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.

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.

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

VINCENT- PAINTINGS OR PLAY

While on tour with Leonard Nimoy in VINCENT I discovered there’s a lot to like in art museums. A logical event since I was immersed in Van Gogh’s life and works. Every stop where we had time to kill I found an art museum. I don’t remember watching any TV or going to any movies during the tour, but I remember the art. I am partial to the Impressionists, I found I could get lost in the works of any genre.

We had a week in the Cleveland Playhouse, one of the best regional theaters. The Cleveland Art Museum on only a few blocks away and I visited it several times. It did not look like an art museum. It was one- story sprawling building set in a wooded location.

You couldn’t miss it because it had a large replica of Rodin’s The Thinker outside the building. It was too tall to fit inside. There was one thing it had, or didn’t have, that would set it apart from any other replicas of statue. There was a frisbee-size hole in it’s right buttocks, where someone had taped an M80 firecracker, lit the fuse and ran like hell.

At that time it also had two Van Gogh’s on exhibition, an Olive Garden painted in the asylum at Saint Remy and a wheat field painted in Arles. They hung on a wall in a small room of the museum. My first visit was midday following the opening of VINCENT the night before. Perfect time. Except for one other visitor, the galley was empty. Solitude heightens the appreciation of the arts, for me at least.

The other visitor was sitting on the center of the uncomfortable backless benchs that museums buy by the gross. There were two other benches, one on each side of the center, angled slightly giving the viewer a different view of the art. As soon as I came in, the man rose and plumped down on a side bench, leaving the center one for me without breaking his gaze at the works. He wasn’t faking his interest.

I observed him out the corner of my eye. He sat stooped-shouldered, letting his arms dangle loosely on his thighs and his head frozen in place as he stared at the paintings. He made no attempt to correct his posture. It wasn’t that he was overweight, it was that he was soft, dumpling- weight. He wore a dark gray suit, some sort of man-made ‘–lon’, the kind that doesn’t need dry cleaning or ironing. A Sears special, one suit coat, two pair of pants. I’d bet his wardrobe consisted of two sets of the same special, several off-white shirts and a rack of broad multicolored ties, the ones that camouflage soup stains. The uniform of a not-to-successful salesman. He was casting director’s vision of Willy Loman in DEATH OF A SALESMAN.

Having my people-watching over with, I joined him in staring at the Van Gogh’s.

There are three types of museum art admirers. The first are like Willy and myself. Concentrators. The second are usually art students with a pen and art pad. They sit and copy the painting. The third are the I-own-the-world people, who stand close in front of the work blocking everybody else’s view and sometimes has the audacity lean across the velvet rope barrier and touch it.

Two 40-ish women came into the small gallery. Dressed to the nines, proudly walking on high stilettos, their hairdos fresh and expensive. In those days we referred to them as yuppies. The women were the third type of gallery goers. They communicated in loud voices, predating today’s cel phone users, compelling others to listen even if they didn’t want to.

‘…never thought he was that good an actor. I thought he was limited to Dr. Spock in STAR WARS.’

‘You mean Dr. Spock in STAR TREK. And much more handsome without the ears. I am so glad you invited us to go with you last night. All these years living in Cleveland and we never went to the Playhouse.’

‘We have season tickets for every opening night of their productions. And thank you for inviting me to the museum. Seeing actual paintings of Van Gogh really makes the play special. We’ve never been here. I wish our husbands were with us.’

‘If your’s is anything like mine, time off from work cries for golf. I’m on the board of the museum and my husband is on the board of his golf club. But maybe combining the play with seeing some of the actual paintings…’

‘Maybe…Say, I am up to seeing that wonderful cafeteria in the museum?’

‘And the special of today is quiche, spinach quiche. Let’s …’

They walked out, and I marveled at how fast they could move in those heels. I went back to admiring the Van Goghs. Willy had never moved so much as his head during their visit. I imagined staring at rude patrons’ backs was something a true museum aficionado gets use to.

One thing I never got use to was working on a show on an empty stomach. I left, foregoing the museum’s special for the day, and went to a small Italian diner a few blocks away where I knew there was a hot dago sandwich with my name on it.

After stage checks I gave my museum review to our troupe. They all said they would like to go and see the museum, especially the Van Goghs. Dennis, the tour manager and AV tech, had his wife with him that week, but maybe they would go.

The Nimoys, Leonard and Sandy, had friends to hook up with and of course interviews, ‘Now please when I accepted your request to interview me I said I would discuss the play, VINCENT, the man Vincent, and his work. I will not tell you anything about the unreleased movie, STAR TREK’, was his standard disclaimer necessary in almost all them. Amazing how he could say it in such a gracious way even though the question irritated him. VINCENT was his much needed break from the months of shooting the movie. But maybe they would find time to go to the museum.

And if Sandy decided to go without her husband, Eric, the wardrobe man, would go with her just as he always did when she wanted to go shopping. Otherwise Eric would use his free time to watch TV.

I went up to the lighting booth early. It was back of the balcony just like the Guthrie’s, and to get to it I had to walk through the lobby where the audience was milling around, talking, sipping on their drinks, waiting for the house doors to open, just like at the Guthrie.

‘I thought that was you. I recognized your hat,’ a smiling ‘Willy Loman’ said as he came toward me. ‘I need your help,’ he said, holding out his ticket. ‘I don’t know how to find my seat.’

‘Nothing to worry about,’ I told him. ‘When the ushers open the doors, just ask one of them to show you your seat. Did you enjoy the Van Goghs today?

‘Oh, I enjoy them every time I come to Cleveland, that’s once a month. I enjoy all the art in the museum. There’s so much to see. I go to other museums when I make my rounds but Cleveland’s the biggest. I don’t watch TV much and sometimes I go to the movies, but looking at paintings is my favorite pastime on my route.’

‘Your route? Are you a salesman?’

‘No,’ he said quickly. ‘I am a sales rep. Salesmen work for a company. I work for myself. I handle all kinds of things, from soup to nuts,’ he laughed at his interjection, ‘picking just what I like from all different companies. What I think my customers would like to sell in their stores. Small stores, hardware, some grocery, mostly small towns around Lake Erie. East to Erie, west to Monroe, south to Columbus. I do have some small store customers in some of the big cities…’

I asked one little question and got an encyclopedia definition of a sales rep and a travelogue of northern Ohio. He was really a talker once he started. I told him I had to get up to the booth; but when I went to leave him, he grabbed my sleeve.

‘I am so glad I found someone I knew. I’ve never gone to live theater except a school play. Those two ladies talking about this one gave me the idea, and then I read the paper about it…’

I wanted to be polite but I wanted to get upstairs. ‘Well,’ I told him, ‘I bet you will like it and it’ll be something else to do on your route. There’s probably a lot of theaters where you can see plays.’

He let go of my sleeve. ‘There you go now. Good idea. I’ll look for you here when I come back next month and tell you about the plays I went to.’

I walked away. I wasn’t about to get into that I would be long gone from Cleveland by then. Try to explain that I was with VINCENT, not the Playhouse.

After I gave the okay, from my point of view of the house, to open the doors, I stood and watched the audience filter in. I didn’t see ‘Willyl’. I figured he probably bought a cheap seat under the balcony. Worse place to watch a play but I thought he would still enjoy it, slumped forward in his intense position .

I felt better than usual because of the day’s events. VINCENT was accomplishing more than just entertaining for a short time. It introduced people like the two women and ‘Willy’ to forms of the arts other than just what they were into. How many in the theater would go to a museum after seeing this play? And how many were in the audience because of their interest in great artwork ?

And, of course, how many were in the audience because it was a chance to see the beloved Mr. Spock, aka Leonard Nimoy in person?

‘Gosh, I never knew he was such a powerful actor.’

AND THAT’S A WRAP

 

 

DESSERT AT THE NIMOY’S

Nora Max and son

The is a continuation of DINNER AT THE NIMOY’S.

Max watched his wife go into the kitchen. ‘Ah,’ he sighed. ‘The love of my life. I was so lucky to have found her. Can you guess where I first met her?’

‘The village where you grew up?’

‘Boston?’

‘No. You’ll never guess. We first met in South America.’

‘South America!’ Dennis and I spoke in unison.

Max laughed. When Mrs. Nimoy came back into the room carrying the dessert Max asked his wife to tell us where they met.

‘South America’, she said without any hesitation. ‘But we did notice each other on the boat.’

‘Ship, Momma, ship,’ Max corrected her. ‘But we never talked. Just nodded shalom to each other. I didn’t even know she was a girl. Dressed in boy’s clothing. Had a very short haircut, like a boy. I thought she was a shy young man who was very attentive to his bubbe, his grandmother.’

‘And to me, Max was this young man who set up his barber chair at the same place on the main deck at the same time every afternoon.’

‘Not every afternoon,’ Max corrected her, ‘Not on the Sabbath.’

‘No. Not on the Sabbath,’ Mrs. Nimoy agreed. My bubbe thought that made you a very religion boy. And he was always talking and making his customer laugh. That made me like him, even from a distance.’

‘And tell them, your grandmother thought I was cute, didn’t she? Didn’t she?’

“In this case, boys,’ she said, ‘I have to humor him. Yes, Max, my bubbe thought you were cute. And she thought you would make a fine husband for me. Okay? And she wanted to be the shanchanit, matchmaker…’

‘Tradition! Tradition!’ Max sang out.

Chagall's Fiddler

CHAGALL’S FIDDLER

Mrs Nimoy frowned at him. ‘But she had to wait several years before she really began because we were both too young even by old country standards.’

‘So,’ Max interjected, ‘I guess you could say we were kind of childhood sweethearts. At least Momma was. I was a young man with a trade.’

‘And,’ Mrs. Nimoy smiled, ‘my bubbe convinced Max when we were in Valenzuela to come to Boston instead of New York. She was serious about marrying me off to Max.’

‘Very serious,’ Max said. ‘She kept a close eye on me when we got to Boston.’

‘And weren’t you lucky bubbe did?’ Leonard said.

‘Very lucky,’ Max agreed, holding up his hands. ‘Boys, not only is this woman beautiful, she is also a real baleboste.

‘A baleboste, boys,’ Mrs. Nimoy explained,’ is a woman who is a great homemaker and cook.’

‘And is in charge of the home,’ Max continued, ‘And nobody better forget that.’

‘You know, there is an article about Leonard and it says that Leonard’s parents were childhood sweethearts. Grew up in the same shetl. Not so. We were born in shetls about 20 miles apart. Now 20 miles in the Ukraine in those days was a distance that was more like a 100 miles here. I never traveled to her village and she never traveled to mine. We didn’t know the other one existed. Until the ship that brought us to South America.

‘We lived in the Pale of Settlement, the western part of Imperial Russia. It was not a good place to live in in best of times. But that is where the Tzars forced Jews to live. Except Jews that had a trade important to the Russians.

‘The Russians had a habit of harvesting Jews. They would march into a village and conscript the young men. Some into the Army for cannon fodder. Some into work camps, especially for the mines in Siberia

‘ And the young women… Enough said about the poor young women.

‘People tried to escape the Pale all the time. Escape over the border to find a better life. Escape networks were set up to help the fugitives.

‘It is said two million Jews from the Pale immigrated to the United States in those years. And Momma and I were among the lucky ones.

‘Momma and her grandmother escaped in a hay wagon. Hid under the hay most of the time. Her family had cut her hair like a boy and dressed her in boy’s clothing. Not that that would make any difference if she was caught. Some of her family had escaped before and had settled in Boston. Others would follow after Dora got there.

‘The two women made it to the rescue liner without any problem, thank goodness. Ships were rented by the Jewish Federation for the purpose of bringing Jews to America. The ships would wait offshore in the Black Sea or Baltic until there was enough Jews on board to set sail. Momma had to wait over a week on board the ship before it left. I got there a day before it sailed. I kid Momma that they waited especially for me.

‘I escaped through the woods. There was an escape route much like the Underground Railroad. You went to a safe place and there you could rest and learn how to get to the next safe place. It was a long journey. And once you made it out of the Pale, crossed the border, you still had to watch out. There were gangs of thugs who captured escaping Jews and brought them back for the reward. Or sold them to slavers.

‘Dora and her grandmother had money sewn in their clothes and paid for their passage to their passage to South America. I didn’t. I made a bargain to work for passage. If I hadn’t worked enough to pay my bill I could have gotten the remaining amount once we reached the Jewish relocation colony in Venezuela and set up a way to pay it off once I got to the US. Since I wasn’t skilled in working as a hand, I talked my way into working as a cook’s helper. Each night I would clean the kitchen and peel vegetables for the next day.

‘Then I would sleep a few hours and set up my barber shop on the main deck, weather permitting. My hair cutting had nothing to do with my working for the ship’s passage. Oh, my barber’s apprenticeship was paying off. I not only paid off my passage between the two jobs, I put some money in my pocket for the next leg of the journey.

‘Like the barber says in the song,“If I were a rich man, Max sang out, “Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.” Max stopped singing and said “If I was rich as a Rockefeller, I would be richer than a Rockefeller because I could always barber on the side. Y ha deedle…’

‘Max,’ Dora stopped her husband’s singing, ‘That joke is not in the song, and it is not about a barber, it is about a tailor who can tailor on the side.’

‘Poetic License, Momma. Poetic License.’

‘To continue,’ Max went on, ‘up until the time I actually met Dora’s and her grandmother, I had planned to go to New York. But once her bubbe told me all about Boston I thought that might be a better place to go.

‘I went to the relocation administrative office and told them I changed my mind. I want to go to Boston instead. They found me a sponsor in Boston and I signed the necessary papers to say I would pay back any money the sponsor would use for my passage and for my getting settled in Boston. I managed to get it done in time to sail on the same liner as Dora and her grandmother.

And got to know them better. Both Dora and I were too young to think seriously about  marriage, but the seed was planted in my mind.

‘Once again I set up a barber shop on main deck. “Have scissors will travel, reads the card of the man,” he sang to the tune of Paladin.

‘By the time we got to Boston my passage was paid for and I had money in my pocket to live on. My sponsor set me up with a barber in Mattapan, the Jewish section of Boston at that time. When the time came for me to court Dora in earnest I was in a good position to marry her. I couldn’t wait to ask her to marry me.’

‘And I quickly said yes.’ She smiled at her husband and got up to clear away the dessert dishes. And as she reached for Max’s she touched his hand.

Since the meal started at six, it was still relatively early; but the three of us knew that Mrs. Nimoy would not go to bed until everything was spic and span. And we knew to volunteer to help would be an insult. We decided we better leave, using the excuse of having a big day tomorrow.

We shook hands and said our heart-felt thanks in the hallway. Naturally the two elder Nimoys had to kiss their son and told him to be sure and give their love to his family. And they would see him the next week.

Later in my hotel room I thought back on the night and meeting Leonard’s parents. And I thought of all the framed pictures around the dining room. All the pictures were of their two sons, their weddings, their children. There wasn’t any pictures showing off their celebrity son in his many roles like Spock or Tevye. Oh, I imagine somewhere there were scrapbooks filled with pictures and articles of Leonard; but that was a something not to be confused with their pride in their FAMILY, the most important part of their lives.

I never had the privilege of seeing Dora and Max again. Max died in July of 1987. Dora died the following December. But meeting them that one time under those homily circumstances showed me where their son Leonard got his down-to-earth humanity.

Leonard as Teve

Leonard as Tevye

And that’s a wrap.

DINNER AT THE NIMOYS’

Nimoys

The elder Nimoys, Dora and Max, were living in a first floor apartment in a red-bricked building in a middle-class section of Boston when I met them. It wasn’t the house where they raised their two sons, Melvin and Leonard, in. This was their retirement home they moved into after Max left his barbering trade.

It was during the second leg of Leonard’s one-man show ,VINCENT, tour. During the first leg, which ended months before, our little troupe consisted of Leonard, his wife Sandy, his dresser Erik, Dennis Babcock, who was the Special Events Coordinator for the Guthrie and the person responsible for converting the bare-bones VINCENT that Leonard brought to the Guthrie and turning it into a full-blown show and for booking the first tour in which he also served as Tour Director. I was the show lighting director, show set-up carpenter, and show electrician.

On the first leg of the tour, a Guthrie production, we jumped from city to city. We spent a lot of our time together, stayed in the same hotel, often on the same floor, and ate many of our meals together. We even spent three days living in Leonard’s home in L.A..

The second leg was completely different, a week of brush-up and four weeks of shows, all in the Wilbur Theater in Boston, Leonard’s home town. It was no longer a Guthrie show, but was promoted by a New York producer. Leonard and his wife, Sandy, stayed in a hotel downtown and were kept busy with friends and relatives. I stayed in a theatrical hotel in the theater district. The first tour had been something special. This time it was like theatrical tours usually are.

I had left the Guthrie shortly after we got back from the first tour and was free-lancing off the Union Hiring Hall. Dennis Babcock had taken a short leave of absence from the Guthrie and helped us get the show back on it’s feet, and then he went back home. Like I said, things had changed.

Leonard said no matter how busy he would be in Boston he wanted Denny and I to met his folks. ‘They want to meet you two. Dora will cook us one of her great dinners and Max will entertain us.’ Leonard set it up for the third evening the set-up week.

The faint aroma of the food cooking welcomed us as we stood outside the Nimoys’ door, and when Mr. Nimoy, (Call me Max), welcomed us in, the aroma hit us full force, and I knew that, if offered seconds, I would take them.

Mrs. Nimoy, Dora, followed her husband in the hallway to greet us. She was wearing a kitchen apron over her dress and used it to wipe off her hands before she shook hands with Denny and me, and kissed Leonard.

One of the things I was surprised by was the fact that both of Leonard’s parents barely came up to his shoulders. One thing I was not surprised by was the immaculate condition of the apartment. Sandy, Leonard’s wife had not come with us, but she had warned us not to feel guilty about making our visit extra work for Leonard’s mother.

‘Her house is always dust free and polished like a mirror. You could walk in at two o’clock in the morning or six o’clock at night, anytime, and the place would look the same, like she worked hours to clean. And as far as cooking a big meal… Max might have left for work with only a cup of coffee and a bagel and lox for breakfast, but no matter what, there was always a big meal waiting when he got home. Of course,’ she added, ‘Homemaker and mother was the only job Dora ever had.’

We walked into the hard wood floored dining room and sat down. Denny and I both had made an attempt to take our shoes off in the hallway, but Max wouldn’t let us. We sat down and Max poured us a glass of wine. ‘Nothing fancy. Kosher. Gets the taste buds alive for Momma’s cooking. L’chaim,’ he said raising his glass. ‘To life.’

Mrs. Nimoy set a bowl of soup in front of each of us. ‘We heard Leonard introduced you to bagels and lox when you stayed at his house. Now Momma’s going to introduce you to matzah ball soup’, Max explained..

The soup was so delicious. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it tasted a lot like my mom’s chicken soup and dumplings. I refused a second bowl because I didn’t want to fill up before the main course. But I sure wanted more soup.

The main course was pot roast with potatoes and carrots cooked with the meat. It made me lonesome for my wife’s cooking, and I had only left home less than a week before.

‘Now,’ Mrs. Nimoy said, ‘I know maybe you boys would rather have a steak or something,’…Oh no, Dennis and I quickly argued. ‘But this is the kind of meal Leonard wants when he comes home. He and Sandy are always so busy they don’t get enough good old fashioned home cooking.’

‘Know what a Jewish Princess makes for dinner?’ Max interjected. ‘Reservations!’

‘Max!’ Mrs. Nimoy said, shaking her finger at her husband, ‘You promised, none of your silly barber shop jokes!’

‘Sorry, Momma,’ Max said.

‘Dad,’ Leonard said, ‘After we eat, tell the story of the first time you gave somebody a haircut. The guys will get a kick out of it.’

Leonard has promised that his mother would feed us and his dad would entertain us. And he did. But not until we had second helpings of the main course.

In the last of the 19th Century and the first of the 20th a large immigration of East European Jews settled in America. These immigrants and their children became leaders in the Arts, Music, Science, Entertainment Industry, vaudeville, movies, radio and TV. Leonard is a good example of a child of Jewish immigrant parents from East Europe, an actor, entertainer, poet, playwright, an artist with a camera, etc.. And if Mr. Nimoy had not stuck with barbering, he could have been a stand-up comic.

‘I was still three years from Bar Mitzvah when the village barber came to my father with the offer to teach me the trade of barbering. ‘Crops depend on the weather. Hair grows in the sun or the snow.’ he told my parents.

‘My father thought it was a good opportunity for me. My pay was a meal brought to the shop by the barber’s wife at noon. Usually beet soup with bread. And a promise of getting my own pair of scissors when I was ready for them. Here we call it apprenticeship. The more I worked for him the more I thought of it more as a form of slavery. He thought of it as him being the Tsar and me being a serf.

‘The barber had came with his offer just before the fall ended. The time of the year when you needed a fire to fight off the chill. I was given a key to the barber shop and instructions that I should get there an hour before the shop opened and get the fire going so it was toasty when the barber came to work. And naturally during the day, I had to chop kindling for the fire. During the nice weather we still had to have a fire to heat the water for shaving a customer. Since most every man in the shtetl, (shtetl is the name for a Jewish village in the Ukraine), had a full beard, shaves were not something he did very often; but he still wanted his hot water just in case. And it was something for me to do when I wasn’t sweeping the floor.

Sweeping the floor! Sweep up the hair was quick as it fell. Sweep up the floor when he took the cloth off the customer and shook it on the floor. I offered to take it outside and shake it, save having to sweep the floor after the shake; but he did it his way. It was something for me to do in order to learn his profession.

‘Chop wood. Sweep the floor. Two years before I was allowed to hold his scissors, and then I all he did was let me hold them when I brought them to be sharpened. When I complained to my father that I wasn’t learning the barber trade, just how chop and sweep, and I knew that before I ever went to the barber shop. My father just said that I had to learn the trade from the ground up. That is how the world goes. Sometimes I thought he got together with the barber to get their excuses straight.

‘Finally in the third year of my apprenticeship, I was sixteen by then, the barber began to actually teach me how to cut hair. When he presented me with my own pair of scissors you would have thought he was giving me the greatest gift in the world. He thought so. And every time after the giving ritual, Mrs. Barber would make me show her the scissors before she gave me the soup. She had to inspect them to be sure I was keeping them clean.

‘Keep them clean! It was another three months before I actually got to use them to cut hair. First I had to learn how to hold them correctly. How to properly operate them. I actually got to watch as the barber gave haircuts. But naturally I still had to sweep the floor as the operation was being performed…

‘We could smell Gregor the Goat before he opened the shop door and came inside to get his hair cut. He was known as Goat, not just because he owned a large herd of them, or because he was as stubborn and as crabby as a Billy Goat; but because he gave off a horrible odor like a goat. No, like a herd of goats.

‘The barber, standing as close to the open door without actually going outside, motioned Gregor to sit in the chair. Then with a smile, he mouthed to me that I was going to perform my first haircut.

‘Now The Goat had a twice-a-year cleansing ritual. Early spring and early fall he built a bonfire by the river. Then he peeled off his unwashed clothes that had worn continuously for the past six months and threw them on the fire, and went naked into the river and washed six months of dirt, sweat, and stink off his body.

‘Lastly, he put on his newly purchased shirt, pants, and socks, more befitting the upcoming season than the ones he was wearing. And those clothes would be his only attire for the next six months. And for few hours, twice a year, Gregor was fit to be around people.

The bad thing for the barber was Gregor always got his hair cut before, not after his cleansing.

‘I thought I was going to throw up when the barber got through to me to breath through my mouth instead of my nose. It helped – a little. I tried clip-clipping with my scissors, but I ended up chop-chopping trying to cut through that greasy was of hair that hadn’t been washed in six months and probably never been combed in all that time. And I was sure it would break my scissors.

It was my first. I wanted to do a good job even if it was for Gregor. I was shaking. The barber was trying not to laugh. And Gregor… Gregor was sound asleep the minute he sat in the chair..

‘Boy, though, did I ever wake hand he moved his head.The scissors slipped. And I cut out a chunk of his ear!

‘He jumped out of the chair, roaring more like a bear than bleating like a goat.im when I was trying to hack through a solid wad of hair

‘I don’t think I waited until his feet touched the floor when I threw down my scissors and ran out the door pushing the laughing barber out of my escape route. The barber swears that I was screaming like a little girl; but if I was, I never heard anything but the roaring and swearing coming from The Goat. I took off for home. ‘Figuring the first place anybody would look for me would be under my bed, so I crawled under my parents’ bed. I stayed there even when I knew my parents were about to eat. I was hungry, but I was scared more than hungry. And when I heard the voice of the barber I knew I was going to have to face the music.

‘He told what happened to Gregor’s ear.. My mother yelled; but my father laughed, and he was joined by the barber. ‘Took a chunk right out of his ear!’ They both thought it was funny. I crawled out from under the bed and went to the dinner table. The two men saw me and laughed louder. My mother gave me a hug and told me to sit down and eat.

‘The barber stopped laughing long enough to say he had to go home to eat, but made sure that I knew that I had to be in the shop at the usual time in the morning.

‘The next day the first customer the next day was The Goat. He had a large make-shift bandage over his ear.

‘Barber,’ he said in a softer voice than normal, ‘I was thinking about what you told me. It is better to have the haircut after I clean up. It was not the boy’s fault. I want him to cut my hair now.’

‘I did and it was a good job. And from then on, Gregor The Goat had his haircut done after his river bath. And I was a barber.’

I had accepted the offer for seconds, but politeness made me turn down the offer for thirds. Mrs. Nimoy told us that they were going to see VINCENT the night after the opening. She said that they had seen it when we were in Washington D.C. I remembered many of Leonard’s family attended a wedding there. That is where I met Adam, Leonard’s son, but did not meet Leonard’s folks.

She said that she really enjoyed VINCENT, but it made her sad. ‘Such an artist. And such a life. But,’ she added, ‘It is a great show. You all should be very proud.’

‘Momma’s favorite though is when Leonard plays Tevye in FIDDLER, Max told us.

‘Tradition! Tradition!’ Max sang out. Mrs. Nimoy frowned at him.

‘It reminds me of our life in the Ukraine’, Mrs. Nimoy said smiling. ‘Even when Leonard is not in it. I like the story.’

Max laughed. ‘And she really like it when Leonard’s friend, Zero Mostel was in it. They were rehearsing it here before they reopened it on Broadway. Leonard brought him over here for supper one night’, Max told us. ‘Now there was a man wasn’t afraid to accept thirds.’

‘Charming man,’ Mrs. Nimoy said. ‘I cried when he died last year. Way too young to die. Such a shame. Such a good actor, too,’ she added.

‘And a brave man who wasn’t afraid to stand up for his principals,’ Leonard said, his voice drifting off as he spoke.

Max jumped in breaking the sad mood that had settled in. ‘You know, Leonard, I think maybe my story about cutting The Goat’s ear had something to do with you liking Van Gogh so much. What do you think?’

‘If you say so, Poppa,’ Leonard smiled. ‘And maybe your talking about your scissors subliming gave me the idea for Spock’s Vulcan salute.’

‘Leonard,’ Mrs. Nimoy said as she stood up, ‘Don’t humor him! Now who wants dessert? Apple pie and ice cream.’

She didn’t have to wait for our answer, but stood up and went into the kitchen.

Max watched her go. ‘Ah,’ he sighed. ‘The love of my life. I was so lucky to have found her. Can you guess where I first met her?’

‘The village where you grew up?’

‘Boston?’

‘No, you’ll never guess. We first met in South America.’

South America!’ Dennis and I spoke in unison.

This is a wrap for today.

I will continue the story in the next post. I promise.

Leonard in Vincent

A DIALOGUE FOR BRONSON

charles-bronson

 

DIALOGUE FOR BRONSON

 

Recently I watched THE GREAT ESCAPE again and I was knocked over in the scene when Charles Bronson, aka Danny the Tunnel King, cracks and refuses to go back into the tunnel, confessing that he had claustrophobia from his days of working in the mines. I didn’t realize that Charles Bronson as a boy working in the coal mines had claustrophobia after a tunnel collapsed on him. And yet, not only did he face his fears and accept what the script called for, he actually acted as a consultant in building the tunnel.

Shortly after I watched a Twilight Zone that starred Bronson and then a Laramie episode with Bronson playing a ‘half-breed’. I was on a Bronson kick, and while I didn’t have time to watch the movie ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST at the time, I did watch one of my favorite movie scenes, the opening of that picture. Woody Strode! Jack Elam and the fly! The ticketmaster! And the third gunman, Al Mulock, who finished the scene, went back to his hotel and jumped out the window to his death.

The three guns wait and wait and wait for the train. It comes and the man they were paid to kill doesn’t get off – on the platform side; but as the train leaves, the sound of a harmonica is heard. And there on the opposite side of the tracks stands Charles Bronson, Harmonica!

Leone got his wish. He had offered the role of the Man With No Name in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY to Bronson, who turned it down. Bronson, who later Leone called the best actor he had ever worked with, had finally consented to appear in a Leone film.

For someone that Hollywood that never saw fit to nominate him for any of his film work, he certainly has a large body of great films that he did excellent work in. I never met him nor worked with him, as much as I would have like to; but here is a great story that Sandy Nimoy, Leonard’s first wife, told me about Bronson.

Bronson’s wife, actress Jill Ireland, had played Leilia, the only character in the STAR TREK series that Spock ever fell in love with. Over the years Sandy and Jill often met while shopping or doing charity work. Sandy said that Jill Ireland was so warm and likeable in real life, she had been perfectly cast in the role of Leilia. Even the logical Spock would fall in love with her.

The two women always mentioned getting together and having dinner at one or the other’s home. But show business schedules for the most part does not allow for conventional planning.

Finally they decided the heck with it and Jill said dinner would be at the Bronsons on such and such a day. Charles would be starting a new picture soon, and although Leonard was playing Arthur in CAMELOT in an L.A. theater, they would squeeze in a  dinner early enough to give Leonard enough time to get to the theater and prepare for the performance.

Although when both Charles and Leonard were starting out getting small parts on TV and even appeared in the same series at different times, they never met. Sandy told Leonard not to think Bronson was bored or rude at the dinner, if he didn’t add much to the conversation. Jill Ireland said he just doesn’t talk much

And the warning proved true. Along with his wife, he greeted the Nimoys at the door and then went into a shell of silence. Occasionally Sandy or Leonard would address Bronson directly and his wife would automatically answer. It was quite evident that was a very normal thing to do for Jill to do.

When the dinner was over and it was time to go, the Bronsons escorted the Nimoys to the door where Sandy once again mentioned as much as they would like to stay longer, they really had to go so Leonard could get to the theater.

And then, just as he shook Leonard’s hand, Bronson, a strictly film actor, spoke, ‘You, ah, really like all that theater shit?

 

Bronson was one of fifteen children so I imagine his lack of conversational skills came about because growing up he could never get an word in edgewise. But in spite of his reluctance to talk he was fluent in Russian, Lithuanian, and Greek. He never really spoke much English until he went in the Army.

Lest this offends the ‘patriotic’ Speak English or Get the Hell Out of America’ clique, I would like to point out that this son of an immigrant enlisted at the outbreak of America’s entry into WWII. Not satisfied being an Army truck driver, he pushed for more training and would up as a tail gunner on a B29 bomber, a position that had a very short life expectancy; and he earned a chestful of medals including the Purple Heart.

Oh, the answer to the question Charles Bronson asked Leonard Nimoy, another son of immigrants, was, ‘Yeah, Charles, I really like that stage shit.’

TV IN BLACK AND WHITE

Alex Johnson Hotel

     Alex Johnson Hotel 

            When we left the Guthrie after rehearsals and a week’s run, the next stop on the Leonard Nimoy’s VINCENT tour was Rapid City, South Dakota. Dennis Babcock, the production manager of the tour, had us booked in the historic Hotel Alex Johnson, a beautiful structure in downtown Rapid City.

Alfred Hitchcock had fallen in love with the hotel while filming NORTH BY NORTHWEST and used various locations in it whenever possible. He and some of the cast stars, including Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, also stayed there during the location filming in South Dakota.

Leonard Nimoy’s  VINCENT was the opener for the theater section of the new city entertainment complex. A rodeo had officially opened the arena section the previous week, and had left a lingering odor throughout the complex. Cowboys were a dime a dozen in Rapid City but a real Hollywood star like Leonard was something special. Both the city officials and the hotel management rolled out the red carpet for us. It was perfect, except…

Erik, Leonard’s personal dresser, did not like the idea of having to watch black and white TV, the only kind they had in the hotel. He demanded to talk to the hotel manager. When Dennis and I got back from the setup at the theater, and Leonard and Mrs. Nimoy returned from a media conference, we all had supper in the hotel dining room. Erik informed us that we all had brand new colored TV’s in our rooms.

He told how he explained to the manager that our eyes were accustomed to color TV and watching black and white TV could cause us to have migraines. He went with the manager to two different stores to get just the perfect color TV’s and saw to it that a tech from one of the stores installed and fined tuned the TV’s. Erik was very proud of what he accomplished with his snow job, and when he brought it up again at the airport, none of the other four of us mentioned that we never turned on the TV’s in our rooms.

 

Perry Mason

The Old Hand:

I enjoy watching the black and white reruns of PERRY MASON starring Raymond Burr, now as much as I enjoyed them when they weren’t reruns. And they have closed captioning, something I didn’t need back in the day but sure do now. In some of the episodes though, the cc tech is somewhat of a censor, a very prudish censor, using the x key whenever the tech deemed it is necessary.

            A good example was an episode the other night where the murdered victim’s name was Dick and there was a lot of cocktail drinking. Every time the name ‘Dick’ had to appear on the screen, the censor changed it to xxxx. Every time the word ‘cocktail’ had to appear it was changed to xxxxtail. Pussycat was xxxxycat. Once you realize what is happening, you find yourself watching for other censorship changes instead of trying to figure out who the guilty party is. The tech would have a nervous breakdown if he or she was hired to work on today’s TV shows.

            On of the best things about the series is the relationship between Perry and his secretary, Della Street. It didn’t start out that way in the novels. In the first, The Case of the Velvet Claws, the only one I ever read, Mason is a real sexist pig. He treats Della like she was something he scrapes off his shoes before entering a house.

            SPOILER ALERT: Never hire Perry as a legal consultant because you will end up as the prime suspect in the murder that is sure to follow. The same rule applies to inviting J.B. Fletcher over for dinner, or allowing Dr. Sloan to give you medical attention. And, in watching any of these series, it is best if the viewer has been a member of AARP – for a number of years.

Published St. Paul Pioneer Press, Bulletin Board, 5/13/16

 

Sheen's angel' work

One show I never appreciated at the time, mainly because Mom insisted we watch it, was Life is Worth Living, starring Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and his invisible ‘guardian angel’. Basically it was a half hour sermon in prime time.

Bishop Sheen loved to disguise the sermon with humor, and he was good at it. He had a shtick where he would outline a point he was talking about on a large chalk board. Point made, he would  walk downstage so the chalk board was out of camera. When he would come back to the board, it would be clean. He would always thank his angel for the erasure job, and would kid about how his guardian angel not only protects him, it also cleans up after him.

The show was stuck in a graveyard slot, Tuesday night, opposite the “king of television”, Milton Berle, Uncle Milty, who was so popular his network had signed for a 30 year contract. The Mutual Network thought it would be a cheap, (the Bishop worked for nothing), throwaway against the ratings giant. No way would it have the legs to compete against Berle. Wrong!

It rose steadily in the ratings and took a large audience away from Berle. Berle often laughed off the Bishop’s rise by saying they both had the same sponsor, Sky Chief, (Berle was sponsored by Texaco Sky Chief gasoline), and they both used old jokes. Sheen responded that people were calling him, Uncle Fulty. Berle didn’t laugh though when Texaco dropped him and Buick picked him, at a reduced price.

He never regained his title of king of TV and the network was stuck with a long contract. And, sad to say, Bishop Sheen introduced a genre to America, televangelism. The huge difference though is Sheen worked for free, and today’s televangelists work for as much as they can get their followers to send in.

As I started out by saying, I didn’t really appreciate the show until it was off the air and I was working in show business. Then I looked upon it fondly because  Bishop Sheen was the only person I ever heard refer to a stagehand as an angel.

black and white tv

 

 

 

ROBIN REVISTED

Robin Williams

 

In January of 2014 I wrote a post about Robin Williams, working with him, and almost not working with him. On August 11, 2014 Robin’s demons caught up with him, and he took his own life. On the first anniversary of Robin’s death, I decided to repost that first post. 

In that post, Leonard Nimoy plays a large part. Leonard died of natural causes in February 2015.

In that short period of time I lost two men that I really enjoyed working with. One, an acquaintance 

 

 

Working with Robin Williams in person is a real trip. He is just like his character in his TV show, THE CRAZY ONES, unpretentious, and very unpredictable. He was an easy person for me to like; even if his inactivity caused a lot of problems for a friend of mine, Dennis Babcock, and could have caused Dennis to be  fired. But thanks to an action by Leonard Nimoy, the problem was solved.

Dennis Babcock was the wunderkind of the Guthrie. He left a good day job to pursue a career in theater. Starting out in a menial position, he jumped to manager of the Dram Shop, the Guthrie’s private bar and reversed its downward trend. Then he took over selling ads for the Guthrie show programs and made the programs an excellent source of revenue for the theater. He became the Special Events Producer, overseeing the Guthrie rentals, booking outside acts, and in some cases, conceiving shows produced under the sponsorship of the Guthrie. He took a hiatus to be Managing Director of the Pittsburgh Public Playhouse, came back as Assistant Managing Director of the Guthrie. Ventured out on his own and became a successful independent theatrical producer.

The problem with Robin Williams concerned his upcoming appearance at the Guthrie.

Dennis and I were on tour with Leonard Nimoy’s one-man show, VINCENT. Dennis had been responsible for the Guthrie sponsoring VINCENT and for fine tuning the production.

Nimoy had completed a long and arduous filming of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, and he wanted to get back to his basics, live theater; but not necessarily in a long, eight shows a week, commitment. His good friend, Vincent Price, suggested that Leonard come up with a one-man show. Price had several for himself, and he just unwrapped one whenever he wanted to felt the need to get back to live theater. These type of shows offered great flexibility and satisfied the need for appearing before a live audience.

Leonard found one based on the letters between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo. He collaborated with  the original playwright and came up with VINCENT.

He booked it for one day in three cities. The first theater had a problem getting all the technical requirements together and Leonard went on stage with what they could piece together. At the next theater, the Guthrie, we had all the tech work done in about four hours, time enough for Leonard to do a tech rehearsal and work on his blocking on a thrust stage. He had come to the Guthrie a few weeks before and told us what he wanted to achieve. He also had worries about achieving those results on a thrust stage. The main problem was solved easily. Instead of one picture sheet to show slides of Van Gogh’s work, we used two sheets in a modified vee so the entire audience could see the paintings. Things worked out fine for the two shows we did the day. At the third theater, the technical progress was worse then the first.

Babcock purposed the Guthrie sponsor the show. Both Nimoy and the Guthrie agreed. Dennis hired a set designer and had the set built in the Guthrie shop. He hired me as the lighting designer and persuaded me to take the show out as carpenter/electrician and lighting board operator. Dennis booked us in cities in the Midwest and West Coast. After the Guthrie season we rehearsed at the theater, did a week of shows and went on the road, setting out during one of the biggest snow storms in several years.

Dennis had more hats than a haberdasher. Before we left, he filled the Guthrie offseason with a variety of shows and supervised them via phone. On the road, he was the tour manager, in charge of hotels, flights, dealing with local bookers, finances, problems that came up, etc.. In addition he supervised the setting up of the sound and slide projectors while I was working on the lighting. He also served as a backup to run the sound and slides in places where we didn’t have time for a local stagehand to rehearse. Actually, since we never had time during the first lap of the tour, Dennis ran the sound and slides with the local stagehand sitting beside him, watching.

One of the first events he had booked at the Guthrie, while we were on tour, was Cheech and Chong, hot off the release of their movie, UP IN SMOKE. From Dennis’ point of view it was successful, two sold out shows without a hitch. But not from the point of view of the Guthrie’s Board and the Managing Director of the theater, Don  Schoenbaum. Don S. called Dennis and he was livid. Under no circumstances should the Guthrie be involved in promoting the pot culture. There hadn’t been that many villagers with pitch forks and torches circling the theater since the WalkerArtCenter had presented Frank Zappa at the Guthrie, and Zappa presented every audience member with a condom. Don S. said that he managed to stem the bleeding by promising such a thing would never happen again. ‘And it just better not! Or???’

[I guess the Walker Art Center presentation of the Alan Ginsberg at the Guthrie, a year or two before, must have passed under the Board’s radar. After Ginsberg read HOWL, he invited the small audience to come on the stage so they could discuss the poem and pass joints around, with nary a complaint from the more than willing audience.]

For several weeks, it was nothing but good news on the home front for Dennis. But when things broke, it broke big time, thanks to Robin Williams. A Board member had called Schoenbaum and read him the review of Williams comedy tour which had opened  in Chicago, and reminded Don S. that Williams was booked to do his show at the Guthrie. Don S. phoned Dennis and read, no, shouted the review to him.

It seems Robin Williams opened the show by walking downstage and proclaiming that he wanted to show the audience something he took great pride in, Mr. Happy! He then unzipped his fly and exposed Mr. Happy to the shocked audience, asking if anyone wanted to come and shake hands with Mr. Happy.

Don S. reminded Dennis that Dennis had Williams booked at the Guthrie shortly after our tour ended, and reminded Dennis what had transpired after the Cheech and Chong shows, and reminded Dennis what would happen if another fiasco took place on the Guthrie Stage. In short, if something like that happened, the only way Dennis could get back in the theater was with a paid ticket. The ultimatum: straighten this guy out or cancel the show, even at the risk of a lawsuit, which would also result in bad news for Dennis.

As soon as Schoenbaum hung up, Dennis put in calls to Robin, to Robin’s agent, to the theater where Robin was performing, asking to have Robin call back ASAP. But Robin never called back. Day after day, call after call, no response from Robin.

We had brought the show to Scottsdale to open their new CivicCenter. Like all new theaters there was technical glitches, not helped by the young, unprofessional house crew. Still no call back from Williams. I often wondered how Dennis managed to keep his cool during this period.

It was at the breakfast buffet at the Radisson Scottsdale in midweek when Nimoy asked Dennis what was bothering him. He said that Dennis had looked troubled for several days and wondered if there was something ahead in the tour that Leonard should know about. ‘No’, Dennis assured him, and then told Leonard about the problem with the Robin Williams booking.

The name, Robin Williams, meant nothing at first to Nimoy until his wife, Sandy, mentioned that Williams was a young comedian who was a big hit in a TV show, MORT & MINDY, playing Mort, an alien. Then Leonard remembered him. Robin was a big STAR TREK fan and liked to visit the set where they were filming the movie. His sitcom was filmed just down the street at Paramount. ‘Let me see what I can do’, he told Dennis, and signaled the waiter to bring a phone to the table. He called someone at Paramount and said he wanted Robin Williams to call him at once.

We hadn’t even finished breakfast when the call came. Leonard skipped the small talk and told Robin that Robin was causing Leonard’s friend, Dennis Babcock, a lot of problems, the least being, Robin’s failure to return Dennis’s phone calls. He told Williams to straighten out the problem, now! And handed the phone to Dennis.

Dennis told Robin about the ultimatum. Robin assured Dennis he would do anything, within reason, to remedy the situation. With his background in the Arts, Robin said that the appearing at the Guthrie was the highlight of his current tour. He promised that Mr. Happy would not make an appearance or would not even be mentioned at the Guthrie. However, he reminded Dennis that his current routine was adult orientated, and should not be sold as a reflection of his role as Mort. Dennis agree that all future ads would state the performance would be for adults, not children. And placards would be placed in the Guthrie lobby before the show proclaiming the show for adults only.

Dennis took a deep breath after the phone call, thanked Leonard, and called Don Schoenbaum to tell him the compromise reached. Schoenbaum agreed to the settlement; but his last words where, ‘We’ll have to see. Won’t we?’

Robin was one of the first acts presented after we came back from tour.  The first show sold out and a second show was booked for that day. The setup was a snap and Robin came to the theater early enough to be given a tour. We took him down to the prop room so he could select props to use in his show. What a hoot! He had us in stitches picking up props and adlibbing a routine about the prop. Both shows went off without a hitch and were well received. What was amazing was, while both shows had a similar routine, both were totally different. Robin worked off the response of the audience and tailored the show for that audience as he went along. I worked him live several time over the years, each time a real treat, both onstage and offstage, and each show was different from the previous one .

Since MORT & MINDY aired during my Guthrie days, and nights, I never saw as much as one episode; although I heard Robin earned all the praise given him. I saw his first movie, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, as soon as it came out. I had read the book and found it slow and plodding. I found the movie to be the same. Robin was okay, but John Lithgow stole the show. I saw most of Robin’s movies but never really got excited over many of them. In short, for the most part, they were too confining for Robin’s talent. The one exception was him as  the voice and inspiration as Genie in ALADDIN. My favorite of Robin’s roles was in THE BIRDCAGE, where he played a loving partner and loving father all the while being the straight man, no pun intended, to Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, and even Gene Hackman.

I was pleased when came back to TV. THE CRAZY ONES affords him the freedom his talent requires. From what I understand, it also gives him a chance to come face to face with the mistakes he made in his life, a sort of therapy. I watched the pilot episode and really liked it. The second show, I found a little too gross for my taste. I have watched other episodes, but the show has never materialized into a must-watch for me. I guess it is better than the majority of the sitcoms on TV, but that is faint praise. Like I said, I have fond memories working Robin Williams live, and I wish him the best of luck in his return to TV. He is a unique talent that should not be wasted on rigid, uninteresting movies.

This was written in January of 2014. Eight months later, Robin Williams died. Thirteen months later, Leonard Nimoy died.

R.I.P. ROBIN

R.I.P. LEONARD

AND THAT’S A WRAP

 

STARRY, STARRY NIGHT

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 indentified 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 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 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.

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 a largely 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 didn’t argue although I knew the excuse was bogus. Basically this was a case of go to town, film it as quick as possible, and  go back to L.A.. Surf’s up! Besides, what was important was the play and especially Leonard’s acting. Nobody would ever buy a copy because of my lighting.

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.

Q&A WITH NIMOY – IN IOWA

Leonard in Vincent

 

 

Enough with the lumps in my throat reading all the tributes to Leonard Nimoy. I feel a need to remember other things about Leonard, like his sense of humor. He liked to laugh and liked to have people laugh with him. Here’s a story we had a lot of laughs over the years.

 

We were in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to give a performance of ‘VINCENT’. Although I never had a problem with setting up and be ready for the evening performance, it was decided to do a partial setup in the evening before and finish up the next day. One reason was a request by the TV station. They wanted to send over a a journalist and camera crew to ask Leonard some questions while the set was being put up. Dennis, the tour manager, asked if we were up to the interview and the set up as background. Leonard and I both agreed that we were up to it.

The ‘journalist’ they sent over was a nice looking girl in her mid twenties or so. Naturally, she was fashionably late. I had a good start on getting the set up by the time she arrived.

She specifically said she wanted us to continue the work. Then she gave orders to the camera crew, who rolled their eyes at this would-be Barbara Walters. She then turned to Leonard and showed him where to stand downstage, explaining the camera would be on her when she asked a question and on him when he answered. She was marking her territory.

It might have been her first rodeo, but it sure wasn’t Leonard’s.

‘Now I have some ground rules,’ Leonard said. ‘You can ask anything you want as long as it concerns VINCENT , the play, the reason we have come to your town. I will also welcome any questions about Van Gogh and his paintings.’ She tried to jump in but Nimoy held up a finger and added, ‘As you know, I have finished work on STAR TREK THE MOVIE, and this is something I will not discuss with you. If you ask me any questions about STAR TREK, the movie or the TV series, the interview is over. Understand? VINCENT’ questions only!

She said she understood and  the first question was, ‘When will the STAR TREK movie be released.’

Leonard, being a gentleman, albeit, a gentleman on the verge of ending the interview, again reminded this ‘journalist’ of his ground rules.

She said she understood and asked a question about why he was in Cedar Rapids. Leonard answered. Then as she was asking the next question, she shouted out, ‘Silence! Silence! I’m trying to work here and I can’t have that noise in the background!’

Now, I was  trying to be as quiet as I could, but these hands needed me to give them instructions. I looked at Nimoy and shrugged my shoulders.

He asked her if she still wanted the work to be done in the background. She said she did. Leonard than pointed out that she couldn’t have it both ways. The work could not be done in silence. ‘Don has to tell these men what to do,’ he explained to her, ‘And to my knowledge, Don only knows one phrase in sign language; and if you don’t start acting like a professional, I am certain he will soon be flashing that phrase at you.’

She opted for silence and I told the crew to go have coffee.

She started in again, asking not about VINCENT, but STAR TREK THE MOVIE. ‘Is it true what we hear, that Spock dies in the movie?’ The straw that broke etc..

‘You want an exclusive? You want a real exclusive? I’ll give you one!’ He walked right up to the camera and asked the cameraman if he had a lot of film because he didn’t want him to have to reload in the middle of the ‘exclusive’. When he got the okay from the cameraman, he gave her her ‘exclusive’.

“The Enterprise has to land on Earth to get repairs. Spock has time on his hands and wanders around, sight seeing. He finally ends up in a museum. He walks around looking at the paintings. Then he sees a room with nothing but Van Goghs. He is mind- boggled. He had never been so taken by a painting before. He was mesmerized! Mesmerized! The Van Gogh’s had him mesmerized. Finally, he regained his composure and left the museum.

            “He goes back to the starship. He gets a knife from the galley. AND HE CUTS OFF ONE OF HIS STUPID F#*@#* EARS!!!”

‘And now you have your exclusive, young lady. The interview is over. I hope to see it on the news tonight.’ Then he hollered to me, ‘Don, I think we did enough work for now. Let’s say we wrap it and go get a drink – or two.’

‘Leonard, you’ve been reading my mind.’

We went back to the hotel. When the news came on, we gathered around the TV to see if there would be any of her interview aired. And there was. They aired her ‘exclusive’ right after she gave the introductory remarks in front of the theater. It was every word that Leonard said in his ‘exclusive’, except they bleeped out that one adjective. Of course, you didn’t have to be an expert lip reader to know what he said that got bleeped out. She even bothered to mention why Leonard was in town and when the play would be performed.

Leonard voiced a concern that he might have cost her her job. She looked as if she believed what he said. The joke seemed to go over her head. We all agreed that he shouldn’t worry about him getting her fired. She would do that herself, if not over her ‘exclusive’, it would be over something else in the future.

Just like Leonard though, worry about her losing her job because of what he did. A good man. And a lot of fun to be around.

Thank you, old friend.

 

 

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.

I KNOW NOTHING

-Schultz-hogans-heroes-

On Memorial day weekend 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 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 things 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 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 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 walked over to where Mr. Herberger was talking to me.

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

ROBIN – THE CRAZY ONE

Robin Williams

Working with Robin Williams in person is a real trip. He is just like his character in his TV show, THE CRAZY ONES, unpretentious, and very unpredictable. He was an easy person for me to like; even if his inactivity caused a lot of problems for a friend of mine, Dennis Babcock, and could have caused Dennis to be  fired. But thanks to an action by Leonard Nimoy, the problem was solved.

Dennis Babcock was the wunderkind of the Guthrie. He left a good day job to pursue a career in theater. Starting out in a menial position, he jumped to manager of the Dram Shop, the Guthrie’s private bar and reversed its downward trend. Then he took over selling ads for the Guthrie show programs and made the programs an excellent source of revenue for the theater. He became the Special Events Producer, overseeing the Guthrie rentals, booking outside acts, and in some cases, conceiving shows produced under the sponsorship of the Guthrie. He took a hiatus to be Managing Director of the Pittsburgh Public Playhouse, came back as Assistant Managing Director of the Guthrie. Ventured out on his own and became a successful independent theatrical producer.

Leonard in Vincent

The problem with Robin Williams concerned his upcoming appearance at the Guthrie.

Dennis and I were on tour with Leonard Nimoy’s one-man show, VINCENT. Dennis had been responsible for the Guthrie sponsoring VINCENT and for fine tuning the production.

Nimoy had completed a long and arduous filming of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, and he wanted to get back to his basics, live theater; but not necessarily in a long, eight shows a week, commitment. His good friend, Vincent Price, suggested that Leonard come up with a one-man show. Price had several for himself, and he just unwrapped one whenever he wanted to felt the need to get back to live theater. These type of shows offered great flexibility and satisfied the need for appearing before a live audience.

Leonard found one based on the letters between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo. He collaborated with  the original playwright and came up with VINCENT.

He booked it for one day in three cities. The first theater had a problem getting all the technical requirements together and Leonard went on stage with what they could piece together. At the next theater, the Guthrie, we had all the tech work done in about four hours, time enough for Leonard to do a tech rehearsal and work on his blocking on a thrust stage. He had come to the Guthrie a few weeks before and told us what he wanted to achieve. He also had worries about achieving those results on a thrust stage. The main problem was solved easily. Instead of one picture sheet to show slides of Van Gogh’s work, we used two sheets in a modified vee so the entire audience could see the paintings. Things worked out fine for the two shows we did the day. At the third theater, the technical progress was worse then the first.

Babcock purposed the Guthrie sponsor the show. Both Nimoy and the Guthrie agreed. Dennis hired a set designer and had the set built in the Guthrie shop. He hired me as the lighting designer and persuaded me to take the show out as carpenter/electrician and lighting board operator. Dennis booked us in cities in the Midwest and West Coast. After the Guthrie season we rehearsed at the theater, did a week of shows and went on the road, setting out during one of the biggest snow storms in several years.

Dennis had more hats than a haberdasher. Before we left, he filled the Guthrie offseason with a variety of shows and supervised them via phone. On the road, he was the tour manager, in charge of hotels, flights, dealing with local bookers, finances, problems that came up, etc.. In addition he supervised the setting up of the sound and slide projectors while I was working on the lighting. He also served as a backup to run the sound and slides in places where we didn’t have time for a local stagehand to rehearse. Actually, since we never had time during the first lap of the tour, Dennis ran the sound and slides with the local stagehand sitting beside him, watching.

One of the first events he had booked at the Guthrie, while we were on tour, was Cheech and Chong, hot off the release of their movie, UP IN SMOKE. From Dennis’ point of view it was successful, two sold out shows without a hitch. But not from the point of view of the Guthrie’s Board and the Managing Director of the theater, Don  Schoenbaum. Don S. called Dennis and he was livid. Under no circumstances should the Guthrie be involved in promoting the pot culture. There hadn’t been that many villagers with pitch forks and torches circling the theater since the WalkerArtCenter had presented Frank Zappa at the Guthrie, and Zappa presented every audience member with a condom. Don S. said that he managed to stem the bleeding by promising such a thing would never happen again. ‘And it just better not! Or???’

[I guess the Walker Art Center presentation of the Alan Ginsberg at the Guthrie, a year or two before, must have passed under the Board’s radar. After Ginsberg read HOWL, he invited the small audience to come on the stage so they could discuss the poem and pass joints around, with nary a complaint from the more than willing audience.]

For several weeks, it was nothing but good news on the home front for Dennis. But when things broke, it broke big time, thanks to Robin Williams. A Board member had called Schoenbaum and read him the review of Williams comedy tour which had opened  in Chicago, and reminded Don S. that Williams was booked to do his show at the Guthrie. Don S. phoned Dennis and read, no, shouted the review to him.

It seems Robin Williams opened the show by walking downstage and proclaiming that he wanted to show the audience something he took great pride in, Mr. Happy! He then unzipped his fly and exposed Mr. Happy to the shocked audience, asking if anyone wanted to come and shake hands with Mr. Happy.

Don S. reminded Dennis that Dennis had Williams booked at the Guthrie shortly after our tour ended, and reminded Dennis what had transpired after the Cheech and Chong shows, and reminded Dennis what would happen if another fiasco took place on the Guthrie Stage. In short, if something like that happened, the only way Dennis could get back in the theater was with a paid ticket. The ultimatum: straighten this guy out or cancel the show, even at the risk of a lawsuit, which would also result in bad news for Dennis.

As soon as Schoenbaum hung up, Dennis put in calls to Robin, to Robin’s agent, to the theater where Robin was performing, asking to have Robin call back ASAP. But Robin never called back. Day after day, call after call, no response from Robin.

We had brought the show to Scottsdale to open their new CivicCenter. Like all new theaters there was technical glitches, not helped by the young, unprofessional house crew. Still no call back from Williams. I often wondered how Dennis managed to keep his cool during this period.

It was at the breakfast buffet at the Radisson Scottsdale in midweek when Nimoy asked Dennis what was bothering him. He said that Dennis had looked troubled for several days and wondered if there was something ahead in the tour that Leonard should know about. ‘No’, Dennis assured him, and then told Leonard about the problem with the Robin Williams booking.

The name, Robin Williams, meant nothing at first to Nimoy until his wife, Sandy, mentioned that Williams was a young comedian who was a big hit in a TV show, MORT & MINDY, playing Mort, an alien. Then Leonard remembered him. Robin was a big STAR TREK fan and liked to visit the set where they were filming the movie. His sitcom was filmed just down the street at Paramount. ‘Let me see what I can do’, he told Dennis, and signaled the waiter to bring a phone to the table. He called someone at Paramount and said he wanted Robin Williams to call him at once.

We hadn’t even finished breakfast when the call came. Leonard skipped the small talk and told Robin that Robin was causing Leonard’s friend, Dennis Babcock, a lot of problems, the least being, Robin’s failure to return Dennis’s phone calls. He told Williams to straighten out the problem, now! And handed the phone to Dennis.

Dennis told Robin about the ultimatum. Robin assured Dennis he would do anything, within reason, to remedy the situation. With his background in the Arts, Robin said that the appearing at the Guthrie was the highlight of his current tour. He promised that Mr. Happy would not make an appearance or would not even be mentioned at the Guthrie. However, he reminded Dennis that his current routine was adult orientated, and should not be sold as a reflection of his role as Mort. Dennis agree that all future ads would state the performance would be for adults, not children. And placards would be placed in the Guthrie lobby before the show proclaiming the show for adults only.

Dennis took a deep breath after the phone call, thanked Leonard, and called Don Schoenbaum to tell him the compromise reached. Schoenbaum agreed to the settlement; but his last words where, ‘We’ll have to see. Won’t we?’

Robin was one of the first acts presented after we came back from tour.  The first show sold out and a second show was booked for that day. The setup was a snap and Robin came to the theater early enough to be given a tour. We took him down to the prop room so he could select props to use in his show. What a hoot! He had us in stitches picking up props and adlibbing a routine about the prop. Both shows went off without a hitch and were well received. What was amazing was, while both shows had a similar routine, both were totally different. Robin worked off the response of the audience and tailored the show for that audience as he went along. I worked him live several time over the years, each time a real treat, both onstage and offstage, and each show was different from the previous one .

Since MORT & MINDY aired during my Guthrie days, and nights, I never saw as much as one episode; although I heard Robin earned all the praise given him. I saw his first movie, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, as soon as it came out. I had read the book and found it slow and plodding. I found the movie to be the same. Robin was okay, but John Lithgow stole the show. I saw most of Robin’s movies but never really got excited over many of them. In short, for the most part, they were too confining for Robin’s talent. The one exception was him as  the voice and inspiration as Genie in ALADDIN. My favorite of Robin’s roles was in THE BIRDCAGE, where he played a loving partner and loving father all the while being the straight man, no pun intended, to Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, and even Gene Hackman.

I was pleased when came back to TV. THE CRAZY ONES affords him the freedom his talent requires. From what I understand, it also gives him a chance to come face to face with the mistakes he made in his life, a sort of therapy. I watched the pilot episode and really liked it. The second show, I found a little too gross for my taste. I have watched other episodes, but the show has never materialized into a must-watch for me. I guess it is better than the majority of the sitcoms on TV, but that is faint praise. Like I said, I have fond memories working Robin Williams live, and I wish him the best of luck in his return to TV. He is a unique talent that should not be wasted on rigid, uninteresting movies.

This was written in January of 2014. Eight months later, Robin Williams died. Thirteen months later, Leonard Nimoy died.

And that’s a wrap, old friends.