming. Somehow she missed the cut-off to the highway and had tried to turn back to it, but instead got us into the ghetto…’

‘It was like the race riots were back again,’ the Cub shouted.

‘How would you know?’ Sandy snapped. ‘You buried yourself under the dash.’

Leonard raised his hand. ‘It wasn’t anything like a race riot. These people were in their own neighborhood, minding their own business, when some strangers drove in a big ass limousine. Talk about flaunting wealth in a poor neighborhood. We had no business being there.’ Now it his turn to glare at the Cub. ‘The driver got distracted. Made a mistake and was trying to correct it. As soon as she settled down, she managed to get the hell out of there. She did a good job getting out of there without anybody getting hurt. And I suppose when she brings back that limo with all the dents and cracked windows, she’ll get fired.’

‘No,’ the Cub interrupted, ‘I called her and she said her boss was mad but he didn’t fire her. Placed her on probation.’ He paused and then added, ‘She didn’t want to hear my apology. Said she would send you a letter of apology.’

‘Wait,’ Sandy Nimoy said, ‘I got to tell you what my Birthday Boy hero did. ‘There was a lot of screaming and swearing and banging on the car. Then I saw a man coming with a baseball bat…and Leonard pulled me over and pushed me on the floor! And then do you know what he did next? He laid on top of me! He sheltered me! He protected me with his body! My hero!’

Art Park clapped and we all joined in. Leonard waved off the applause and commented that Sandy was softer than the car’s hard floor. He got some laughs and a big kiss from his wife.

The Cub took this distraction to leave the room without anyone seeing him. I never seen or heard of him after that. He wasn’t at breakfast. I imagine he was long gone from Aurora by then.

I was next to leave, excusing myself, saying it was a long day for me and I was planning to go to the Chicago Art Institute the next day.

Riding the communicator train into Chicago, I thought about Sandy’s story, and nothing she said about her husband’s actions surprised me. And I certainly wasn’t surprised by his defense of the black ‘mob’. That man did not have a hint of the slightest racial or sexual prejudice. There were many stories of how, over the years, Leonard stood up for rights of the minorities. And spending that much time with Leonard those three years, I believe them..everyone of them.

(Oh! And did I ever luck out in my visit to the Art Institute. In addition to their permanent collection of Monet’s Haystacks, there was a traveling exhibition of a dozen more. They were all mounted on individual display flats in a large room so you could walk along and compare how Monet genius took a mundane series of stacks and showed how each was the same except each was different because of the change in the sun and time of the year.

I had to go back the next day to continue my walking around looking at other works of art in the Institute’s permanent collection, and still never saw a smidgion of what I would have liked to have seen.)

I never read the short story nor saw the original movie of The Fly but I thought of the Cub when I watched the 1986 remake of it with Jeff Goldblum. Now if the Cub would have done his job, we never would have had that unexpected break in Aurora/Chicago. And if he had let the limo driver do her job, I would not have this incident to tell you. Hope you enjoyed it.

That’s a wrap for now

STAY SAFE

COFFEE WITH ALI

This is a reblog of a post I did June/8/2014, right after Muhammad Ali died.

It recalls an isle of calm for me in the sea of fire. Civil Rights Protests. Anti-Vietnam Protests. Looting, destruction, and shouts of blame from both side of the political aisle.

When this incident took place, we had Hope. We knew that once things calmed down the Civil Rights would take hold in fact not just word. And we knew that we would never go to a War again unless it was really needed, and we would never allow the War to last very long.

But like the song says: ‘We were young and foolish.’

I need an isle of calm today so I brought it out and read it. So topical! Topical in that it follows my Dalton Trumbo posts regarding a man standing up for his beliefs, only to be persecuted by politicians whose only belief is pandering to the lowest common denominator. So topical! I wish today’s violent ‘protesters’ could hear the words of Muhammad Ali, a man known for his violent art, speak with the wisdom of Martin Luther King, a man known for his non-violent speech.

There was this old bulll standing in the middle of the railroad track and far away the train was comng fast. But that old bull just stood there and the people all admired the old brave bull. And the train blew a warning…anotherand another as it came full steam head on. And the people oohed and aahed because that old bull never flinched. Just stood his ground…And…

And all those people that oohed and aahed when the brave bull was standing tall in the center of the tracks, just looked around at what was left of him scattered in little pieces for a good miles, yup, all those people who called that bull brave a short time before changed their tune.

Boy, was that bull ever stupid,” they said, and walked away.’

Thus spoke Muhammad Ali talking about Violent Protesting.

Today I have Hope. I believe that when the stupidity of the politicians is removed from the equation, the genius of our medical scientists will find a cure and a vaccine for the Virus. As far as the Civil Rights issue is concerned…Hatred and genocide are embedded deep in the history of this country.

ali rip            The Champ and I spent the better part of an hour, just the two of us, talking and drinking coffee in the stagehands’ room, my office, at Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota.

I called him Champ, even though he no longer had the belt, lost it, not in the boxing arena, but in the political area.He was on a lecture tour, Pro  Civil Rights, Anti  Viet Nam Involvement. Although the latter was the stated reason for taking away his right to be called World Champion, the former had earned him powerful enemies, just as it did for Martin Luther King. Overlooked by the main stream press, the Champ had a third point he stressed, namely Anti Violence. After his speech at Northrop, there was to be  an interview and a Q&A with reporters from TIME. Finally what he was actually saying was  more important than his celebrity status.

Today Americans accept his views; but in the late 60’s, these views were tinder for the fires that were spreading out across the land. But the Champ spoke his piece and stood his ground even though it was highly controversial and had cost him greatly. It wasn’t that he was wrong, it was just that he was ahead of his time. I had always felt strong about Civil Rights; but it really wasn’t until our status in Nam changed from advisory to full scale combative, that I took a better look and decided against us being there.

When the Champ and his welcoming committee walked backstage, he commented on the aroma of coffee coming from the open door of my room. One of the committee said he would run to Dinky Town and get him some coffee. I told the Champ that I would be glad to bring him a cup in his dressing room. He nixed both offers and instead said he wanted to go in the room, drink coffee and relax. When some of committee tried to follow us in, he held up hand. He told them to stay out, close the door, and see to it that nobody bothered him until he came out.

He commented that he realized they meant well, but he was getting tired of the constant ‘meaning well’ pressure of people. He said he was tired of the tour, tired of being away from home, his wife, and especially his little baby girl, Maryum, his first child. He slumped down in the chair, and when I handed him a cup of the fresh coffee, he raised the cup in thanks. I respected his need for silence.

In those days, boxing was followed much more than today. Early TV had free major matches weekly. And sitting across from me was a boxer I had followed since his Olympic days. I remembered listening to a radio as he did something nobody thought he would, take the title away from Sonny Liston. Oh, there was no way I would have called him the ‘Greatest’ at that time. His best was yet to come.

But, that day, I was more in awe of him as a great human being than a great athlete. It takes a brave person to stand up for one’s beliefs the way he did and at what cost.

When he finally did break his silence in the room, he spoke of being afraid his little girl, Maryum, wouldn’t even know her daddy, because he was away so much. She wasn’t even a year old yet, and he heard that the first year of a baby’s life was so important in their life. And she wouldn’t even know her daddy.

I assured him she would know her daddy, even though she wasn’t seeing much of him at this time. I told how I had worked two jobs for years, and now at Northrop, I was averaging over eighty hours a week, and my sons, only four at that time, always knew their daddy. He had nothing to worry about. He smiled and said he hoped so.

He opened his wallet and took out several pictures of his little Maryum and asked if I had any pictures of my sons. He looked at my pictures and wasn’t satisfied until he remembered their names and could match the name with the right boy.

We didn’t talk about his boxing career, about civil rights, and about his refusal to be drafted. We just talked. There was no chucking or jiving, no boasting and poetry on his part. His public image was set aside and he presented his personal side. Just two men, two fathers, talking, taking the time to know a little about each other.

He was interested in what went on at Northrop. I told him about the various attractions: lectures, music, dance, even a week each May of seven different Metropolitan operas on tour and how much work and how many stagehands it took to put them on. The Metropolitan Opera was familiar to him because of where the building was in relation to Madison Square Garden.

We did touch on boxing when I mentioned that recently Paul Newman had been at Northrop talking against our involvement in Viet Nam, the Champ told how much he liked Newman playing Rocky Graziano in SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME.

I related how I got so excited watching Sugar Ray Robinson defending his crown against Graziano on TV, that I knocked over and broke a lamp. He laughed and asked who I was rooting for, and I told him Sugar Ray, my favorite boxer. He said Sugar Ray was his favorite too.

The time flew by. He finished off his second cup of coffee, thanked me, and followed as I led him to his dressing room. Naturally, his committee followed also, ready at his beck and call for anything he might want, or anything they think he might want. As much as I admired the man that day, I wouldn’t have traded places with him. I could see one of the reasons he was tired and just wanted to go home and play with his baby.

My coffee with Ali took place almost a half century ago. I remember seeing his arm raised in victory many times. I remember seeing his arm raised as he lit the Olympic torch. And I remember he raised his cup in thanks for my coffee. I was so fortunate to have sat and had a quiet talk with the man now referred to as ‘The Greatest’.

R.I.P. CHAMP

There were event entering into this story and after; but I will save them for another time. Right now I am too sad because he is no longer with us.

MR. LEON REDBONE!

L redbone

 Leon Redbone died.

Who?

Leon Redbone! You know, the artist formally know as Dickran Gobalian.

What! He a wrestler or something?

Noooo. A singer.

Oh, he sings. Does he sing like, ah, Chance The Rapper or more like, ah, Garth Brooks, or …

No! More like Fats Waller or Jimmie Rodgers.

Who?

Ah, never mind. They’re all dead anyway.

No they’re not! Heck Garth was just in town doing some shows at the football stadium and Chance…

I know, I know. Subject change. Hey, how about the way those Twins are doing!

Baseball’s boring. Now football… Go Vikings!

 

Yes, we lost Leon Redbone and he passed without too much fanfare. Some of the major news sources never reported his death. He reached his peak in the mid- 70’s, just a few years after Bob Dylan discovered him in folk festival. He had his first album produced, did a few Saturday Night Lives, several Tonight Shows, Johnny Carson became a fan, both of Redbone’s music and his stage persona, not that this persona changed on stage or off stage. Redbone was Redbone, take him or leave him.

His customary look began with a Panama hat and dark sunglasses. His face was impossible to light when he was on stage, no way could you get any light beneath the hat and coupled with the dark glasses… Like I said Redbone was Redbone. His shirt was always buttoned completely, and he wore a bow tie some times, a string tie some times. His costume change between acts or between shows often consisted of replacing the one type of tie with the other.

I feel special because I actually worked a Redbone concert where he wore a different costume. He was a big fan of singer/songwriter Jimmie Rodgers, the ‘Singing Brakeman’, the first musical star of radio and recordings. Leon came on stage dressed in the traditional bib overalls and cap associated with railroad workers. He had on a white shirt and bow tie, associated with Rodgers and Redbone, and the dark sunglasses, solely associated with Leon. The concert was dominated by Jimmie Rodger songs and Redbone’s unique yodeling.

His instrument never changed, a straight forward acoustic guitar. He was a good guitarist playing mostly up tempo no matter what the song. He had a compliment of various instruments on most of his album tracks,, but they were studio musicians. He never had a band. He did travel at times with a clarinetist, Dan Levingson. Even in the days of split bills with the likes of John Prine, Loudin Wainwright III, Bonny Raittt, he disdained the use of a complete group of backup musicians if the other act were using any. Any amplification needed to reach his audience in the particular venue was to be kept to a minimum. He was acoustic in both his music and his life.

His voice was a fine instrument, oh, not in an operatic sense, but in a Redbone sense. The Washington Post said ‘he sang in a deep, guttural voice that seemed to have come from a traveling medicine show, vaudeville or the back alleys of old New Orleans.’

In an article in the Rolling Stone, his voice was described as being ‘so authentic, you could hear the surface noise of an old 78 rpm’.

NPR said his voice was ‘casually lovely and always wry’. That is wry, w-r-y, his sense of humor shows up in his song delivery, not a rye, r-y-e, quality, a rasping delivery like Tom Waits has; although it had been known that sometimes rye, the bottled rye, played a part in a Redbone show.

His songbook was almost all older than the Oldies, some from the 19 Century, most from the 1910’s, 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. He sang an eclectic mix of songs, everything from vaudeville, old country, Mississippi Delta Blues, ragtime, folk, jazz, Tin Pan Alley Songs to sing, not dance to. He said he was less interested in the music than he was in the history.

His stage setting was also minimal, a stool for himself, a stool for his clarinetist. A small table for any objects he might have brought on stage with him.. Objects he may or may not use. For instance at least once he had a tomato on the table, and he sang all his songs to the tomato. He always had flashlight which he loved to shine on the audience with quips like ‘See how if feels to have a follow spot in your eyes.’ He shined it in his face and said, ‘See lady, I am not Frank Zappa. You can tell us apart. I’m the handsome one.’ He loved to blow soap bubbles at the audience, or take pictures of them.

His wry humor extended to off stage. In fact he had that quality that Robin Williams and Jonathon Winters possessed, namely being in a different world of their own. Robin came down to earth though and would carry on an intelligent conversation with you. Winters and Redbone never did.

Bonny Raitt often split toured with him. In an interview with Rollling Stone she said, ‘“I spent an afternoon with him in a hotel room,” Raitt told Rolling Stone, “and I was wondering when he was going to become normal. He never did.”

His web site lists his age as 127. Over the years he has given many different places of birth: Shreveport, Cleveland, Toronto etc.. The truth was finally tracked down. His family was of Armenian origin. His parents lived in Jerusalem, but in 1948 moved to Nicosia, Cyprus, where Redbone was born. By 1961, the family had moved to London, United Kingdom, and by 1965 to Toronto where he had a’ childrens’ TV show. His favorite audiences were children and he played TV shows like Sesame Street every chance he could.

 

He was a kind man and appreciative of all of his fans. Here is an example that was sent by a fan to the talented Joel Orff who created a cartoon of the incident and included it in his series, Great Moments in Rock & Roll.

Redbone.jpg

His vocation was entertaining. Here’s what he said about entertainment: ‘ “I’m just an entertainer, and I use music as a medium for entertaining.” But I’m not really an entertainer either, because to be an entertainer it implies you have a great desire to want to entertain.” This probably explains that after his success in the 70’s his career slowed down. Some recordings, a small amount of concerts, voice-overs for commercial, some singing and composing for TV, etc..

His passion was pool. If he had to choose to live the life of Fats Waller or Minnesota Fats, he would choose the later. Playing pool was one of the reasons his career slacked off.

He was a private person. If someone asked him for his phone number, it would probably connect the caller to Dial-A-Joke. Another might be given the number of a pool hall with instructions to leave the message for Mr. Pugh. His manager told me about how he gets word to Redbone through Bob Dylan.

Here another work of Joel Orff drawn up especially for the Old Hand when he told him about the Dylan Express means of reaching Redbone.

Leon Redbone

And then there was the time at a Guthrie performance when Leon wasn’t the source of the joke, but the butt of it.

John was young shop intern who was given a chance to earn some extra money by being the liaison between the Guthrie and the promoter, Sue of the Walker Arts Center.

John was, is, a theatrical artist. Even in those early years he could works of art whether sets or props for Guthrie shows. He loved his work and in no way wanted to work in any other job in theater. He was shy and when he found out that Sue informed him at half-hour he would do the on stage introduction of Redbone, he panicked. He did not refuse, he just turned pale and began to practice.

He paced back and forth backstage, his eyes on the floor, his hand hitting his forehead, and kept repeating, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Leon Redbone!’. Over and over, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Leon Redbone!’ He was still practicing when I left backstage and went up to the booth.

At places’ call Joey B, the deck hand, called on the biscuit from backstage that Leon was ready to go on. Eliot, his manager, and I could hear John in the background still rehearsing, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Leon Redbone!’

We went into show mood. Eliot told Joe to send John out to do the introduction. John came slowly on stage. Even from the booth we could see he was a case of nerves. He reached the bright circle of light I had for him and stopped.

He stood there for what seemed like a long, long time and then finally he said in a very loud voice, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leon Hardbone!’ And then he walked off stage.

Eliot and I lost it. I managed to go black on the stage before I turned my face to the wall trying to stifled my laughing. Eliot had his hands over his mouth and his head on the desk. Some of the audience realized what John had said and they cracked up. For the majority though John’s actual intro went over their heads and they applauded, waiting for Redbone’s entrance.

But one person who realized what John had actually said came on the backstage biscuit almost at once.

Did he say what I thought he might have said?’ asked the wry familiar voice.

‘’Well,’ answered Eliot, ‘If you thought you heard what he said then yes, you heard what he said.’

‘Now how can I follow that act?’ There was a long pause. Finally Leon said, ‘Oh, well! Bank shot. Eight ball in the far pocket.’ And he walked out on stage.

When John got off stage he had just kept walking to his sanctuary, the scene shop. Joey B followed with the intent of cheering John up; but John didn’t need any cheering up, because John had been in such a state of stage fright, he never realized what he had said. He accused Joe of making it all up. To this day John would argue that he never screwed up the intro. Of course it was the last time anyone asked him to go on stage to introduce an act.

And anymore intros for Leon was handled over the audience PA by Eliot from the booth.

I will bet that is not the first or last time that Leon Redbone heard that play on his name. And unlike most people had a name that lent itself to ridicule, Leon could not blame anybody but himself for his name. When he first immigrated to Canada, he took advance of the law that allowed him to change his name. So Dickran Gobalian became Leon Redbone. Like I pointed out, Leon Redbone was one of a kind.

At the end of each performance, Leon always left the audience with these words: Oh behave yourselves. Thank you…. and good evening everybody.’

And a Good Evening to you, Mr. Redbone.

 R.I.P. Leon Redbone – a talented reluctant entertainer

I would like to thank Joel Orff for the use of two of his cartoons. He no longer does his ‘Great Moments In Rock & Roll’ and is devoting his talent to the art of Graphic Novels, his newest scheduled for publication shortly. I would suggest that you visit his web site at joff.com to see more of his work.

A JUMP STORY

A jumper

I think that every paratrooper has a story about a jump that he likes to tell about. Maybe because it was funny, or unusual, or an extremely close call. I have one that is all three with a threat of court martial to boot.

{Since this happened sixty years ago, I use the term ‘men’ without being sexist because combat trained outfits like the 82nd Airborne Division was not co-ed in those days. And the parachutes we used were almost the same as used in WWII.}

Signal Battalion, my outfit, had jumped in mass a few days before. Those of us that had to stay behind and tend to things jumped a few days later with one of infantry battalions. We were jumping out of C119s. Great planes to jump from. The door was way to the rear and below the tail. But they were also bad to ride in. They would barely clear the trees at the end of the runway and they seemed to find every air pocket. And since this was a tactical jump, we were in the air for a couple hours before the jump.

The plane I was in was almost all cherry- jumpers. These are troopers who completed jump school finished off with 3 jumps in one day, and 2 the next. These 5 jumps were all Hollywood, meaning they jumped with the minimum of equipment. And they jumped just 5 men at a pass, turned around and 5 more jumped. This jump that day was the first time they would jump with equipment and would exit one after the other as fast as they could shuffle.

Looking at the men in the stick opposite mine, I could tell who they were. They had a look of anticipation the vets didn’t. And some looked a little green in the gills from the ride. Directly across from me was a Second Lieutenant I found out later that had recently graduated from West Point and also from the last jump school. He was cracking his knuckles. I did what I usually did on long flights, closed my eyes and took a nap.

About ten minutes from the DZ, we were told that while it was calm upstairs, the wind was brisk at the ground. ‘And men,’ the Jump Master hollered, ‘ There’s a lot of planes, a lot of chutes. The sky will be damn crowded. Pay attention out there.’

Mass Jump

We had no problem clearing the plane. There’s nothing better than to count three seconds, and look up and see your chute has full blossomed. The view is great. The silence is unbelievable. However in a military jump, you don’t have much time to enjoy it. And you have to really watch out when there are so many chutes in the sky.

These chutes were designed to get you down as quick as safely possible. Maneuvering is darn near impossible. You pull with both hands on the one of the risers to get a slight sideways motion. Your biggest threat in the air on a peacetime jump was banging into another chute or worse, letting your chute go over another canopy.

If that happens, the lower chute maintains fullness because of the air pressure. The upper chute loses it’s air pressure and begins to collapse. You try to pull away and if you do land on the lower chute, you run like hell and jump off the lower chute. Once off, you shake your chute and it will generally open out again.

Almost as soon as I checked my chute I heard a lot of shouts and looked to my right where a cherry- jumper was on top of another chute. I joined the shouts for him to run off the bottom chute. He did, but as soon as he got off he pulled his reserve chute handle. He hadn’t bothered to look up and see his main chute had regained fullness. The reserve chute had no pressure to cause it to fill out and fell down limply between the man’s legs.

He looked at that useless piece of silk and fearing the worse, he uttered in a loud, calm, clear voice: ‘Set another place at your table, Sweet Jesus, cuz I’m coming home.’

I broke out laughing. So did a lot of others. The poor guy was the only one in our cluster that did not know he was going to land safely. But when I broke up, I also screwed up. Big time!

I felt the pull on my harness decreasing. Looking up I saw my chute shriveling up. Looking down, I saw I was on top of another chute. As soon as I could I ran off the other chute and shook my risers as hard as I could.

Too late! I wasn’t too far from landing when this all happened. I flew in free fall. I hit the ground hard. I mean HARD!!! I made an attempt to do the five point Parachute Landing Fall; but forget it. I did a three point landing. Feet. Ass. Back of the head. Made an attempt to get up to knock down my chute but…

Insult to injury! My chute filled out about the time I hit ground. Since there was no weight on it, and since the wind was gusting, it actually rose in the air. (This was told to me by a trooper who was on the ground nearby.) It jerked me up and managed to carry me about twenty feet before I hit the ground again, hard. And then it began to drag me across the DZ, (Drop Zone).

I was hurting and messed up royal. I was on my back with the right riser across my face and pulling me over my left shoulder along with my left riser. Luckily, it was across my face. Had it been lower it might have chocked me before I could grab it with both hands to pull it away from my windpipe. Or snapped my neck.

Several months before, 82nd Signal Battalion went to Fort Campbell, KY, where the 101st Airborne was going to hold a large war game, Operation Eagle Wing. My battalion was there to run communications for the umpires. The Operation was to begin with an afternoon jump by the entire 101st Division. Stands were set up for the visiting brass, politicians, and the press.

We were going to jump early in the morning and then set up our equipment; but our Battalion Commander called off our jump because of the strong winds. We all thought the Division jump would also be called off, but we did the setting up anyway. We would no more get a radio tower up than the wind would blow it over.

As the planes were close to the DZ we knew we would see the red smoke released to call the jump off. Then the green smoke went off and the chutes filled the air. I guess they didn’t want the guests sitting in the stands to be disappointed.

We and the ones that landed safely began to knock down chutes that were dragging men across the DZ. Even the Division Commander, General William Westmoreland, who would be the top honcho in Viet Nam in later years, knocked down chutes. Afterwards it was found out he had a hairline fracture in his leg.

There were six killed, death by chocking or by necks snapped,, and several hundred hospitalized.

And don’t you think I was thinking of day when I was fighting to keep the riser away from my neck.

Fort Bragg has many very large Dzs, and this was one of them. A lot of ground to drag me over. I saw several men running at an angle to catch up to my chute. And the closest man was coming in a straight line at me. I realized the dehorn wasn’t even trying to go for my chute.. He was going to jump on me!

No way would that help collapse my chute. His added weight would only make the drag harder for the chute and I would caught in a taffy pull. I knew I would never be able to keep the riser from my neck if he landed on me.

Adrenalin pumping overtime, I managed to raise my leg as he dove. He caught the bottom of my boot right in his face and he never landed on me. In spite of the blood spurting out of his nose I recognized him. He was the Second Louie that was sitting across from me in the plane.

I was dragged a ways yet before the other men managed to jump on my chute. I was surprised to find I didn’t have any broken bones. I was pretty shaky in the legs though. A jeep with an MP sergeant on DZ duty pulled up and asked if I was okay. I told him I was. Then he pulled out a pen and notebook and asked for my name, rank, and outfit.

‘That shave- tail Lieutenant that just got in the Medic wagon ordered me to get it,’ he explained. ‘Somehow I don’t think he wanted it so he could send you a Christmas Card.’

I just got inside my barracks when I was ordered to report to the Old Man, the Battalion Commander.

‘What happened out there, Don?, he asked me. I was his clerk and he always call me, Don. ‘There a young Lieutenant, Callason, in the infantry outfit, that says you kicked him in the face. Sounds like he wants your stripes and to give you stockade time. But I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. He was having his nose worked on.’

I gave the Old Man a Cliff’s Note version of what happened after I landed. I emphasized there was several witnesses to support me.

He smiled and dialed the number Callason had left him. I could only hear the Old Man’s side of the phone conversation.

‘So, Lieutenant, you say if I demote my clerk to Private…Yes, my Battalion clerk. you might not bring him up on formal charges for assaulting an officer…

‘Well, Lieutenant, a little advice. I felt the same way about the importance of rank when I graduated West Point; but I learned in the real Army it doesn’t always work that way, especially in the Airborne. When you stand up, hookup, getting ready to jump, you inspect the back- harness of the man on the stick in front of you, and the man behind you does the same thing for you. He cracks you on the ass to let you know you are good-to-go. Makes no different what his rank is, General or Private. You put your trust in him. Don’t get a reputation of being a jerk that pulls rank on Enlisted Men. In the Airborne we are all Brothers.

‘Now, as far as Corporal Ostertag breaking your nose, your stupidity could have broken his neck. You deserved to be kicked. Personally I’d like to kick you in the ass. Maybe I should have Don press charges against you.’

There was a long silence on the Old Man’s part. ‘Well, Lieutenant, I don’t think you have to make an apology to Don. I think he will be satisfied with you just forgetting your damn juvenile vindictiveness, and I promise you he will not bring you up on charges.’ He slammed down the phone.

‘I think that that young man learned a good lesson. If not, he better request transfer out of the Airborne’, the Old Man said, as he winked at me and told me go clean up and go to the mess hall and get something to eat before coming back to work.

I trust that that ‘young man’ learned a good lesson. I know I did. I learned when the Jump Master warns you to pay attention out there, listen to him.

And I also learned never to laugh at someone’s prayer. You might have to use it yourself some day.

And that’s a wrap

aa

 

THE GHOST OF THE GUTHRIE

Old Guthrie Stage

            Every theater worth its salt has a ghost. We had one at the old Guthrie Theater. His name was Richard Miller.

            Bullied in school, ignored at home, Richard was a loner all 18 years of his life. He discovered skiing and it became his passion. Freedom. Excitement. There was people around him, some even envious of his skill; and he didn’t have to interact with them. He was gaining confidence, self-esteem. And then he took a bad fall. He worried that he might never be strong enough, physically or mentally, to ever ski again.

He did work up enough courage to enroll at he U of Minnesota and to get a job as an usher at the Guthrie Theater. Being a student was a disaster; but he loved being an usher, helping people without having to interact with them. His fellow ushers respected his distance and his desire to not mingle with them. He loved the plays and concerts. He was feeling good again.

But gradually the hell he was experiencing trying to stay in college began to outweigh the peace he was experiencing as an usher. Severe headaches! Severe depression! Until…

He borrowed money from his mother on the pretext of buying ski boots. Then he went to Sears and bought a gun instead. He parked his car in the far corner of the Sears lot. And he ended his life.

In the letter he wrote, he asked his parents for their forgiveness for what he was about to do. And he asked that he be buried in his Guthrie usher uniform. He said the hours spend at the Guthrie were the best times he ever had in his life. His parents complied with his request.

The parents offered to buy his uniform from the Guthrie; but it was not necessary because that style uniform was going to be replaced in a few weeks. The Guthrie was doing away with the old fashion uniform with epaulets and braids. The new uniforms would not be ornate and brown, but simple, and a dark blue color.

After Richard’s death there was occasional talk of a ghost haunting the theater, but such talk occurs in many theaters. And nobody connected the possible haunting with the death of Richard Miller. It wasn’t until a small group of ushers used a Ouija board to contact the Ghost of the Guthrie, that the legend became ‘fact’.

Many of the ushers lived commune style in an old house not far from the theater. They lived only for the day and their motto was: A little wine, a little weed. That’s all we need. Oh, also some munchies.

Kevin, the Guthrie House Manager lived there also; but unlike the others, Kevin was also a grad student a the U, and was working on a thesis concerning ghosts in the theaters of America. He got Scott H. and two other ushers to help him find out if there indeed was a ghost in the Guthrie. He promised them a little weed, a little wine, and they said fine. Oh, also some munchies.

After the show that evening they hid in a room until they were sure everyone was out of the theater. Then they set up a folding table and four chairs. Kevin took the Ouija board and planchette out of a cloth sack and began to explain how it would be used and expounded on his research and paper to date. The other four each had a glass of wine from the carton and passed around a joint.

the ghost light

            The atmosphere was perfect for their project. The only lights present were the various red exit signs and the ‘ghost light’, a low incandescent bulb on a mic stand to prevent anyone who had to go into the dark theater from getting hurt in the dark. It was the last task stagehands always do before quitting for the night. Kevin called his crew to order.

The first question asked if there was a ghost in the theater. To the surprise of the four, the planchette went to the YES. That got their attention. What is the ghost’s name? The board spelled out RICHARD. The wine glasses were drained and the joint  passed around before the next question. The four looked out in the house where  the ghost light was projecting a weak glow and creating weird shadows. Kevin asked softly, ‘Where is the ghost now?’

SUGGEST LOOK TO THE TECH ROOM

The term ‘tech room’ stumped them until Scott thought maybe it meant the lighting/sound booth. He said he looked to the back of the house, to the booth above the last row of seats in the balcony. He pointed and froze. The others looked to the booth.

The booth was dark except… There was a figure of a man standing in a hazy glow. Either he was in the booth proper or was floating high above the seats in front of the glass of the booth. He lifted his arm and waved.

The wave broke the ice. Kevin managed to grab the board and planchette but everything else was left as the four broke for the side door.

Mickey, a shop carpenter, came on stage in the morning to put the ghost light away. When he saw he went into the shop and got help removing the remains of the night. The only thing not mentioned when the story went around the theater of what they found on stage, was the dime bag of grass. Scott thought Mickey maybe pocketed that for himself.

The name Richard was connected to Richard Miller. Sightings became more frequent and believed without a doubt by the Guthrie employees. Some customers called to complain about the usher that stood in the Alpine Slope aisle, Richard’s favorite aisle to work, and watched the play, or walked up and down, up and down during the performance. One customer called to extend thanks to the usher who pointed out that his cars keys had fallen on the floor by his seat. And usually the callers thought the usher was perhaps the head usher because his uniform was a different color and fancier then the others.

At various times he was seen by actors, musicians, wardrobe people, and stagehands. Cliff, the head shop carpenter, was the last person you would think who would believe in ghosts; but after he got off the elevator to the supply room on Level 8 and saw a figure standing in  a hazy glow at the far end of the room, he quickly got what he came for, went back in the elevator, and became a staunch believer.

Joey B., the stage carpenter, had at least two encounters with Richard, both times in the little Green Room in the basement. The first came when he popped in for a cigarette. He saw a figure in an old usher uniform standing in the corner. Joe said he thought maybe he was having a problem with his eyes, the figure was kind of hazy.

‘Look’, he said to the ‘usher’, ‘This room is off limits to you guys. I won’t rat you out but…’ The young man said he was sorry, and according to Joe, just disappeared into thin air. When it was explained to Joey who he had chased from the little Green Room, Joe scratched his head and said, ‘Well, I’ll be damned!!

The second time was when an actor asked Joe to look in the little Green Room for a prop, a little money sack, that he would need later on in the show. He looked all around his dressing room and figured maybe he had dropped it when he was in the little Green Room. Joey looked around the room and didn’t see it. Just as he was about to give up, a voice said, ‘Joe, suggest you look on the floor beside the sofa.’ Sure enough there it was.

Joe looked to where the voice came from and saw the now familiar figure standing in his hazy glow. ‘Thanks, Richard,’ Joey said and brought the prop to the actor’s dressing room.

No one ever accused Richard of trying to scare anybody on purpose or of doing anything malicious. For the most part people were startled, not scared, by an encounter with the Guthrie ghost. Sometimes well after the fact.

An actress new to the company had lucked out and found a parking place right in front of the theater. It was raining hard when she ran to her car only to find that her car wouldn’t start. After several tries there was a knock on the window. A Guthrie usher  was trying to tell her what to do. She opened the door and told him to get out of the rain.

He did and suggested she wait a bit and then hold the gas pedal to the floor when she pushed the start button. It worked. She asked the usher if he had a ride and he said no. She asked where he was going and he said down by Sears. She said she would take him. When she stopped at the red light at the end of the block, she turned to talk to the young man; but there was no one in the car with her. She hadn’t heard the door open or shut and there was a wetness on the seat where the usher had sat.

She told the story in the dressing room the next day. The dresser asked her what kind of uniform the kid had on. When she described it, the every one in the room agreed that she had met the ghost of the Guthrie and filled her in on Richard. She screamed! But she confessed at the end of the season, each time she drove past the Guthrie’s main door, she looked to see if Richard was standing there. She never had a chance to thank him for his advice.

Some, like Oscar, a college student and the evening Stage Door man, were deathly afraid of meeting Richard. When Oscar checked at night to see that all the proper doors were locked in the theater he carried a machete with him. He said he wasn’t afraid of running into anybody who shouldn’t be in the theater, he carried the machete in case he met Richard the ghost.

We pointed out to him that a ghost has no substance, just vapor. He could swing at Richard all night and only cut air. I told him about the old saying that you should never bring a knife to a gun fight, and I added, or to an encounter with a ghost. Oscar realized what we said was the truth and he gave his two weeks notice the next day.

A few took a meeting with Richard as just a matter of fact. Eva, an older, very proper, extra got on the backstage horn during a performance and demanded to Milt, the stage manager in the booth, that he teach that young ghost, Richard, the proper etiquette of theater.

She told how she had to exit down the Stage Left tunnel, hurry to her dressing room, change costumes, and hurry upstairs for a backstage crowd entrance. She said she almost missed the entrance because that young ghost, Richard was standing right in her way in the tunnel. She had stop and ask him to please move.

‘Well, did he?’ Milt asked.

‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘But only after going on and on about how sorry he was. Then he just… Dissipated. Poof! You have to instruct him proper stage etiquette. He could have caused me to be late for my entrance.’

‘And how do I get in touch with him?’ Smoke signals?’

‘Of course not,’ Eva said sharply. ‘Just leave him a note on the Call Board.’

‘Okay, I will,’ said Milt, ‘But Eva he’s just a ghost. If he ever gets in your way again, just run right through him.’

‘I will not! That would be rude!’

Milt quickly turned off his talk button so she wouldn’t hear us laughing up  in the booth.

And then there others who joked about possibly encountering the ghost.

After each time I had to lay out on a catwalk thirty feet above the stage or stand on a full extended extension ladder to hang or focus or work on a lighting instrument, I swore that if I ever met Richard I would ask if he would want to work on the crew. He would have no problem floating up and doing that kind of hairy work. Joey B always agree with me that Richard would love to work on the crew.

I was up in the catwalks, just finished with the electric’s  change over into the next evenings show, and was heading to the elevator on Level 8. I stopped when I heard someone say, ‘Hi, Don.’

He was surrounded by a hazy glow in the center cove area. But he wasn’t standing on a catwalk. He was floating over the hole thirty feet above the stage floor.

I answered, or at least think I did, ‘Hi, Richard.’ Then I turned forgetting all about taking the elevator past where Richard was, and walked back and climbed down the ladder to the booth. I took the long way to go down to the stage that night. And later, while having a much needed beer in the Dram Shop, Joey B asked me if I had offered Richard a job on the crew.

‘Ah, darn it,’ I confessed, ‘It completely slipped my mind.’

Over the years there was always some ritual to help Richard cross over into the next world. There was a minister, then a priest, a rabbi, Wicca priestess, even a Druid. None of the rituals worked longer than a few weeks except for the Druid’s.

The Druid was an Irish-American actor from Chicago, who one night after a lot of refreshing drinks up in the Dram Shop loudly proclaimed that he was a Druid. He grabbed a broom handle for a staff and announced he was going on stage to exorcise the ghost of Richard Miller.

From what I heard it was a show to behold. A lot of shouting the same Gallic words over and over along with some altar boy Latin and a lot of banging the ‘staff’ on the stage floor. Ended with some Xrated Chicago language ordering Richard Miller to begone and never darken the door of the Guthrie Theater again.

The spectators loved it and bought drink after drink for the Druid. It didn’t go well with Richard though. The very next performance a few customers complained about an usher standing at the top of the Alpine Slope and actually booed when a certain actor made his first stage entrance.

Then a Native American shaman was enlisted. I had quit the theater so I wasn’t around when the shaman performed his ritual. It started at sunrise and went until sunset. Spectators walked in and out of the theater proper and watched the dance, listened to the drum and the singing, smelled the smoke from a small charcoal burner that was fed with different kinds of grasses. The spectators all agreed, it was a beautiful show. And it worked! Richard Miller was never seen again. The Guthrie had lost its ghost.

I have mixed feelings. I am happy for Richard that perhaps he has finally crossed over and is at rest at last. Yet I am sad at losing him. Richard was an important member of the old Guthrie’s family and history for over two decades. But I am also glad that Richard wasn’t around when they tore the old Guthrie building down. That would have really shocked his system. I know how it affected mine.

There’s a new Guthrie Theater now. It is an exquisite theatrical complex on a high bank overlooking the Mississippi River. I know Richard would never have gone to the new theater. It lacks some important things that the old theater had – memories. Memories for Richard, memories for those of us who were fortunate enough to have worked in the old Guthrie.

And to those of you who do not believe in ghosts, I offer these words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for you to ponder:

 

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

That are dreamt in your philosophy.

 

And that’s a wrap.

R.I.P. PRINCESS LEIA

Actress Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher arrive at the 2011 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles

So much has been written about Carrie Fisher, her talent as an actress and as a writer, her openness about her addictions and mental disorders, her Princess Leia being a different role model for girls, and the way people who knew her regarded her as a friend, she was certainly much more than just a celebrity based solely on her ‘Royal Hollywood’ parentage. She convinced me, in my short time working her, that she was a warm and caring person who respected and loved her fans, traits she obviously got from her mother.

It was a Women’s Expo at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Carrie and her mother, Debbie Reynolds were the celebrity speakers, wrapping up a symposium of experts on various Women’s Topics. While the two of them had prepared a combined talk that fit in with the purpose of the Expo, it was evident that there was a lot of ad-libbing going on also. They were delightful, witty, very open, and educational. The rapport between mother and daughter showed they were much more than parent and child, they were also best of friends.

When they had finished their part of the program, they weren’t finished. Instead of disappearing upstage and going to their dressing room, they went downstage to greet the audience who were crowding the front of the stage. Both Carrie and Debbie sat on the edge and signed autographs, answered questions, told personal antidotes, laughed and talked with the women, many of whom had already been on their way out but stopped and came back to join in the fun. It was more of a group of old friends intermingling than it was two celebrities and their fans.

After quite a while, the Promoter had to break up this fun-fest. He went downstage and explained that the hall would have to be evacuated because it had to be changed over for another event. Reluctantly, the women left the hall and both Carrie and Debbie followed the crowd out. It took about an hour for us stagehands to break down the lights and sound and then we left. But when we walked out into the hallway, we got a surprise.

There, sitting in two chairs, was Carrie and Debbie, and they were surrounded with their fans. Both women were signing autographs, answering questions, telling personal antidotes, and laughing and talking with women that had been at the EXPO, and maybe a few who just happened to be walking outside and saw the commotion through the windows.

I have no idea how long these two stars held court. Their willingness to remain with the audience for that long a period of time was something I had never seen before or since. What a couple of gracious, warm, down-to-earth professionals. I have many memories of both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, but none have impressed me more than that impromptu love-fest at the Convention Center.

R.I.P. CARRIE FISHER

And now it was just announced that Debbie Reynolds has been rushed to the hospital because of a stroke. Best wishes and speedy recovery, Debbie Reynolds. While we understand the great shock and lose of the death of your daughter, please don’t follow her yet.

 

COFFEE WITH ALI

ali rip            The Champ and I spent the better part of an hour, just the two of us, talking and drinking coffee in the stagehands’ room, my office, at Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota.

I called him Champ, even though he no longer had the belt, lost it, not in the boxing arena, but in the political area.He was on a lecture tour, Pro  Civil Rights, Anti  Viet Nam Involvement. Although the latter was the stated reason for taking away his right to be called World Champion, the former had earned him powerful enemies, just as it did for Martin Luther King. Overlooked by the main stream press, the Champ had a third point he stressed, namely Anti Violence. After his speech at Northrop, there was to be  an interview and a Q&A with reporters from TIME. Finally what he was actually saying was  more important than his celebrity status.

Today Americans accept his views; but in the late 60’s, these views were tinder for the fires that were spreading out across the land. But the Champ spoke his piece and stood his ground even though it was highly controversial and had cost him greatly. It wasn’t that he was wrong, it was just that he was ahead of his time. I had always felt strong about Civil Rights; but it really wasn’t until our status in Nam changed from advisory to full scale combative, that I took a better look and decided against us being there.

When the Champ and his welcoming committee walked backstage, he commented on the aroma of coffee coming from the open door of my room. One of the committee said he would run to Dinky Town and get him some coffee. I told the Champ that I would be glad to bring him a cup in his dressing room. He nixed both offers and instead said he wanted to go in the room, drink coffee and relax. When some of committee tried to follow us in, he held up hand. He told them to stay out, close the door, and see to it that nobody bothered him until he came out.

He commented that he realized they meant well, but he was getting tired of the constant ‘meaning well’ pressure of people. He said he was tired of the tour, tired of being away from home, his wife, and especially his little baby girl, Maryum, his first child. He slumped down in the chair, and when I handed him a cup of the fresh coffee, he raised the cup in thanks. I respected his need for silence.

In those days, boxing was followed much more than today. Early TV had free major matches weekly. And sitting across from me was a boxer I had followed since his Olympic days. I remembered listening to a radio as he did something nobody thought he would, take the title away from Sonny Liston. Oh, there was no way I would have called him the ‘Greatest’ at that time. His best was yet to come.

But, that day, I was more in awe of him as a great human being than a great athlete. It takes a brave person to stand up for one’s beliefs the way he did and at what cost.

When he finally did break his silence in the room, he spoke of being afraid his little girl, Maryum, wouldn’t even know her daddy, because he was away so much. She wasn’t even a year old yet, and he heard that the first year of a baby’s life was so important in their life. And she wouldn’t even know her daddy.

I assured him she would know her daddy, even though she wasn’t seeing much of him at this time. I told how I had worked two jobs for years, and now at Northrop, I was averaging over eighty hours a week, and my sons, only four at that time, always knew their daddy. He had nothing to worry about. He smiled and said he hoped so.

He opened his wallet and took out several pictures of his little Maryum and asked if I had any pictures of my sons. He looked at my pictures and wasn’t satisfied until he remembered their names and could match the name with the right boy.

We didn’t talk about his boxing career, about civil rights, and about his refusal to be drafted. We just talked. There was no chucking or jiving, no boasting and poetry on his part. His public image was set aside and he presented his personal side. Just two men, two fathers, talking, taking the time to know a little about each other.

He was interested in what went on at Northrop. I told him about the various attractions: lectures, music, dance, even a week each May of seven different Metropolitan operas on tour and how much work and how many stagehands it took to put them on. The Metropolitan Opera was familiar to him because of where the building was in relation to Madison Square Garden.

We did touch on boxing when I mentioned that recently Paul Newman had been at Northrop talking against our involvement in Viet Nam, the Champ told how much he liked Newman playing Rocky Graziano in SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME.

I related how I got so excited watching Sugar Ray Robinson defending his crown against Graziano on TV, that I knocked over and broke a lamp. He laughed and asked who I was rooting for, and I told him Sugar Ray, my favorite boxer. He said Sugar Ray was his favorite too.

The time flew by. He finished off his second cup of coffee, thanked me, and followed as I led him to his dressing room. Naturally, his committee followed also, ready at his beck and call for anything he might want, or anything they think he might want. As much as I admired the man that day, I wouldn’t have traded places with him. I could see one of the reasons he was tired and just wanted to go home and play with his baby.

My coffee with Ali took place almost a half century ago. I remember seeing his arm raised in victory many times. I remember seeing his arm raised as he lit the Olympic torch. And I remember he raised his cup in thanks for my coffee. I was so fortunate to have sat and had a quiet talk with the man now referred to as ‘The Greatest’.

R.I.P. CHAMP

There were event entering into this story and after; but I will save them for another time. Right now I am too sad because he is no longer with us.

R.I.P. LEONARD

Vulcan Goodby

R.I.P. LEONARD

 

Leonard Nimoy, famous as Mr. Spock on ‘Star Trek,’ dies

 

 

Yes, he was ‘famous’ as Mr. Spock; but more than that, he was a true renaissance man, a man of so many talents. And more important, he was an intelligent, warm, man. He was as far removed from a ‘celebrity’ as one could be. He loved and was loved by his two children, Adam and Julie. He loved and respected his mother and father. And they were proud of the ‘good son’ they raised.

And he was a good friend to so many people, myself included. Over the years in Show Business, I made friends with a great many; but none like I did with Leonard. I got to know his family. I spent several days in his home. In Boston, he took me to dinner in his parents’ home.

So many good memories. But for now, my farewell post will be short. Some stories have already been posted, many others will follow.

R.I.P. to the man so many knew as Mr. Spock and I knew as Leonard.

R.I.P. ROBIN

ROBIN

ROBIN WILLIAMS DIED!

He made us laugh. He made us think. He entertained us through TV, movies, recording work, live stage appearances and he amassed nominations and top awards for his body of work. He spent a lot of his time giving to others, especially the homeless. Only 63, he had so much left to offer, if only he could have conquered his demons. The same demons that he shared with a large segment of the homeless.

He was extremely talented. But he was all too human.

I will always treasure the times that I worked with Robin, his private shows just for the benefit of a few of us. But as funny as his goofing around, to make us laugh, was, I will remember most of all his conversing with us, person to person. He asked us questions about our work, about the Guthrie Theater, about our tour of VINCENT. He expressed his fondness for the people who work behind the scenes, and for theater, especially the Guthrie, and his admiration for Leonard Nimoy and the special feeling he had whenever he looked at a painting by Vincent Van Gogh. And we all talked about our families.

And we laughed about the problems he had caused us prior to his appearance at the Guthrie.

Like a true artist he used his gifts to help others escape, (if only for a short time), the day-to-day sameness of their lives, with the hope it would also give him some breathing room. As for me, I cannot think of Robin without thinking of Van Gogh. I first met him during a period of my life that was steeped in the life of Van Gogh. They both shared the demons in their minds, and they both finally got tired of the fight.

As Don McLean says in his song, VINCENT (STARRY,  STARRY NIGHT):

                        Now I understand

                       What you tried to say  to me

                      And how you suffered for your sanity

                     And how you tried to set them free

And although we will not have any future works of yours, we do have your past works. Thank you, Robin.

 

In a previous post,ROBIN – THE CRAZY ONE , I tell some stories of Robin in a much more happier light. I reread if and it took some of the sting out of today’s sad news.