I KNOW NOTHING

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

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

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

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

-Schultz-hogans-heroes-I Know Nooothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAST TRAIN OUT

There was four of us working in the boxcars for the Russian Circus Load Out. There was Joey B., my partner at the Guthrie, and always fun to work with. And an oldtimer, Big Ike. Surly and strong. You overlooked his zero personality because he loved to show off his strength and would always pick up the heaviest thing around. And then there was Mike, our handicap.

Mike was a young apprentice that worked harder to get out of work than if he just did the work. It wasn’t what he wanted in life. His family forced him into being a stagehand like his father and brother. He could screw up a one car funeral procession. His big ambition in life was to be a milkman. He believed in the urban legend that some milkmen delivered more than bottles and butter to lonely women on their route. He did a lot of day dreaming and his dreams always wore skirts.

There were three boxcars waiting for us on the spur. It made sense that the first things loaded were the four bears in their cages. What didn’t make sense was the cages went into the middle car and the cages were open without their metal sides. We couldn’t use the dock because there were the personal steamer trunks and wardrobe boxes clogging up the center of the dock. It was easier just to go through the bears’ car. There was plenty room to walk without a bear actually hitting you with it’s paw, but it still made you jump every time one swung at you.

One of the bear trainers was giving them food and water. Ike bellowed and pointed to the metal sides that were underneath each cage and demanded they be put on the cages. The trainer told Ike nyet and continued his chores. That got Big Ike mad. He swore at the trainer, called him a snuffing Commie and now, not only did we have bears to watch out for, we had an angry Ike.

It didn’t take much to get Ike mad. He’d could get mad at a snuffing falling leaf.

Big Ike only feared one person… his wife. She allowed him to smoke a pipe in the house but not to use vulgar language or drink in the house. He obeyed her rules. Instead of the common swear words, he came up with one of his own, ‘snuff’, complete with all the variations. And he quenched his thirst for whiskey by keeping his jugs of Four Roses out in the garage. Even after his wife died, Ike never used ‘vulgar words’ nor drank in the house but walked out to the garage quite often.

Henri, the French-Canadian road carpenter, my far, far cousin came out with the first load of equipment, to explain what to expect and to introduce us to the Russian stagehand who would, through a very little English and a lot of finger pointing, tell us how the pack went.

Ike got in Henri’s face right away about the snuffing Commie bears.

Henri explained, before he and the trainer left, that the trainers told him the bears would not go to sleep in the dark cages and needed fresh air. He also said that there was something in the food that would put the bears to sleep. That was evident because the two bears that had gobbled down their meal were now curled up in the far corner of their cage fast asleep. The two who did not eat were awake and pacing back and forth in their cages, stopping only to reach out at us when we walked by. Then one of them decided to eat and he went out like a light.

That only left one bear awake to swing at us.

Ike bellowed at bear to eat and go to sleep, but to no avail. The bear seemed to be having too much fun watching us jump every time he pawed at us.

Then, Joey B. figured out that maybe this was the bear that Richie had given cigarettes to, the one that like to chew on tobacco. Joey threw the bear a cigarette. Joe smoked filtered menthols and after the first taste, the bear spit it out and growled.

I quickly reached in my shirt and threw him a straight Pall Mall. That was more like it. I could swear the bear nodded his head to thank me as he chewed on my cigarette.

One problem though, now the bear wanted another cigarette every time he saw us. I said that I wasn’t going to give the bear all my smokes. Big Ike said all he had was pipe tobacco and just enough left in his pouch for two more pipe fills. Joey shrugged and said all his cigarettes did was make the bear angry.

The three of us turned to Mike. We had seen him smoking a roll-you-own when he got out of his car. We told him to roll one for the bear.

Mike thought that would be a great idea. The bear would really like it. He took a paper and his draw-string bag.

Snuff it,’ shouted Big Ike, grabbing the bag out of Mike’s hand, ‘Give him the whole snuffing thing.’ And he threw the bag into the cage.

‘No,’ screamed Mike, ‘That’s a dime bag! That cost a lot of money.’

Ike bellowed, ‘A dime ain’t a lot of money, you snuffing dehorn!’

Then I tried to explain to Ike that dime bag wasn’t tobacco. It was grass. Ike just frowned at me.

Then Joey B. took over the expiation. ‘Grass, Ike. You know wacky-tabaky, Mary Jane, merry-wa-na.’

‘Drugs! You doing snuffing drugs, kid!’ He made a gesture as if to slap Mike. ‘Does your dad know you are a snuffing druggie? You a snuffing hippie beetlenic like Richie? Sit around smoking that snuffing dope and banging on bingo drums. No wonder you’re such a snuffing bad stagehand. Drink whiskey like the rest of us do and straighten up!’

The Russian hand said something and pointed to the bear, who was chewing on the bag. The draw-string hanging out of his mouth. He hadn’t spit out the bag. Instead, he was sitting on his haunches, chewing slowly, looking at us. Joey B. said he was positive the bear had a grin on his face.

The rest of the night, the bear did not move from the spot. Every time we walked by he just looked up, his eyes half shut, chewing slowly on Mike’s dime bag.

‘You know, Joey,’ Ike said, ‘I think the snuffer is grinning.’

As we were wrapping up the load, a train engine backed along the rails to the cars. A car drove up and Henri and the smaller one of the bear trainers got out. The trainer went into the bear car and opened up a sleeping cot. The Russian hand closed all the doors on the sides of the box cars.

Henri thanked thre three hands and his ‘Cousin Donny.’ Mike jumped off the dock and ran to his car. He had told us earlier that there was a girl who promised to leave the door unlocked for him.

The Russian stagehand shook hands with Joey and me and told us pasib.

Big Ike refused to shake hands with a snuffing Commie.

And then he spoke in broken English. ‘Russia, no choo-choo. Trucks. Better.’

‘Another great Russian invention like putting casters on boxes,’ I said, shaking my head. ‘Trucks to haul show biz, not trains. We’ll have to remember that. Pasib. Pasib.’

The engine made a loud bang as it coupled into the first car. The railroad man that had been watching the couple connect, ran and jumped into the engine. He waved at us as the train pulled away.

I turned to Joey B. and Ike and commented that might be the last time any one of us work a train load out.

‘We thought the same things when the last Met Opera train left,’ Joey B. said.

‘Yeah, kid, maybe’ Big Ike said. ‘But the longer you stay in this snuffing business the more you learn to never say never.’

‘Yup,’ Joey B. added, ‘And you never say goodbye to any other stagehand because chances are even if they go far away, someday you’ll probably be working with them again. You say see ya.’

Snuffing right,’ Big Ike agreed, and the three of us said, see ya, and walked to our vehicles.

Joey B. and I had a lot more fun years together until he retired, moved to Ensanada, Mexico, and bought into a fishing boat. Big Ike’s arthritis caught up with him a few years later and he moved to Arizona, hoping the sun would ease the pain. Mike! About a month after the train, his bad stagehanding reached the limit and his father stood up at a union meeting and proposed we take away his son’s apprentice card. Mike moved to California. Never got a milk route but last we heard he was the promoter for an All Girls Celebrity Softball team.

I got in my pickup and watched until the lights of the train disappeared in the early morning darkness.

And in spite of what Big Ike said

that was our Last Train Out.

MEMORIES OF PRINCE

PRINCE IS DEAD AT AGE 57!

( Last April 26 was the 5th anniversary of his death. Had he lived he would be 62 today. Mind boggling! Here’s some bits and pieces from the 2 blog posts, Strangers on The Stage and Purple Pain, both in Stage Hand category, that I wrote about working Prince Roger Nelson, aka the Symbol, the Slave, Skippy, and other names this eccentric genius dubbed himself; but to his fans and admirers he was and is PRINCE.

What shock! I first worked him 45+ years ago. Watched him grow from a self-assured teenager to a world famous Hall of Fame musician, singer, songwriter, actor, musical innovator and creator of a new genre of music.  Always his own man, always stuck to his roots. Born and raised on the north side of Minneapolis, spent his adult life in his purple fenced home and recording studio, Paisley Park, a few miles from his first home and his youthful friends. (And made a lot of money for the stage hands in his area.)

His tours were some of the biggest on the road, and yet he gave concerts, some announced, some impromptu, for his fans at small familiar venues like First Avenue and Paisley Park. His roots. His fans.

He left behind a great legacy of music and memories for people all over the world. And even today his genius is springing  out with ‘new’ works that was never made public before.

young prince

The first time I worked Prince was in the early 70’s. There was a benefit at the Orpheum and Prince Nelson was one of the many performers. There already had been a lot of buzz about this young talent. He was somewhere in the middle of the card. The acts that followed him, didn’t stand a chance. Everybody present, especially Prince, knew that this youngster could be Big Time.

(I stand corrected. I worked him when he earlier when he was studying classic ballet, on a grant, with MN Dance and he was a one of a multitude of little dancers in Loyce Holton’s NUTCRACKER.)

And it didn’t take him long to prove everybody right. Unlike the other Minnesota musical phenom, Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, who paid his dues working small coffee shops in Minneapolis and New York for years before he was recognized, Prince Nelson, a.k.a. Prince, hit the ground running. He released his debut album when he was only 20. Less than a year later, his second album went platinum. And unlike so many others born in ‘fly-over country’, Prince kept his base in his homeland, rather than moving to the glamour cities of the coasts. As a result he generated a lot of opportunities and wages for the locals.

I worked Prince in concerts, benefits, rehearsals, but the longest stint came with the PURPLE RAIN tour production tech in the fall of 84. Prince was at the top. His single, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best single. His album, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best album. And his movie, PURPLE RAIN, was his first movie and would turn out to be his  best movie, not argument on that one. And he wanted the PURPLE RAIN tour to be his best.

the kid

The set would be one of the biggest ever to tour the arenas. It was the first one, that I know about, where the set was constructed downstage in the arena, while the lights and sound were being hung. Then the set was rolled by a very large crew to it’s proper position. It was two-tiered with plenty of ramps to dance on and had three scissor lifts to add to the excitement.

(I was local head carpenter from the first; and because the tour carpenter was busy working out the logistics of the coming tour, I was the local head carp even when we went into the St. Paul jurisdiction. I, and several of my favorite hands, sons and nephews, put up the complicated set in every move and worked all the rehearsals also. By the time the 4 weeks were up we knew more than the road carpenter concerning the set.)

To further enhance his tour, his second front act was Sheila E, another of his many protégés and one of his main squeezes at the time. Sheila E was already a much sought after percussionist with stints with names like Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross.

She also had the very sexist title of the best female drummer in the land. When Prince ‘discovered’ her, he got her a recording contract and wrote two songs for her to sing, THE GLAMOROUS LIFE, the title song of her first album, and THE BELLE OF ST. MARK, both of which cracked the charts.

His first front act was a girl trio, Apollonia 6, featuring Apollonia, his co-star in the PURPLE RAIN movie. It started out as a replacement for Vanity 6, when Vanity went out on her own. The trio’s act on the tour was short to begin with, and got shorter when Prince decided that Apollonia was pretty, but really couldn’t sing any better than she could act.

For me, the tour production was four weeks of long, long days. In the four weeks I might have had a full eight hours of sleep two or three times. Several times worked around the clock, once for 48 hours before I had a chance to sleep for a few hours on packing blankets. We started the production at the Met Sports Arena, then moved to the Minneapolis Auditorium, over to the St. Paul Civic Center, and finished out back at the Met. Big money, but a lot of hard work and a lot of pain. Although offered a job on the tour itself, I said no way and was elated when we shut the door on the last truck on the way to Detroit to begin the tour itself. Purple Rain. No! Purple pain – for a lot of us.

Prince himself got me good one day. I was walking in the circular hallway around the arena at the Met. All of a sudden I heard, ‘Stop! Watch out!’ Luckily, before I had a chance to turn and maybe get hurt worse, something hit me in the back of the legs. I was prevented from falling forward by a set of arms and legs. I fell backwards onto a road box.

‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Are you okay? I’m sorry!’ I looked up into the face of the apologizing Prince. I told him I was okay.

‘Good’, said a voice coming from beneath me. ‘But darn, you’re heavy.’ I looked around and saw the face of Sheila E. I had ended up sitting in her lap. Now it was my turn to apologize. I quickly got off her.

It seems that His Purpleness wanted to have some fun and got Sheila E to sit on the front of the road box. Then, head down, he pushed the box as fast as his short legs could pump. They rounded a curve – and there I was. Not too much damage to me, except a purple, naturally, bruise on the back of my legs. They turned the box around and laughingly continued their fun in the opposite direction. While I limped back down the hall.

(Prince was also a very good athlete in high school. I know he loved to play basketball. The net and stand was one of the first things that we put up at his rehearsals, He was always the shortest in games with anyone who wanted to play, but he was the best dribbler and a good shot.)

Prince laid down the law as regards the tour, he would not tolerate any drug use whatsoever. Musicians, roadies, security force, nobody. He refused to hire as one of his many body guards, ex wrestler, a future governor of MN, Jesse The Body Ventura because Jesse was reported to have a drug background while wrestling.

(Ironic that Prince would die of an overdose of pain pills, considering his hatred for drugs; but I know he must have had great pain in his older years. He never spared his body, leaping around the stage and even off of it during his performances. And certainly the incident that happened one night at a Purple Rain rehearsal, the one that I tell about in the cartoon below contributed a great deal to his future pain.)

Like I pointed out, the rehearsal for the tour took a lot out of people. Made them do things they wouldn’t do if they weren’t tired. Even Prince suffered because of rehearsal fatigue. Like the last week, a few days left to wrap up the rehearsal and take the show on the road…. But rather than me writing about it, the talented Joel Orf drew a cartoon of the incident that my alter ego, The Old Hand, related to him. That character in the hat is me wearing my ‘trademark hat’. (Click on it to enlarge.)

Prince tour

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 longer and much more interesting.. The right leg was clad in a conventional tight, but the left leg was naked up to the short shorts. I knew it was Sheila E. That quirky bit of wardrobe was designed especially by Prince for her.

The third pair were longer still. Both legs naked. The shorts, shorter still. The blouse so tight you could see, even in the darkness of the wing, there was no bra underneath. It was Kim Basinger.

Prince might have been short in stature, but he more than make 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, maybe two current girlfriends.

But that was Prince, The Artist Formally Known as Prince, The Love Symbol. 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‘.

A few of my memories of the little man, the giant musician.

His Purple Highness

  

               

Spoke PAUL NEWMAN

Celebrity endorsements or protests of political figures or views exploded during the Viet Nam Conflict. Nothing like what is going on the 2020 presidential race, but something totally unseen in the US before then.

Before WWII there was the Isolationist Movement with Charles Lindbergh as the figurehead; but after Pearl Harbor, the movement disappeared. Even Lindbergh volunteered to fight for the Allies. Turned down by the Army Air Corps, he was hired as a civilian advisor. Countless celebrities expressed their views by action, entering the War via draft or volunteering. Their actions better than words.

The Korean Conflict, America’s Forgotten War, received little media attention, let alone public concern. The American Legion and the VFW took a lot of soul searching and time before they accepted the fact that the participants were actual foreign war veterans and could become members. The US and the other countries involved did so under the auspices of the UN because of the Domino Theory, fear that if the Communists weren’t stopped in Korea, they would hit Japan next. The biggest Celeb attention came from the TV show M.A.S.H. filmed years later.

And then came Viet Nam. A civil war of words and protests broke out. Household names, personified by John Wayne on the right and Jane Fonda on the left, voiced their opinions on the involvement like never before. One side used the Domino Effect and patriotism, ‘My Country Right Or Wrong’, as the base of their arguments. The other pointed out that it was a Civil War fought to end French Imperialism and has nothing to do with the US. In short, we were involved in an unjust war.

Did the dueling names have any influence with their public views? Perhaps. The US involvement continued in spite of government lies and illegal acts, and the Draft was changed to add a numbering system; and finally our government yelled ‘Uncle’ and withdrew. Today the Communist country of Viet Nam is a prime trading partner of the US.

Did their views harm the careers of the endorsers? Well, in spite of history proving him wrong, the career of the outspoken John Wayne actually got a much needed boost; that and the fact that he finally learned how to act instead of just being the Duke over and over. It also gave him another military-hero movie to proclaim his patriotic spirit and remind people of his bravery in WWII…films.

Jane Fonda’s career nose-dived; not because of her protesting per se, but it’s extreme. She went into the capital, Hanoi, of the enemy our military was fighting. She cavorted in her photo-ops just a few miles from where American POWs, American heroes, were encaged. Her actions were not only in poor taste, they bordered on treason. It took many years and a lot of exercise tapes before she regained a career as the excellent actress she was prior and still is.

The Viet Nam draft was geared toward the lower middle class and minorities. Those of wealth and fame were passed over by the local Draft Boards. The most notable exception was Mohammad Ali, the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World.

Ali was vocal in his refusal to fight in Viet Nam on religious and civil rights grounds. He said he did not believe a man should kill another man. He also asked why should he shoot brown people who never did him any harm when nothing is being done in his own country to protect the rights of dark skinned citizens from civil abuse. He was found guilty of refusing the decision of his draft board, and the government of the United States stripped him of his World boxing title. He didn’t lose it like he won it, in the ring. It was a World title but the US, and the US alone, took the title from him. To hell with the rest of the world.

The US Supreme Court, by an 8 to 0, vote over-ruled the guilty decision. Ali, a few years later, won back his World Title the way he first earned it, in the boxing ring.

There were no celebs fighting Viet Nam at the time but many of the veterans of the fighting became famous afterwards…men like Oliver Stone and Kris Kristofferson saw action and translated their experience into movies and music.

Some, like ex-VP John Kerry, went and fought in Nam, earned a chestful of medals, came home and then protested the war.

Student deferments were one way of avoiding the draft. Some like ex-Pres Bill Clinton used the deferments in the right way. He finished near the top of his class in Columbia, did two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and finished near the head of the class in Yale law school.

Others needed a little help. Ex-VP Dick Cheney, a hawk who pushed for our attacking Iraq and Afghanistan among other things, lost his deferment when he flunked out of Yale. Faced with a One- A physical, he quickly entered the U of Wyoming and managed to keep up enough grades to avoid the draft.

Money and pull also helped. Wayne LaPierre, of NRA fame, was in trouble until his rich daddy found a doctor who stated that Wayne had a nervous condition. This phobia would prevent him from ...wait for it.. ever firing a gun.

When it looked like ex-VP Dan Quail was about to be drafted, his father managed to get him in the Indiana National Guard HQ, even though this perfect refuge was full at the time.

Ex-Pres H.W. Bush, a true WWII hero, had no sons drafted. His one son, ex-Pres George W. Bush, a true war hawk who was responsible for our invading 2 innocent countries that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack on the US, managed to avoid real military service through pull. He got into the air wing of the Texas National Guard and was trained as a jet fighter pilot. His lack of good aptitude and his poor attendance would have 86ed most other trainees, but he managed to receive millions of dollars worth of training; and He would have saw action if Texas ever was under attack but…

Oh, also he skipped out of the last several months of his service requirement to work in a senate election race in Alabama. Still he was given an honorable discharge.

Many avoided the draft by pretending insanity. The rocker/NRA poster boy/reality TV hunter, Ted Nugget tells the most disgusting story of how he ‘fooled’ the docs about to give him his physical. It’s on the net but if you have a weak stomach I would suggest not reading it.

And some like ex-mayor, Guiliani, avoided it under never-explained-circumstances. But then so much he does is impossible to explain.

Europe was one refuge for draft dodgers. Sylvester Stallion, who like John Wayne, is an actor who fought a lot of battles…in films only. He didn’t bother to report to his draft board when he turned 18 and went to be a ski instructor in the Alps instead. While his fellow Americans were being shot at, Stallion was enjoying himself earning his nickname, The Italian Stallion. And bragged about it. But unlike another well known draft dodger who fought the battle of avoiding VD and bragged about it, Stallion never called those who did fight ‘Losers”.

Mitt Romney, who backed every war except the one he have had to see action in, took advantage of slow draft board and went to Europe on a Mormon door-knocking mission.

Although almost 100,000 American males went to Canada to escape the draft and or deserted the service itself, there no celebs among them.

ExPres Jimmy Carter, a US Naval Academy grad, who served seven years in active service, five of which were in submarines, and who left the service only because his father died and he had to go back to the family business, ran for the presidency vowing to pardon all Viet Nam era draft dodgers. And always true to his word, Carter pardoned them all on the day after he took the oath of office. Carter was a one term president. Many vets said they voted against him because of his pardoning the draft dodgers. Wonder how many of these same vets voted for Trump.

Only about half of exiles choose to return to the US where a military record or lack of one meant a great deal in obtaining work. Government work, and some private employers, gave preference to military veterans. If a man had no military history employers wanted to know why. If a man had been in the military, the need for proof of an honorable discharge was required. The thought of a draft dodger getting elected to public office was out of the question…or so we thought.

Does it help? It certainly can’t hurt as long as the celeb that is doing the endorsing is a little higher than a has-been D-Lister, or an organization such as the Taliban.

Is it fair? I’ll defer that question to Paul Newman, outstanding actor/idol, and such a strong advocate of liberal politics and politicians that he made the FBI Enemies List in the Viet Nam Era.

When I was in charge of the stage of Northrop Auditorium early 60s, several times a week prominent speaker was booked for a free noon- speaking engagement. No tickets. No ushers.

The speakers were from all fields, but in those days, the ones that spoke out against Viet Nam involvement and the one pro-Civil Rights were the most popular; but none so popular as a symposium consisting of two pro Viet Nam advocates and two anti Viet Nam Advocates, one of the later was Paul Newman, and a moderator.

Unlike the usual audience of less than a thousand, this one was standing-room -only on the main floor with young ‘ladies’ elbowing their way up the aisles to get closer to the stage, and the balcony was almost half full also. At least 4,000.

It was a well informed and interesting hour, even if most of the audience only listened when Paul Newman spoke. When it wasn’t his turn to speak, he sat listening intently, all the while chewing on his gum. Paul Newman Cool.

I and my student crew had constructed a TV ‘studio’ backstage for a Paul Newman press interview after I pulled the stage curtain shut. Everything went well until one of the TV reporters asked him if he didn’t think it was fair that a famous celebrity like Newman should get involved in something as important as the Viet Nam War. People might agree with him only because he’s a movie star.

I swear the temperature rose ten degrees. Those famous blue eyes blazed. He took out his gum and threw it in a waste basket. He stood up… and Paul Newman spoke.

I can’t quote him verbatim but I can relate the gist of his speech: I am an American man with the right of Freedom of Speech. I am a father with a son that I hope will never have to fight in a war as unjust as this one. I am not a black man, but I am part Jewish and know that we must fight for Civil Rights and condemn the racial and religious hatred that persists in this country.

I am an actor and most people will listen more to me than to a truck driver or farmer, or even a clergyman. Not only is it fair for me to make my views public, it is my obligation. Whether or not they listen and believe in my viewpoint is immaterial. At least I might have opened the door to a different side of the argument than what they are use to listening to. And if I am just singing to the choir I am letting them know that I agree with the songs they are singing.

Thus spoke Paul Newman.

(A little aside from the topic.)

Many of the young ladies in the audience were not interested in going to their next class. They wanted to hang around Northrop to get a glimpse or better yet an autograph of Paul Newman. When one of my student crew was locking up the main auditorium a young lady whispered him aside. She offered him five bucks if he would get the gum that Paul Newman was chewing on. He dug it out of the trash can and sold it to her. Then he and another crew member got a couple packs of gum and after chewing a stick, would offer it in a very discreet manner to a waiting fan. I heard later they started asking ten bucks but dropped it down to five if a phone number came with it. I often wonder what happened to those two bandits. Probably became Social Media zillionaires.)

I purposely tried to avoid any mention of ‘he-whose-name-must-not-be-mentioned’ before, even though he is the most famous draft-dodger at this time, because he is beyond being just a chicken-hawk draft dodger. The way he speaks about veterans, their families, the fact he has done nothing about his good friend, Putin, paying on bounty to the Taliban to kill American military, the fact that both Putin and the Taliban are endorsing him… how can anyone who served vote for such a treasonous person is beyond me. Commander-In-Chief!

And how anybody can vote for a hate-filled who backs the would-be-nazis that are coming out of the sewer at his instigation. Lock Him, (and his friends),Up.

Or vote for one who sees over 200,000 deaths of citizens he swore to protect with the phrase, ‘It is what it is’. As one who moves from bleach injections as a cure to killing off the weak and old ones in the herd. ‘They are what they are’!!!

Enough! Please!

Wrap it.

Stay Safe.

And pray that the sun will shine again.

Oh! P.S. If you are offered a deal on an old wad of chewing gum purported to have been Paul Newman’s, don’t bite, it might be a scam.

LARRY & THE DUKE (III)

The Ghost Light is lit

waiting

Just as Duke Ellington’s life took a dramatic turn in the mid 50’s, Larry Howard’s life had a dramatic change in 1963, the Guthrie Theater opened in May with Larry as the stage-door man. The 60’s saw the Guthrie being recognized as a prominent regional theater, but in the late 60’s it began to push it’s limits and various power struggles in upper management caused both a lose of artistic personnel and audience. It came close to closing for good. In 1969 Don Schoenbaum, only a few years removed from coming to the theater as a Ford Foundation intern was placed in charge of both management and artistic decisions. He kept the theater going and with the help of Sir Tyrone Guthrie managed to lure Michael Langham away from Stratford Ontario and take over as Artistic Director in 1971. Larry Howard’s job was saved as were all the jobs of us working at the Guthrie when Michael took over.

And Larry was only a few years away from meeting the Duke.

Duke Ellington’s last tour began in October of 73 with the first month in Europe, before coming back to the U.S. where it ran almost nonstop until almost the end of March 74. This extreme tour was taken in spite of, or maybe because of, Duke’ health was failing. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He never announced anything about it being a farewell tour but he knew it was.

Mercer Ellington, the Duke’s only child knew also. Mercer was a composer, arranger, band musician, band leader both in conjunction with his father and on his own. In the late 60’s he left his personal career and joined his father’s organization as a trumpeter and road manager, and nurse. During a concert when the Duke became tired, Mercer took over on piano and conducting.

It was evident that the Duke was handing over the baton to his son. It was also evident that there was a strong bond of love between father and son. Over the years I had the pleasure of working the Duke Ellington Orchestra with Mercer in charge. Mercer was a gentleman just like his father. And when Mercer was phasing out, he slowly turned over the reins over to his son, Paul, who continues the tradition. I had the good fortune to have worked the three generations of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

The two concerts at the Guthrie had been moved from January to March 15 and 17. The load-in/setup went smoothly. The concert was great. Sometime in the second half, Duke left the stage and Mercer took over. The Duke returned at bows and the Take The A Train encore piece.

When I went down to the stage to put out the ghost light and wrap up for the night, Joey B, the Guthrie deck hand told me about a conversation between two of the ‘old-timers’ when they were casing up their horns.

One leaned over and asked where the next gig was. When he was told that they had a day off and then came back to this same stage, he laughed and said, ‘Damn, you don’t say. Tonight wasn’t a one-nighter.’

“Nope we can go and jam tonight and sleep tomorrow during the day.’

‘Well,’ the first old-timer replied, ‘I’ll just go to the hotel and sleep tonight and sleep tomorrow too. My bones are tired, man, tired.’

Some of the band did go jamming that night, at the Padded Cell, a small jazz club in Minneapolis, frequented by both local and national musicians and known to lock it’s door at closing time and allow the jam sessions to go well past sunup. Sad to say, the Cell, like all the jazz clubs in the Twin Cities and across the river in Mendota, where I grew up, are long gone.

Michael Langham had the Duke autograph Larry’s book as he promised, but Ellington was very disappointed that Larry had not brought the book to the dressing room in person. From what Michael had told him about Larry, Ellington said he really wanted to meet him. The two worked out a way.

It wasn’t just the band members that enjoyed a day off. Mine was spent with a late sleep before I began my spring yard work. In show business you grab sleep when you can. Like the old timer said, the bones get tired.

When I drove into the Guthrie lot for the second concert, I saw Dawson’s limo parked so Larry could not get out. It was past the time Larry usually left for home. When I walked around the limo to get in the stage door, I could see Larry and the Duke sitting in the back seat, windows rolled down to catch the spring weather. Two elderly gentlemen engaged in conversation. Larry had met the Duke.

Lawson was in the green room when I went in to get some coffee. ‘I never saw Larry smile like that when I opened the door so he could get in with the Duke,’ Dawson told me. He looked at his watch and said in ten minutes he would have to bring Ellington around to the lower stage door, and Larry could go home.

The next time I saw Larry he told me how easy it was to talk to Duke Ellington. ‘It was like we were friends from way back.’ He showed me his copy of Music Is My Mistress that Michael had given him for Christmas and now it had the Duke’s autograph.

The second concert like the first was excellent. The playlist was a little different than the first to keep the musicians from getting bored This time though the Duke didn’t make it through to the intermission.

Joey B. was breaking down things when I got down to the stage. Mercer was looking out the door and one of the musicians was sitting on a chair next to the door.

Joey came over and told me in his stage whisper how the old guy took off his shoe and sock as soon as he came off stage. ‘His damn foot is all swelled up,’ Joey said, nodding to the band member, ‘And it’s green. Green! Looks like hell.’

I took a good look at the man. It was Paul Gonsalves, of the Newport Jazz Festival fame.

After seeing Gonsalves off to the Emergency Hospital, Mercer helped us with the breakdown and supervised us loading everything in the bins of the bus. He told us that he was going to get his father and the Duke always wanted to thank the stage crew. ‘But whatever you do,’ he said, ‘Don’t mention anything about having to send Gonsalves to the hospital. I’ll make up some excuse why Paul isn’t at the next gig, but I can’t tell him how bad he is. Dad just couldn’t handle that news… in his condition.’

Joey B. and I were only too glad to glad to wait and shake Duke Ellington’s hand. Joey commented on how much he liked ‘that good kind of music’, and I agreed and thanked him for his meeting with Larry.

The Duke gave me a smile and said it was his pleasure to meet Larry. ‘He’s quite a man. You here at the Guthrie are lucky to have him. He really had an interesting life. Did you his father was a Buffalo Soldier?’ And then he added, ‘Next time I play here, I’m going to make it a point to take him out to dinner.’

Mercer turned his head so his dad couldn’t see the expression on his face.

Mercer never told his father how sick ‘Strolling Violins’ Paul Gonsalves was. And he never told him when Paul died on 5/15/ 74, eight days before Duke Ellington died. Gonsalves was only 53, but years of drug and alcohol took their toll on him.

When the band left the Guthrie, they played six more gigs, canceling the two at the end of the tour. He died five days after the tour ended. He had his 75th birthday just a few weeks before.

Larry Howard continued to greet people from behind his stage door counter for several more years before he retired. I sadly lost track of him after he left the Guthrie.

I do know he was walking better in his later years. That promise that the young actor/director intern at the Guthrie, David Feldshuh, was fulfilled when David got his medical doctorate

David’s medical doctorate followed his doctorate in theater. Doctor/Doctor David continues his work in theater as a prize winning playwright, nominated in 1992 for a Pulitzer for Miss Ever’s Boys, teacher, and director at Cornell, as well as working in the Cayuga Medical Center with Emergency Medicine as his speciality.

.Currently he is one of the Front Line Heroes in the battle against COVID19.

There’s no people like Show People. They smile when they are low.’

Show people, many of my family member included, were the first to lose their livelihood

when the virus hit.

And they will be some of the last to go back to their profession

And the current ‘leadership’ in the White House and Senate are doing nothing to help the millions of

AMERICANS

on the verge of losing everything.

VOTE!!!

And this is a wrap for the three part Larry & The Duke.

Larry & THE DUKE (II}

Young Larry and his family had a hard-scramble life in the Dakotas. Young Edward lived in a fine house in a good neighborhood in Washington D.C.

The Duke’s father’s artist talent got him a good job making blueprints for the U.S. Navy, and before that served as a White House butler. Both young Ellington’s parents were well known pianists in D.C. and were hired to perform at both private and government functions. His mother specialized in parlor music. His father in operatic arias. Edward started his ‘playing’ the piano at the age of three. At the age of eleven he began to receive lessons from a prominent teacher.

His musical life of light classical began to change around the age of fourteen when he began to sneak into a pool hall to listen to the piano players beating out jazz, ragtime, blues, music that here- to -for he had only heard about.

It was around this time Edward got the nickname Duke. He was a dapper dresser and had casual air about him. His friends thought Edward just didn’t fit him and one of them titled him Duke. The name not only stuck, it replaced his given name.

The Duke composed his first of over a thousand compositions, Soda Fountain Rag. He was fifteen and could neither read or write music. He felt that his skill was not playing piano but composing. He worked hard to learn the mechanics of music. He also began to organize combos and to play at dances. Like his father, Duke was an exceptional artist, so much so he was offered an art scholarship to Pratt Institute; which he turned down because he believed strongly that his music would be his life.

Earning money by day as a sign painter, playing gigs at night. Soon his combo, The Duke’s Serenaders, was playing embassy parties and private functions in D.C. and nearby Virginia, playing for both Afro-Americans and white audiences. The Duke was on his way…

But like all over-night successes in Show Biz it was a lot of hard work and a lot of two steps forward, one step back; and often one forward, two back. The early 1920’s saw him and his ensemble hopping between New York and D.C. with an occasional stop in Atlantic City. His ensemble grew both in size and in quality. His compositions grew and various musicians in his band often took a different approach to a song. Ellington’s musical horizons expanded as did his popularity and respect as both a composer and as band leader.

In 1926, Irvin Mills, a prominent music publisher and jazz artist promoter, came to an Ellington club date to scout the Duke out as a possible client. He was so impressed he signed Ellington that very night. Mills only took 45% of Ellington Inc.. Sounds like a lot today, but it was an unheard of contract between a white agent and a black musician. It was usually that the musician got only 40% or less.

Mills relieved Ellington of the business end that robbed the Duke of time better spent with his music. Getting recording gigs, radio air play, films, and live performances at prominent venues.

On of these venues was the famous Cotton Club where the Ellington Orchestra was house band on several extended occasions, and later as guest artists. It was the Prohibition Era and also the Jim Crow Era. The performers were black and came in through the back door. The audience was white and paid big money while coming in the front door. Ellington was expected to compose and play ‘jungle music’. This segregation at the club ended thanks a lot in part by Ellington.

As the Depression took hold, the recording business suffered; but radio exposed the Duke to a growing audience and tours became the band’s mainstay. Ellington’s compositions during those years, like Mood Indigo and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, were big hits no matter who sang or played them. Then in 1938, a composer/arranger, Billy Strayhorn, applied to Ellington as a lyricist.

Strayhorn brought Lush Life, a song he composed as a teenager, to show the Duke a sample of his work. He also began to outline different arrangements of a few of Ellington’s work. Duke found his ‘left hand, his right hand’, the missing link in his musical journey.

Like his idol, the Duke, Strayhorn’s musical foundation was classical. His dream was to be a classical composer; but he knew that a black would never be accepted in the classical music world of the day, so jazz became his medium…until he discovered the jazz/classical compositions of Ellington.

The two worked as one, composing in the classical vein of suites. Strayhorn made new arrangements for Ellington’s standards as well as composing songs on his own. The first Ellington recording of a Strayhorn work was Take The A Train which became the signature introduction of the Ellington’s Orchestra. For the next 25+ years the two collaborated, one working on a theme and the other jumping in, until it became impossible to credit either one for the completed work.

The Swing Era/Big Band Era began in the mid-30’s and continued for a good ten years. While the white Big Bands, like Dorseys, Harry James, Glen Miller, took the lead in popularity and money, the black Big Bands, like Ellington, Basie, Cab Calloway, had good years also. Radio, juke boxes, recordings, even cameo in movies, combined to make it a golden age for big band jazz music, black and white. While most of the bands followed a common road, the Duke and his musical compositions took a more serious musical route, not relying only on the tried and true hits of the past.

This route took it’s toll on Ellington’s orchestra after WWII. Swing was replaced by Be Bop and promoters found that small groups, trios, quartets, brought in good audiences at much less cost. Great musicians, like Armstrong and Hampton, broke away from bands and fronted these combos.

It was the birth of Cool Jazz, aka West Coast Jazz. Dave Brubeck’s quartet with Paul Desmond. Gerry Mulligan with Chet Baker. Modern Jazz Quartet. And of course, Miles Davis.

The early 50’s brought a severe revolution in music. Teenagers became prime movers and R&B, Rock & Roll on cheap 45 discs introduced new idols like Presley, Little Richard, Pat Boone, to replace the likes of Sinatra and the Andrew Sisters. Hits and misses in the main stream were often dictated by disc jockeys, often televised, and the Top 40 on the radio was influenced by bribes called payola. Black recording artists were ripped off big time by their white ‘agents’.

Ellington had long fought against the three- minute cut on LP records and there was no room for Ellington’s vision of his music on a 45 disc.. His music needed much more space. His music needed an orchestra not a small combo. His genius refused to lower the bar.

In 1950 he and his orchestra stayed afloat thanks to a Europe tour, set up by the Black- Listed Orson Welles. They did 74 gigs in 77 days. During which he managed to compose music for a Welles’ stage production as well as performing a Welles’ variety show in Paris. While he never played any new personal compositions on tour he managed to finish his extended composition Harlem in his ‘spare time’.

Returning home, times were tough. Dance gigs and concert tours were few and far between. His royalties from his standards brought him the needed money to compose his serious music and to managed to keep his key musicians alive. But by 1955 there wasn’t a record company that wanted him.

And then in the evening of July 7, 1956, a string of unlikely occurrences combined to make a perfect storm that resurrected the career of Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. The Ellington New Port Concert is as an important jazz event as the Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert in 1938.

Ellington’s concert wasn’t at a famous venue like Carnegie Hall. It was on the last of a three day jazz festival, a relative new concept in music, at Newport, R.I.. Unlike Benny Goodman, who headlined the famous Carnegie Hall concert in 1938, Ellington was just one of many acts. Unlike the prominent sidemen in Goodman’s orchestra, artists like Harry James on trumpet, Jess Stacy on piano, and of course, Gene Krupa on drums, the Ellington group had lost many talented members, although several came back for the Newport Festival gig, like the great alto sax player, Johnny Hodges. Goodman brought down the house with exceptional solos on the popular Sing Sing Sing. At Newport the audience erupted on a 1938 Ellington composition, Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue, stuck in the playlist at the last minute, and the astounding solo of a journeyman tenor sax player, Paul Gonsalves. The dancing in the aisles at Carnegie was a spontaneous reaction by the audience. The dancing at Newport during the solo by Gonsalves was done an unknown platinum blonde in a black dress that jumped from her seat and danced her way to the stage.

Gonsalves was hired by Ellington six years before. He had played in many major orchestra but his many addictions cost him work.  Ellington liked having him around because Gonsalves was fond of going out in the audience to perform. The Duke nicknamed him Gypsy,also Strolling Violins.

And this night, Ellington specifically told Gonsalves to take the solo, even though the great alto sax, Johnny Hodges was with them that evening. Gonsalves’ solo lasted for an unbelievable 27 choruses. He was accompanied by Woods on bass and Woodyard on drums with an occasional prompts by Ellington on piano and Ellington’s ‘Dig in, Paul. Dig in.’The audience exploded and the finale featured a high trumpet solo by Cat Anderson. And Ellington and his band were reborn.

Time Magazine loudly proclaimed that fact and honored Duke Ellington with his picture on the cover. To date, Duke is only one of five jazz musicians to be so honored.

Columbia released the entire concert as quickly as possible. It not only became Ellington’s all time selling album, it became one of the jazz world’s best seller. Old time fans like Larry Howard bought one right away. Younger fans, like your truly, got one a few years later through the Columbia Record club.

The royalties from album and his new recording contract with Columbia afforded Ellington the luxury of composing as he always wanted to. He was free to break out of the three minute cuts of LP’s and 45”s. Free to devote time to suites etc. that are played by symphony orchestras world wide. And also the money kept his core orchestra members working, something the other black big bands couldn’t do.

The following year, 1957, was Ellington’s Shakespeare year. The Duke liked Shakespeare. Billy Strayhorn loved Shakespeare. After his success at Newport, he gave a series of concerts at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. He was asked back for another concert in 57 and Michael Langham, the artistic director of the Stratford Playhouse, contracted him to write the incidental music for Langham’s production of ‘Timon of Athens’.

While performing there Ellington was persuaded by the staff at the theater to write a composition inspired by Shakespeare. The end result was his, and Strayhorn’s, 12 piece suite based on works of Shakespeare, Such Sweet Thunder.

The next big step that year was when he and Strayhorn broke the Afro-American barrier in Hollywood sound track. Otto Preminger hired them to compose the sound track for the movie, Anatomy of A Murder. The album won the Grammy Award for best soundtrack. Other movie soundtracks followed.

Suite after suite compositions, some with Strayhorn, others just by Ellington, followed right up to his death. The later years he was working on his Sacred Music suites, deemed by Ellington as his greatest works,. In 1973 his Third Sacred Concert premiered at Westminster Abby in England.

These later years were the busiest and most profitable years of his life. There were the recordings of his new compositions and collaboration recordings with other jazz greats. His old friendly rival, Count Basie, others like Louis Armstrong, Charlie Mingus, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrain, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra. His early songs, now standards, were recorded by him and others, producing royalties as never before.

But he never neglected live performances, after all it was live performances that started his career, and comprised a major portion of his life of music. He and his orchestra toured around the world during that period.

His last tour started in July of 1973 and continued thru to March 22, 1974. He knew this would be his last. His health was failing. Lung cancer. Several times events were rescheduled due to illness. One such was the two concerts at the Guthrie, that was moved from January 74 to March74. It was at this second concert when Larry Howard got the meet the Duke.

This is the second in the three part series. The last will follow in a day or so. In the meantime,

STAY SAFE

LARRY & The Duke (1)

Larry Howard was one of the first hired at Guthrie Theater. He spent over two decades as the daytime stage-door man; but he was so much more. He represented the epitome of the saying ‘everybody loved him.’

When a stranger walked down the down the stage-door steps and heard Larry’s warm and honest question, ‘Can I help you?’, the visitor was quickly put at ease. And he was never a stranger again.

Larry had the uncanny knack of remembering faces and names. It was a valuable asset to a stage-door man, but few had it like Larry.

The first time I ever went to the Guthrie was with Bob Gubbins. Bob had worked in the Guthrie set shop the first season, which was located in the basement of the theater. There was an addition to the Guthrie, a decent shop, that had just opened and Bob wanted to see it.

We had just started down the stairs when Larry welcomed Bob by name. It had been five years since Larry had seen Bob.

I was introduced to Larry that day and two years later when I walked down the steps, my first day as a Guthrie employee, the first words I heard was, ‘Hi, Don. Welcome to the Guthrie. I heard you were hired for the running crew.’ His memory amazed me; but more important, it was the start of a treasured friendship.

I don’t think there was any one of the Guthrie family during Larry’s tenure that didn’t treasure his friendship. For most of us a quick greeting or a short conversation made us happier than we were before. For others, especially younger employees, Larry was a surrogate father. Larry was a listener, not a talker and certainly not a judge. He rarely talked about himself.

And if you were hurting with a few aches and pains, one look at Larry and you stopped feeling sorry for yourself. He moved with slightly hunched shoulders and a painful walk. His knees were shot. It was hard to watch him walk on the level. It was sad to watch him go up or down the stage-door stairs. But no one ever heard him complain.

The first parking spot by the stage-door was Larry’s. There was never any sign that said it was Larry’s. It was just understood that Larry did not need a long walk to and from his car.

David Feldshuh was an actor and associate director at the Guth,Arie. He was close to getting his doctorate in theater. His next project was to get a doctorate in medicine.

He often told Larry that when he got his medical degree, he would see to it that Larry’s problem knees would be taken care of. That promise always brought a smile to Larry’s face.

Those years the polite term for Larry was Afro-American; but Larry was at an age where almost all his life he had been referred to as a Negro or a colored. One of the few times that Larry talked to me about his personal life was an eye-opener to me.

Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Canadian Cree singer/composer had performed two concerts the night before at the Guthrie. Buffy had been the first indigenous performer to break into main stream music. Her protest songs against war, such as The Universal Soldier, and against the treatment of the indigenous people, such as Now That the Buffalo’s Gone, propelled her into the forefront of the protest movement.

Her works soon attracted the attention of President Johnson who led the blacklisting of her music on radio. Nixon followed suit when he became president. And of course, J. Edgar Hoover was investigating her before she became know to the public.

The American Indian Movement, A.I.M, had begun and was headquartered in Minneapolis, wanted her to basically turn the concerts into a rally for their movement. She refused. She felt the audience bought tickets to hear her in concert, not in a protest rally. Her songs would stand by themselves in protest. Plus she had misgivings about the violence associated with A.I.M.. Her refusal did not discourage A.I.M. however. Members demonstrated outside the Guthrie with chants and drums. Some members bought tickets to the concerts and broke into chants during her performance, stopping the concerts several times.

She told them off during her show, criticized them for ruining the show for others; but between shows and afterwards, she cried.

The next day when I said hello to Larry, he commented that he read that his people made fools out of themselves at her concerts. Thinking that he thought it was a Black protest, I quickly ‘corrected’ him. I told him it was A.I.M., that had caused the problem, not his people.

Then he corrected me. He said A.I.M. thought to be an Ojibway movement; also had quite a few Lakota Sioux, his tribe, involved with it.

When I said that I never realized he was part Sioux, he told me his mother was half Lakota Sioux and half French-Canadian. (Since my mother descended from French-Canadians, Larry and I might have been related.) He said his father was half Afro-American and half Scotch- Irish. So Larry was a quarter Native American, more than half Caucasian, and less than a quarter Afro-American.

His father had been a Buffalo Soldier, a Black cavalryman, stationed in Montana Territory where he met Larry’s mother. Upon discharge they moved to North Dakota where Larry was raised. Over the years, Larry told me bits and pieces of his life, but I never pressed so I really did not find out much about his past.

Larry loved sports. He followed the Twins and Vikings on the radio. He was the coach of the Guthrie softball team. He told me that he and his brother had held most of the high school athletic records in North Dakota. Records in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field. They also played semi-pro baseball. His brother pitched. Larry was the catcher, a position that contributed early to his bad knees in later life.

Larry loved music, jazz music. When he wasn’t listening to sports he was listening to jazz on the radio.

He knew what stations and what time he could listen to his favorites like Basie, Armstrong, and especially the Duke, Duke Ellington.

Michael Langham, the artistic director at the Guthrie, was also an Ellington fan; and when Michael had been artistic director at Stratford Ontario, he had hired Ellington to compose the incidental music for Langham’s production of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. The year was 1957, the year after Ellington’s rebirth. The year that saw Ellington’s rise from a ‘jazz composer’ to be recognized as one of America’s great serious composers.

For Christmas of 1973, Michael gave Larry the newly published book, Music Is My Mistress, by Duke Ellington. It was a coffee-table book, rich with pictures of the Duke, his orchestra, and some of the people that Duke had worked with and admired over his 50 years in the Jazz world. Ellington opened by saying the book was not a memoir, it was a performance. It was the kind of book that one could get lost in, over and over. And Larry did, often, and he told Michael so.

Michael had arranged with the Guthrie Events producer to book Ellington and his orchestra for a concert at the Guthrie. He promised Larry that they would sit together in the best seats in the house. He also promised Larry that he would go backstage and meet the Duke.

The prospect of actually talking to the Duke thrilled Larry to say the least, but Larry knew it was just wishful thinking. Larry’s knees and his overall health wouldn’t allow him to sit for the a concert, no matter how much he would like to.

He thanked Michael, and explained why it couldn’t happen; but asked if maybe Michael could get the Duke to autograph his book.

The distance between the ex Buffalo Soldier’s shanty on the Dakota prairie where young Larry Howard started out and the middle class home in Washington D.C. where young Edward Kennedy,(Duke), Ellington started his life, was far greater than just miles.

About the only thing these two boys had in common in their early years was their love of baseball. Both boys excelled in baseball and both had dreams of someday playing in the Negro League. Larry played before an audience of ranch hands and small town inhabitants. Ellington told of how sometimes President Teddy Roosevelt would stop on his horse back ride and watch him and his friends play baseball.

Ellington’s love for jazz began in his preteens. Larry’s began in his late teens.

This is the first of three parts of LARRY & THE DUKE. The second part will follow in a day or so.

Until then…STAY SAFE

 

THE GAMBLER

The Gambler got dealt Aces and Eights, the Dead Man’s Hand, and he folded.

Kenny Rogers – 8/21/38 – 3/20/2020

Kenneth Ray Rogers was the fourth of eight children, born poor, in Houston, Texas. He was the first of his family to graduate from high school. He was the only one that leaned toward music as a hobby, let alone a career.

Rogers attributed Ray Charles as the biggest influence in his musical career. When Rogers was 12, his school sent him to a Ray Charles concert. The first time he never saw a live music performance and the first time he ever heard Ray Charles. He decided that whatever he did in life, music would be a part of it.

Most of us in those years discovered ‘our music’. It was a radical movement that did not sit well with parents and older generations. It was the biggest step to identifying teenagers as an influencing force and consumer bloc. And Texas Kenny Rogers took an independent fork in music from his elders just as Texas Buddy Holly did.

Rogers started a do-wop group in high school that had a mild hit and appeared on American Bandstand. He then became stand-up bass in a jazz trio. Joined a folk group, The New Christie Minstrels, as bass player and singer. Following the break up of the Minstrels, he joined with some of them to form The First Edition, which quickly became Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. Followed by just Kenny Rogers.

Although Rogers musical roots were Country, he didn’t think of Country music as a road to travel until after the success of Ruby Don’t Take Your Guns to Town. He opted for the middle of the road, mellow country. His choice was influenced by Don Williams; and in turn Rogers influenced Garth Brooks, both as a musician and as an entrepreneur. Rogers had a few hits and a few honors with his style; but he also had rough times.

His skill with both bass guitar and stand-up bass got him work as Nashville studio musician. At a low point in his career, he performed in a small casino in downtown Las Vegas. Little did he know that before long he would be headlining in the big casinos on the Strip; and he would be a main attraction in the Branson, Missouri music scene, and have some of the most popular tours ever.

In 1978 his world exploded. He heard a song, The Gambler, on a Bobby Bare album and even though it never took off for Bare and several others, including Johnny Cash, whose version came out after Rogers, Rogers not only covered it, he had it lead off in his sixth album, which also included his hit, She Believes In Me. The Gambler cemented Rogers as the first big country/pop crossover artist, and gained him fans not only in both genres, but also all over the globe. His fans were ‘legion’ and very devoted. His career hard times were over.

In an interview in Billboard, Rogers said, ‘I’ve always been too pop for country and too country for pop

What ever niche he made for himself, it worked. He was the first country singer to sell out big arenas. He lent his name to a fried chicken franchise, later to slot machines in casinos, he recorded an CD that was only sold in Cracker Barrels along with other of his CD’s. And he branched off to starring in and producing TV movies, starting with The Gambler. He wrote a memoir and a novel. He developed into an excellent photographer. He also tried different approaches in his singing career.

Kenny Rogers recorded duets with pure country singers, Dottie West, later, Dolly Parton and others. He seldom ventured from his middle of the country road, but he did in a few instances. He made a jazz/standards album. Just one. He broke the Country limits and collaborated with artists like Lionel Richie and Barry Gibbs. He was the prime mover behind 1985’s charity song, We Are The World, with 45 musicians of the entire music spectrum.

And he combined his biggest musical influence, Ray Charles,  for many memorable duets.

Since I only worked him in the old Met Hockey Arena, and not a smaller venue, I never had a chance to know him like I did with other performers; and I confess the strict way he controlled his tour shows left a bad taste in my mouth. I just felt he owned his audience more than he gave them.

Rogers performed in the center of the arena, a ‘show-in-the round’ and had audience on all four sides. His set was a square doughnut with the performer working on the four sides of the stage and the band and some hands down in the pit in the middle. Clever concept.

He had two opening acts rather than the customary one. The first act was a lesser known country singer or group. For instance, he used Larry Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers on one tour. In Roger’s big hit The Coward of the County, the villains were named the Gatlin Brothers. Rogers just sang what somebody else wrote, but Rogers had deep pockets, and the Gatlins sued. They dropped their lawsuit against him shortly after he hired Larry as a front act. It gave Larry Gatlin’s career a boost when he used him as an opener. Heck, Gatlin made it all the way to be a commentator on Fox news.

The second act was always a change of pace. For instance, Susan Anton. This particular show I had Harley, an older shop stagehand, recently divorced, never really worked a lot of live performances, as Anton’s mic- cable pager. At the end of the intermission house lights went out, a roadie, leading the way with a flashlight, ran Anton the stage and made certain she was standing on her glo-tape mark. The spots then opened up on Susan Anton.

Harley had never heard of Susan Anton, actually I don’t think he ever heard of Kenny Rogers either; and when he saw her, standing on the stage above him, barely three feet away, he froze. Mouth-open froze. Then as she started to move along the stage, Harley did not move. He neither followed her with the mic-cable or released some from the coil in his hand. Just kept staring.

She reached the limit of her available cable and saw Harley just standing there. ‘Oh, I think I got a bite,’ she ad-libed. ‘Oooh,’ she squelled, imitating reeling in a catch, ‘And it is really a big fish.’

I quickly headed over to take over from Harley just as Susan bent down and whispered in his ear. Harley’s face turned four-alarm-fire red and he broke out of his trance and paged her cable like he suppose to.

Over the years I never brought up that frozen act to Harley, but I did ask him a few times what Susan Anton whispered in his ear. Each time, Harley got red-faced, but he never did tell me what she said to him.

As I said, the band was also in the pit. Nice people. Sharing. Both before the show and during intermission they passed around a coffee can. It was half filled with snow, coke, cocaine. I passed on it and so did the other local hands, I think, but it was a nice sharing gesture.

The opening acts came on stage in blackouts. Kenny Rogers appeared by magic. Since we didn’t have to sign a paper saying we would never reveal the secret of the trick, like David Copperfield demanded, I will tell you how it was done.

There was a large work box on casters that 2 roadies pushed into the pit during intermission and pushed out of the pit at house lights came up at show’s end. Only it wasn’t what it looked like. It was a Houdini box. It opened like a steamer trunk standing erect opens. Inside was a comfortable seat. Rogers got in it in his dressing room and later in the end of show black out. Nice effect and no chance of any fans on the main floor interfering.

Both front acts had a time limit as did the intermission. The part I disliked was the exact-to-the-second time limit on Roger’s set. At the end of each song the audience clapped loud and long, not realizing that they were cutting into the time Rogers actually sang.

He had 4 clocks in the pit so he could see the time no matter where he was on the stage. As the time came for the last song, he worked his way to the stairs leading to the pit. Once that minute hand reached the important twelve, Kenny Rogers stopped singing and the arena went black. Now I mean he stopped singing…He didn’t finish the song; hell, he didn’t finish the word of the song he was singing.

And that is the reason for my bias. Granted, the audience still got the average amount of time for the show, but they didn’t spend the big bucks for two opening acts; they paid to see Kenny, and not what amounted to a half a performance by him.

Black out! Silence! The fans break loose, waiting for an encore, clapping, a few with lit cigarette lighters. The house lights go up. The audience still waiting for an encore. Too busy to see the roadies push a ‘work box’ up the ramp to where a window tinted car sat before the garage door. When the car pulled out of the building, walk-out music came over the PA, and the hands began to work. No encore or closing words. Not even an Elvis-like message, Kenny Rogers has left the building.

No question his fans loved him though. His shows sold out. His CD sales are among the most of any single artist. They watched his TV movies, in spite of the reviews.

And Rogers was loved by those in the industry. He may not have been strictly Country but when he won his many awards in Country Music shows, and his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, his peers gave him his due respect and honest applause. This sentiment crossed-over to include friends in all musical genres.

His touring band, Blood Line, remained with him all the years. They enjoyed working with him. He must have treated them well. I don’t know if the can of snow was a tip from Kenny, or just a sign he was paying them enough to be able to pop for it.

Rogers was loved by five different women enough that they married him, even if four divorced him. The last marriage lasted 22 years and ended with his death.

Every one who knew him said he was a plain, sensible, down-to-earth likable man, who never forgot his roots, recognized it was not only hard work and talent that got him his success, it was also luck. And fame can be fleeting.

In an interview he said: ‘I equate this business to a mountain climber. Once you get up there, you can’t live on the top.’

The list of worthy charities he supported is quite impressive. He was helping the homeless before it was popular. Parkinson’s Disease, Disaster Relief, and the list goes on and on.

You know, the more I write about the man, the more I begin to lose my bias against him. If his fans didn’t hold his short shows against him, who am I to complain. Not only did I not have to pay to see the show, I got paid for working it. His shows made myself, my family, and a great many other stagehands nice paychecks over many years.

There’s a great many of his songs that I enjoy, although I don’t have any of his work in my music library. And I can’t remember watching any of his movies. Never ate any of chicken from his franchise, but by his own admission, neither did he. Still in all…

I  confess I changed my mind. I am convinced I would have liked him as a person. I really do.

Adios, Gambler. Adios.

‘Cause every hand’s a winner

 And Every hand’s a loser

And the best that you can hope for

is to die in your sleep’

STAY HEALTHY. The lives you save maybe the lives of those you love the most.

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.

 

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’.

SINATRA’S ART OF A DEAL

 

It seems that Trump’s art of dealing often included threats and/ or the reality of bankruptcy and stiffing the people he owned money to. I was present at the conclusion of a Frank Sinatra dealing. Like Sinatra himself, it was the Epitome of Cool.

Frank and the moron

There’s a new book out by a former manager of Frank Sinatra. In it, Eliot Weisman tells of having brokered a deal to have Sinatra open Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City; but before the contract was actually signed, Trump’s Casino Manager was killed in a helicopter crash.

Trump, fresh from hitting it big in his ghost-written book, THE ART OF THE DEAL, decided to renegotiate himself with Sinatra’s agent.

Weisman came back to Sinatra with Trump’s new deal demands. He would pay Frank less money. Sammy Davis Jr., who had just been diagnosed with cancer at the time, would not be on the bill; nor would Steve and Edyie, who Trump said he never heard of.

Sinatra gave his agent two choices. Tell Trump to go @#^@ himself, (an act which is anatomically impossible even for Trump), or just give Trump’s phone number to Frank so Frank could tell Trump himself.

Sinatra played The Sands in Vegas those dates and Trump opened his casino without Sinatra.

Eventually, Trump did something nobody thought was possible. He butchered the running of his casino to the point where he declared it bankrupt and closed it down. How can anybody with first count on the money ever go broke running a casino? Maybe the juice off the top demanded by his partners was too exorbitant, you think?


Like most performers, Sinatra didn’t have much time for promoters. The promoter that booked Sinatra in the Minneapolis Auditorium tried to do some late fast shuffling on Frank and almost lost the event.

The promoter’s rep, who didn’t like the promoter anymore than we did, told us the outcome of the promoter’s finagling. Sinatra told the promoter that not only would the deal stand as verbally agreed to, there would be one additional clause added to the rider. The promoter would have a new baby grand in the in the dressing room next to his, or Frank would go with another promoter for the Minneapolis gig.

‘No problem’, the promoter told Frank.

‘And’, added Sinatra, ‘At the end of the show, the piano belongs to me’.

The promoter sputtered and stammered, pointing out how much a baby grand piano costs.

Sinatra pointed out the original deal should have been honored, and if there was anymore arguing, it will be a concert grand instead of a baby grand.

It was a sell out performance. Even with the additional cost of the piano, the promoter still came out okay. Sinatra gave a full concert and encore after encore after encore.

We were breaking down the show when Sinatra came on stage, as he did in the smaller venues. He shook our hands, thanked and tipped us. And, unlike most entertainers, Frank never believed in having a roadie throw us a T shirt as a tip. He was a one of the last holdouts to the old school of giving cash for a for a tip.

Then he handed Mark, the house carpenter, a piece of paper. ‘The piano movers will be in first thing in the morning,’ Frank explained. ‘Here’s the address where the piano gets delivered to.’

‘Wow!’ said Mark said, reading the address out-loud. ‘The St. Joseph’s Children’s Orphanage in St. Paul. okay!’

‘And remind the movers not to tell the Orphanage where it came from,’ Sinatra said. ‘Just tell the good sisters they owe the donor a Rosary or two.’

He thanked us again and walked off the elevator to the garage.


Sinatra had a reputation of being one of the most generous celebrities around, even though he tried to keep his giving a secret.

Trump, on the other hand, brags about his charity giving;  but there are a lot of organizations that he said he gave to are still waiting for the first dollar.

And that’s a wrap.

Frank

MEMORIES FORGOTTEN AND REMEMEBERED

dick-van-dyke-show

 

 

 

            There comes a time when it is easier to remember what happened years ago than to remember where in the heck you just set down your glasses or your car keys, or you call your grandchildren by the wrong name.

            Joey B. was at that age years before he should have been; but then, his memory failed him even the middle of a story,especially where names were concerned. When he couldn’t think of a name, he would start scratching the top of his head ala Stan Laurel. I found out just recently that Joey B and his memory was responsible for me thinking that Dick Van Dyke was kind of standoffish.

            Van Dyke was playing the lead in a touring company of THE MUSIC MAN. He got to the theater early for the first sound check and went downstairs to the stagehands’ room to introduce himself the hands. I was busy on stage so I wasn’t in the room at the time.

             Dick introduced himself and wanted to learn the names of the hands. As was his custom, Joey B. broke in and started his own conversation with Van Dyke.

            ‘Hey, I remember you. You had that show on TV. The one with that funny guy and that funny woman — always cracking jokes. And you had a wife that was pretty funny too. Can’t think of the name of that show though.’ He began to scratch the top of his head.

            Van Dyke tried to help him out. ‘It was called THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.’

            ‘NO! NO! Joey B. said in his best gruff voice. ‘That ain’t it.’ Now really stumped, he took off his glasses with his right hand and rubbed his eye. ‘I’ll remember it. I’ll remember.’

            At which point, Van Dyke threw up his arms, turned around and went back upstairs. Naturally, the hands that were present burst out laughing. Dick spent a lot of time in his dressing room during the run and seemed to avoid the stagehands. I can’t blame him after hearing the story of his meeting with Joey B. and his memory, and all these years I thought he was stuck up.  

 

Recently, the Bulletin Board had a lot of stories about people trying to think of the first thing they remembered. Here’s my story.       

How far back?

The Old Hand of Oakdale: “I guess my earliest memory was that of a corpse and a casket. In my mind, I still have a vivid picture of trying to reach up to grab the edge of the casket so I could pull myself into it. What led up to it and what occurred after was told to me by my mother years later.

“I was about 2, the only grandchild at the time — old enough to walk and talk, young enough so I couldn’t understand the concept of death. My favorite uncle, Gilbert, and the youngest in my mother’s family, was just 16 when he died of Sleeping Sickness.

“It was back in the day when wakes were often held in the home of the deceased. Gilbert was laid out in an open casket in his parents’ living room for three days and nights: three days of people paying their respects, bringing food and beverages, sitting around playing cards and talking to old friends and relatives, which on my mother’s side pretty much consisted of everyone in Mendota — both the village and the township and some of Eagan Town. The wake ended each night when the parish priest led the rosary. The visitors left, but most came back the next day.

“Mom and I stayed at her folks’ house during that time. I slept in a bed with my mother. Dad was coming in for the funeral from Lake Michigan, where he was working on the ice pack. On the first night, I managed to sneak out of the bed and go downstairs to where Uncle Gibby was ‘sleeping.’ Luckily, my mother noticed that I wasn’t in the bed and found me before I caused any trouble or somehow managed to achieve my goal.

“In spite of my mother trying to speak quietly and explain why I had to sleep with her and not Uncle Gibby, I did manage to wake everybody up with my loud screams demanding to sleep with Uncle Gibby.

“My earliest memory.”

Published in Bulletin Board  11/4/16

And that’s a wrap for today.

Oh, just found my glasses. They were on top of my head. Should have looked there first.

 

A LITTLE VAUDEVILLE

singers-midgets

 

Hippity was born in the business as was Mrs. Hippity. They spent their lives working as a stagehand and a wardrobe mistress.  Both had retired before I got into show business; but I met them on several occasions, when their son, Dick, brought me over to their house. What a great couple, and boy, could Mrs. Hippity ever make a great apple pie!

My favorite story about them was one their grandson, Dave, who is also a stagehand, tells about an incident when he was about five. Mrs. Hippity called to tell his dad, Dick, that an old time stagehand, Chet, was in town and wanted to see him again, so Dick took Dave along to Grandpa and Nana’s house.

When they got to his grandparents, they were sitting at the table with an older man and a little girl. Dave thought it would be nice to have someone to play with while the grownups talked. The girl was so small, she was sitting on two telephone books on the chair so she could reach the table. But Dave noticed that her face didn’t look like a little girl’s face. He stared at her.

Nana quickly took Dave’s hand and brought him to the kitchen for some apple pie and ice cream.

‘How about a beer,’ he asked Nana.

‘What!’

‘A beer,’ Dave repeated. ‘Like that little girl is drinking.”

‘Oh, honey,” Nana laughed, ‘She’s not a little girl. She almost as old as me. She is a little woman, a very short little woman. She’s Chet’s wife, Lucille. She use to come to town in a vaudeville act called Singer’s Midgets, a big group of little people. That’s where Chet met her when he worked with Grandpa and Nana at the Orpheum.

‘You know – she was even in the movies. In THE WIZARD OF OZ! The munchkins were actors from Singer’s Midgets. Lucille sang and danced in the movie.’ Nana ruffled Dave’s hair and kissed him on his forehead.

When Dave finished eating he went back to the living room and looked at the ‘little woman’. Now she was not only drinking a beer, she was smoking – a big cigar.

She noticed Dave starring and she held out the cigar, ‘Want a puff, little guy? and then she laughed in a scary voice.

Dave said he ran to his Nana and buried his face in her lap.

He said that afterwards whenever he watched THE WIZARD OF OZ on TV, he didn’t mind the flying monkeys or the Wicket Witch like his little brother, Bruce did; but when the Munchkins were on, he always closed his eyes and held his hands over his ears.

 

midgets-in-toyland

            Singer’s Midgets was a very popular act in vaudeville. Leo Singer, who was a normal sized ‘impresario’, put the original troupe together in Vienna Austria prior to WWI. He moved it to American at the onset of the war, where he recruited more ‘little people’. When Hitler came to power more came from Germany because of the Nazi attempt to create a master race, and that meant killing off the handicapped.

             Members of the troupe have mixed feelings about Singer. Some liked him and called him ‘Poppa’. Others said he was a thief, never paying the members of the act what he should have paid them. There is an accusation that when he ‘loaned’ out the troupe and recruited more to appear in MGM’s upcoming movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ, all their pay went through Singer and he kept half their pay.

            There is a oft told tale of the members of Singer’s Midget saying goodbye to the boss. Since Singer was responsible to getting them out to Hollywood, he went on the cheap and sent them west in a charter bus.

            Before they left New York they got the driver to take them to the mansion of Leo Singer so they could give him a last goodbye. The bus stopped in front of the house and the driver honked the horn until Singer came out on the porch.

            As members of the act waved out the open windows, Singer waved back and smiled. Then the ‘little people’ dropped their drawers and gave Singer a goodbye moon. That wiped the smile off Singer’s face.

            When the filming was done, many of the troupe stayed in Hollywood and got more film work., Others came back to Singer who tried to revive the act: but vaudeville was dying and Singer’s Midgets ceased to be in the mid 1940s.

And that’s a wrap for today. 

BREAK A LEG

break-a-leg

BREAK A LEG

 

Vaudeville always seemed ancient history to me, although it died only a few years before I was born. When I started working in show business in my mid twenties it was kind of a surprise when I realized many of the old time stagehands I was working with actually got their start in vaudeville.

I learned a lot from those old timers. Learned tricks of the trade, like how to duck out of work so the young guys would have to do it. And I loved listening to their stories.

 

One of my favorite old timer was Eddie Ryan. He was one of the nicest guys I ever worked with, and he was also one of the most inept stagehands I ever worked with.

Eddie Ryan never worked as a stagehand in vaudeville, he was a performer. Eddie came from a multi-generational family of New York cops and because of that background he got a good beat, the theater section of the city. Bad choice for Eddie. He spent more time backstage in the theaters than he did working his beat.

His precinct captain, who was also his father, gave him a choice, stay out of the theaters or hand in his badge. It was an easy choice for Eddie.

He knew of a performer who needed a partner in his act. A few weeks of rehearsal and the two went on the tour. They did a little singing, a little hoofing, and a lot of fooling around, on stage and off. The first few years were good, then vaudeville began it’s decline. The act broke up in Minneapolis. Eddie stayed in town, his partner headed west.

Some of the local hands had an after-hours club and Eddie, big man, ex-cop, got hired as a bouncer. He was well liked by the hands and he began to pick up some work as a stagehand when things were busy in town.

When the after-hours club got raided and shut down, Eddie was given a card in the Local and worked as a full time stagehand.

His old partner, Jack Albertson, landed in Hollywood and got work in the movies where he got an Oscar, and in TV, where he got an Emmy. He became a household name when he landed the role of THE MAN in the hit TV series, CHICO AND THE MAN.

Eddie never bragged about being a partner of Albertson. In fact it was just by chance that the Local hands ever found out who was the other half of Eddie’s act. Albertson was a guest on Johnny Carson’s show. He talked about his vaudeville days and mentioned that his partner was Eddie Ryan, who, the last he heard, was a stagehand in Minneapolis.

I don’t think Eddie ever begrudged his old partner’s success; because Eddie just wasn’t built that way, and he liked his life in Minneapolis. He had a wife and two sons here and many, many friends.

 

Vaudeville at the Orpheum, 1949. Photo from Los Angeles Public Library.

                   

            Another old vaudevillian was Shorty, who became a stagehand through the back door. He started out in his early teens as a bill poster. Bills were an form of advertising. A coming event like a circus or carnival, upcoming Vaudeville acts, and of course VOTE FOR … bills. Shorty had a newspaper sack of bills, a brush, and a bucket of paste. Lampposts, walls, fences, but never ever a US postal box. He got paid by the bill. He had to be fast so he could post on the best locations and also had to watch out that some rival did not paste a bill over his.

            Since his boss worked out of a room in the basement of a theater, Shorty became friends with the stagehands. They gave him occasional work as a gofer. Go for ten pounds of double headed nails at the theatrical hardware story. Go for a bucket of beer at Duffy’s. Not steady work but it helped if bill posting was slack.

            As he got older, and a little bit bigger, they saw to it he got work helping to load-in and load-out big acts. That led to work as an actual stagehand, and eventually working shows.

            ‘Two bits a show,’ Shorty told me. ‘Thought I died and went to heaven.’

            Shorty was one of the stagehands involved in the after- hours club, and he was working there the night it was raided. Shorty says the club was raided because more and more cops wanted protection money until the cost got just too high to pay.

            When he was being brought out to the paddy wagon,a big cop holding each arm, a newspaper photographer took a picture. Made the front page.

            Shorty was so proud of that picture he carried the clipping it in his billfold until if finally fell apart. The caption of the picture proclaimed: LITTLE CAESAR GETS BUSTED IN RAID.

            ‘You’d swear it was Edward G. Robinson,’ he bragged. ‘Put a cigar in my mouth and I could have passed for his twin.’

            After vaudeville died off, Shorty took out a tour of OKLAHOMA. He went out as Head Carpenter, his wife, Marie, as Wardrobe Mistress, and very young Shorty Jr. as a mascot.

            ‘You know,’ he would say as he told the story, ‘Those two guys that wrote that show were the nicest guys! They’d come out and visit. A new big city or a new actor in a role. Nicest guys! Always brought me a jug of whiskey. Snuck it so Marie wouldn’t see. Of course, they always brought her a box of candy and a toy for Shorty Jr.

            ‘Big guy, first name was Oswald?.. Last name was? Jewish. Something stein. And the little guy, about my size, his name was Roger something or the other. Nice guys! Can’t remember their names now.’

            Shorty had a hard time remembering the names of  Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers, but he never forgot the name of Edward G. Robinson.

 

And that’s a wrap for now.

A DIALOGUE FOR BRONSON

charles-bronson

 

DIALOGUE FOR BRONSON

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

KING RICHARD II

RichardHarrisCamelot

KING RICHARD II

 

Richard Harris lost his Irish temper and came very close to seeing me lose my French/German temper.

 

Richard Burton had extended his tour of CAMELOT when his health broke down. Rather than cancelling, the promoter sent Burton a get-well card and replaced him. Burton had made the Broadway role of King Arthur his; but Richard Harris starred in the movie, probably because Burton’s drinking was getting out of hand. Harris was the logical choice to succeed Burton on the Camelot tour, especially since Harris was winning the fight to control his drinking problem and taming down his wild life.

This hiring became Harris’s security blanket. He took the show on tour many times. He even bought the touring set and costumes, works of beauty by the great designer, Desmond Healy. If things slowed down for Harris, there was always CAMELOT. Yul Brynner had been doing this for years with his KING AND I, as had Joel Grey with CABARET. Producer, promoter, director, hire the cast and the crew, and rent out the set and costumes. An actor’s dream. The last word on the production and the first count on the profits.

Minneapolis was one of the first stops after Harris replaced Burton. On the Orpheum playbills, it is Burton’s picture, not Harris. Ticket purchasers had a chance to get their money back before the tour hit town, but no one took up the offer.

Over the years, Harris brought the show back several times to the Orpheum, and I was lucky to have worked every one. At no time did Harris ever ‘phone in’ his performance. At every show Harris gave his all.

He was fun to work with. He liked kidding around with the crew. He kept many of the same road crew from tour to tour. He took pride in his working man’s roots.

During this times he was off the booze, something that had caused him trouble in the past. He also managed during this time to keep his famed temper in control. Except for once. And that time he came close to witnessing my temper.

It was during Arthur’s soliloquy to his sword, Excalibur, at the end of Act I, in which he hopes the attraction between his wife and his best friend goes away. Several of us hands were waiting by the fly rail waiting to go on stage and change over for Act II. I was in direct line of the second wing so I could watch Harris perform the soliloquy.

A spear carrier, stage lingo for an extra, a body in the crowd, a voice in the chorus, no lines of his own, no song of his own, entered the wing and went as far on stage as he could without being seen by the audience.

Harris started and then looked to the dark wing. What he usually spoke almost as a prayer, now was spoken with anger. He kept looking into the wing. The extra was actually speaking aloud the words as Harris spoke them. The audience could not hear him, and we standing off stage couldn’t hear him; but Harris could.

As the lights dimmed and the curtain closed, Harris turned, roared, and threw the sword at the actor, who saw it coming and ran out of the wing off the stage. The sword landed a couple of feet from hitting me.

The stage manager, a real pro, stopped Harris before he could get in his dressing room. Regardless of the fact she was talking to the star who was also her employer, she confronted him.

‘A sword, Richard! You threw a sword, Richard! You could have injured someone, Richard!’

‘Damn right,’ Harris argued, ‘I threw the bloody thing and I’m sorry I missed the bloody fool! He was mimicking my speech. I am sorry I couldn’t catch the bloody bastard and shove the bloody sword up his bloody arse.’ He stomped into his dressing room and the stage manager followed him, continuing to bawl him out.

At the Five Minute page, Richard came out of his dressing room and the extra was standing there. The young extra try to offer an apology. He was not only pleading for forgiveness, he was pleading to save his job, his career in theater. At first Harris started to walk away from him, but he looked at the stage manager and stood still and  listened.

He said that he always marveled at the way Harris handled the soliloquy. He got so involved in listening and trying to learn how to act like Richard that he never realized he was actually speaking out loud. He begged forgiveness and promised it would never happen again.

Harris took a deep breath and looked upward. The extra looked at his feet. Finally Harris spoke. ‘Well, boyo,’ he said after taking his dramatic pause, ‘It takes a big man to apologize and admit his mistake. I’ll let it pass – this time. But if you ever…’

And as Richard walked past the fly rail where several of us were standing, he stopped and like a ‘big man’ offered his apology. ‘Gents,’ he said, ‘I am sorry for being so unprofessional and I am just glad none of you got hurt because of me losing my bloody Irish temper.’

We smiled and nodded. And if that sword had hit me, I thought to myself, Harris would have seen my French/German temper.

Luckily, even though a commandment of the stage, Thou shalt not screw around with another’s line, was broken, there was no damage done except to Excaliber. The sword required a gaff tape procedure to see it through the second act. The next morning it was sent up the hill to the Guthrie prop shop where the Guthrie prop artists performed their magic, and even found an acceptable understudy sword – just in case.

Fade Out, Act I

A few months ago, JCALBERTA, in his blog MY FAVORITE WESTERNS, (https://myfavoritewesterns.com/), a great blog filled with interesting facts and some fine art of Western movie posters, had a series of posts on Richard Harris westerns. I told him I worked Richard quite a few times and JC said that while he was a location set painter on UNFORGIVEN, he never got to meet any of the actors. I said I would post a few stories of working with Harris. Here’s the first.

PURPLE PAIN

PRINCE IS DEAD AT AGE 57!

What shock! I first worked him 40+ years ago. Watched him grow from a self-assured teenager to a world famous Hall of Fame musician, singer, songwriter, actor, musical innovator and creator of a new genre of music. Always his own man, always stuck to his roots. Born and raised on the north side of Minneapolis, spent his adult life in his purple fenced home and recording studio, Paisley Park, a few miles from his first home and his youthful friends.

His tours were some of the biggest on the road, and yet he gave concerts, some announced, some impromptu, for his fans at small familiar venues like First Avenue and Paisley Park. His roots. His fans.

He left behind a great legacy of music and memories for people all over the world. Here’s just a few of my memories of Prince that I first posted a couple years ago.

young princeThe first time I worked Prince was in the early 70’s. There was a benefit at the Orpheum and Prince Nelson was one of the many performers. There already had been a lot of buzz about this young talent. He was somewhere in the middle of the card. The acts that followed him, didn’t stand a chance. Everybody present, especially Prince, knew that this youngster could be Big Time.

And it didn’t take him long to prove everybody right. Unlike the other Minnesota musical phenom, Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, who paid his dues working small coffee shops in Minneapolis and New York for years before he was recognized, Prince Nelson, a.k.a. Prince, hit the ground running. He released his debut album when he was only 20. Less than a year later, his second album went platinum. And unlike so many others born in ‘fly-over country’; Prince kept his base in his homeland, rather than moving to the glamour cities of the coasts. As a result he generated a lot of opportunities and wages for the locals.

I worked Prince in concerts, benefits, rehearsals, but the longest stint came with the PURPLE RAIN tour production tech in the fall of 84. Prince was at the top. His single, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best single. His album, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best album. And his movie, PURPLE RAIN, was his first movie and would turn out to be his  best movie, not argument on that one. And he wanted the PURPLE RAIN tour to be his best.

the kid

The set would be one of the biggest ever to tour the arenas. It was the first one, that I know about, where the set was constructed downstage in the arena, while the lights and sound were being hung. Then the set was rolled by a very large crew to it’s proper position. It was two-tiered with plenty of ramps to dance on and had three scissor lifts to add to the excitement.

To further enhance his tour, his second front act was SheilaE, another of his many protégés and one of his main squeezes at the time. SheilaE was already a much sought after percussionist with stints with names like Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross. She also had the very sexist title of the best female drummer in the land. When Prince ‘discovered’ her, he got her a recording contract and wrote two songs for her to sing, THE GLAMOROUS LIFE, the title song of her first album, and THE BELLE OF ST. MARK, both of which cracked the charts.

His first front act was a girl trio, Apollonia 6, featuring Apollonia, his co-star in the PURPLE RAIN movie. It started out as a replacement for Vanity 6, when Vanity went out on her own. The trio’s act on the tour was short to begin with, and got shorter when Prince decided that Apollonia was pretty, but really couldn’t sing any better than she could act.

For me, the tour production was four weeks of long, long days. In the four weeks I might have had a full eight hours of sleep two or three times. Several times worked around the clock, once for 48 hours before I had a chance to sleep for a few hours on packing blankets. We started the production at the Met Sports Arena, then moved to the Minneapolis Auditorium, over to the St. Paul Civic Center, and finished out back at the Met. Big money, but a lot of hard work and a lot of pain. Although offered a job on the tour itself, I said no way and was elated when we shut the door on the last truck on the way to Detroit to begin the tour itself. Purple Rain. No! Purple pain – for a lot of us.

Prince himself got me good one day. I was walking in the circular hallway around the arena at the Met. All of a sudden I heard, ‘Stop! Watch out!’ Luckily, before I had a chance to turn and maybe get hurt worse, something hit me in the back of the legs. I was prevented from falling forward by a set of arms and legs. I fell backwards onto a road box.

‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Are you okay? I’m sorry!’ I looked up into the face of the apologizing Prince. I told him I was okay.

‘Good’, said a voice coming from beneath me. ‘But darn, you’re heavy.’ I looked around and saw the face of SheilaE. Now it was my turn to apologize. I quickly got off her.

It seems that His Purpleness wanted to have some fun and got SheilaE to sit on the front of the road box. Then, head down, he pushed the box as fast as his short legs could pump. They rounded a curve – and there I was. Not too much damage to me, except a purple, naturally, bruise on the back of my legs. They turned the box around and laughingly continued their fun in the opposite direction. While I limped back down the hall.

 

Prince laid down the law as regards the tour, he would not tolerate any drug use whatsoever. Musicians, roadies, security force, nobody. And this policy caused a future governor of Minnesota some pain.

What with his new found super star status, Prince needed super star protection on tour. He employed the foremost rock show security company at the time, owned and operated by Big Chick. Chick hired a security force, some of whom graduated from Chick’s school. Once requisite was the person hired had to be BIG. The second, the person had to be completely drug free with nothing to link him to past drug history use, either proven or rumored, except of course, for body-building steroid use.

This particular day the stage environs were dark except for the setting of  the show lights. I was out in hallway working on a special road box. Norton, a security guard already hired, was sitting at a desk a few feet away. Norton was one of many reigning Heavyweight Arm Wrestling Champion of the World. He was concentrating on sparring with imaginary foes. Some he took down quite rapidly, others forced his arm almost to the desk, and he would let out a loud grunt and slowly got his arm raised and slammed his opponent’s down for the win. When he beat one of the tough imaginary foes, he would let out a loud ‘YES’ and wipe the sweat off his brow. I tried not to laugh or even smile at Norton’s ‘training exercising’, so I kept my head down, just working hard on my project.

Jesse, ‘The Body, Ventura, a former big name pro wrestler, came down the hall and slammed himself in the chair next to Norton’s desk. He and Norton had been high school football teammates during the years when Ventura went by his given name, James Janos. ‘You were right,’ Jessie said, ‘Chick won’t hire me’, he said to Norton, who briefly looked at his old friend, and then continued with his sparring matches.

Said he heard I was a party man on the circuit. Told him I’ve been sober for a while. Got a family. The roids are causing blood clots. No more roids or any other kind of drugs for me. Need a job. Don’t think I can wrestle anymore. Need a job. Got a family. Said he wasn’t going to lose Prince’s contract by hiring someone linked to rumors about drugs. Don’t know what I’m going to do…..’

I didn’t want to hear this monologue anymore and I put my tools in the road box and rolled it down the hall. I don’t know if Norton felt the same way about Jesse’s tirade because he wasn’t saying anything, just continued with his arm wrestling training in silence.

Jesse gave up trying to be the next ‘Big Chick’. Went back to the wrestling world, a few bouts but mostly as a heel, the term for a  wrestling commentator who argued in defense of the ‘dirty’ rasslers. He perfected his outspoken style of commentary. Jesse, ‘The Body’ became Jesse, ‘The Mouth’.

He had a short, forgettable career as an actor. Went on sports radio where he concentrated more on politics and conspiracy theories than sports. Entered the race for the governorship of Minnesota. With the vote between the Democrat and Republican candidates split, Ventura, running as an Independent, nosed the other two out by a small margin. To Jesse, the small margin of victory was a mandate of the people, and was stepping stone to bigger things.

A one-termer, a couple of the highlights of his time in office was singing WEREWOLVES OF LONDON  with Warren Zevon at the inaugural party, and later in the term, was a referee in a national televised pro wrestling match. While most governors complain about not having enough time to carry out the duties of the office, Jesse even found time to finish ‘writing’ a political brag-book titled I AIN’T GOT TIME TO BLEED,’ as well as completing two other political books. He gave up running for office when Colin Powell didn’t go along with Jesse’s idea of a presidential ticket of Powell for president with Ventura as VP. He’s been keeping busy as a ‘celebrity’ spokesman on politics and other conspiracies; and of course, in threatening and in some cases actually filing law suits.

A jack of a lot of trades, master of none. But the one thing his bio does not have is security guard for Prince.

 

Like I pointed out, the rehearsal for the tour took a lot out of people. Made them do things they wouldn’t do if they weren’t tired. Even Prince suffered because of rehearsal fatigue. Like the last week, a few days left to wrap up the rehearsal and take the show on the road…. But rather than me writing about it, the talented Joel Orf drew a cartoon of the incident that my alter ego, The Old Hand, related to him. (Click on it to enlarge.)

Prince tour

 

 

PURPLE RAIN was recorded 30 years ago. Prince just announced he was reissuing the CD with improved technology. SheilaE’s autobiography is due to come out soon. (Probably not with the story of me ending up on top of her.) And she is about to release her first CD in 13 years. And Jesse Ventura won a lawsuit – against a dead man, and he will collect  1.3 million dollars from the  widow and the  two small children .

 

For more of my posts with rock and roll cartoons by Joel Orf go to:

ELTON IN THE USA

A WREATH FOR THE POSSUM 

SCREAMED JAMES BROWN

And another post with Prince and SheilaE:

STRANGERS ON A STAGE

 

R.I.P. PRINCE NELSON. Thanks for the music and the memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

               

LANCED!

Old G stage

In my years at the Guthrie, one question was always asked me, ‘Doesn’t it get boring watching the same play over and over’?

It probably would if it was the same play over and over; but, while the script and blocking may be the same, it is not the same play each performance. Every performance brings something different, something that only is noticed by watching it over and over. There is always the interaction between the audience and the actors, sometimes a laugh line brings snickers, sometimes roars. An audience member with a loud unforgettable laugh can influence the audience, the actors.

Some times a scene ends in just a blackout. Sometimes it endS with the audience in tears. Often the play ends with a polite applause, sometimes with a standing ovation. And there was the three times at the end of OEDIPUS, directed by Michael Langham from a translation by Anthony Burgess, author of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, the play ended, the audience sat frozen. The stage lights brightened and the curtain call began, the audience sat frozen. Even when Oedipus, who blinded himself, walks back on the promontory, stares at the audience, bows his head and walks back off stage, the audience sat frozen. And not until the last actor had left the stage, and I had dimmed the stage lights and turned the house lights full did the audience finally break out of their trance, rise in unison and applaud like mad. Strong performance of a strong classic, and a chilling experience.

And performances are often influenced by outside events. The only time I remember the Guthrie not started a play on time was the night the audience sat in silence while the voice of Richard M. Nixon was broadcasted live over the house speakers. When he started he was President Nixon. When he finished, he was ex-President Nixon. And at the end you could hear a collective sigh from the audience. The national soap opera was over at last. I did my cues on autopilot that performance, and I am sure the cast and audience felt the same numbness.

And the unexpected. A flubbed line. A technical miscue. An elderly patron actually walking on stage during a performance and asking the actors to help him find his seat. Sometimes only the cast and crew realized what happened, the audience accepts it as part of the play. Just about anything can happen in a Shakespeare play and the audience accepts it.

For instance there was a very late entrance in WINTER’S TALE leaving an actor to adlib with such dialogue as: ‘The Duke is lateth.’ ‘I am certain the Duke will cometh.” Me thinks I hear the Duke – but he still ist far away.’ ‘Hey, I seeth the Duke.’ The Duke came on and the sweating actor ran off stage. It cracked up the three of us in the booth, but the audience just accepted it.

In a performance of KING LEAR the audience actually accepted the impossible. Edgar and Edmund have a duel that results in Edmund being mortally wounded; but he doesn’t die until he delivers a very important speech to let the audience know of events that happened off stage important to the story.

This time though prior to the fatal thrust Edgar lost the handle on his sword and it went flying into the audience. Edgar, thinking on his feet, grabbed Edmund by the neck; and since he couldn’t stab Edmund to cause his death, he throttled him. Edmund fell to the stage, death by strangulation.

But Edmund, thinking on his back, knowing he still had to deliver his important speech, rose up into a sitting position. He delivered his speech and fell back into his corpse position. Death by strangulation. The audience accepted it without a so much as a snicker; but the three of us in the booth were laughing so hard, we had a hard time doing our cues to get into the next scene.

The other day in a Facebook thread, Lance Davis mentioned that the actors often said it looked like the crew in the booth was having more fun than the cast on the stage, and often it was true. The sound tech, the stage manager, and yours truly, the lighting tech, worked behind glass in a very dimly lit booth beyond the back row of the balcony. The cast could see us but it was hard for the audience to see us. And the glass prevented the sound our cues being called, our talking back and forth, and our laughter.

Back in the day, Lance was a favorite of the Guthrie audiences and the Guthrie family. Eventually he left to spread his wings, tried New York, tried film and TV, and finally decided to go back to his love of acting on stage in classic theater. But times had changed, there was no more getting hired by the season, just being hired by the run of a play. Even the Guthrie dropped it’s repertoire concept of presenting plays and went along with doing a play for a run and then another play for a run. Such a shame.

So Lance and his wife, Mary, founded their own theater, The Parson’s Nose, in Pasadena. It’s motto: ‘Introducing Classic Theater’. Season after season, it receives rave reviews.

Lance was also responsible for one of the greatest adlibs I ever heard.

Lance LANCE BACK IN THE DAY

            It was during a performance of Peter Nichols play, THE NATIONAL HEALTH, directed by Michael Langham and with the playwright, Peter Nichols, coming from England to assist Michael. The play is credited with waking up the English government to the fact that if they wanted their new national health system to succeed, they couldn’t do it unless they were willing to spend the necessary money, and not do it on the cheap. They did and today their national health care system is one of the best.

It is a dark comedy about the crowded and inferior conditions in a national hospital. There is also a play within the play, a soap opera set in a hospital. It used a lot of old music hall schtick to get laughs.

Lance wore many hats, an evil orderly in the realistic scenes, a doctor/emcee in the soap opera scenes. As the emcee he carried on a battle with Keane, the cantankerous spot operator who kept the light moving off Lance when Lance tried to talk. An old routine that never failed to get laughs.

The play used music to introduce the scenes. Loud martial music would introduce the realistic scenes. Soft soapy music introduced the soap opera scenes.

Now during this time, Scott the sound tech was having women problems, which for Scott was nothing unusual. But this time it was serious. The current love of Scott’s life, Judith, had left him a note saying she was leaving him to join the hippie commune, the Hog Farm, out in California. It broke Scott up and caused him to screw up badly. Over several performances of NATIONAL HEALTH he played the wrong scene lead in music at times. Sometimes the soapy music would introduce a realistic scene. Sometimes vice versa.

This time, as Lance was going downstage to emcee a soap opera scene, the military music blasted out and Lance stopped and looked up to the booth. Scott realized what he had done and tried to rectify it by playing the soft music on top of the wrong music. A real mess.

When the noise was over, Lance pointed up to the booth and yelled, ‘Alice! You wouldn’t make a sound man for Theater of the Deaf.’

The audience laughed. They thought it was another bit like the wandering spot light. But the cast and the crew knew better.

Two of us in the booth howled. The third person, Scott, didn’t think it was funny at all.

The next morning he thought it even less funny when he got a phone call from Guthrie management. They informed him that in light of his many mistakes recently, they had decided that the next time Scott ever attended a play at the Guthrie, he would need a ticket to get in.

He was devastated. He went to Kaplan’s, bought himself a pair of work gloves and a straw hat. Then he contacted Judith to tell her he was on his way to join her at the Hog Farm. Judith asked him just what part of her leaving him didn’t he understand.

In answer to the question about being bored, no, I never got bored working live entertainment of any genre. Now working on a movie, that was real boredom – well, some of the time. But of all the various jobs I had in my life, being a stage hand those 45 years was the best I could ever have hoped for.

And that’s a wrap.

the ghost light

Well just a couple things:

If you want to know more about THE PARSON’S NOSE, the web page is www.parsonsnose.com. You can follow it on Facebook also. Lance makes certain that he not only informs, he entertains in both.  And if you get a chance to see a play there, be sure and do it. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed in Lance & Company, and the sound cues will be perfect.

Also if you want to know more about the elderly man asking the actors to help him find his seat, the story is in my blog post:ARSENIC AND OLD PEOPLE 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRANK’S 100TH

i-faced-it-all-and-i-stood-tall-and-did-it-my-way-quote-1

Watching the tribute to Sinatra on his 100th birthday brought lumps to my throat. I have so many of his albums, worked him many times. Heck, I even bought tickets to see him in Vegas. One of my FAVORITES.

But watching the tribute tonight reminded me of the last time I worked him in person. It was at the Met Arena as a part of the Super Bowl festivities in town. As I did before, I sat in a front chair for his sound check. As he had done before, he walked by and pointed at my hat. “Nice hat,” he said, as he did a time or two before.

I didn’t pay much attention to the fact he was using the teleprompter during the check; but I certainly did during the show, and so did the audience. Songs that he had sung for years were stumping him. He couldn’t remember the lyrics. He had to read darn near every song on the prompter. Sometimes he had to pause. He still had the Sinatra style, the crisp singing of the lyrics; but it was not only his voice that betrayed his age, his memory also.

Everybody there enjoyed his show, after all it was Sinatra; but we all knew it would be only a matter of time our enjoyment would be confined to his albums, his CD’s, or times like tonight watching old TV clips.

100 years

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.