TRUMBO & DENNEHY

In a previous post, BRIAN DENNEHY, I mentioned working with Dennehy when he brought his touring show, TRUMBO, to the Pantages in Minneapolis. The production was based on an off-Broadway play conceived by Christopher Trumbo, son of Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter and one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten.

The play had two characters, Dalton Trumbo and a narrator. The script is actual letters written by Trumbo and read by the lead actor. The narrator sets it up and offers insights on a few occasions. The lead is on stage throughout. The narrator very seldom. The set is an eight sided wooden table and a chair. The props are copies of actual letters written by Trumbo.

Originally Trumbo was played by Nathan Lane. When Lane left Trumbo was played by a rotating cast including, F. Murray Abraham,(Oscar winner in Amadeus and a favorite of mine from his season at the Guthrie), Brian Dennehy, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Durning, Christopher Lloyd and others.

There is a documentary, Trumbo, that is similar to the play. There is also a conventional movie, Trumbo, with an all star cast staring Bryan Cranston 4 time Emmy Winner for Breaking Bad, and Tony winner for LBJ. Cranston received an Oscar nomation for Trumbo.

Dalton Trumbo was a high paid Hollywood screenwriter and a respected novel writer. His quick wit and his warmth showed in his work…And his letters.

Like many in the Depression Years, he was a member of the US Communist Party. An anti-war pacifist he sided, in theory only, with the Communists against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War and in the party’s ideas concerning getting out of the Depression which basically were F.D.R.’s actions that helped to end the Depression.

Eventually he dropped out of the party because of their lack of really doing anything. He stated that the U.S. Communist Party was less of a danger than the Elks, and they had less guns also.

Leading up to WWII, he thought the Russian-Germany Peace Concord would stave off Germany’s aggression. He was an isolationist because he was pro peace, unlike other isolationists like Charles Lindberg who admired the German industrial advances and German efficiency under Hitler.

And then he ran into HUAC….

Dalton Trumbo was not brought before HUAC because of his past Communist affiliations. He was brought after he did a patriotic act.

In 1939,he wrote a novel, Johnny Got His Gun, an anti-war story of a soldier who lost his four limbs in war. It was well received and won several awards. However, I in 1941,when Hitler broke the pact with Russia and invaded it, Trumbo and his publisher felt it was not a time for an anti-war novel and stopped publishing any more.

This caused hate mail to be sent to Trumbo. The writers denounced Jews and demanded that a peace pact be negotiated between the U.S. and Nazi Germany. Trumbo contacted the FBI. Two agents came to his house, but Trumbo soon regretted his actions; because as he wrote, ‘their interest lay not in the letters but in me.’

Then in 1946, he wrote a magazine article from the standpoint of a Russian citizen. He pointed out that the ordinary Russians should be worried about the West’s animosity towards the USSR, and the ‘mass of Western military power surrounding Russia. Something should be done to lessen the hostilities between the East and the West.

This set off a column by William Wilkerson, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter. The title was ‘A Vote for Joe Stalin’ and it named Trumbo and several others as Red sympathizers. He continued to dig up more names and his list became known as Billy’s Blacklist. In 1947, HUAC used the list to summon Trumbo and nine others to appear before it.

The Hollywood Ten, as they were called by the media, refused to recant and name names like the others had done. They also refused to take the 5th Amendment, refusing to testify on the grounds it may incriminate them. This defense became a household phrased in 1950 because of the televised Senate Hearings on organized crime. Instead they depended on the right of free speech guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.

Their reasoning was they had done nothing criminal, which they hadn’t, and therefore to recant would suggest that they had committed a crime by belonging to a ‘Red organization’. As far as naming names like so many others had done, the Ten refused on the grounds that they knew of no one that had committed a crime that tied in with the belonging to a ‘Red Organization’ and questioned if HUAC had any right to suppena them.

Writer-producer, James McGuinness, a right-winger who was regarded as a friendly witness pointed out to the committee that among his many fine screenplays, Dalton Trumbo had written two magnificent patriotic scripts, A Guy Names Joe, and 30 Seconds Over Tokyo. HUAC wasn’t interested. And they weren’t interested in what Trumbo was doing during WWII.

When the US went to war, Trumbo was one of the top screenwriters in Hollywood. He had nothing to fear about being drafted. A married man with children and of an age that was above the draft regulations. Actually, he was two years older than John Wayne. He could have stayed put and continued to write movie scripts. He could have enlisted and probably would have been assigned to writing propaganda or training films. But instead he used his talent and his name to become a war correspondent in the Pacific Theater. Quite a cut in pay and much different working conditions.

When the Allies invaded Okinawa, the longest and bloodiest battle of WWII, Dalton Trumbo, armed with a pencil and writing pad, stormed ashore with the troops. He was under fire constantly for the next 82 days. He sent back dispatches. He wrote letters to the parents of his fallen comrades.

Among the 12,000+ Americans killed in Okinawa, was fellow war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, the most of famous of the WWII correspondents.

But HUAC wasn’t interested in what he had done during the war anymore than they cared about what Sterling Hayden had done.

When Trumbo was sentenced to a year in prison for Contempt of Congress. He appealed but before it reached the Supreme Court, two liberal members of the Court died and two conservatives were appointed. The conservative majority of the new Court voted not to hear the appeal and thus the ruling of guilty by the lower court stood.

After his release, he moved his family to Mexico City where for a year he and other members of the Ten drank and wrestled and used up their savings.

The Trumbo family went back to California where Dalton did what he was best at, namely writing screen plays. He wrote at least thirty using the names of friends as a front. He was adept writing screen plays for all genres, drama, action, crime, noir, western. He wrote for major studies and studios that never got past B movies.

Despite the cloud of the Black List over Hollywood, 1953 was a good year for movies. The highest grossing movie was the Biblical epic, The Robe, the first venture in CinemaScope. Second highest was From Here To Eternity, which got the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director among it’s eight Oscar wins in 1954.

The sleeper of the year was Roman Holiday, a romantic comedy that saw Audrey Hepburn, a bit actress up until then, win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Lead Role and her great career took off. She also won the Tony that year.

Among the Academy nominations for the picture, Ian McClennan Hunter received two… One for Best Screenplay which he lost to Daniel Taradash for Eternity… The second was for Best Story and that was a winner.

The picture almost never got made because of the rumors that some of the Black Listers might be involved. The name most mentioned was Dalton Trumbo. Frank Capra pulled out of directing it for this reason.

Offered to William Wyler, he accepted with one stipulation, the film had to be shot completely in Rome. He wanted to stay away from HUAC, Joseph McCarthy, and the the witch hunting mentality that prevailed in the US. Thus, Roman Holiday, was the first ‘Hollywood’ film shot in toto outside the US.

The rumor was true. Hunter was a front for his good friend, Dalton Trumbo, a fact Hunter publicly declared when the the List was pretty much a thing of the past. In 1993, long after Trumbo had died, the Academy officially awarded the Oscar to Dalton Trumbo.

Then something happened at the 1957 Academy Awards that pointed to Trumbo once again. The Oscar went to Robert Rich for Best Story. The movie was a little known family picture, The Brave One. And for the only time in Oscar history, no one, either the recipient or a proxy, were present to accept the award. It turned out that Robert Rich was not in the movie business but rather a nephew of one of the producers. Trumbo had pulled off another Oscar while he was on the Black List. This time the Academy managed to give him the Oscar while he was still living. And this was the last year for the Category Best Story.

In 1960 Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger stood up and shouted, ‘Enough’. They both announced that Dalton Trumbo would write screenplays for each of them, Douglas’s Spartacus, Preminger’s Exodus, using his own name. The Hollywood Black List was over.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Brian Dennehey commented how many times he read the Trumbo letters he was still in awe over their wit and their warmth and Trumbo’s skill. And what the man went through to stand up for what he believed in.

And working with Dennehey I realized that he, like Trumbo, also went through a lot for his art and what he believed in. Dennehey was in pain. His back. His knees. While the blocking called for him to remain seated at the desk while he read the letters, he often stood to read one or two. He couldn’t stay seated for fear when he had to stand at the play’s end, he would have a hard time. ‘I might need you to pull me out of the chair, Don,’ he warned me.

He also had terrible night vision after spending so long under the stage lights. His bow consisted of him standing up at the blackout that followed the bow and exit of the narrator and nodding his head to the audience when the bow lights snapped back on. He could not see anything in the darkness that followed. For him to attempt to leave the stage in the black out was out of the question. He needed help.

I stood in the second wing during the bows. When the lights came up for his bow, I closed my eyes and waited until I heard Brian say, ‘Don’. My night vision was better because my eyes hadn’t experience the brightness for a while. Then I would turn on my penlight hoping it would help Brian get orientated, and walk out onto the dark stage, place his hand on my shoulder and we would exit.

I am amazed that Brian Dennehy could perform on stages in such pain. It was one thing to do Trumbo; but he was doing major theater works of O’Neill and Shakespeare also.

Brian Dennehy was not only an excellent actor and good human being, he was also a man, like Dalton Trumbo, who believed deeply in his ideals and his art, and stood up for his beliefs in them.

R.I.P.

DALTON TRUMBO

BRIAN DENNEHY

And that’s a wrap.

There was more I wanted to say but in light of the Virus and now the looting and destruction going on the last four nights just a few miles from my house, looting and rioting caused not by protesters but by out of state white anarchists, I am not feeling up to writing at this time. Stay Safe. Stay angry and vow to stop these killings of blacks by white cops. Peaceful protesting, not arson and looting.

HUAC/HOLLYWOOD

On June 8, 1950, the US Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority voted

to reject considering the1st Amendment Appeal of the Hollywood Ten.

On June 9,1950, Dalton Trumbo began to serve a year’s jail sentence for

Contempt of Congress.

At once, the cries of injustice sounded through out the land.

But one voice agreed with the verdict…Dalton Trumbo

As far as I was concerned, it was a completely just verdict. I had contempt for that Congress

and have had contempt for several since.’

This is an example of the writing of Dalton Trumbo, one of Hollywood’ greatest screenwriter. His wit and wisdom prevails in the stage presentation of TRUMBO that Brian Dennehy brought to the Pantages that I was fortunate enough to work it. Originally this post was to be the 2nd in my experience working with Dennehy, but I got caught up in my researching the backstory of Trumbo and the Black Listing era. Brian warned me. He mentioned how when he first did research for his acting in TRUMBO, he got carried away and just kept reading more and more. I could not stop either.

Here is some skimming over the top of an American era straight out of Orwell’s 1984…with HUAC taking the part of the Thought Police. The novel was published June 8, 1949, the same day Dalton Trumbo started his jail sentence for thinking.

And today history is repeating itself.

The Constitution no longer applies to the politicians who are above all laws.

. . . . . . . . .. . . .

In 1938, the Congress formed the House Un-American Activities Committee, HUAC, to look into Fascist and Communist activity in America. Basically it was Republicans, the majority party, looking into Left Wing activity and overlooking Right Wing activity.

For instance when asked why it never looked into the Klu Klux Klan, the answer was because the KKK was an old American institution.

In the early days there was a brief excursion into possible Communist activities in the movie industry based on a list of questionable facts; but little came of it except unproven innuendos.

Shortly after F.D.R. began to institute his ‘socialist reforms’ the emphasis was on trying to stop the reforms. It tried it to stop the Federal Government from financing work projects for the unemployed and projects that involved the Arts. The grounds for these actions were masqueraded as a search for Communist infiltration.

Again their attempts were futile, but in many cases very funny. For instance one of the members in his ‘interrogation’ into the Federal Theater Project asked an official if he thought Christopher Marlowe, (2/26/1564 – 3/30/1593), was a member of the Communist Party. Another member said he heard that a Mr. Euripides was preaching class warfare.

The shift towards Hollywood began in 1941 when, at the insistence of Walt Disney, the US Senate looked into Reds in the Motion Picture Industry. Disney, who had a reputation of being an obnoxious hands-on-employer, blamed a strike by his animators on Communist influence. He felt there was no way his ‘boys’ would ever have any grievances against him if it wasn’t for of outside influence. The Senate committee’s investigation was ridiculed in the trade papers and realizing they were being used by Disney to go after the union and certain people who had stood up to him in the past, went no further and dropped the investigation.

In 1945, the neoFacist party, America First, began a campaign to remove the ‘alien minded Russian Jews in Hollywood’. Gerald Rankin, ranking member of HUAC declared, ‘One of the most dangerous plots ever instigated for the overthrow of this government has its headquarters in Hollywood…the greatest hotbed of subversive activities in the United States.’

The election of 1946 put the GOP in the majority of both the House and Senate. Walt Disney, spearheaded yet another attack at the unions in what he called the Communist influence in the motion picture industry.

In 1947, heads of many of the major studios, joined Disney in asking Congress to investigate Communist activities in the industry. This action was actually at the suggestion of a Hollywood union.

Two of the Hollywood union locals had been having jurisdictional disputes. One went on a strike that lasted over six months, during which time the head of the other persuaded the studio the strike was result of Communist infiltration.

The call of the studio heads to investigate had a dual purpose. It could ease the antiSemitism against them and it could break the backs of the unions, technical and artistic.

AntiSemitism is a hatred that can never be eased by Law. And as far as breaking the backs of the unions, the antiUnion publicity did help pass the Taft-Hartley Law, which greatly crippled the union movement. But in the end the Black List initiated by the Studios robbed them and the public of many true artists.

HUAC was more than pleased to conduct an investigation. The Motion Picture Industry would provide a much needed public awareness leading up to elections than looking into Public Theater had done. And interviewing movie stars

It opened the hearings with a ‘friendly witness’, Ronald Reagan, president of the Screen Actors Guild and eventually President of the United States, said he suspected Communist tactics in the way some of the members tried to steer things, but he said the union had things well in hand to counter such actions.

The next day was the turn of another ‘friendly witness’ Walt Disney who regergitated his views for the last several years; Hollywood was under the influence of the Communist threat; and he named names, those men who had the gall to stand up to him in the past.

Then the attention turned to the Hollywood liberal block. Many household names refused to say if they ever belonged to any Red organization or if they knew anybody that did. For a while they had strength in numbers.

Actor Sterling Hayden had told the liberal bloc headed by Humphrey Bogart that he had never been a member of the Communist Party. As soon as he was appointed a member of the bloc’s leadership, it was revealed that he had been a member of the party.

The names of people who had been members of the Communist Party was already known to HUAC. For years the LA Police Department had infiltrated the Party, and two of the Party’s Board were undercover LA policemen.

The forcing of people to name names was nothing more than a show and a sly means of harassment by HUAC. As far as uncovering illegal actives, if the undercover police and FBI agents that ‘belonged’ to the Party, why would HUAC think they could find some.

The organized resistance took a hard blow when the truth about Hayden and others was revealed. Bogart and the bloc felt they had been betrayed by Hayden and others and the bloc dissolved. Every man for himself.

Some, like Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Paul Robeson, and others went to Europe to avoid further harassment and to continue to work.

The Hollywood Ten, who used the 1st Amendment in their defense, instead of recanting or naming names, went to jail for Contempt of Congress.

Families were uprooted. Marriages destroyed. Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan’s wife at the time of the hearings, said Reagan’s actions both in his testimony and after, destroyed their marriage.

Guilt caused many to resort to the bottle or drugs. No better example was that of Sterling Hayden, actor, author, sailor, and War Hero.

Hayden had been discovered by Hollywood when he was a captain of a yacht. He had just finished his second motion picture when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Not waiting to be drafted, he enlisted in the Army. He was sent to Scotland for advanced training; where he broke his ankle causing him to be discharged.

He recovered and enlisted in the Marines under the alias, John Hamilton. The Marines sent him to Officer Training School. When he got his commission he was assigned to the fledgling OSS, forerunner of the CIA.

His expertise in captaining a ship earned him the dangerous task of getting through the German blockade in the Adriatic with cargos of arms and ammo to the Yugoslav Resistance. Wanting more direct action he volunteered and parachuted behind enemy lines into Croatia and fought with the resistance. A true War Hero!

His admiration for the Yugoslav partisans he fought with in the war moved him to join the American Communist Party for a brief period in 1946. Called to testify before HUAC in 1951, he admitted belonging to the Party but refused to name any names or answer questions about other members of the party. The FBI threatened him. He was in the midst of a divorce and the FBI told him if he was a hostile witness and if he continued to be a hostile witness and refuse to name names he would lose all custody of his children.

He said he was sorry for ever joining the Communist Party saying it was the stupidest thing had ever done. He gave them names of fellow Hollywood Communists; but those names had already been given by the undercover cops and others, who had already testified. The FBI threats produced nothing new or nothing illegal. The recanting and the naming of names plus his war record saved him from being on the Black List.

But his betrayal haunted him the rest of his life.

When he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, he neglected any form of treatment. He retreated into the bottle to ease the pain of the cancer but more so the pain of his guilt.

His children said he seemed to welcome his fate.

Hayden died at the age of 70. Suicide, not from commission but from omission.

I was a rat, a stoolie, and the names I named of those close friends were blacklisted and deprived of their livelihood,’ so wrote Hayden in his autobiography, WANDERER.

As for those who testified and named name some used their testimony to gain personal gain. Rumor columnists, Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell, used it as items in their columns and to declare they were real Americans. Others, like the petty ultra right wing Adolph Menjou, named people he did not like to help resurrect his movie career.

As for those Black Listed some managed to find work through underground sources. Some managed to come back as the Black List began to crumble. Some said the hell with it and found work in other fields.

The Red Scare carried over into TV and radio in 1951. A pamphlet, Red Channels, was published that contained 151 names of entertainers and writers that may have had some ties to Red organizations and expanded to include speaking out against Fascist Spain, the H bomb, anti-Semitism, Jim Crow, civil rights, world peace. In short, the men behind this list said it was a list of well-intended liberals, who allowed their names to be used to support ‘anti-American causes’.

Included were such names as Edward G. Robinson, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Leonard Bernstein, and Pete Seeger.

Seeger, folk singer, songwriter, and Activist was brought before HUAC in 1955. Like the Hollywood Ten, his principles would not allow him to lose his rights under the 1st Amendment. And like the Hollywood Ten, the defense failed and he was cited for Contempt of Congress. He got one year on each of his ten different refusals, to be served consecutively. He appealed on 1st Amendment grounds; but the Appeals Court ruled the trial was conducted in such a way that it had to be overturned. He was never retried.

CBS Radio and TV, fearing the loss of advertising revenue, made performers sign a ‘Loyalty Oath’ stating that they were not a member of any ‘Red tainted’ organization. If anyone refused to sign, their name went on the Black List.

All this went on and yet membership in the Communist Party has never been against the law, anymore than membership in the KKK or the American Nazi Party is against the law. Membership is legal. It is acts that are committed under the blanket of an organization such as lynching, bombing, driving a car into a group of protesters, and the like are illegal. There is also the strong legal argument that states HUAC had no right to this investigation in the first place.

The Committee gained it’s biggest triumph in 1948 when, led by the freshman congressman from California, Richard Nixon, later Vice President/ President/non-President, it convicted Alger Hiss, a prime architect of the United Nations, on perjury charges, saying he lied ten years before when he said he had testified he was never a member of the Communist Party. To this day the original charges of being a Communist and guilty espionage rests only on the say so of a very questionable source.

In 1948, J. Parnell, HUAC chairman during much of these Hollywood hearings, was convicted of conspiracy to defraud in a trial unrelated to HUAC. Parnell was in prison before any of the Hollywood Ten.

HUAC was the precursor of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt. HUAC strengthened the strangle hold that J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, had on America, on American politics, and to augment his personal hunt into people he disliked, like the Kennedys and Martin Luther King.

HUAC, although a Congressional organization, opened the door for a president to fire and or disgrace people who disagreed with him… For a Justice Department to make rules unto itself even to go so far as taking children from their parents and locking the children in cages or giving them to perfect strangers for whatever these strangers wanted the children for…And for the attitude so  prevalent in America today  that certain individuals are above the law.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dalton Trumbo:

When you look back at that dark time, as I think occasionally you should, it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints because there was none, there were only victims.’

There has numerous articles written on this subject along with a good many film documentaries. There are four major motion pictures that deal with those times.

Guilty By Suspicion – DiNiro

The Way We Were – Redford & Streisand

The Front – Woody Allen

Trumbo – Bryan Cranston

That is a wrap for this post, I hope to get back to Dennehy and Trumbo in the next.

Stay Safe

BRIAN DENNEHY

BRIAN DENNEHY

(July 9, 1938 – April 15, 2020)

Brian Dennehy left behind a large and impressive body of TV, movie, and stage work. And to those of us who were lucky enough to have worked with him, he left behind fond memories of a warm and caring man of great talent.

Dennehy had turned 81 in July. Kenny Rogers, singer/actor, who died recently, turned 81 in August. And a little aside…And I turned 81 a couple days after Rogers. Three of the natal class of the late summer of ‘38 who became old vets of show business.

Brian was an actor who always made the TV or movie better for him being in it. He seldom had the lead in film, usually playing as a major costar on one side of the law or the other. He was one of those actors that people recognize right away but always seem to forget his name. ‘I think it is Brain Keith…No. No. Can’t think of it right now but I really liked him in…’

His obituary says he is best remembered playing a sadistic sheriff in the Rambo movies. I would not know because I tried to watch a Rambo movie on TV years ago. I don’t remember if I even finished it. I was not impressed. But there was so many shows he was in that I enjoyed. I guess the two FX’s are my favorites. Or maybe in Presumed Innocent, or maybe Gorky Park, or…Like I said he was a fine actor who brought so much to the work.

His most ambitious body of work was in the 6 TV movies where he played the lead, Jack Reed, a Chicago homicide officer. The first he just played the lead in a two parter based on a popular true crime novel. The next came about because he of his persistence to get out another Jack Reed TV movie. In the last 5 he wore many hats, lead actor, writer, producer. They were all low budget fictional films, but they showed the true picture of Brian Dennehy as he was in real life, a man-left-of-center who stood up for his beliefs.

They also showed the pain Dennehy worked with, the result of his old football injuries. This pain is shown in the details of his blocking especially in A Search For Justice. Every chance he gets he is leaning on something. He seldom is seen walking more than a few feet. Sometimes when he is standing you can see how tightly he is holding on a piece of furniture.

He must have really suffered when he was on stage for a lengthy time.

His film work was overlooked for awards, but he received 6 Emmy nominations for his TV work. His biggest award in TV was a Golden Globe win for his Willy Loman in a taped presentation of his Broadway hit, Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman.’

This performance on Broadway earned him his first Tony Award as Best Actor In A Play. He took it to London where he was awarded the Olivier Award. His second Tony for Best Actor in a Play came a few years later for his James Tyrone Sr. in Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece, A Long Day’s Journey To Night. Both plays were initiated at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, which was home base for Dennehy’s regional theater work. Other regional theaters benefited from his love for the stage. And many of them bestowed awards on him for his work.

Dennehy performed at the Abbey Theater in Dublin playing Hickey in O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. He played a full season at The Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada’s leading theater. He played in Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, and a double bill of one acts, Beckett’s monologue Krapp’s Last Tape, and O’Neill’s almost monologue Huey.

A few years later he returned to Stratford to play Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night and the lead in Pinter’s The Homecoming, the first Pinter play ever done at Stratford.

He was dubbed by the theater world as the foremost living O’Neill actor. And in 2010 he was inducted in the American Theater Hall of Fame.

His first love was theater, and his income from TV and movies provided the monetary means to work in theater in plays written by the great playwrights. When asked what was his secret in doing such fine work in theater, he replied that walking with giants brought out the best in him.

Dennehy was prolific in his charity work. He contributed both money and time to what he considered to be worthwhile causes.

I worked with him at the Minneapolis Pantages when he played a shortened week’s engagement in the play Trumbo. From the time he walked into the building until he left, he was open, friendly, and went out of his way to show his appreciation of the crew. It was as if we were old friends.

(I have much more to tell about both working the play with him and the play itself; but I will hold off and relate it in the next post: DENNEHY/TRUMBO.)

Working in show business, it is amazing how many people I met. There was always new crews, casts, designers, etc., I came in contact with. For the most part, outside of the area of the business, I had little in common with most of them. Not so with Brian Dennehy.

I knew a little about him before I worked with him. I learned more about him when I worked his short engagement in Minneapolis. But it wasn’t until I did research for this post that I found out how much the two of us have in common outside of show business.

There is the close proximity in age, six weeks difference, and in physical stature; and our lives are filled with so many similarities…

Brian was raised in an East Coast Irish strict Catholic family. Mine family was Midwest German/French strict Catholics.

Nuns were involved in our elementary schooling, Catholic teaching Brothers in our high schools. Reading books of all kinds was a major part of our lives from early on. In college we pursued Liberal Art degrees, Brian…History. Mine… American Studies.

We both enrolled in Catholic colleges that recruited us for their football programs, with the same result, knee injuries in our freshmen year that came back to make our older years a real pain trying to walk. Disgusted, we both dropped out of college our first year.

It was in the Cold War times, and the draft was in place. Not waiting to be called we volunteered Draft. He went in the Marines. I was a paratrooper. Both of us in esprit de corps outfits. When we got out we continued our college pursuits.

Marrying young was something Catholics did in those days. Dennehy married is first wife, he had two, in April of 60. I married my one-and-only in April of 61. We both have five children and have remained very close to all of them. Both of us are proud grandfathers.

Wild in our early years, we had a drinking problem and when we matured we quit drinking…Cold turkey. Not an easy thing to do in show business. We also both avoided drugs which were prevalent in the business.  

Brian was a stock broker in the New York office of Merrill Lynch. I started out as a teletype operator in the St. Paul office of Merrill Lynch. I switched to another firm and got my stock broker’s license. We both hated that work and got out of the business – for good.

We went back to blue collar work, truck driver, laborer, etc., to support our families. Eventually we both got into show business. I became a stagehand, quite by accident, when I was almost 30. Dennehy became a professional actor, after years of amateur acting, when he was almost 40.

Once in the business, neither of us was content to be pigeon-holed. Brian Dennehy expanded into producing, directing, writing, in TV. I was a stagehand in live events and a gaffer in film, as well as a lighting designer, a union officer, and even had a one-act play published in a national magazine and performed in several places. We both preferred working on stage over TV or movies. Especially the works of Shakespeare, O’Neill, Miller, Beckett and other giants.

Like I said, Brian Dennehy and I had a great many things in common over our lifetimes.

Movie goers and TV viewers have lost a fine actor. Theater lovers have lost a great actor. His world has lost someone who made it better for having been born in it. And all of us who had the pleasure of his company, albeit for a short time, are left with fond memories.

Thank You, Mr. Brian Dennehy

And that’s a wrap.

Coming soon: Dennehy/Trumbo

Stay Safe

More Memories of Michael

Old G stage

The Old Guthrie

Michael Langham had a way with words, often very profound, poetic. He knew exactly what he meant but sometimes others didn’t. For instance, he had a special phrase to motivate actors: ‘When you step on stage, bring the world with you.’ Now it worked with actors, so they must have understood what Michael was trying to get across them. But sometimes his Michaelisms puzzled us stagehands.

Here is a great Michael remembrance that perhaps explains his advice to actors. It was sent to me by Lance Davis, a mainstay in the Guthrie acting company during the Langham era. Lance is currently the Founder, Artistic Director, play adapter, actor, and the force behind THE PARSON’S NOSE Theater, Pasadena, California.

Here is the story in Lance’s own words: ‘One of many Micheal stories for me was during the rehearsals for LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST. I was confused at two lines Costard had that didn’t seem to go together. I asked Michael and he said, “Why, I think he sees a squirrel. He starts one thought and then sees a squirrel.” So I put it in. Cranny, the stage manager, was sitting next to Michael at the next rehearsal and the line came. Cranny leaned over to Michael who was chuckling. Cranny asked, “What in the hell is Lance doing?” and Michael said, “He sees a squirrel!’

So when you step on stage as an actor, bring the world with you, even the squirrels.

My all time favorite Michaelisms came during the tech for OEDIPUS THE KING, a Langham- directed adaptation by Anthony Burgess. It called for an earthquake at the end of Act I. When the play came back the next season, Michael changed it to a one-act, no intermission but still with the earthquake.

Bill, the sound man at the time, tried sound-effects after sound-effects of earthquakes. Each time he played one for Michael, Michael always thanked him, but… Bill tried every sound library he could think of, the Guthrie’s, the public library of both Minneapolis and St. Paul, the one at the TV studio that Bill had worked for. Always the same, ‘Thank you, Bill. But…’ This went on for almost a week.

Finally Bill got on the horn in the booth and asked, ‘Michael, just what exactly are you looking for?’

Michael, standing on stage, looked up to the booth. He extended his arms and thought for a bit. Finally he answered, ‘I want it to sound like..like the earth in anguish.’

Bill, never one to be without a retort, said over the mic, ‘Oh, gee, Michael. I wish you would have told me sooner. I wouldn’t have bothered you with all those other effects.’ Bill toggled off the mic, turned to me and repeated, ‘The earth in anguish? That’ll take two-six packs of beer to figure what Michael means by ‘the earth in anguish.’

The next morning Bill mounted two huge bass speakers, cone up, a few inches from the underside of the stage floor. When he played a lengthy tape of an earthquake with those two bad boys cranked up to eleven, not only did he get a world-in-anguish eruption, he also caused the stage floor to shake a little.

That afternoon Michael walked on stage to get ready for a bit and pieces rehearsal. When he reached center stage, Bill turned the mic on. ‘Michael, just hang right there. I got something to play for you.’

First came the low rumble from under the stage, then Bill increased the volume slightly and sent it also through the surround speakers. Michael had a strange look on his face as the effect grew louder, and when the stage began to shake, he just stared at the floor. When it ended he looked up to the booth.

‘Perfect, Bill’ he said. ‘Just what I wanted. Thank you, Bill. Thank you.’

‘I thought you would like it, Michael,’ said Bill.

‘But, Bill,’ Michael asked, ‘Will it be safe?’

“Oh, sure, Michael,’ Bill answered, as he shut off the mic. Then he turned to me and said, ‘Anyway, I hope it will be.’

And so we found out what was meant when Michael meant by asking to hear the earth in anguish.

Since theatrical sound was still in it’s infancy at that time, Michael didn’t have a handle on it yet; but not so with theatrical lighting. After opening night of any of the plays he directed,, he would wait for several performances and then watch and do some fine-tuning. A change in blocking. Perhaps in the delivery of a line. Maybe a cue to be called a tad later, or perhaps a change in lighting. Even though the lighting designer was no longer around, Michael trusted me to make his changes. Perhaps a big change that would enhance the particular mood he wanted. Or maybe he would ask a small change like having me  dim down the upstage in a crowd scene. ‘The extras up there are trying to act,’ he would tell me.

The spear-carriers might bring their world, complete with squirrels, on stage with them, but Michael wanted them to save their acting it out for a production where they were more than window-dressing.

It seemed that no matter what the changes, large or small, that Michael made, always made the play better.

Michael made a point to know everyone in the Guthrie family and went out of his way to talk to them. A special theatrical director, but also a special person.

Chuck, a carpenter in the scene shop, had been a navigator in a plane that was shot down over Germany. In his first and only parachute jump, Chuck broke his back and was captured. He lucked out and spent some time in a German civilian hospital under the care of good doctors; and then, when he was healed, he was transferred to a stalag where he spent the rest of the war as a POW.

Before the war Chuck and his wife Mary Margaret had hoped for a big family. Three years and nothing. They were about to take the doctor’s advise and adopt a child, but Pearl Harbor happened.

When Chuck made it back home they reasoned that Chuck, having through so much, needed some time before they adopted a child. Surprise! Chuck hadn’t been home six months when Mary Margaret announced she was pregnant. Their first child was a boy. Their next six were also boys. The last son was starting school, they figured their family had reached it limit. Surprise! Their little tag-along was a girl they named Margaret Mary.

During the Langham years at the Guthrie, the sitcom about POWs in WWII, HOGAN’S HEROES was a prime time favorite.

Michael liked to go to the shop on the day after a HOGAN showing and laugh over the episode with Chuck. Often one of the two would relate a funny incident from his stalag, and the two would laugh and laugh.

Two men, born an ocean apart, both figuratively and literately, British and American, upper class and middle class, united in the experience of having been a prisoner-of-war in WWII. Two men, management and labor, artistic and technical, both united in the fact that they were both war heroes, who endured.

And that’s a wrap.

ALMOST TO DUNKIRK

 

The old cliche, ‘he missed the boat’ certainly applied to Michael Langham, and the next five years changed the direction of his life.

dunkirk

The movie DUNKIRK is an unexpected blockbuster this summer. It depicts the heroic evacuation of British and some of their Allied troops that were trapped between the German Army and the Channel. In the eight day period, while the RAF kept the German Luftwaffe busy elsewhere, and other divisions like the a flotilla of both British naval ships and private vessels manage to get almost 350,000 fighting men to safety in Dover, England.

This evacuation was made possible in part because the German Luftwaffe was kept busy elsewhere by the RAF, and because of the rear action Battle of St. Valery further down the coast in Normandy. The 51st Highland Division, of which the Gordon Highlanders were a part of, were trapped and had to surrender to General Rommel before they could reach the beach at Dunkirk.

Michael Langham

MICHAEL LANGHAM

Michael Langham was a newly commissioned officer in the Gordon Highlanders. He was sent with the Highlanders to be a part of the British Expeditionary Force fighting in France. The BEF’s objective was to link with the French Forces and drive the German invaders out of France. This effort was as futile as the Maginot Line was in stopping Rommel and his tanks. The BEF’s first attempt to defeat Hitler ended at Saint-Valery-en-Caux and Dunkirk. And Michael Langham, two months short of his 21st birthday, and with only a few months of WWII under his belt spent the next five year as a Prisoner of War.

Like the majority of combat vets, Langham avoided talking about the actual fighting. He did say that he had been trained to fight like they did in the WWI, trench warfare etc., instead of combating the likes of German tanks, bombers, and the weapons of WWII. He also avoided telling what occurred after the actual capture. Some of the prisoners underwent forced marches and horrible conditions in various stalags. He was transferred to several stalags in those five years.

Michael said he was in the stalag where the Great Escape took place. That would be Stalag Luft III in Poland. He said the stalag was so big he not only didn’t know the Escape was being planned, he never knew it happened until the escapees were recaptured. He said, with that twinkle in his eye, he had to wait for the movie to finally find out what happened. Likewise also the earlier escape in that stalag that was detailed in the book and movie, The Wooden Horse.

He spent the first two years working on escaping, making civilian clothes, forging civilian papers, and of course, digging tunnels. None of his work ever resulted in anyone escaping. The last three he spent pursuing a hobby he had enjoyed during his school days, theater.

Stalag Luft III stressed that the prisoners take up and work at hobbies. The idea was if they kept busy at their hobbies, they would be less likely to try to escape and it would cut down on the suicide attempts. This stalag was under the jurisdiction of the Luftwaffe and was less severe than stalags under the control of the German Infantry or the S.S.. But it still was a stalag and had a sense of cruelty under the surface, as exemplified by the executions of most of the recaptured escapees in the Great Escape.

The theater department of this stalag was the best of all the stalags. The prisoners built an actual theater, a large scenic shop, a large costume shop. The productions could compete with many in the free world. They were very popular among the prisoners and the German cadre. They provided a common link between the two groups, perhaps even softening the attitude of the guards towards the inmates.

Of course, Michael explained, you had to get around the fact that the ‘women’ in the cast often had five-o’clock shadows, giggly falsetto deliveries, and exaggerated ways of trying to walk like women. And be broadminded enough not to make a face or groan when Romeo and Juliet kissed.

The actors took themselves very serious, Michael said. They would lie on their bunks the day of the shows and file their nails. They wanted to be stars.

Michael acted in some, but his true talent was in directing. His choice of plays ranged in time from Shakespeare to Clifford Odets. He said he wanted the plays to portray a world of hope to his fellow POW’s, and to himself.

Michael took great pride, and rightly so, that two POW’s told him that watching a performance of his plays gave them hope and prevented them from committing suicide.

Michael’s father had died when Michael was a baby. Growing up, his role model was the historical Duke of Wellington. He read every book he could find on the Duke. He wanted to be like the Wellington, a career soldier. That dream quickly vanished in France.

Liberation came, the war ended, and Michael was back in England. He had the law degree that his family had forced him to obtain before the war. It wasn’t the life that he wanted. He thought a great deal about his hobbies before the war. He knew he couldn’t play cricket good enough to play pro, and his other great hobby, theater, had been frowned upon by his family. And while he was thinking over his future a letter arrived.

A famous stage actress wanted to talk to him. She had heard of his stalag productions from POWs who saw them. She was about to start a theater troupe in the Midlands and wanted to know if he was interested in joining her. Michael reasoned that even if the meeting didn’t work out, at least he would get to meet her.

‘I was star struck,’ he laughingly confessed.

It worked out. His acting and directing in Coventry and Birmingham made him realize that the talent he showed in the stalag transferred to the free world of professional theater. Not only was his new career acceptable to his family, it was noticed in the major theaters of England. He acted and directed at Stratford-On-The Avon, and the Old Vic. He found himself in great demand. He was also noticed by Tyrone Guthrie.

Guthrie was one of the foremost stage directors of the time. He was also the key mover in replacing the proscenium stage with the thrust stage. He took Langham under his wing. Guthrie replaced the long ago Duke of Wellington as Michael’s model. And this association brought Langham into the top tier of England’s theatrical directors.

While Michael directed in England and far off places like Australia, main land Europe, and Broadway, Guthrie went to Canada. There, in 1953, he founded the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. Even though it was housed in a concrete amphitheater covered by a tent, it was a success, not only a major attraction in Canada but brought visitors from Europe and the United States.

Two years after starting the Festival, Guthrie invited Langham to direct JULIUS CAESAR, and to groom him to take over as Artistic Director.

The first season under Langham, 1956, was the last for the tent. The Festival moved into a newly construction theater. The Festival was there to stay.

The thrust stage of the tent was fine-tuned in the new theater by Michael and the great designer, Tanya Moisewitch, who worked with Guthrie on the original. It was at Stratford where Langham became known as ‘the master of the thrust stage’.

Guthrie had been beseeched for several years with pleas to establish a like theater in the United States. He felt now that his Stratford Festival was established and in good hands he would answer that request. Feelers were sent out and seven cities replied, presenting their credentials in the competition.. Minneapolis was the winner.

85a251-20060503-guthrienewfacade

THE GUTHRIE THEATER

In 1963 the Guthrie Theater opened with George Gizzard playing the lead in the Tyrone Guthrie directed HAMLET. The audience was on its feet before the curtain-call lights came up. They were not content to stop until Sir Tyrone himself came on stage. The very tall, thin, genius finally came up the steps to center stage. He had on a tuxedo and his customary tennis shoes. The audience loved it.

The Guthrie Theater was established and continued in fine shape during the years when Dr. G., as he was fondly called at the Theater, was the Artistic Director. In 1966, he left the theater in the capable hands, so he thought, of another protege, actor/director Douglas Campbell.

Almost immediately the theater started to go in a downward spiral, due to the infighting of the artistic side versus the management side. In 1969, there was no one left of the original artistic and management at the theater. The original Managing Director had taken a sabbatical to Hawaii, a power-play, figuring he would be begged to return by offering more money and control.

The board appointed Don Schoenbaum, who only a few years before came to the Guthrie under a Ford Foundation Grant to learn the business of theater, as a stop-gap Management/Artistic Director.

Tyrone Guthrie asked Michael to rescue the theater and take over the Artistic Directorship. Michael said he was content at Stratford. But, argued Sir Tyrone, that theater has my name on it. Michael reconsidered.

The end of the Guthrie’s season in 1970 was A PLAY by the great Russian novelist, who that very year won the Noble Prize for Literature, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. A great coup for the Guthrie and an attraction for Micheal Langham. The gulags of Solzhenitsyn were political unlike the POW stalags familiar to Michael; but they were still prison camps and Langham was a logical man to direct the play. And it was an excellent chance for Michael and the Guthrie to size each other up. Until the Board met and talked with Langham, they were going to forgo the 1971 season in the hope that something could be worked out to save the theater.

A PLAY was my first encounter with Michael Langham. The next year he came back as Artistic Director, and wow, talk about a turn around. He took a theater torn apart and reassembled it as a ‘Family’ overnight, petty squabbling stopped, people were smiling, and enthusiatic. Michael recognized the talent, artistic, managerial, and technical, that he inherited and augmented them with people who knew Langham and wanted to work under him.

When the original Managing Director announced he was coming back, he was told the only way he could come back to the theater was if he bought a ticket. Michael rewarded Don Schoenbaum for his excellent work to help keep the theater going by keeping him on as Managing Director. Don kept this position until he retired in 1986.

It was hard picturing the soft- spoken Michael Langham as a combat officer; but witnessing his leadership ability, his ability to recognize the value of everyone involved in the Theater and making them feel that they were an integral part of the end product, removed all doubt that he would have been a fine officer. The Military’s loss was the Theater’s gain.

In his first season, 1971, he hit the ground running. He took on a Herculean task of directing two gigantic plays, CYRANO de BERGERAC, adapted by the British novelist Anthony Burgess, and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, to start the season and his term as Artistic Director.

Opening two plays at once, with future of the Theater riding on them, was hell on us that were involved in both productions. I have no idea how Michael could have endured the task, and more so, how he could have turned out these two production masterpieces. Reviewers came from all over. All praised both works. There wasn’t an empty seat for any of the performances of these two plays that season and the other plays in the season fared almost as well. The Guthrie Theater was saved.

No one had a better bird’s-eye view of Michael Langham the Director, than I did. Seated in the lighting booth behind the balcony, I was privileged to watch every rehearsal on main stage, as well as every performance of every play Michael directed at the Guthrie, before and during his tenure as Artistic Director.

Watching Michael direct a play was akin to looking over the shoulder of Renoir as he painted. Delicate brush strokes creating a work of art. Michael’s blocking on the thrust stage, his respect for the words of the playwright, the inspiration he gave the actors, his knowledge of the technical, his attention of details, his talent, all combined to make a Michael Langham directed play something special.

His praise has been sung by so many actors. from acting-award winners the likes of Peter O’Toole, Christopher Plummer, Len Cariou, all credit Michael with giving them their big chance, to young interns who experienced their first professional theater acting jobs under his tutelage. And his praise has been sung by so many others in all aspects of the world of theater, from world class critics to the stage electrician who worked his shows at the Guthrie.

He always referred to himself as a classical director but he was much more. For instance consider his direction of the ‘least’ of Shakespeare plays, TIMON OF ATHENS, a play very few over the centurys have ever tried to direct. He set it in the Jazz Age and had the great Duke Ellington compose a score for it. Hardly something a hard-core classical director would dare to do.

Those of us who were present in his Guthrie years often refer to his production of another minor Shakespeare plays, LOVE’S LABOUR LOST, as the one that shows off the genius of Michael Langham the best all. So simple. So poetic. So memorable. The ‘classical director’, the ‘master of the thrust stage’ at his finest.

And to have been able to sit down, as a friend and coworker, and talk to this humble man of such great talent and knowledge is something I will always cherish in my memory.

He left the Guthrie at the end of the 1977 and continued his shaping classical theater in so many places, like the Julliard School of Drama and the National Actors’ Theater founded by Tony Randall, where he was nominated for a Tony for his direction of TIMON OF ATHENS on Broadway.

I stayed at the Guthrie another season after Michael left, but it wasn’t the same. I helped mount and designed the lights for the Guthrie production of Leonard Nimoy’s one-man play, VINCENT, and took it out on tour. I walked into the theater on what was my first work day of the second season after Michael left, I started to hang lights; but at coffee break, I went and talked to the Technical Director and then called the Union to replace me. The Guthrie just wasn’t the same to me as it was during the Langham years. I spent the rest of my stagehand years working off the Union Hiring Hall.

Over the years I worked with a great many fine directors, but it would not be fair to compare any of them to Michael; he was, in my eyes, special. Michael Langham worked almost up to 11th of January 2011 the day of his death, happy in the career he carved out because he never made it to a possible rescue on the beach at Dunkirk.

 

 

 

MARCEAU / HAMILTON BOOED

After the first performance of his sold- out week at the Minneapolis Pantages, the great mime, Marcel Marceau stepped to the apron of the stage, and breaking out of his character, Bip the Clown, SPOKE.

And the Audience BOOED!

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hamilton

Shortly after the election VP-To-Be Pence attended a performance of the hit musical HAMILTON on Broadway, and as he walked down the aisle to his seat, the audience booed! The ­­audience, not the cast, booed.

I can’t believe Pence attended a hip hop/rap musical/opera, based on the life of an immigrant bastard, whose mother was reported to have been part Black, for his own entertainment. More of an ego trip, a test of his newly granted status to be able to jump in line ahead of others.

Mr. Pence was a good choice to ride shotgun on Mr. Trump’s Hatemobile. He has a record of attacking Human Rights and the laws that protect them, first as a right wing radio talk show host, and later in his political career. Unlike Trump’s Twitter approach, Pence uses the evangelical-tunnel-vision-Tea Party-judgmental method. Thump the Bible, or what you think should be in the Bible, to support your stance against fellow human, and be sure to avoid any reference to the second part of what Christ said was the most important commandment: To love your neighbor as yourself.

As Pence was walking out after curtain call, Brandon Dixon, who played Aaron Burr, stepped foreword from the cast and spoke to Pence, who turned and listened. The words were courteous, well thought out, short and to the point. It was a thank you for attending, followed by an expression of fear that the new regime will not defend the planet, the children, their parents and uphold the inalienable rights of every American. The closing was, ‘We thank you for sharing this wonderful American story, told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientation.’

Pence was silent about the affair but not the Head Hater, Mr. Trump. Trump got on Twitter, declaring Pence was harassed by the cast of HAMILTON. He demanded an apology from the cast and producers of the show, which Trump said he heard was very overrated. Trump also said the theater should be a ‘safe’ place.

To say the theater should be a ‘safe’ place is proof he knows about as much about theater as he does about Human Rights and the Constitution. From the time of the ancients Greeks the theater has been a place to shake up the audience and their hard fast ideals, whether the performance is tragedy, comedy, or a musical.

Nothing is more topical in our current atmosphere of hate than the play that premiered in London during the worse persecution of English Jews. The popular actor, director, theater owner and playwright, William Shakespeare, risked his career, his theater, his life, alone with the specter of causing riots with his new ‘comic’ offering, The Merchant of Venice. Going along with the hatred of Jews, he created a villain, Shylock, in the stereotypical role as a Jewish money lender. And then addresses the hatred and prejudice against the Jews  by giving Shylock one of the most poignant speech in literature against prejudice and hatred. ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?’.

            As Mr. Dixon argued against an apology, he pointed out, ‘Art is meant to bring people together; it’s meant to raise conscientiousness.’

To say that it was not the time or place to issue such a statement goes against the history of theater. To step forward and speak to the audience directly, to break the 4th wall, is a time honored tradition. No playwright was more adept at it than Shakespeare, in the play itself, like Hamlet’s many monologues: at the end of the play, like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream which starts: ‘If we shadows have offended…’  While the type of breaking the 4th wall as Mr. Dixon did, is not that common in America, it is quite common in other countries.

Personally I have seen this speaking directly to the audience used many times.

From the serious: On 9/11, we were setting up for a run of RIVERDANCE. Prior to the performance that evening, the multi national cast assembled in full on the stage. A spokesman spoke of the sorrow and offered condolences and prayers. At the end of the curtain call a dancer stepped forward and requested the audience join the cast in silent prayer.

To the silliest: During a performance of a play by the Stratford Theater at the Guthrie, Bill Hutt, a veteran Canadian actor made his entrance in a scene; but before he spoke his lines, he informed the American audience that the Canadian National Hockey Team had just beaten the Russians.

Trump’s Tweets accomplished what he wanted, keeping his Cesspool of Hate aboiling, giving his Brown Shirts something to rail against.

They called for a boycott against HAMILTON, a record breaking Broadway show with tickets sold out for months and waiting lists for more tickets both in NY and other cities where the touring companies are or will be playing. Frankly, I don’t think many Trump hard core supporters would go to HAMILTON with or without a boycott.

Of course there is a good possibility that the new regime will declare the musical to be VERBOTTEN and shut it down. But even then it will continue to be played around the globe as a symbol of American art and a remembrance of American freedom.

The Brown Shirts also called for a boycott of a small theater which has nothing to do with HAMILTON the musical. It has had the name Hamilton for decades because it is located in – wait for it – Hamilton, Ontario, Canada!

Then there was incident during a performance of the road company in Chicago, where upon hearing the word ‘immigrant’, a drunken Follower went ape. Screaming, swearing, threatening to kill the ‘Democratic assholes’and women and Blacks. threw wine on his own son. His wife was in tears pleading for him to stop. And even as he was being expelled from the theater by three security guards, he kept screaming, ‘We won! Get over it. This is Trump’s America now!’ PS: He is the CEO of a national company.

(That kind of behavior hits close to home for me. My nephew, Rick Dalglish, is Head Props for that touring company of HAMILTON.)

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marcel  

          The Marcel Marceau incident took place at the first performance of his farewell to America run at the Pantages in Minneapolis. And in spite of the boos, this brave man repeated his breaking the fourth wall after every performance.

            It was that terrible time in our history. Using the never proven pretext that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Bush the Younger was about to loosen the dogs of war against Saddam Hussein. It was a time of bad intel, half truths, and outright lies.

            Unlike the 1st Gulf War, where Bush the Elder had a large coalition of nations and U.N. approval, the only backing Bush the Younger had was Tony Blair of the U.K., who later admitted he had been wrong in his backing of Bush.  Neither Bush nor Blair had approval of the majority of their advisors. And even though the terrorists of 9/11 were Egyptians and Saudis, and had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein, much of the backing for this invasion of Iraq was wanting revenge for 9/11.

            France, who backed the 1st Gulf War, was outspoken in its disapproval of invading Iraq this time. France was hated by the American hawks. A Congressman sensing a chance to pick up future votes, actually submitted a bill to change the term French Fries to Freedom Fries.

            It was in this time of rupture in America and in the Western World, that Marcel Marceau spoke to the audience and was booed. This French Jewish gentle man of peace did not preach, did not take sides. This man who had known the horror of war first hand, simply asked the audience to pray the whole affair could be worked out without violence, without war.

            I doubt if many in the audience feaared they would have to fight in Iraq. Let the kids in the service take the risks. I doubt if many in the audience had ever served in the military, let along fought in a war. Yet these chickenhawks booed Marceau’s request for prayers for a peaceful resolve.

            Marceau was just a teenager when Germany breached the Maginot Line, the ‘Wall’ that France had built to stop any German invasion and took over France.  The Nazis took his father to Auschwitz where he was ‘exterminated’. Marcel and his brother joined the French Resistance.

            (This also strikes home to me. My wife’s birth father, a French Jew, left his Mexican wife and new baby girl, my wife, and to back to his homeland and fight in the Resistance. He was never heard of again.)

            Marcel was personally responsible for smuggling 500 or so children to Switzerland. It was during this time, he got into mime, silent entertainment to keep the children quiet.

            With the Liberation of France he joined the Free French and was a translator for General George Patton.

            He knew the horrors of war.

            I was standing in the wing with a flashlight waiting to help him offstage. I clapped as loud as I could after his prayer for peace, but the boos won out. As I led him off I commented, ‘Dumb, damn, chickenhawk S.O.B.s!’

            He put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘C’est La Vie, Don. So many fought and died so people can speak their mind, or even boo. This great freedom  is not allowed in a Fascist government . Let us hope it will always be that way in America and France and all over the world. ’

            When Marcel Marceau went to leave the Pantages for the last time, he paused and hugged me. ‘Merci, Don, for joining me in the hope for peace. And, when things happen that you disagree with, just remember, C’est La Vie. That’s Life, mon ami.’ When his farewell tour was over he went back to his home in France where he died a few years later.

            To Mime aficionados Bip the Clown will always be the King of Mime. And we who knew him also as Marcel Marceau, we  are twice blest. We admired his deft artistry of silence and also the deep humanity in his speech. To us he was both an artist and a hero.

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This was written in the time between Trump was elected by the outdated procedure  of the Electoral College, 

which overruled the fact that he did not win the Popular Vote, 

and the time he took the Oath of Office.       

Sorry, Mr. Trump, if you can’t stand the booing you chose the wrong road to travel down. I suggest you have the First Amendment of our Constitution explained to you. And maybe even go to a performance of HAMILTON. Learn how that immigrant from Nevis and the other Founding Fathers created the foundation that makes America great.

Soon Mr. Trump, barring a successful revolt by the Electorial College voters, you will have to take an oath to protect and obey this Constitution for ‘the diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientation’ that make up our great country, America.

Oh! Oh! Little did we know or even imagine!

And now we must do what we can do

Vote!  Wear a mask! Abolish the hate!

C’EST LA VIE