STARRY, STARRY NIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

young mclean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“vast fields of wheat under troubled skies”.

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

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

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

“Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue”

Eyes of China Blue

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

“Morning fields of amber grain”

Van_Gogh_-_Weizenfeld_bei_Sonnenuntergang

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

“Colors changing hue”

Starry Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a bridge near arles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thirty plus years later:

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

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

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

don mclean

And that’s a wrap – for today.

MUSIC/MEMORIES/MEDICINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hey, kid, where did you say we were?

‘Minneapolis, Pop.’

‘I’ve been here before, haven’t I?’

‘Couple years ago on the Rat Pack tour.’

‘They with me tonight?’

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

‘Super Bowl! Who won?’

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

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

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

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

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

‘Do I go back on, Kid?’

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

‘Good. I am tired.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in the words of William Congreve

Music has charms to soothe a savage breast’

ELTON IN THE USA

@The Guthrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EltonJohn

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

STRANGERS ON A STAGE

A reblog of a reblog

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

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

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

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

 Old Guthrie II The Old Guthrie

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

big northrop Northrop Auditorium @ U of MN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orpheum Minneapolis Orpheum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please take the advice of Judy Collins

Listen to the Medical Scientists

Not the Anti Vaxxers

 

ARSENIC AND OLD PEOPLE

 

A Reblog 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guthrie has just reopened with a new production of

A Christmas Carol

A tradition started back in the day of the Old Guthrie

Please Stay Safe these upcoming holidays

Vaccinations-masks-avoid big gatherings

NO HOLIDAY FOR BLIZZARDS

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

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

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

13 in Wisconsin

4 in Michigan

Conditions over the 3 days also were responsible for

A freight train colliding with a passenger train killing 2.

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

The Halloween Blizzard dumped a record amount of snow in Minnesota

27 inches in the Twin Cities, 37 inches in Duluth

Twenty two deaths in out-state Minnesota.

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

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

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

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

It is known as The Perfect Storm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not so with the Halloween Blizzard of 91.

That one is etched in my mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 11th of 1918

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

Is a day that must live forever in our hearts.

And to all my fellow Vets

Vaya Con Dios

Stay Safe

Get those life saving shots

For your good and the good of your loved ones.

JOAN OF ARTS @ THE G

mondale family

On 4/19/2021 we lost a much admired man, Walter Mondale. He spent many of his 93 years working in public service. He epitomized what a politician should be, honest, hard working, dedicated not only to his views, but mindful of the views of others. He held many public offices including U.S. Senator and Vice President.

The son of a preacher man, he was religious in the true sense. Rather than preaching his religion to others, he practiced his religion in deeds. He cared. He was a role model for many and admired even by those who did not share his political agenda. He was a devoted family man

He stuck by his views both in talk and deeds. For instance, he was a strong advocate for the ERA rights Amendment, equal rights fort women. He was the first U.S. presidential candidate to select a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, as his running mate.

I never had the pleasure of working Walter Monday, but I did have a delightful time with his wife, Joan, and two of his children, Eleanor and William. This is the blog post I wrote shortly after Joan Mondale died on 2/3/2014.

Because Walter Mondale had been out of the national limelight for a while, the death of his wife, Joan, received only a slight notice in the press outside of Minnesota. Mostly tied in with the fact she was the wife of Walter, ‘Fritz’, Mondale.   She deserved more than that just on the basis of her own life.

She was an artist, author, and patron and defender the Arts. She was dubbed Joan of Art, by the national press. Many of the her projects, such as establishing a gallery of American Artists, in the Vice Presidential Mansion are still monuments to her work in the Arts.

My encounter with Joan Mondale took place when her husband was campaigning for the Vice Presidency under Jimmy Carter, and I was working at the Guthrie Theater.

 She was attending a gala at the Walker Art Center, which was attached to the Guthrie. Her two youngest children, Eleanor and William, teenagers at the time, wanted to see the play at the Guthrie instead going to the hoopla.

Jon, the Guthrie Production Stage Manager, brought them up to the booth and told us the two kids would be watching the play from the booth. He showed some chairs to the left of the stage manager. Eleanor, noticing the chair to the right of my lighting board, announced she was going to sit there. Jon managed to crack a smile and as he went to leave, he commented that if they had any questions, ‘Just ask Don. He’s our resident babysitter.’ He was referring to the fact that I often brought children to watch the shows from the chair Eleanor had taken, something he really didn’t approve of.

‘What’s he? The resident clown?,’ Eleanor asked me, loud enough for Jon to hear as he walked to the door.

At intermission, William had many questions. When I explained how the lighting board worked and he said he thought I had a ‘cool’ job. Eleanor said she was going to be an actress; and after she made it big in the movies, she would come back and act at the Guthrie. William rolled his eyes. I certainly couldn’t disagree with her. She seemed to be a young lady who would work hard for what she wanted.

When the play finished I had some work to do in the attic, to prepare for a different play the next evening. William asked if he could go along and I said come on

He and Eleanor followed me up the ladder to the catwalks where I changed some gel colors and replugged some lighting instruments. I brought them down into some lighting coves and showed how the lights were pointed to a specific area on the stage. We could see Joey B. and the shifting crew working below, changing one set for the other. William thought that was ‘cool’ also.

Jon walked on stage with Mrs. Mondale. He hollered at me, telling me Mrs. Mondale was here for the children and wanted to know where they were. At the mention of ‘the children’, Eleanor muttered, ‘The clown in residence!’ I hollered down that they were with me in the attic and we’d be down in a few minutes.

At the mention of the two being up top with me, Jon began to bellow. How could I be so crazy as to place the children of the next Vice President of the United States in danger? The two kids both shouted to tell their mother that it wasn’t dangerous. Jon kept it up. I bellowed back that if it was so dangerous, maybe I should be drawing hazardous duty pay along with my wages. I could hear Joey B. and the shifting crew laugh.

When the three of us made it down to the stage, Jon kept up his harangue. How could I make Mrs. Mondale wait? She’s got important things to do. She was too important to have to wait on me. I should apologize to her for making her wait and for placing her children in danger. And if he had known that I was going to screw up so bad, he would have babysat the children himself. Both Eleanor and William came to my defense, and Mrs. Mondale said she didn’t mind waiting.

   Jon didn’t seem to hear them. He was having too much fun showing off. He knew I wouldn’t give him an argument in front of the Mondales. Joey B. and the shifters weren’t too sure though, and they stopped working and waited for me to order Jon off the stage. He was crossing too many lines, including the fact he was acting like he was my boss, which he wasn’t.

He was also upsetting Eleanor; and she began to walk toward him, when her mother stopped her. Then, Mrs. Mondale shook my hand and thanked me for giving her children an experience in theater that they would never forget. And she added, ‘If I didn’t have high-heels on, I would ask you to take me up and show me the catwalks.’

Then she turned to Jon, the silent one, and she commented, ‘Do you have any teenagers, Jon?’

‘Ah, no. I don’t have any children.’

I thought as much,’ she said, and went off stage, followed by the children, into the center aisle that led to the lobby. She turned and waved goodbye to Joey B. and the shifting crew. So did Eleanor and William, who both hollered out thanks to me. Jon followed.

‘Hey, Jon,’ I shouted, ‘When you can, come on back. You and me have to talk.’ Joey B. and the  shifters laughed; but Jon didn’t acknowledge my request. In fact, he stayed out of my way for several days.

Joan Mondale was a ‘dutiful’ political wife. She did everything right as her husband, Walter, rose from Minnesota Attorney General, to U.S. Senator, U.S Vice President, Democratic nominee for President, Ambassador to Japan.

Well, she did have one glitch. In an interview, she requested that she not be asked, like most politicians’ wives, what her favorite recipe was. To atone for this supposed slam at American homemakers, she quickly released a book containing ‘all her favorite recipes’, her PR people thought would go well with the Mrs. Cleavers of America.

And she suffered when Walter was trounced by Ronald Reagan in election of 1984. And years later when he was nosed out by Norm Coleman in the race for the U.S Senate vacated by the death of Paul Wellstone, just eleven days prior to the election.

Joan Mondale, the mother, saw her three children become successful. Both Ted and William went into the political and private sectors. Eleanor, as she promised, tried Hollywood, and then into talk radio in Chicago and later Minneapolis. She was a tabloid celeb, dubbed the ‘wild child’. Then at the age of 40, Eleanor was diagnosed with brain cancer. She fought it for 11 years and died at the age of 51. Every time I think of Eleanor, I remember her comment, ‘Who is he? The resident clown?’

And now reading about the death of Joan Mondale, I remember a kind and intelligent woman, a politician in her own right, and a good mother. And often wished she had changed her shoes and came back to the Guthrie so I could have given her a tour of the Guthrie catwalks.

ALL HALLOWS EVE

Reblogged from 10/31/2013

witch mask       The ringing of the bell, the little ones dressed in elaborate costumes, and the little choruses of ‘Trick or Treat’ always reminds me of our not-so-elaborate costumes and our quests for candy on Halloween.

If you could get your parents to splurge, cloth tailor-made half masks, just like the Lone Ranger wore, were reasonably priced at grocery stores. However, most of us wore a different kind of mask, also available at grocery stores. In September, General Mills and Kelloggs would begin to print masks on their large cereal boxes of Cheerios, Kix, Wheaties, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, etc..

Cereal masks All you had to do was cut on the dotted lines, face, eye and mouth holes, poke the holes that were used for the string to hold the mask on your head. There were a variety of ‘faces’, a girl with blond braids, an Indian, cowboy, clown, pirate, pig and new ones each year. The rest of your costume consisted of your after-school clothes. Flannel shirts, a must.

We never went down into the village. Too many kids and too little candy. And we never went from farm to farm. Too far between stops and too many dogs. Luckily, pockets of Suburbia were springing up in the ‘Heights’. You could hit 5 or 6 houses in a clump and then move on to the next group.

My favorite house was a far walk, and there were only two other houses in the vicinity. Plus the house was right next to a cemetery. But it was well worth it. The president of Paramount Pies lived there and always had a big Halloween party. And he gave out the pies as treats. Those pies were my favorite treats. Individual pies set in cardboard pie tins and wrapped in cellophane. They cost 12 cents in stores at a time when you could still buy a candy bar for a nickel. We’d hit that house several times on our routes. We always got more pies without any hassle, because the person or persons answering the door were celebrating good times. They were always dressed in fancy costumes, and the young ladies always felt sorry for us because of our lack of costumes, only cardboard masks. Didn’t bother us.

Another must-stop was the priests’ house. Not many kids from the village bothered to climb up the church hill, and it was a long walk for the kids from the ‘Heights’. But like the pie house, it was worth the hike. We timed it to get there just before 9 PM because the yard light was turned off at 9, signaling the end Halloween at the house. Mrs. Farr, the housekeeper, would answer the door with the shopping bag of candy. She’d just hand us the bag, which always had a lot of candy; because, even though they never had many kids come to the door, she always bought a big supply of candy just in case. Or maybe she knew we would be ringing the bell and wanted to make sure we got a big treat. Even with our masks on, she always called us by name, warn us to be careful crossing the highway, and  reminding us that ‘tomorrow’ was a Holy Day of Obligation. Then she would stand on the stoop and wait until we were out of the grounds.

The yard light would go out, and we’d head home. Halloween was over for us also.

Except for one more stop to get another pie.

 

The Old Hand of Oakdale

Published SPPP, Bulletin Board 10/31/13

pig mask

TH-TH-THATS ALL FOLKS!

3 DOGS

My Wife and I agree

We really miss the joy of having a dog

My Wife and I agree

We are too old to have a dog

Here’s a re-blog from 10/2013

I always had a way with little children, horses, and dogs. It’s only some adults that I have a hard time with. Here’s three of my favorite dogs.

MAX- The Australian Shepherd:

When my daughter-in-law, Sandy, went into labor, my son, Dave, rushed her to the hospital, leaving their Australian Shepherd, Max, alone in the house. Later, when the mother and the newborn son, Dillon, were resting, Dave called a neighbor and asked him to feed Max and let him out for a short time. Max never left the yard, always obeyed, came when called – but the minute the neighbor opened the door, Max ran past him and disappeared in a flash. The neighbor drove around trying to find the dog but it was no use. He decided to wait a while to tell Dave that the dog had run off, hoping maybe Max would come back on is own.

Later, as people came to the visit hospital, one friend mentioned to Dave that there was a dog outside, right below the window to the room: “He looks a lot like your dog, Dave.”

Dave laughed. He knew Max was at home, quite a ways from the hospital. But he went to the window and looked out. Sure enough, there was Max, lying right below the window of the room. The dog hadn’t run away; he had just run off to be with his family.”

Published 1/1/04, St Paul Pioneer Press, Bulletin Board

CHICO- The Chihuahua:

My grandfather had a Chihuahua that liked a little bit of Hamm’s Beer. Each evening, my grandfather would sit down and open his daily bottle of beer. The dog would sit and whine until Grandpa would pour a little in a saucer and set it on the floor for the dog to lap up.

The dog was fussy though. If Grandpa would pour a different brand of beer in the saucer, the dog would sniff it, bark, and go curl up in his box. His evening was ruined.

Published 3/23/10, SPPP, Bulletin Board

NICE PILLOW

LUCKY- The Bear

We hadn’t had a dog in several years, so when my father-in-law asked if we would take his old dog, we jumped at the chance.

The dog is gentle, burly, jet-black mix of Newfoundland and Chow. He and I have a lot in common: Bad eyesight. Hard of hearing. Both of us walk very slowly, especially where stairs are involved. We would tend to overeat if my wife didn’t keep us on a short leash. And we both like to take naps.

His name is Lucky – I often refer to him as The Bear, because he resembles a black bear cub, and he does the coolest, lumbering circle-dance when he waits for me to catch up and let him into the house. My wife calls him Shadow, because he follows her around so closely, especially in the kitchen. He has this uncanny knack of lying down between you and your next destination – a talent which led our 2 year-old granddaughter to think his name is Move! Move!

He loves people, and his tail is in perpetual motion when any of the grandkids are over. He likes the attention and the extra work they create for him, because his main chore, which he works at without being told, is to see to it there are no stray crumbs or tasty tidbits on the kitchen floor.

Two of the little ones have just been taken home, and Lucky has finished one last inspection of the kitchen floor. I’m sitting and enjoying the summer breeze and fragrance of flowers coming through the deck’s screen door. Lucky is sprawled, in deep slumber, at my feet. The kids wore him out.

I can hear the birds at the feeder, singing for their supper, and an occasional noise from the sleeping dog.

But in my mind, I’m listening to the old song about how old dogs care about you, even when you make mistakes. About God blessing little children when they’re still too young to hate. About dreaming in peaceful sleep of shady summertime, of old dogs and children, and watermelon wine.

Even two out of the three makes it all worthwhile.

Published a few years back in SPPP – Bulletin Board

Dogs are like summer flowers, their lives have all too short a lease. And yet, they bring such joy and leave such memories…

COFFEE WITH ALI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus spoke Muhammad Ali talking about Violent Protesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R.I.P. CHAMP

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

ARSENIC AND OLD PEOPLE

Reblog 2013

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want to know more about her and the soap opera, Ma Perkins, go to the Old Time Radio at http://www.otrcat.com.

The old Guthrie Theater has been replaced by a new Theater

that overlooks the river

And like theaters everywhere it is dark

But it will open again

And until then, STAY SAFE.

ANOTHER SNOW/ANOTHER RIDE

Back in the day: Another snow. Another ride-on-my-thumb.

This happened about a year before the previous snow/hitchhiking story. I was heading back to Fort Bragg from Washington D.C., my favorite city to visit on a three day pass. There was so much to see and do, and for fifty cents you could get a bed in the YMCA. You could hitch it in six, seven hours.

This time it was special. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom.

I had spent most my full day walking around the Tidal Basin, taking in the sights and fragrances of the trees and monuments and the Basin itself. There weren’t as many monuments as there are now. There was Jefferson Memorial, which was worth the walk all in itself, and several smaller monuments. The F.D.R. and Martin Luther King memorials would come years later. And a half mile across the park the Washington Monument could easily be seen.

The Basin is a pure reflective mirror. No matter where I walked around it that day, I could see the cherry blossoms and the Washington Monument, shimmering in the waters.

I finished off the day by walking across the park and revisited the monuments on the National Mall. I never left D.C. without a visit to the Mall.

I always walked tall when I was in D.C., but that day I think I walked even taller. So proud to be wearing the uniform of the 82nd Airborne, the All American Division. So proud to be doing my part, albeit a very small part, in protecting the grandeur of this country.

By the time I got back to the cafeteria at the Y I was too tired to prolong the day. That and the fact there was talk about some snow might be coming in the next afternoon, a rarity in D.C..

I had ordered a big breakfast in a pancake house by the highway out of the city when the snow started falling. Back home we would call it a dusting. In D.C. they thought it was a blizzard. Some of the other customers wolfed down their food and hurried out the door. By the time my food arrived, the highway looked like it was an evening-going-home traffic jam. My waitress commented on how the city empties when it snows.

‘Yeah,’ I replied, trying to show wisdom beyond my age. ‘And cause a jam-up and silly accidents. If some of them would wait and follow when the first ones cleared out…’

‘They’re afraid they might get called back to their desks. Most are paid by the month and getting out early won’t be deducted from their paychecks,’ she said as she refilled my coffee cup. ‘It those of us who work by the hour that get their pay docked if we leave early.’ She gave a quick glance to the stern faced older woman sitting behind the cash register.

‘I dig it,’ I said with a smile. The highway was still bumper-to-bumper, too close to stop if they had to. A lot of slipping and sliding. I decided to take my own advice and stay put until things calmed down a bit.

On the next refill I told my waitress my decision. She agreed with me. I ordered a piece of apple pie. She agreed with that also, and suggested warming it up a little and putting a scoop of ice cream on top. I agreed with that.

A customer went out and left his newspaper. She brought it over to me. When I decided things had settled down a little out on the highway, I asked her for the check. She hadn’t bothered to charge me for the pie. I left a big tip. The woman that handled the register gave me my change, thanked me and ordered me to have a good day. Since she never once bothered to look me in the face, I didn’t think she cared what kind of day I would have. My waitress mouthed a silent thank you. I believed her.

I got a ride right away. ‘I’m not going too far, only to Arlington; but it will at least get you away from some of this traffic,’ the woman said as she opened the passenger door. With a voice like that…

As I got in and was surprised, pleasantly, to see she her looks matched her voice. By the time I had settled in the seat and shut the door, I did as any red-blooded, lonesome nineteen year old GI would do. I fell in love at first sight, even if she was a little older than me. She tried talking to me but I didn’t reply. I just looked at her and smiled.

‘I’ll turn this down a little,’ she said, reaching over to the volume dial on the radio. She thought I didn’t answer because of the music. It was classical music. I hadn’t even realized it had been on. She had the perfect 10-4 hand grip on the wheel and I could see her left hand. There was a wedding ring. Bummer.

‘Mozart,’ she said. ‘It helps ease the tension of this kind of driving. Do you like Mozart?’

‘Ho, ah,’ I said, hesitantly, ‘He…Yeah, I like him a lot.’ I hoped we could change the topic. The only classical music I knew about was the William Tell Overture that opens and closes every Lone Ranger program. ‘It looks like you know what you are doing driving in the slush,’ I blurted out.

‘I haven’t had to for a long time, but I come originally from upstate New York, a lot of driving in real snowstorm,’ she said. ‘I guess it’s like they say about riding a bike, once you do it, you never forget.’

I agreed. ‘You’re keeping a nice distance, pumping the brake…’

Just then, a dehorn that was passing us started to slide into our lane. She managed to handle the situation like a pro. She held back until he got his car under control. His near miss didn’t teach him any thing. He quickly jerked out of our lane and sped into the passing lane.

‘Too bad there isn’t some way to control the other drivers,’ she said.

Everything was going smoothly until she had to drive over a big clump of snow that had come loose from somebody’s wheel well. The steering wheel spun free of her grip momentarily and the car headed for the left ditch. I thought we had it, but she pulled out of it in time.

‘It’ll be better when you get on the cut-off to Arlington,’ I said.

She looked at me and smiled. ‘Oh, we passed that a while back.’

I looked over at her. ‘Why?’ You said you were going to Arlington. Look!’ I pointed to a car in the ditch. It was the joker that was in such a big hurry.

‘Well, he’s one I don’t have to worry about,’ she said.

‘You should be off this highway. Where are we going?’

‘We are just a ways from Fort Myers. There’s a shelter there and a car can pull off and pick up hitchhikers. Your chances of getting a quick ride are much better there,’ she explained.

‘And your chances of getting in an accident are also much better now,’ I argued. ‘A good deed is one thing, but is it worth it in this kind of weather?’

Well,’ she said softly, ‘My husband is stationed in South Korea right now. I would hope that if he was out in a snow storm needing a ride, someone would pick him up.’

I didn’t stick out my thumb until she turned around and headed back to Arlington. I waved and she answered with her car horn.

I thought to myself that there is a very lucky GI over in Frozen Chosen with an angel waiting for him to hurry home. Be it sunshine or bad weather.

The snow was letting up and I hoped that that it had no bad effect on the cherry blossoms. It sure had had a good effect on me. And now when I see where someone had made an angel in the snow or I smell the fragrance of cherry blossoms, I think back to that ride-on-my-thumb.

 

 

STAY SAFE AND OBEY THE RULES

SPRING WILL ARRIVE SOON

MISS FEE;THE DIAL SWITCHER

Another back-in-the-day post:  before we had streaming TV, heck before we ever heard of TV, we had radio, and before we had schools with basketball courts and buses to transport us to these wonderful buildings, we had one-room schoolhouses. One room, one teacher, grades One thru Eight. The enrollment went from 8 pupils one year to a high of 14 another year.

memory07_donaldostertag

The Original Story

Growing up on a small farm, our one radio was the only source of outside entertainment available to me. I hurried with my chores so I could listen to “my programs” – Tom MixLone Ranger, etc.. After supper, Mom controlled the dial (Dad worked nights in the packinghouse), and we listened to comedies like Fibber McGee, dramas like The First Nighter, and music like Your Hit Parade. Sometimes, when she was busy, I would lower the volume and find a crime show like Sam Spade, or a thriller like Suspense. A second radio would have been wonderful but was out of the question.

I went to the one-room schoolhouse across the field. Miss Fee, who lived on a farm with her four bachelor brothers, taught all eight grades as she had for years. She ruled with a stern scowl and a wood ruler.

One very cold early evening, she walked into our kitchen and announced she could not get her DeSoto started and was going to spend the night with us. And she added, that she hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Mom, who also had Miss Fee as a teacher, would never had dared to offer any alternatives, and did everything that Miss Fee ordered, even letting her control the radio dial.

After that first night, the DeSoto seemed to fail every time the mercury dropped below zero, and we would have our very demanding guest. Mom told Dad that she didn’t believe the “car won’t start” story. “Those Fees are so tight with a buck,” Mom explained, “It’s her way of getting a good meal and a warm bed, having somebody else do the work.” Dad just smiled. “And,” Mom added, “She even has to listen to her radio programs! I go to listen to Kraft Music Hall. She turns on Sunset Valley Barn Dance!”

I saw an opening, “Well, if we had another radio…” Mom cut me off with her “Think-we’re-made-of-money” look. Dad shook his head.

Then one night, a Monday night, Miss Fee walked in. Everything went as usual except when eight o’clock came, time for Mom’s one must-listen-to program, Lux Radio Theater. She had hurried with her work and was sitting in her favorite chair, her crochet materials in her lap, listening to the words, “Lux Presents Hollywood,” her favorite hour of the week, when…Miss Fee turned the dial to Doctor I.Q.!…”I have a woman in the balcony, Doctor. And for three silver dollars…”

Mom stood up, and without a word, went to bed.

The very next payday we got our second radio. From then on, Mom could listen to Jack Benny and Bing Crosby, and I could solve crimes with Johnny Dollar and get goose bumps from the squeaking door of Inner Sanctum except when Miss Fee’s DeSoto wouldn’t start.

    Technically this is not an OLD HAND published newspaper story. It was published in the OLD TIME RADIO CATALOG. They asked for stories concerning old time radio. This was the first they ever published and I received ten CD’s of old time radio for it. Their web site is excellent. If you want to know what old timers like me listened to instead of TV, go to their web site. Not only is it informative, there is free old time radio programs you can listen to. http://www.otrcat.com/

ADDENDUM to the published story.

This was only part of the story. That first night Miss Fee declared she was spending the night, there were three choices, Mom and Dad’s bedroom, the kids’ bedroom, the living room couch. Naturally, Mom put her in her and Dad’s bedroom. Mom would sleep with my sister and Dad would sleep on the couch.

There would be no problem. Every night when Dad came home from work, Mom always woke up. She knew she could intercept Dad when he was sitting at the kitchen table eating a sandwich. She would explain the problem.

But there was a problem! Mom never woke up that night when Dad came home; but boy did she wake up when Dad started screaming and swearing. We all woke up.

Poor Dad. He was clad only in his jockey shorts and was standing facing the corner of the hall by his bedroom, trying to protect his head with his hands.

God damn it, woman,’ he kept yelling over and over, ‘You lost your mind or something? I’m your husband, not a god damn burglar.’

And Miss Fee, wearing long johns and her gray wool sweater was working him over with a broom, this pervert who had tried to climb in bed with her.

Mom jumped to the rescue and grabbed the broom away from Miss Fee at the same time trying to explain to both participants what had happened.

And the three of us older kids just couldn’t stop from laughing at the sight caused by the misunderstanding. The baby of the family slept through it all.

Miss Fee quickly retreated to the bedroom and we could hear her praying the rosary behind the closed door. Dad stomped into the living room and Mom followed, apologizing all the way after yelling for us kids to go back to bed. We did but it took a long time for us three kids to stop laughing and finally go to sleep; and by that time, we woke the baby and it took a long time for Mom to get him back to sleep.

The next day at school, Miss Fee brought me into the back room and begged me not to tell any of the other pupils what happened the night before. I said I wouldn’t, mainly because I had told some of them before school had even started and by then they all knew.

And Mom and Dad arranged for a signal that Miss Fee was spending the night, just in case Mom ever overslept, which she never did again.

SATURDAY’S BATH

The Old Hand

Back in the day when things we now accept as run-of-the-mill were considered a luxury..like a bath..

I had undergone a long period with a medicinal wrapping on my leg. A bath was impossible, and a partial shower was laborious, and unsatisfying. When the wrapping was removed for good, I took the longest and most luxurious bath in years. And I thought back when every common-place bath was a once a week chore and, when Saturday was Bath Night.

Growing up, we didn’t have a hot water heater. Six nights a week, cleanliness was obtained with a tea-kettle of hot water in the sink, or, weather permitting, a soaking down outside with the garden hose. But Saturday night was bath night, with a soup pot of water heated on the stove and carried very carefully to the tub. Cold water, from either tap, tempered the bath water, which was shared by all four of us kids.

My younger sister was first. She was always warned not to dawdle, (which she always did), and let the water turn too cold, or next time, she would be last in the tub, (which never happened). When she finally finished, a tea-kettle of hot water was added and it was my turn. Then next up were the two young brothers, together. They got a tea-kettle of hot water added, but temperature didn’t mean anything to them. They would have preferred a wash-up with the garden hose, weather permitting. But they still managed to make the tub a playground and a big mess for mom.

By the time I got to high school, we had a water heater, albeit with a small capacity. Now we could take baths when we wanted to. Of course, if hot water had been used before for a bath, or washing clothes, or even washing dishes, you had to wait a while for the heater to produce hot water again. The younger brothers still preferred the garden hose, weather permitting.

I didn’t get my first leave from the Army for four months. I surprised the family in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Naturally, as soon as I walked in the door, Mom wanted to make me something to eat. I begged off, saying what I wanted first was a good soak in a hot bath, since I had not had a bath all the while I was in the Army.

She lost it. “Haven’t taken bath since you went in the Army! I didn’t raise my kids to be pigs! I can’t believe that is the kind of thing the Army…”

I finally calmed her down and explained that there were no bath tubs in army barracks, just showers. And I took one, often two showers, every day.

“Showers,” she said, giving me the mom’s look. “Humph! Like washing off with the garden hose, weather permitting.” She shook her head. “Well, that be the case, you better take a good long soak. Church will be crowded at Midnight Mass, and I want my children to be seen, not smelt. “

Sometimes, a bath/shower is a lot more than just good hygiene.

 Pub 4/14/11, St. Paul Pioneer Press – Bulletin Board

UNCLE ELMER’S GOAT

billy-goat

The Old Hand: Another Back In the Day

 

Most Christmas gag gifts are forgotten by New Year’s. Some however last a lot longer. My great-uncle Elmer and his old friend, Gene, kept one going for years.

A couple acquaintances of Elmer wanted to give their children a pet and they settled upon a cute little billy goat kid. The problem was the kid outgrew his cuteness very quickly. He became a real problem for the parents and the children who wouldn’t even go outside unless the goat was tied up.

Since nobody answered their ad offering a free goat, they did the only thing they could think of to get rid of the animal; they took it out to Elmer’s farm and gave it to him, knowing well he was too nice to refuse it.

I image that the goat had been given a name by it’s former owners, but uncle Elmer named it Goat. He never was too imaginative about his names. He had a border collie that was the best cattle dog I ever saw. Elmer called the dog, Dog. He had several horses with the same name, Horse. He had about twenty cows with the name Cow, except for the one he called Bull.

His first child was a boy and was given a normal name, which not too many people remembered over the years. Elmer nicknamed his son, Boy, the first time he saw him, and the name stuck all the rest of Boy’s life. As their family grew, Aunt Amanda, laid down the law, no more of those silly names, and the other kids grew up being called by their given names. But since Amanda never cared what he called his animals, Elmer gave them names he thought was appropriate.

Elmer got a lot of teasing about being such a softy and taking Goat. He just laughed and defending his action by saying, ‘You can’t look a gift goat in the mouth’. Although there were many times, he wished he had.

That animal was foul-smelling, obnoxious, mischievous, contrary, mean, ornery, and the list went on and on. In fact, if you look up some of the aforementioned words in the dictionary, you would probably see a picture of Elmer’s goat.

The one thing nobody ever did twice was turn their back on Goat. It was as if the critter saw the seat of a person’s pants as one big target. Ram! Bam! And after he played his little joke on the poor sap, you could swear there was a smile on Goat’s face.

Of course, Goat never tried anything with Elmer, one big reason was Dog. Not only was Dog a great cattle herder, he was also a darn good goat trainer. Dog could actually make Goat behave. But, if by chance some poor unsuspecting man turned his back on Goat, Dog was known to look the other way. Dog would never allow Goat to accost a woman or a child though, and Goat never tried to after Dog nipped him a few times for even thinking about it.

Gene, one of Elmer’s best friends had a farm a couple miles down the road from Elmer’s. The two had a lot in common, especially teasing and playing practical jokes on each other.

I  loved  Elmer telling the story about Gene hearing drinking goat’s milk was good for arthritis. When Gene found out that Elmer had just been given a goal and  he offered to buy Goat from Elmer. Elmer had that goat sold until some loud-mouth told Gene that Goat was a billy, not a nanny. ‘Yup,’ Elmer would laugh, ‘I’d a paid money to see the first time Gene tried to milk it.’

After almost getting taken by Elmer on the sale of the goat, Gene teased Elmer about the goat every chance he got. ‘Hey, if you want to get Elmer’s goat, just ask him about his Goat.’  Or when Elmer would stop in at the VFW for a euchre game, and Gene was there already, Gene would holler, ‘Hurry up and close the door. Must be a goat outside. I sure can smell it.’

It was the second Christmas of Elmer having the goat that Gene came home from Midnight Mass and saw lights on in the barn and his pack of dogs barking up a storm at the barn door. When he opened the door there was Goat in the box stall with the team of horses. Goat was helping himself to the hay and the two horses were standing as far away from the intruder as possible.

Around Goat’s neck was a large red ribbon and bow. It didn’t take much to figure out who the Santa was that left the present. Thinking back, Gene should have figured something was up when he didn’t see Elmer at Midnight Mass.

Like Elmer, Gene never looked a gift goat in the mouth and accepted it with a laugh. The only thing was Gene never called the goat, Goat. He renamed it Elmer. If Elmer the goat had any ideas that life would be easier without Dog around, he was wrong. While Gene didn’t have a dog like Dog, actually nobody did, Gene had a pack of dogs that managed to keep the goat in line.

And then come the next Christmas and there was no Gene at Midnight Mass, so Elmer wasn’t at all surprise to open the barn door and see Goat, nee Elmer, standing there with the big red ribbon and bow around it’s neck. Dog jumped around and actually licked Goat’s face. Elmer laughed and commented later that at least Dog was happy to have Goat back.

This ritual went on and on. Whoever it was that was going to get the goat made sure he went to Midnight Mass to make it easier on the giver. The red ribbon and bow was an important part of the gift so it was always kept in a safe place. They couldn’t trust it just hanging in the barn for fear the goat might eat it.

The goat, Goat or Elmer depending on which farm he was spending the year, matured thanks to age and to Dog and Gene’s pack of dogs as trainers. It became actually a pet. The two men found a pony harness and cart at an auction and broke the goat to be hitched up and pull it. Whenever kids would come to the farm where the goat was, it was drive-the-goat cart time. The goat and the cart and the kids were also big attractions in the parades at the various fairs and get-togethers during the summers and falls. And although the red ribbon and bow was also an important part of the goat’s wardrobe, the only time he wore it was Christmas Eve.

It was in the summer of a year when Elmer the Goat was living at Gene’s farm that Gene had the fatal heart attack while milking the cows. The day after the funeral Elmer told Gene’s widow what he intended to do and she thought it a good idea. Later that day Elmer came and took the goat, the harness, the cart, and the red ribbon and bow back to his farm – for good.

Every Christmas Eve, Elmer put the red ribbon and bow around the goat’s neck before Midnight Mass and took it off right after. If the goat missed Gene and Gene’s pack of dogs, he never showed it. He seemed content to live at just the one farm and didn’t seem to mind that no one ever called him Goat or Elmer anymore. From the time he came at Elmer’s to stay for good he went by the name, Gene.

 

Published BB and Word Press 2/13/17

THE GHOST OF THE GUTHRIE

 

 

Old Guthrie Stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the ghost light

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

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

SUGGEST LOOK TO THE TECH ROOM

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

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

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

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

The name Richard was connected to Richard Miller. Sightings became more frequent and believed without a doubt by the Guthrie employees. Some customers called to complain about the usher that stood in the Alpine Slope aisle, Richard’s favorite aisle to work, to watch the play, or  to walk up and down during the performance, to help if needed.

For Instance, one customer called to extend thanks to the usher who pointed out that his cars keys had fallen on the floor by his seat. And usually such callers thought the usher was perhaps the head usher because his uniform was a different color and fancier then the others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Well, did he?’ Milt asked.

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

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

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

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

‘I will not! That would be rude!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

That are dreamt in your philosophy.

 

And that’s a wrap.

 

D-DAY BRONZE STAR – 75th Anniversary

It has been 75 years since the D-Day Invasion. These men waded in the ocean, or jumped from the sky to confront the guns of a common enemy. They did it because they believed it was their duty to stop the evils of Fascism, Dictatorship, Hatred.

 

 

Some of my favorite memories of my time serving in the 82nd Signal Battalion revolved around the combat vets in the outfit. Some saw action in WWII. Some in Korea. Some in both. Each of them had a chest full of medals and great ‘jump’ stories. One of my favorite vets was Sergeant Estes.  He jumped into Normandy on D-Day, and was awarded a Bronze Star for single handedly capturing a platoon of German soldiers. But unlike most of the paratroopers who jumped in the darkness very early on that day, it was not the first combat jump for Estes. He jumped almost year before, in the first US combat airborne assault ever, again in the dark, the invasion of Sicily, where he got his first Purple Heart.

Just a bullet scratch in the shoulder, but I’ll take the medal.’

When I served with him, he was a Battalion cook, transferred to the mess hall a few years before.

Just biding my time. Cooking’s good. No getting up before the sun and running 5 miles. On 24 hours – off 48. Good life.

Tall, thin, face like cracked leather, with a drawl that needed a translator until you got use to it. His fatigues showed a faded outline of a higher rank of sergeant.

‘Never get too fancy sewing on your rank. Saves time when lose a stripe or two. Airborne’s got the youngest sergeants in the Army, and the oldest privates. I got me my Good Conduct ribbon during a time when I was too busy overseas to do any bad conducting.’

Quiet man usually. Hard to get to know. But once he decided to take a liking to you, he was a hoot to be around. He would really open up with some great stories, especially after a beer or two. Estes and I were next to each other in the parade to honor General ‘Jumping Jim’, ‘Slim Jim’, James Gavin, the 82nd’s favorite General, upon his retirement.

‘I’d follow that man into hell. Come to think of it, that’s exactly where I followed him,’ Estes said, swigging a beer to wash the hot dust out of his throat. ‘Following him got me my second Purple Heart. Hurt like hell!’

It was the first time I saw Estes in his Class A’s. Two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star on his chest along with a slew of campaign ribbons. ‘You got yourself quite a bunch of salad on your chest, Sarg. You got a reason to be proud.’

Well,’ he answered in a slow drawl, ‘I walk tall with the war ribbons, and my two purple Washingtons- and my Silver Star; but I don’t take much credit for the Bronze Star. Cuz it was an accident.’

‘What? I heard you captured an entire platoon of Germans, all by yourself and got the Bronze Star for it!’

Yup. But I didn’t Sergeant York it. It was an accident.’

Estes like to tell stories in bits and pieces. Almost like a Saturday Matinee serial. Leave you hang, come back next week and get another piece of the story. Took several sessions and quite a few beers before he told me about the ‘accidental Bronze Star’ and what led up to it. Estes also told stories in the grand style of Appalachian oral history. Slow, deliberate, filled with great mountain expressions, vocal inflections, physical gestures, and perfectly timed dramatic pauses. All in the sweet drawl of the hills.

I can give you the gist of his story leading up to getting the Bronze Star by ‘accident’; but not in his exact words, and certainly not in his exact style. I wish it would have been like today, put him in front of a camera and put the result on You Tube for everyone to enjoy.

Born and reared in the Tennessee Cumberlands. Just a couple big hills from where Sergeant Alvin York had his home place. Hard rock farm. Could hardly keep my folks in vitals, let alone enough for us six kids. All the paying jobs around weren’t around cuz somebody had them already. The only way to make any money was to become a faith-healing, tent-preacher with a couple rattlesnakes.

            ‘One day me and Levi, from the next farm, decided to go on the bum. We hiked a ride to where the freight trains have to real slow up a steep grade. Ran out, opened a car door, but there were a lot of hobos in it, so we found us an empty one. It was heading south, and we surmised that would be a good way to go. At least we would talk their language.

            ‘Now hoboing ain’t the fun you think it would be. Just listen to the songs of Jimmie Rodgers. He tells it like it was. And listen to the words real close in BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN. Dangerous life. If you do find an odd job, it’s hard work, low pay, usually cold food from last night’s dinner. Most of the time, you beg to eat, and you sleep in the cold. By the time we made it to Augusta, we were talking about heading back home.

            ‘There was this fancy movie house, and it was showing SERGEANT YORK. We had to see it! Had a little bit of money we were saving for some food, but it was enough to get only one of us in legal. Levi got a ticket and got me snuck the side door. Watched it twice. When we walked out of that movie house, I was gung-ho, knew what I wanted. I was going to join up in the Army. And I knew where to go.

            ‘We had passed an Army recruiting place on the way from the tracks. I spent most of the night trying to convince Levi to join up with me; but he said as much as he liked the idea of three squares a day and a cot to sleep in, what with the talk of the US maybe getting in the war, there was no way he was do anything forward enough to get shot at. Said it was only a matter of time and we’d be in war against Hitler. Come morning I went one way to join up and Levi went the other to catch a freight.

            ‘I told the Army sergeant I wanted to join up with the 82nd, cuz that was Sgt. York’s outfit, and he came from my hills. And it shouldn’t be so hard cuz Camp Gordon where old Alvin got his start was right outside Augustus. He said it didn’t work like that.

            ‘If I wanted to join the 82nd I might have to jump out of airplanes cuz there was a rumor the 82nd was going to be the first airborne division in the US army. I surmised it couldn’t be any more dangerous than being on the bum. Then he told me I’d have to go to Fort Benning for boot camp, still in Georgia, but a ways away, and I could volunteer airborne in boot camp. I asked best way to hitch there, and he told me I could ride a bus for nothing after I signed up with him. I didn’t lie. I told him my actual birth date. He pondered a bit and wrote down I was born a year earlier than I said, and warned me to never let anyone in the Army know how young I really was. Then he even bought me a good meal before putting me on the bus with my papers in hand. I was going to do my duty just like Alvin York did in the last war.

            ‘As for Levi, I got a letter from my brother a few years after. He said Levi and a couple old boys tried to rob a bank. Got outside and walked into a squad of police. Levi, who said he wouldn’t do anything to get himself shot at, was the first of the boys to throw down his gun and throw up his arms. He got his 3 squares and a cot alright, but he had to bust rocks on a Carolina chain gang to earn them.

            ‘It worked out sweet for me. Got through basic, got through jump school ,and got into the new 82nd Airborne Division, 505. Had my wings before Pearl Harbor.  Wasn’t one of the original 48, but came close to it. Was one of jumpers in the first US airborne combat assault. Sicily – 9 June 43. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were all glad to leave the training in hot, hot, hot, North Africa in the rear view mirror. It was a night jump just like Normandy was. Combat jump, no reserve chutes, low altitude, not enough time for a reserve to help. You catch a streamer you just got to pray and try to shake it loose.

            ‘We figured on going onto the mainland and fight old fat Mussolini’s boys; but instead we went to England to train for the Big Dance.

            ‘It was cloudy at 1AM, June 6, of 44, but at least the storm had subsided. We jumped behind the lines but not exactly where they wanted us to land. My platoon landed in a hay field with hedgerows on three sides, and a stand of trees at the far end. Great jump, great DZ, no harm to any of us. But we did hear occasional shooting afar, but none in our direction.

            ‘You could make out a supply chute tangled in the far trees. The captain ordered me to run down there and drag it back to our regrouping. I set my rifle down and took off. I was cutting the shroud lines to free the chute when I heard a lot of mumbling. And then a German soldier came out of the trees, followed by a lot more, a whole platoon of German soldiers. My rifle was a far ways off, but one man, even with a 03 Springfield, couldn’t do much against those odds.

            ‘That was the bad news. The good news was all the Germans had their rifles raised over their heads. They were surrendering to me. One soldier who talked good English asked that they be taken prisoner. What with all the airborne soldiers all around the area, they saw no point in trying to fight. Besides, he said, most of them were tired and wouldn’t mind sitting out the rest of the war in a POW camp.

            ‘I had to ask one of them to give me his rifle and the rest to lay their’s  on the ground. Ordered some to pick up the supply boxes and marched them down to where my platoon were watching and laughing and shouting how I was a big hero just like old Sgt. York that I was always going on about.

            ‘And that’s how I got the Bronze Star for capturing a whole platoon of Germans, all by myself. Nothing to be so proud of. Like I told you, it was an accident. Don’t think they’re ever going to make a movie called SERGEANT ESTES.’

            He was right. They never made a movie called SERGEANT ESTES; but accident or no, I told him he should stand tall wearing that Bronze Star. It was earned honestly. And one hell of a story.

                  bronze star             

 

One man’s D-Day story. He said he was just doing his duty like Alvin York, a neighbor a few hills away, had done his duty. Most everybody involved in that turning point in WWII felt the same way, doing their duty. We honor these brave men, on this anniversary  for doing what they considered their duty. And pray that their sacrifices were not done in vain.

             

 

DAY(S) THE MUSIC DIED

The Day the Music Died

This is a Blog Posting from 2014

Gee, it’s been 56 years since Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper finished a concert at The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Their next gig was in Moorhead, Minnesota. They never made it. Their plane crashed shortly after take-off. February 3, 1959 – ‘The day the music died’, as Don McLean proclaimed in his song/poem ‘AMERICAN PIE’.

Their deaths really didn’t affect me as much as it affected others my age. I was in the Army at the time. Although I kept up with popular music before I went into the Army, I pretty much lost track of the Top 40 hits during my Army stint.

At the time I was in Headquarters Company, 82 Airborne, Signal Battalion At Fort Bragg. Unlike the men in the two line companies, who lived in squad rooms, we in Headquarters Company had two-man rooms. My roommate, Patricio Menes, and I were into ‘cool’ jazz, Brubeck, Kenton, etc.. I had a small hi-fi phonograph and the two us had a number of LPs. Neither of us had a radio or a car with one . And I didn’t have one on my motorcycle. We heard some of the music of the day when we were shooting pool in the day room and American Bandstand was on TV. And we heard a lot of the music on juke boxes when we went to Fayetteville.

The first I heard of the plane crash was the next night when Patricio came in  the room and told me, ‘Richie was killed in a plane crash.’ I thought he was talking about some friend of his, but Pat put me straight. ‘Richie Valens! ‘ LA BAMBA!’

I knew the song because Pat played it often on juke boxes. Valens came from L.A. just like Patricio. Pat and the other Latinos from the L.A. barrio thought Valens was one of their own, and liked to sing the Mexican folk song, LA BAMBA, which Valens, not only made a hit out of it, but sang it in Spanish. I often wondered how Pat and his friends felt when they found out that Valens didn’t come from the barrio, but from a suburb of L.A., and his Spanish was limited to ordering from a menu and reading the lyrics of his hit from a cue card.

And it was several days after I heard Valens was killed in a crash that I learned Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper were also killed in that crash.

Over the years I learned the back stories like Waylon Jennings, a member of The Crickets, gave up his seat in the plane to the Big Bopper, who was sick, and went by bus with the other Crickets as well as Dion and the Belmonts. Waylon took off on his own shortly afterwards and went ‘outlaw’.

Then there the story of how the concert promoter in Moorhead filled out the bill as best he could and brought in a local boy, Bobby Vee, as one of the acts. Vee followed up that appearance with several hit singles, and when the time came for Vee to record his first album, he hired a young Bobby Dylan to play guitar on the album.

And over the years, I began to appreciate the talent  of Buddy Holly.

Since that crash took place before I became a stage hand, I never had the pleasure of working those three. I saw the movies based on the lives of Holly and Valens. And I worked BUDDY THE MUSICAL several times. But it’s not the same as seeing them in person.

As far as the others in the back story, I had the pleasure of working them all many times. The name of Bobby Vee may not be familiar to most people but he was very talented and fun to work, especially in the later years when he and his sons put on their shows. Sadly, I read the other day that Bobby Vee has Alzheimer’s.

A few years later, Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins were killed in a small plane crash. And the list of musicians killed in light plane crashes goes on and on. The two that hit me the hardest was Ricky Nelson and Jim Croce.

Although he is largely ignored today, Ricky Nelson was big, big, big in the early days of rock and roll. For several years, only Elvis outsold him. And then he let his addictions grand his career to a screaming halt.

I had just worked Nelson shortly before his death. He was so excited. His concerts were selling better than he had hoped; his all time hits album had just been remastered, and he felt maybe his career would take off again. He was also high. They figured out that fire from cocaine freebasing on the plane caused the ‘Travelin Man’ to have his ticket punched.

The two favorite front acts of Sue Wiel, promoter at the Guthrie, were James Taylor and later, Jim Croce. Taylor was so thankful for Sue’s faith in him when he was trying to bust the big time, that he promised to come back and play two shows at the G when he did make it. And what shows they were! He also brought along his wife at the time, Carly Simon, who sang some duets with James and a few solos. Two big acts for the price of one. At that time, he was so big he could have easily sold out an arena show, but he had made Sue a promise.

I got to know Jim Croce during his front act performances at the Guthrie. After he finished his act, he would come up to the lighting booth and sit next to me to watch the main act. He was interesting, a good story teller, and he made no bones about loving his wife and his newborn baby. A nice person and a great talent.

Like James Taylor before him, Jim also planned to do a couple thank you shows for Sue, when he made it big. And like James Taylor, he was good to his promise. He was booked to play the Guthrie, even though he was hot enough to play a much larger venue in the Twin Cities, on the tour that took his life. Killed in a small-plane crash. What a loss!

So many, many musicians had their careers cut short because of small-plane crashes. So many, many days that ‘music died’.

AN AROMA OF COOKIES

holiday                  A TALE OF THE SEASON 

 

She told me of this incident that occured prior to her first Christmas as a single parent.

To date, the two children, her son who had just turned seven, her daughter not quite four, hadn’t noticed how she had been pinching pennies, cutting corners, living from paycheck to paycheck; but with Christmas coming…

The tree would have to be smaller. A lot smaller. Presents would have be fewer. More emphasis on clothes. Less on toys. The usual Christmas feast would be more like an everyday dinner. Dessert, usually a Lazy Susan array of puddings and pies, candies and cookies, would be only her traditional oatmeal cookies. A lot of oatmeal cookies. And to sweeten them, the two children would help her with the baking.

The additional heat from the oven made the kitchen extra toasty. The sounds of Christmas from the radio made the event more festive. And the aroma of oatmeal cookies filling the house gave a promise of a happy Christmas, in spite of…

The sight of her two elves, clad in their pajamas, working happily away, gave her joy and pushed her fears aside. She’d work again on finding a better paying job after the holidays. But for the moment…

The boy’s hand was perfect to form the right size mounds of dough; and after he placed each clump on the cookie sheet, he twisted a little curl on top.

It wasn’t that easy for the little girl. She had to take two handfuls and crush them together. Then tried to plump it into the correct shape. She didn’t bother with a curl, but pinched off a little nibble as a reward.

It was almost time to take some of the cookies out of the oven when there was a knock at the front door. The young man of the house went to see about it. When he came back, he told his mother that it was two men from church. They had two bags of Christmas food, Care Packages they called them, for the poor people.

He said he told them that they must have the wrong address ‘cuz we’re not poor’.

She told me how she panicked. Weren’t poor!!!  She hoped she would have time to catch them and get the offered food. But first, she couldn’t let those cookies burn. She quickly pulled out the sheets and put them on top of the stove; but in her haste, she burned her thumb on the last one.

She gave a little yelp and sat down, blowing on her thumb. Her little doctor quickly pressed her thumb in the butter stick, and her little nurse offered some TLC by volunteering to kiss her owie.

It was too late to chase down the two men. And she was glad that it was. Had she ran after the them and taken the food parcels, she would have embarrassed her son. And she would have acknowledged to the two children that there was money problems.

Besides, looking at her two most favorite people in the world, made her realize the boy was right when he said they weren’t poor. They were very rich in what counts, family.

The little lady finished off the after-work cookie and milk and hurried to bed. She said she wanted to go to sleep real quick. The house smells so good, she explained, she knew she was going to have lots of sweet dreams.

The man of the family hung back. Finally, with a knowing smile, he asked if he could change what he had asked Santa to bring for his mother.

She said it depends. If he told her what the change is, she would write Santa a letter the next day at work and mail it and wait and see if he got the request in time.

He smiled and said he wanted Santa to bring his mother an Oven Mitt so she wouldn’t burn her thumb anymore. He gave her a kiss and went off to bed.

 

And now, years later, she’s carrying on a tradition she began just before her second Christmas as a single parent. Her elves, this year, are three of the grandkids. It’s a sleep over at Grandma’s, but the special sleep over. It’s the cooking- baking sleep over.

Like always at the cookie-baking party, the oven makes the kitchen extra toasty. The Christmas sounds from the radio has been replaced by Christmas sounds from the MP3 player; but nothing has, nor nothing can, replace the aroma of the oatmeal cookies, that fills the house.

The three children have their own way of making the shapes, but the twist of a curl on top has been lost over the years. But not so, the little pinch for a nibble of the dough.

There’s much more baking to be done each year, and the cookies have to be packaged, thirteen to each plastic bag that has a zip lock to hold in the aroma. The next day, the four of them will bring the cookies to the parish school gym to be placed in the Christmas food bags for the parish poor.

When the baking is finished for the evening, she gives the children a small glass of milk and a fresh cookie. Then with a kiss, she sends them off to bed, with the admonition to have sweet dreams. She knows she will have sweet dreams, and sometime in the night, she will imagine hearing a long ago voice reminding her that ‘we’re not poor’.

Over the years she often been asked her secret why her oatmeal cookies taste so good. ‘Real vanilla,’ she replies, ‘Real, not imitation! And,’ she adds, ‘A dash of faith. A dob of hope. And a dollop of love.’

Here’s wishing all of you that the holidays of your choice be filled with the love of your  family and the aroma of cookies.

BIG VAUDEVILLE (BOB)

hOPE IN VAUDEBILLE

Bob Hope walked down the steps of the Winnebago and asked us a question, and cracked us up.

In a previous post, BIG VAUDEVILLE (RED), I said that it had been my privilege to have worked two of the top stars of vaudeville. Red Skeleton was one. Bob Hope was the other. The steps they took to become household words in entertainment are quite similar. As far as my working them, I only worked them once, and I never threw a chair at Mr. Hope like I did at Mr. Skeleton.

Leslie, (Bob), Hope was born in a town just outside London, England. When he was four, his parents immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio. His father was a stone mason. His mother, a cleaner, had been a light opera singer and dancer in England, and gave young Hope a foundation in song and dance, which he used at the age of twelve to raise money by entertaining people on the city buses.

He entered amateur dance contests while in his teens; and, after a short career as a boxer and other assorted jobs, he decided to try professional show business. His career lasted eighty years, and garnered over 1,500 awards from US President, the U.S. Military, Hollywood, numerous Social organizations, honorary college degrees, awards from Foreign governments, a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, and another from the Vatican.

He began with a partner in a song and dance act. Tragedy hit when the partner ate a bad piece of coconut pie and died. It was suggested to Leslie that he change his first name, go it alone, and stress comedy. He developed a routine of one-liners in which he usually was the brunt of the joke. He spent the early years on stage and in vaudeville where he became a top name after many of the established stars left to work in films. He tried to get into the movies but failed the screen test. This blow to his ego made him work harder in vaudeville and in Broadway productions.

The year 1934 was an important one in his road to fame. He landed his radio show which lasted into the 50’s. He realized that he needed more than just a quick wit and delivery to make it go. He hired a talented group of gag writers and paid them out of his own salary. Unlike Red Skeleton, who created and portrayed the characters that populated his show, Hope hired characters like Jerry Colonna and Barbara Jo Allen to work off of. He also surrounded himself with guests like Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and his close friend, Bing Crosby. As the Golden Age of Radio waned, he switched to the new form of entertainment, television. His weekly shows were hits and he augmented them with his popular Christmas Specials.

The carefully thought out, business-like approach that he used to insure his radio show would be a hit, became a Hope trademark in all his career moves both in his entertainment moves and his financial investments, which were often done in partnership with Bing Crosby. When Bob Hope died he was considered one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood.

His work in film started also in 1934. He made six comedy shorts that bombed. Walter Winchell, an important newspaper columnist wrote about one of them, ‘When they catch John Dillinger, they are going to make him sit through it – twice’.

Hope’s big break came about when Jack Benny turned down a role in the film THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 and it was offered to Bob. It came with a contract with Paramount so he moved to Hollywood. His work in the movie gave the studio faith in his being able to handle bigger roles.

This was his first time working with Dorothy Lamour who later would become an important part of six of the successful ROAD pictures. In another bit of irony, Bing Crosby, his co-star in the ROAD series, got his start in THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1932.

The movie also gave him his theme song, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, a duet he sang with Shirley Ross. The melody was used as his walk-on music and also to close out his his shows. The melody remained the same but the lyrics were often changed by his writers to suit the situation.

He stuck to a tried and true formula in the films that followed. The self-effacing humor that marked his stand-up routine was expanded in his film roles, and he usually played a likeable coward. Two of the songs he introduced in the movies, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES and BUTTONS AND BOWS went on to win Academy Awards for Best Song; and while he had a pleasant voice, he realized it’s limitations and never tried to compete with the ‘singers’ like Crosby and Sinatra. Both Crosby and Sinatra started out in movies doing light comedy, but both eventually attacked heavy dramatic roles and won Academy Awards in acting. Not so with Bob Hope. He stuck with his standard comedic roles.

The film work he did in the 40’s was his best. The first six ROAD pictures cemented his standing as a legit movie star. He made 54 feature films in his career, but not much of his later work matched his early works in the 40’s.

His fame in Hollywood came as much from his 19 times as host of the Academy Awards as from his films. His main shtick was the fact he had never been nominated for an acting Oscar. It worked and was funny – for a while, but it grew old and became the object of biting jokes by other comedians. The Academy did award him 4 Honorary Oscars, and the important Humanitarian Oscar.

When WWII broke out in 1939, Hope was on the liner, the Queen Mary. He volunteered to entertain the passengers to keep their minds off the bad news. His first USO show took place six months before Pearl Harbor. There were 57 USO tours he headlined to entertain the troops, a few in peacetime, but most in our wars from WWII through the Persian Gulf War of 90. In all, 50 years of entertaining our military personnel.

His hard work during WWII, both for the morale of the troops and the War Effort at home, did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by America. Our taking part in the U.N. ‘conflict’ in Korea was not as popular in America, and Bob Hope’s tours dropped in popularity at home; but certainly not among our military troops fighting and freezing in Korea. And then came Viet Nam!

There was a strong anti-war sentiment when we first entered this war, and it grew greater every week we were there. The criticism extended from the politicians that were responsible for bringing us, and worse, keeping us in this civil war in the jungle, to the troops that were doing what their country demanded of them.

The USO shows had lost their appeal back home. Hope’s USO tours were paid for by the government, but also by by his sponsors and his TV network, NBC, which aired them later as Specials. Facts that were not lost on Bob Hope’s growing critics. It became harder and harder to convince entertainers to go with him. By the time of the Persian Gulf War, he had to enlist his wife, Dolores, and granddaughter to accompany him.

His marriage to Dolores was one of the longest in the history of Hollywood. It began in 1934 and lasted until his death in 2003, albeit it had several shapely road bumps over the years. The Hopes had four children, all adopted, and several grandchildren. Bob died in his 100th year. Dolores lived to be 102. They lived in the same house for almost all their married years. I wonder if anyone has tested that house’s drinking water.

He could always keep his material up to date in everything he did; but because he used the same old schtick to bring it to his audiences, his popularity as an entertainer was not bringing in new fans. The young had no ‘memories’ to thank him for, and using a golf club as a trademark prop didn’t exactly excite them. The comedians that were taking over did it by using language and subjects that were offensive to the older generations of both audience and performers. Bob Hope was old hat.

When I worked Bob Hope, he worked mostly benefits, conventions, and in this particular case, a birthday party. And of course, played a lot of golf.

One of the local billionaires was turning 80 and was going to turn over the reins of his privately owned empire to a person to be announced at the party. His two daughters put together a real gala. They rented the St. Paul Civic Center for a week, put the matter in the hands of Paul Ridgeway, who was just coming off planning and supervising a Super Bowl festivity and the visit of the Pope John II to Denver.

Paul, one of my favorite people to work for, had about 20 local stagehands working about 16 hours a day, for 5 days preparing for this birthday party. And he hired Bob Hope to attend.

We were fine tuning everything for the event to start in a couple hours, when a Winnebago ‘dressing room’ pulled in backstage. The driver came down the steps and then held Bob Hope’ arm to help him down.

His appearance was a surprise to us stagehands, as it would be to the party goers, except for the family. Shadow Show Business. Celebrities come into town for a private function. Do their bit without the press or the general public aware that they are in town. In! Out! Pick up a nice paycheck. Over the years, I worked many in this Shadow Show Business, from oldies like Chubby Checkers to current big timers like Elton John. And of course, Bob Hope.

Hope, like Red Skeleton, had a reputation in the business for being a friend to stagehands and the other workers that made the business go. That day was no different.

Hey, guys,’ he hollered to us, ‘Got a question. Do any of you know the name of this old fart that I am suppose to be best of friends with?’ He cracked us up and then continued to entertain us.

They tell me you have been working day and night for almost a week to put this thing together. When I heard this, I figured I had better make sure the check cleared the bank. Wouldn’t be the first time I got stiffed on a gig. But you stagehands know all about that kind of stuff, don’t you?

This hoopla’s got a bigger budget than the ROAD pictures Crosby and I use to do. At least that’s what Crosby always told me, “just a small budget, Bob, didn’t have much left over to pay the actors a lot. I always got enough from each picture to splurge and get a new set of golf clubs. And Crosby would come and pick me up to go golfing after each picture, and he was always driving a brand new car. You don’t think…Naw, not Bing.

This morning the two daughters, a blond and a brunette, and the blond’s husband came up to my room for a Q & A session on what kind of thing I was going to do for their father, you know, my ‘old best friend’.

I said I would lay out some golf jokes. Everybody likes golf jokes. The son-in-law agreed. His wife smiled. The other sister, the brunette, said her dad doesn’t golf. Well, then how about some political jokes. Again the son-in-law agreed. His wife smiled. And the brunette said her dad didn’t like politics or politicians. I can do some movie jokes, I told them. Always goes over big at the Oscars. The son-in-law agreed. The blond smiled. And the brunette said she can’t remember her dad ever going to a movie much less watch the Oscars.’

Hope threw up his hands. ‘What does this guy do for a hobby?, he asked us.

Makes money,’ one of the hands hollered. We all laughed, including Bob.

Well,’ so the son-in-law said, ‘Just do what you want and when everybody laughs, so will Dad. He won’t get the jokes but he’s too nice a guy not to go along with the others.”

So I agreed, and then I said maybe for a throw in I’ll sing a couple old songs. He must like old songs. And the brunette pipes up and says, “If we wanted singing, we would have met Sinatra’s price”. So much for thinking I was their first choice.’

I was sitting backstage with a headset on so I didn’t hear any of Bob’s routine, but the audience must have enjoyed it by all the laughter and applause during it.

After the big announcement that the son-in-law would be the new head of the empire, the band began to play and the audience danced and took advantage of the many open bars. Bob Hope came through the curtains. We were trying to get ahead of the long Out, that couldn’t really start until the party goers left, by quietly tearing down what we could back stage.

Before Bob got in the limo, which had replaced the Winnebago, he thanked us and shook our hands.’I admire you guys,’ he said, ‘ You do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Not like me, getting paid for doing some old, old jokes and lying about being a good friend to the birthday boy. But heck, that’s Show Business.’

When he got into the limo, he rolled down the window and said to those of us close by, ‘It was no big surprise to anyone that my newest old best friend made the son-in-law his successor. He’s too old- school to trust his company to a woman, even if she is his daughter. But I will lay you odds that in less than a year, that nice son-in-law quits and the brunette takes over.’

Hope was right. He could read people just like he could read the FINANCIAL TIMES. The son-in-law wanted out and the brunette took over; and it wasn’t a surprise to anyone, except maybe her father, that she did so good and even enlarged the empire. And over the years she hired us stagehands for all her big public functions; and each time I saw her, I thought back on the time, I got to work Bob Hope. And when I think back I hear a song in my head, a song which countless of our military hear whenever they think back on having seen Bob Hope:

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

BOB HOPE