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.

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

BUSH & THE BEACH BOYS

Bush

During the Memorial events for President H.W. Bush, the TV picture always had a banner running across the screen proclaiming him to have been a President and a Patriot. Both titles are embedded in history below his name.

But the themes of the eulogies were memories of the man. His kindness, his warmth, his friendship. The following is a story of these attributes of this man told to me by a friend and union brother, Steve.

At this time, Steve was the head rigger for the Beach Boys. He was responsible to see that the sound and lights were hung safely in the best positions possible in the venues, and for setting up the portable stage for outdoor events.

In the early 80’s, the Beach Boys played the July 4th concerts on the National Mall in Washington D.C. A few days prior to one of those concerts, the band was invited to give a mini-concert for the Bushs and some friends at the Naval Observatory House where the Vice President lived in D.C..

Steve drove the rental truck with a small set up to the front of the house. He went to the front door knowing full well that it would be opened by a butler telling him to go around the back to unload. He was surprised when Vice President Bush, himself opened the door, introduced himself to Steve and the other hands, as if that was needed, and told Steve to bring the equipment through the front door. Closer to the ballroom, he explained.

When the crew went into the ballroom, Bush introduced them to the house electrician Steve had requested. Best the house electrician do the electrical hook-up. The last thing Steve wanted was to have an electrical outage in the V.P.’s residence.

Then Barbara came into the room and once again George made the introductions. Barbara told the men that there was a buffet with a chef standing by down the hall for whenever they wanted a meal or just a snack.

‘Catering, Honey,’ her husband teased. ‘Catering is show business talk for food. And there’s also a full bar and a bartender in that room too, guys.’

‘Thanks, Mrs Bush,’ Steve said, ‘But we have to setup first. The band will be wanting to do sound check in a couple hours.’

When they did go into the catering room for a meal, the first thing the chef asked was how do you want your steak? And the bartender looked a little disappointed when the hands that drank just wanted beer. Sure beat what the rock promoters considered catering.

Steve said it was less like working a gig and more like being invited to a friend’s house. Everybody was so friendly, especially the Vice President. Even the Secret Service men in their customary dark suits, had occasional smiles as they handed out the stickpins with the head painted the color of the day. These ID’s had to be pinned where they could be seen.

 

Vice President Bush was in the ballroom almost all the time. He watched the crew setting up everything and had a million questions. ‘If I learn how to be a roadie, will you hire me?’ he kidded. ‘You know, this being a Vice President really stinks. Worse job I ever had.’

‘You’re hired,’ Steve said. ‘How’s your golf game? We play a lot to golf on our days off.’

‘My kind of men,’ the Vice President said. And naturally the talk turned to golf.

Steve asked if Mr. Bush had ever played Willie Nelson’s golf course outside Austin. When the Vice President said no, Steve proceeded to tell him about it. ‘Only course where it is all rough. Strict rules: Like no more than 12 to a foursome. No bikinis or see through dresses – unless they’re worn by women. Drinking and smoking is not allowed – unless it is shared.

‘Next time I go to Austin, I will have to play that course,’ George said. ‘I’ll tell Willie that I am a friend of the Beach Boys crew. I miss my Texas. This job wouldn’t be half bad if I could do it down in Texas.’

When the Beach Boys arrived they were greeted by the Vice President and Barbara and where showed the room where they could tune their instruments. And also told about the catering and the bar.

“Now where’s Dennis? George asked. ‘They told me I could always tell who Dennis was because he always wore a Texas hat.’

‘Sick. Something he ate didn’t agree with him,’ was the excuse that was given. Dennis Wilson had a grave alcohol problem and the band didn’t want him to embarrass himself in front of the Vice President. Dennis died a few years later. He was was drunk and went scuba diving alone.

‘Oh! Oh! Guys, I got something to tell you. I got talking with your crew about golf. They said they got Monday off so I gave my country club a ring. All you have to do is tell them you’re the Beach Boys and crew and you can play a round on me. They said they would work in you in throughout the day. And the nineteenth hole is on me.’

It was evident that as the actual concert approached, Vice President Bush was feeling mellow. He met each guest, about 50 all toll, encouraging each on to ‘have a drink’. When the concert started he sat in the front row tapping his feet to the music and mouthing the words of the songs he knew or thought he knew.

After about six songs he stood up and went up to the band. ‘In honor of my wonderful wife, Barbara,’ he said pointing to her in the chair next to the one he just got out of, ‘Play my favorite of the Beach Boys. BARBARA ANN.’

Almost as if on cue, Mike Love, and Al Jardine quickly joined Carl Wilson at the front mic.

‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann. Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann.’

By now, Vice President George Bush had got to the mic and grabbed the mic off the stand.

‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann,’ he sang, drowning out the startled entertainers. His voice left a lot to be desired but not his energy. The only words he knew where the chorus which he kept repeating over and over until one of the singers started a verse. Then George stopped. Only to jump right in with the chorus when the verse ended.

It was probably the longest rendition of the song ever. The audience and the band and the crew were all smiles. The only one in the room that wasn’t smiling was Barbara Bush, who sat still with her hands folded on her lap. At last George stopped singing to his lovely wife; not because he thought he reached the end of the song, but rather because he was out of breath and wanted a drink. As he sat down Barbara slapped his knee and shook her head.

The concert went on and when it ended they played BARBARA ANN as their encore. They signaled to have the Vice President join them and the audience applauded. George Bush got up, went to the mic, and sang his favorite line several times.

‘You know, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘That is the best song you ever wrote. On behalf of myself, Barbara, and all our guests, I want to thank you all for a great time.’

The Boys, the band, and the crew applauded their thanks. Nobody told him that they didn’t write BARBARA ANN. It was a do-wop song by the Regents.

The next Monday the band and crew played golf courtesy of Vice President George Bush.

In April of 83 the Beach Boys were forbidden to play July 4th on the National Mall. The least popular member of the Reagan Cabinet, James Watt, Interior Secretary, declared that rock and roll bands were not welcome anymore on the Mall because of the element they attracted. Drunken rowdies and smokers of illegal substances. He wanted somebody more patriotic like Wayne Newton, who was a big Republican donor.

Vice President George Bush led the outrage against Watt’s decree, declaring, ‘These men are my friends!’ First Lady Nancy Reagan declared herself to be a mega-fan of the Beach Boys. Mike Love argued on behalf of the band by saying they played a lot of patriotic songs…like SURFING U.S.A.. Watt lost.

There was an attempt made to get the Beach Boys back to play the Mall but it was too late. The publicity made the band the hottest item in the country and they were booked at Atlantic City on the 4th to the largest crowd in the history of the event. And the Beach Boys began to be called America’s Band.

As for James Watt, a few weeks later he made what he thought was funny, racist terms about a committee that opposed his Interior agenda. Watt lost his Cabinet position and went to teach in a university out west. Both he and the band give credit for starting the uproar to Vice President Bush declaration that ‘These men are my friends.

And whenever the Boys were in the D.C. area, George Bush made it a point to see they could play a round of golf at his country club.

Like the banners proclaimed ‘President and Patriot’, and as the eulogies said, ‘friend and a wonderful human being’.

R.I.P. George Bush

True and fearless Patriot

Sully the service dog of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush in his final months lays in front of Bush's casket at the funeral home in Houston

His Friend

BIG VAUDEVILLE (BOB)

hOPE IN VAUDEBILLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

BOB HOPE

BIG VAUDEVILLE (RED)

Red Skeleton

 

Red Skeleton joined a medicine show at the age of ten. In his late teens he began his vaudeville career. When Red was in his late 20’s he began a successful career in radio and movies. He pioneered in television starting in his late 30’s.

He was in his 70’s when I threw the chair at him.

Red Skeleton was one of the two BIG vaudeville stars that I was privileged to have worked.

 

American vaudeville reached it’ peak in the 1880s. It began it’s decline in the early 1900s, the dawn of movies. At first, when the films were very short, some vaudeville theaters incorporated a film in with the live show. But the films grew in length and in popularity.

The release of D.W. Griffith’s epic THE BIRTH OF A NATION sounded the death warning of vaudeville as America’ favorite form of entertainment. Running over three hours, this film could never be a part of the vaudeville format.

An old stagehand told me how his father, one of the first movie projectionist, toured the movie from city to city. Sometimes there would be a live vaudeville show during the day and a showing of BIRTH at night. Sometimes, depending on how big the city was, the vaudeville theater would simply turn the theater into a movie house and play it for an extended run.

The popularity of movies caused an exodus of the top vaudeville stars. They realized that they could make more money in films with a lot less work and travel. In a very short time, names like W.C. Fields, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, and many others left and made their names in the movies.

Another entertainment phenomenon was the birth of the Golden Age of Radio. Actually radio was more popular than movies, because it reached a greater audience, it was free. Some vaudeville stars like Edgar Bergen, Fanny Brice, Burns and Allen, etc., became big stars in radio but never really made a hit in the movies.

When the vaudeville circuits had lost that first wave of headliners, two things occurred. Another wave of talent filled the gap at the top and helped vaudeville survive for another few decades. Names like Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello, Judy Garland, and Red Skeleton and others headlined the bills and became household names.

The second occurrence was these greats and many of their routines were filmed for posterity. I have never really enjoyed, or perhaps learned to enjoy, much of what passes for today’s comedic movies; but I never tire of my dvd collections the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields and others of that era.

 

Richard, (Red), Skelton was born two months after his father, a grocer and prior to that a circus clown, died. His mother lost the store and the house shortly afterwards. Red went to work before he was 7, selling newspapers, to help his mother out. Barely 10 years old, he left home and joined a traveling medicine show, sending money back to his mother, a practice that continued until her s death.

If anyone personifies the entertainment in America in the 20th Century, it would be Red Skelton. Discovering that he had a gift to make people laugh and he could get paid for it, he followed his work in a medicine show with work in a minstrel show, followed by work on a riverboat. He joined a dramatic stock company but he was too comedic for drama. He was 16 when he worked as a clown and sometimes lion tamer with the circus his father had worked for. He worked as a comic in a burlesque theater. He became a popular emcee for dance marathons. And this was before he was even 18.

He fell for a contestant in one of the marathons, Edna, who worked as an usher in a Pantages vaudeville house, and the two were married. He was almost 18 and she was just 16. She ‘home-schooled’ Red and he got a high school diploma. They worked up an act for clubs and toured some theaters in Canada, where a vaudeville promoter offered Red work in New York if he got some different material.

Again Edna to the rescue. She watched how different coffee drinkers dunked their doughnuts and helped Red develop the skit, Doughnut Dunkers. This show of Red’s ability for physical comedy led to more of the same, and he began to create his cast of characters which would grow in numbers and in popularity over the years. He became a vaudeville celeb in 1937. Soon he was too big for vaudeville, and began doing his skits in Broadway musicals.

He got his first radio show gig in 1938, again with under the direction of Edna working out vocal skits and new characters for him. He got his own radio show in 1941. His radio skits numbered well over 300 and his show was so popular, hundreds of people were unable to get seats for each show.

Red had failed a screen test in 1932 but in 1938 he did make two shorts, but no more film offers. In 1940, Mickey Rooney saw Red perform at F. D. R.’s birthday celebration and convinced both Red and MGM to resurrect his short film career. At first he was used as comic relief, but soon began playing leads. He was usually cast as a good hearted, naive, bumbler who saved the day and got the girl.

During these years, his mentor and good friend was a king of physical comedy, Buster Keaton. In later years, Red developed a friendship and collaborated with the great classic mime, Marcel Marceau.

America’s world erupted in 1941. Red was married with children and was undraftable. Like many show business celebs in the same boat, he devoted a great deal of time selling War Bonds and working at places like the Hollywood Canteen entertaining our Service people.

Red’s world erupted in 1942. His wife, Edna, told him that she would stay on as his adviser and money-manager, but not as his wife. He didn’t believe her until the divorce papers were served. Now he was unmarried and he got drafted. Because his birth dates had been juggled many times over the years, both MGM and his radio sponsors tried to keep him out of the Army by claiming he was too old to be drafted. Red gladly accepted being drafted.

He wasn’t placed in the Entertainment Corps but the Regular Army. During Basic the officers pulled rank and he did his required work during the day and entertained the officers at night and on the weekends. A cruel schedule!

He finally got transferred and became a more than full-time entertainer. Alone, no cameras or dancing girls, just Red and his ‘cast’ of his familiar characters toured in both the U.S. and Europe. Sometimes he stayed in one place and one audience was replaced with another. Sometimes he was sent from one sector to another the same day. Shows night and day. There was times he did ten shows in one day. The longest he stayed in one country was in Italy when the fighting was the fiercest.

The constant work, the constant moving around, the constant stress, coupled with his problems with Edna, and the fact that a woman he became engaged to married someone else, all this took his toll on his health. He developed a stutter and throat problems that had to be operated back in the States. He was given a medical discharge and had to undergo months of strict rest.

That early discharged bothered Skeleton and several years later he used his dark time to tour Korea and Japan. Again, no hoopla, no cameras, but his time he took an emcee, Jamie Farr, along with him.

Farr had worked on Red’s radio show before being drafted in WWII. He was on Active Reserve when he toured with Red. Little did Farr know while touring Korea that that country would serve as a backdrop for M.A.S.H., a TV show that would make him a household name. He never would have gotten if it wasn’t for Red. Farr had decided to drop out of show business to support his recently widowed mother. When he told Skelton that, Red gave him money and hired him under a private contract. Farr was able to stay in show business and eventully got the big break playing Corporal Klinger in M.A.S.H.

Red was one of the first to realize the impact TV would have; but because MGM’s contract would not allow him to go on TV, he had to wait until 1951 when the contract expired to make his leap into the new medium. For 20 years his show was a must-view for most of America. From a half hour to a full hour, from black and white to pioneering in color, from basically a vehicle for Red and his ‘cast’ of characters, it became a full blown variety show with the biggest names in the business lining up to be his guest stars.

Then some executive-suit at CBS decided variety shows were old-hat. Red got the bad news while perfoming in Vegas. His, and other popular shows like Ed Sullvan’s and Jackie Gleason’s got the axe.

 

For years afterword Skeleton was in a funk. He devoted his time to writing fiction and to painting his popular clown portraits.

Finally, he remembered his love of entertaining live audiences. He began to tour, bringing his cast of characters to his older fans and to his new fans. It was during this period that I got to work performance of the great entertainer

 

It was at Northrop Auditorium at the U. of Mn. I was head props. My nephew, Mark, had been props for Red a few months before at the State Fair. He told me about a bit that Red did. He asks for a chair. The prop man brings out a folded chair and throws it at Skeleton.

The punch line is as the prop man leaves the stage is, ‘I guess maybe I never should taken his girlfriend out for supper last night.’

Prior to the show, Red explained the schtick to me. ‘Come on stage so the audience can see you. Look mad. Then throw the chair so it lands about ten feet from me. Throw it hard. Don’t worry about it hitting me. Once it hits the floor it slides and I just stop it with my foot. Look mad. The madder you look the bigger the laugh.’

I played the game, but something happened! When the chair hit the floor, instead of sliding, it bounced right up again. It continued to fly toward Red. For a brief second I thought perhaps this happened sometimes. But the look on Red’s face told me this was not something that happened ever before.

One of my favorite comedians. I loved his TV shows. More importantly, my mother loved his TV shows. She would sit in her big chair in the living room and actually watch the entire program without falling asleep, or she would argue, ‘I wasn’t sleeping. I was just resting my eyes.’

And now I am going to be responsible for harming him!

Red remained still, watching as the chair flew toward him. Then at the last second, he reached back to his youth and made like a bullfighter, turning slightly, leaning slightly, and allowing the chair to sail harmless pass past him. It hit the floor but stayed onstage.

I gasped along with the audience. Red ignored the chair. Ignored the punch line. He stepped center stage, crushed his hat and went into a Clem Kaddilehopper skit.

He did several other bits, still ignoring the chair, and finished his show. He came back to acknowledge the standing ovation. For an encore he did his popular Pledge of Alligence. He bowed and finished with his familiar sign off line, ‘Good night and God bless.’

When the house was clear, I went and picked up the chair. I thought I found the reason why it bounced back up. Instead of just small rubber tips on each leg, there were large rubber boots. I presumed it hit just right and the boots caused it to bounce.

When Red went to leave, he stopped on stage to tip the spot operator. Then he came to me. I started to apologize and explain why I thought the chair did as it did. He just miled and waved it off. ‘Thanks God,’ I said, ‘Your got out of the way in time.’

‘And thank Buster Keaton for being such a great teacher,’ he laughed. ‘I never liked that shtick. My agent’s nephew thinks he’s a gag writer. Now I have a reason to drop it without hurting anybody’s feelings.

‘You know,’ he continued, ‘first time I forgot a punch line. The very first time. I’m getting old, son.’

He shook my hand and palmed off a $20 bill into it. And then he said,

‘Good night and may God bless.’

 

 

 

AH TWO

lawrence-welk

AH ONE, AH TWO

I never saw Bubbles again, but I did get to work her father years later. He brought his show to the Twin Cities out at the Met Sports Center. He had neglected the area since he had made it big; but it was very important to him in his early years. He had gone to music school in Minneapolis, led a house band for a local radio station, over the years played regular gigs at the Marigold Ballroom, which he considered Big Time compared to his roots in the rural dance halls of the Dakotas, Iowa, and Minnesota.

The Met was a big arena, but every seat was filled in spite of the snow storm the night before. His old fans, who had loved his band in person, and his new fans, who discovered him from TV, came to enjoy the show, even if there wasn’t room to dance to his music.

The show was coming up from Des Moines and the snow had hit the south of us hard; so although us local hands were there on time, we weren’t surprised that none of the road crew was. We went up to the catering room, had some coffee and doughnuts and waited.

About a half hour later, the orchestra truck showed up. Dutch, the driver asked if Mac, the road manager, had showed up and was disappointed when we told him no. After Dutch had a couple cups of coffee, he decided to back the truck in and get it unloaded at least. Mac was the one who set up the orchestra. Dutch told us that Mac was the road stage manager, tour manager, trouble shooter, Welk’s right hand and whipping boy, and drummer. ‘Oh yeah,’ Dutch laughed, ‘He’s also the Old Man’s son-in-law.’

I thought about asking him if Mac’s wife went to Marquette and was called Bubbles. But I didn’t.

We off-loaded the truck in no time. Everything was marked. We sent the wardrobe to the dressing room hallway to wait for the road wardrobe mistress and the local wardrobe crew. Then we unlocked the boxes for the stage, and waited for Mac.

Dutch got nervous. He said he didn’t know how to set up the orchestra. Mac always did it. He said how the soundman and the lighting man needed it set up so they could do their thing. They were in a bobtail truck about an hour out. If they got backed up everything would get backed up, and the Old Man would take it out on Mac.

‘I’ve known Lawrence all my life,’ Dutch explained. ‘He and my dad grew up on neighboring homestead farms. Best friends. Both stubborn Germans. Lawrence is my godfather. The only employer I ever had. Keeps me busy all year long. As much as I respect him, I learned the best way to stay on his good side is to stay away from him. Mac is a good guy, but he takes a lot of guff from the Old Man. And no matter what excuse Mac might have for being late the Old Man will still jump all over him. I’d hate to have him for a father-in-law.’

I told Dutch if we had the orchestra plot and we’d set it up. I suggested looking in Mac’s road box. Sure enough, it was in a drawer. We set up the orchestra in no time and then took coffee while we waited for the lights and sound.

Mac finally showed up. He was about my age so I figured he probably married the younger of the two Welk daughters. He apologized for being late. The plane departure was delayed. Then when he got the Old Man to the hotel, there were a lot of messages that he had to answer. Some fires from upcoming gigs had to be put out. He was thrilled that the orchestra was set up. Dutch gave the credit to me and my crew. ‘Oh,’ Mac added, ‘I had to also call home. The wife said the car died and had to be towed to the garage. I told her we should just get a new one. I told her that a year ago. But no- go! She’s as tight with a buck as her father.’

I thought about asking Mac if his wife had gone to Marquette and was called Bubbles. But I didn’t.

‘You wear too many hats, Mac. Too many hats.’ Dutch waved his hand at Mac and went to get some sleep in his sleeper-cab.

The audience loved the show. Wonnerful! Wonnerful! You could tell that the show was exactly the same as it was when the tour started and would be the same at the end. The band would make the same movements, the performers the same presentations, Lawrence would say the same words, even the ‘ad libs’ would be the same. Tight show! I would bet each show timed about just minutes apart.

As soon as the audience left, Dutch backed the truck in while Mac supervised packing the cases. Then he left the loading of the truck to Dutch and he got Welk to come with him to the office and square away the money end.

They took a slight detour and came over to me. Mac introduced me to Lawrence as the steward responsible for getting the orchestra set up because he was late getting to the arena.

‘Tank you! Tank you!’ Lawrence said, and he shook my hand.

I thought about mentioning to Lawrence that I might have met his daughter way back when at Marquette. But I didn’t.

As the two disappeared down the hall, Dutch came over to me laughing. ‘Wow! He came to you! Two tank you’s and even a hand shake. You ought to feel honored. That’s the biggest tip I ever seen old Mr. Penny-Pincher give anyone. And you being a union stagehand on top of it. Never thought he would ever talk to a union stagehand again, let alone shake one’s hand.

‘Last year we were doing our usual gig at the Avalon Ballroom on Catalina Island and during the out, the Old Man decided to come on stage and order the hands around. Don’t ask me why. Anyway, the union steward asked him politely to get off the stage. He had narrowly missed getting hit by a road box already. If he got hurt, the insurance wouldn’t cover it.

‘So Lawrence puffs up and gets right in the steward’s face. “I’m Lawrence Welk! You can’t order off this stage.”

‘Wrong thing to say. No more Mr. Nice Guy Steward. “I don’t care if you’re Richard frigging Nixon,” says the steward, and he points his finger in Lawrence’s chest. “Now, I asked you nicely to get off the frigging stage, now I’m telling you, get your frigging ass off the ‘frigging stage, now!”

‘The old man took the hint and stormed off, muttering words in German that he would never say in English.

‘Ever since, he has gone out of his way to avoid any union stagehand. And he hasn’t come on a stage while the hands are working since, except for just now.It took a lot for him to shake your hand and give you two “Tank You’s”.’

Driving home that night I thought about how easy the day had been. Music, not exactly my style, but easier to listen to than usual heavy metal. A couple nice people to work with. Just one semi and one bobtail. In at 8 A.M. Out before 11 P.M. Sure beat the usual arena rocker with a dozen or more semis. In at 5 or 6 A.M. one day. Walk away at 3 or 4 P.M the next.

Granted I didn’t get the customary tee shirt, but I did get two Tank You’s and a handshake from a real icon of Americana.

Oh sure, he was known to be fiscally conservative. A true son of the Depression. And he had a stubborn streak and Old World values like religion, hard work, and family. A true son of an immigrant father.

His German parents immigrated from Odessa in the Ukraine. They settled on a homestead in North Dakota. First winter lived in an upturned sod-covered wagon. Raised 8 children, Lawrence was the 6th, on a hard-scramble farm. The kind of people that were the foundation of America.

Lawrence became a very rich man, not because somebody left him money, and not because he screwed over people; but because he got paid for his talent, his use of his Arts, music and dance, to entertain, to create memories, rays of sunshine on cloudy day.

And I would be willing to bet, that even if Lawrence never got paid to perform, he would have played his music for free.

Roll out the barrel, and we’ll have a barrel of fun

Roll out the barrel, we’ll have the Blues on the run

WUNNERFUL! WUNNERFUL!

AH TWO is a continuation of the previous post;

AH ONE

A GIRL CALLED BUBBLES

bubbles

The Old Hand of Oakdale:

It was our Freshman year in college and we had a semester break so Tom and Al and myself decided to get in my car and drive to Chicago to see the Blackhawks play. We stopped in Milwaukee first because there were two girls that Tom and Al had dated in high school attending Marquette University. We caught up with them and several of their classmates at the Student Union.

It was nice catching up and talking over old times with the two girls, as well as meeting their friends, but I had to excuse myself and go to the hotel. My football-knee was acting up after the long drive and I wanted to get back to the hotel and soak it in a tub of hot water.

When Tom and Al came in the room later they informed me the three of us were going to a movie that night. And Bubbles had claimed me as her date.

‘Whoa! Thanks but no thanks,’ I told them. ‘First, I don’t go on blind dates, especially with gals that have silly nicknames like Bubbles…’

‘She’s good looking,’ Al said, ‘And the girls say she is a lot of fun.’

‘I remember who she is. You can’t forget somebody called Bubbles, can you? But forget it. I see the Brubeck Trio are playing at a jazz club down by the lake. No way am I going to blow off chance to see them in person.’

Both Tom and Al argued, using every reason they could think of to make me change my mind. And the more they argued, the more stubborn I got.

Finally I just said, ‘Case closed! I am not going to a movie with a blind date especially one with a silly nickname! I’m going to see Brubeck.’

(A few years later, I broke those two rules and went out on a blind date with a girl nicknamed Georgie. In a couple months Georgie and I will be celebrating our 56th wedding anniversary.)

Driving to Chicago the next morning things was pretty quiet at first. Tom was dozing in the front seat and Al was laid across the back seat. Finally Al sat up and asked me how I enjoyed Brubeck. I told him it was great. Then I asked him about the movie.

‘We should have gone with you, a real tear jerker,’ Tom chimed in. ‘Two of the girls liked it.’

‘Bubbles sure wasn’t very bubbly,’ Al said. ‘I don’t think she’s every been stood up before.’

‘Hey!’ I argued, ‘I never asked her out to begin with, so how could I have stood her up?’

‘Yeah, you got a point’ Tom said. ‘We said you had another commitment that you couldn’t break. And, we sure never told her you didn’t go out with her because her friends called her Bubbles. Wouldn’t want her to think you’re a dink.’

Al leaned over the back seat. ‘Know why they call her Bubbles, dink? Oh, I mean Don.’

‘Bubbling personality?’

‘Well, not last night,’ Al said, and he slapped me on the shoulder. ‘You blew it, man! They call her Bubbles because she’s Lawrence Welk’s daughter.’ He laughed and started singing, ‘Roll out the barrel, and we’ll have a barrel of fun.’

Tom joined in and pretty soon all three of us were singing The Beer Barrel Polka, followed by In Heaven There Is No Beer.’

Published Bulletin Board – 2/22/17

WUNNERFUL! WUNNERFUL!

Stay tuned. The next post will be AH TWO. It will be about the time I worked Bubble’s father and the man who married her.

 

ROBIN REVISTED

Robin Williams

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R.I.P. ROBIN

R.I.P. LEONARD

AND THAT’S A WRAP

 

STARRY, STARRY NIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

young mclean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“vast fields of wheat under troubled skies”.

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

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

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

“Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue”

Eyes of China Blue

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

“Morning fields of amber grain”

Van_Gogh_-_Weizenfeld_bei_Sonnenuntergang

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

“Colors changing hue”

Starry Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a bridge near arles

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thirty plus years later:

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

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

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

don mclean

 

And that’s a wrap – for today.

BETSY’S SMILE

Betsy Palmer

Yet another one of my favorites died. Betsy Palmer, age 88, died of natural causes.

She started her career in a 15 minute TV soap opera back in 1951 and continued as an actress and television personality the rest of her life. During the 50’s and 60’s she was one of the most popular and well-known entertainers on TV.

And yet, all the news of her death leads off with her playing a murderous cook in the FRIDAY THE 13TH movie series. She was a true pioneer of American TV, and yet they focus on her having played in slasher pictures. Heck, I’d rather they led off with a gossipy fact like she lived with James Dean for eight months, no easy task, or that she remained a good friend of Joan Crawford up until the day Miss Crawford died, again, no easy task. Or, how about the fact that she had a smile that could light up the room and that smile never left her face when she was appearing as herself.

Betsy Palmer was a guest on all the big game shows of the 50’s and 60’s. Those years, game shows on network TV were as big as ‘reality’ shows are today. She was the first ‘letter turner’ on WHEEL OF FORTUNE, a few years before Vanna was even born. She was a mainstay on I’VE GOT A SECRET for 12 years. During those years she also was a regular on THE TODAY SHOW. She had personality, wit, and — that smile.

Palmer studied at the Actor’s Studio and was a fine actress on TV, the stage, motion pictures. During the Golden Age of Television, she was appearing in many of the great playhouse dramas, all live. Her resume includes work on Broadway and theaters all over the country. Heavy dramatic parts, comedic parts, parts in musicals. Her movies credits include MISTER ROBERTS with Henry Fonda, QUEEN BEE with Joan Crawford, among many other credits in movies that don’t center around blood and gore.

I had the privilege of working Miss Palmer in a touring revival of GIGI. She played the part of Gigi’s aunt Alicia.

It was a good production. Louis Jourdan who was the young suitor in the movie, played the part of the old advisor, a part played by Maurice Chevalier in the movie. Sadly, Mr. Jourdan also passed away recently. He was not only a movie star, he was a ‘hero’ in WWII. Refusing to do propaganda movies for he Nazis, he manged to escape and join his father fighting in the French Resistance. In his movies he was known for playing a suave gentleman. That week of working with him, I came away with the impression he that didn’t have to work hard for those portrayals. I found him to be a very suave gentleman in real life also.

As far as working with Miss Palmer… I always remembered her for her perkiness, her wit, and of course, her smile. I must admit I came prepared to dislike her. I just didn’t believe her real persona could ever match the one she had in front of a camera. I mean, how could anyone have that big a smile all the time.

And boy, was I surprised!!!

She was great to work with. She was always laughing and talking with us as if she knew us all her life. One of my cues was to help her down some escape stairs. She would stand on the top step and wouldn’t move until I took her by the arm.

The last performance, at the bottom of the stairs, she confessed that she really didn’t need my help, but she just wanted me to hold her arm. I told her I kind of knew that about half way down the stairs the first performance. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and told me that would be our little secret. I guess now I won’t be in trouble for revealing that little secret.

R.I.P. Miss Betsy Palmer. I pity those who remember you mostly as a deranged knife wielder. I’ll always remember you as a real professional, as a joy to be around, and of course, I’ll always remember your smile.

And that’s a wrap.

CAN WE TALK?

Joan Rivers

 

I had a hard time writing anything about Joan Rivers after her death for many reasons. One, (Spoiler Alert), I was not a fan of Miss Rivers. Two, I’m not into writing negative things about someone. But, what the heck, she made her life work cutting people down, so here goes.

I only worked her live twice. The first time I gave her the benefit of the doubt. After the second, I added her name to my ‘Life Is Too Short, and My Seniority Is Too High To Ever Work This Act Again’ list, along with the likes of Hank Williams Jr., Alice Cooper, anything produced by Tyler Perry, and several other acts or events, especially those involving an excess of pyro.

In fairness, when she was Queen of Late Night TV, my young family and my work schedule left me little time to watch TV. I never watched much of her when she was in her prime. It was  years after her tragic fall from the A List to the D List, and after she botoxed herself into looking like a reject from a wax museum, and after her ‘humor’ changed from insult to downright vicious, that I really got acquainted with her shtick.

The first time I worked her was a benefit for Jewish Charities at the Convention Center.

Like so many ‘stars’ Miss Rivers wasn’t a whiner. She didn’t have to be. Her daughter, Melissa was a pro at complaining.

‘The catered food was unacceptable.’

‘The dressing room mirror was cracked in the lower corner.’

The toilet seat was cold.’ Etc. Etc. Etc..

The audience gave her a standing ovation as she walked on stage. They were ready to laugh, to applaud, to make her feel at home. And they did – at first. But ‘bold and brassy’ turned to raw, vulgar, and vicious.

Racy? Much more sophomoric humor than adult.

Racist? I suppose she thought that since both her and the audience were Jewish, Jewish stereotypes were fair game.

Tasteless? To attempt to solicit humor out of the Holocaust… Sick! Sick! Sick! Instead of laughter, she only got a few boos from the audience on that topic.

I was sitting in the wings at the light board. During her act, the main lights came from two spots a the rear of the house. I just had some low blue backlight to provide atmosphere. I was as uncomfortable at her act as most of the audience. And I couldn’t help but look at her face, even in side view, it made me wonder why would anybody do that to their face.

I heard a shout of ‘You can’t go on stage!’ behind me; and as I turned my head to see what the commotion was, I got crushed by a very large woman who was trying to get at the light board controls.

‘Turn that bitch off,’ she shouted.

‘Lady,’ I said, as I grabbed her wrists, ‘This is the lights. The sound board is in the house.’ While I quietly agreed with what the woman wanted to do, I had to keep her from the board.

‘Then put the slut in the dark. Shut her up! We didn’t pay money to listen to this kind of talk.’

I saw Rivers turn her head at the noise, and I glanced back as Melissa and a squad of security men were pulling the woman off me. ‘Bitch! Bitch! My grandparents died at Auswitch’! She screamed as she got pushed out into the hallway.

That was just about the end of act. Melissa stood next to the board holding a penlight down to help her mother get offstage.

‘You should have let that bitch come on stage,’ Joan told her daughter, ‘Maybe a good cat fight would have put some life in that bunch of schmucks.’

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ shouted the emcee, ‘ Let’s hear it for Joan Rivers! Joan Rivers, ladies and gentlemen! He got some polite clapping from the audience. ‘Let Joan hear it. Joan,’ he shouted to the wings, ‘Come on back and say a few more words!’

She had stopped right next to me and turned back to the stage. ‘You want a few words,’ she yelled at the emcee, ‘Here’s a couple words for you…Fuck You!’, and  she raised both arms in one-finger salutes. Then she disappeared through the side masking.

The emcee stood silent for a several beats. ‘Ah…’ he said when he regained his composure, ‘All of you who purchased the V.I.P. tickets, just line up against that wall and as soon as Joan is ready, I’ll come and get you.’

But when he got offstage, the dressing room security guard met him. ‘They’re gone. That old lady, her maid?, brought the suitcase and dog out of the dressing room and stood by the door. When Joan got off, she grabbed the dog, the old lady dragged the suitcase and off they went. Oh, the daughter told me to tell you she left some autographed pictures in the dressing room that you can hand out.’

 

The second time I worked Miss Rivers was at the State Theater. It was a more conventional show, a straight up comedy act. I was on spotlight and as soon as I checked in, I went right up to the booth. I didn’t want to see Rivers anymore than I had to.

Oh, I did stop briefly backstage and asked the house electrician if the toilet seat was too cold. She smiled, nodded her head, and rolled her eyes. Melissa had done her thing.

It opened with a very forgettable male comic. The last thing a main act comic wants is a funny opening act. He was on for about twenty minutes. Then intermission so more booze could be sold. Finally, it was time for Joan Rivers.

She got a standing ovation when she came on. The audience, mostly all female, had come to enjoy Joan. When they calmed down, she grabbed the mic and walked downstage and yelled, ‘Can we talk? Can we talk?’ Another eruption of applause.

She started out with some dirt on what some celebrity that had walked the Red Carpet. The audience laughed and applauded. ‘You know what I’m talking about. You know! You watch ET every night. You read the news at the check out line. You know what I mean!’

She was a pro at getting the audience to think they were actually in on what she was talking about. Something she had failed miserably the first time I worked her. She played around and finally got to her favorite celebrity to throw darts at, Elizabeth Taylor. The way she talked she made like she actually was an acquaintance of Taylor. Probably only met her a couple times, if any.

Miss Taylor had many things a comedian could milk for laughs out of, like being a serial bride, marrying her handyman, her defense of Michael Jackson and his monkey; but instead her routine centered around Miss Taylor’s looks. Rivers tore her up because Taylor no longer looked like she did twenty years before. And, according to Rivers, she was doing nothing, like botox or liposuction, to stop looking old.

And when she finally milked that bit dry, she screamed out, ‘And she’s Fat! Fat! Fat! You know what I’m talking about!’

Some more smoozing with the audience and then she launched into Marilyn Monroe. Now I doubt if she ever saw Monroe in person, let alone ever talked to her. More of the same old, same old, and she finished up by screaming, ‘And she’s Dead! Dead! Dead!’

The audience loved it, but she lost me a long time before. The next ‘celebrity’ on her cutting board was, believe it or not, Mary, the biblical mother of Christ.

Enough! I reached up and turned off the audio feed in the booth. I had to look at her, but I didn’t have to listen to her. And because I no longer heard her, I found myself starring at her face. Even from the booth, I could tell she had more work, all bad, done to her face since the last time I saw her. When she looked in a mirror, did the mirror lie to her? Did she really think…

 

At the risk of trivializing Shakespeare, her rise to the A List, which took years, and her fall, which took only a little over a year, resembled a Shakespearian Tragedy. Queen of Late Nite Talk. Johnny Carson favorite and most frequent guest and guest host on the Tonight Show. Her hubris got the better of her. She let the new network, Fox, con her into believing she could succeed in her own talk show, even if was in direct competition with her friend, her mentor, her biggest employer, Johnny Carson. She betrayed him and couldn’t figure out why he never talked to her again.

The show started out strong; but as time went by, and both the audience and potential guests, had to choose between Rivers and Carson, it ceased to be a contest. Fox fired her producer, Edgar Rosenberg, who was also her husband of 22 years. Her hubris again. She told Fox to hire Edgar back or she would walk. Fox jumped at the chance to to break their contract with Rivers and wishing her well, warned her not to let the door hit her in the ass when she left.

Her next big play was to tell Edgar that the vow she made 22 years before were a sham. She even went into details about taking side trips in the marriage, and with who. This, on top of being humiliated by Fox, was too much for Edgar to handle. He committed suicide.

The Queen of Late Nite was now just another comedian.

 

If her rise and fall resembled a Shakespeare Tragedy, her death was like a black comedy penned by Joe Orton. She was to have a procedure done on her vocal chords. Actually needed? Or another vanity operation? She had it done at a clinic that wasn’t experienced with the procedure by a medical team that also was not experienced with the procedure. Her vocal chords swelled, cutting off her windpipe. She went into cardiac arrest, something neither the clinic or medical team had any experience in. Someone hit 911 for an ambulance that took her to a competent hospital and staff, but too late. Her brain had been robbed of oxygen for too long a period.

One of the doctors on her original medical team was experienced in taking pictures with his smart phone though. He placed his face next to the unconscious Rivers and took a selfie.

Since she had once stated that at her funeral she didn’t want a long haired rabbi crying over her body, her daughter Melissa saw to it that not happen. She had Howard Stern deliver an eulogy. Sad, sad, sad. It was reported as possibly the ‘dirtiest’ eulogy ever delivered. Sick, sick, sick.

Her will was straight forward. Melissa got the biggest share. Melissa’s son a big share. And Joan’s three dogs got their fair share.

Melissa had begun a lawsuit against the clinic and the medical team. Melissa says it’s not about the money. She plans to use the money to see to it that no one else will ever die like her mother die??? Quite a task! Kind of like the Miss America candidates who vow to work for peace on earth.

I see where she is going to be replaced on her TV gigs by Kathy Griffin. A wise choice. Griffin can not only spew venom to equal Rivers, she can surpass her. Another member of my Not Work Again List.

I find great irony in the fact that someone who is known for the words, ‘Can we talk?’, died because her vocal chords choked her.

I’ll agree that Joan Rivers was an unusual talent, loved by a wide audience. And perhaps under different circumstances I might have actually been a part of that audience. But I doubt it.

ROBIN – THE CRAZY ONE

Robin Williams

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

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

Leonard in Vincent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s a wrap, old friends.

SAY WHAT?

        

            In the early days of bumper sticker ‘humor’, one of the best sellers read: I’M NOT HARD OF HEARING. I’M JUST IGNORING YOU. If ever I was so inclined to have a bumper sticker, mine would read: I’M NOT IGNORING YOU. I AM HARD OF HEARING. I can see humor in the first reading; but to me, there’s nothing funny about the second reading.

            Most of the times, when a person wearing a hearing aid, asks the speaker to repeat what was said, it has nothing to do with volume. It is really a plea for slower and clearer speech. And the saddest is when you can’t understand what your little grandchildren are trying to tell you. And you ask them to repeat what they said. And you still don’t understand. So you either smile and not yes, or turn to your wife and see if she could tell you what they said.

            It is said some things are genetic. I guess I inherited my bad eyesight from my mother, bad hearing from my father.

            Dad was never much to listen to small talk. It took a lot of persuasion to finally convince him to get a hearing aid. He expected that if people had anything really important to tell him, they would holler. Other things  he needed to know could be found in the newspaper, and the only thing he really watched on TV was baseball, which he could follow without having to listen to the announcers. (On that point I totally agree with him. When I am watching sports on TV, I usually hit the mute. With the new hearing aids, the clarity is less of a problem than the inane statements of the announcers.) When Dad finally got a hearing aid, he didn’t like it. For one thing, the bad clarity made things more confusing than helping.

            Dad finally reached a point where he wore his hearing aid, but…. Mom would be talking to him. He’d nod and answer ‘yes’. She’d go on and on, and he would just nod and answer ‘yes’. And then she would say something where ‘yes’ was not the right thing to say.

hard of hearing ‘Dick’, she’d scream, ‘You got your damn hearing aid turned off again! Haven’t you?’ Like I said, he was never one for small talk.

The Old Hand :

It has been several years since my wife and I began to talk two, three times as much to each other as we had done in the past. It isn’t that we have that much more to say to each other; it’s that we have to keep repeating everything to be understood.

Now the concept of a hearing aid may sound good on paper; but in reality, it is often a pain in the ear. You can’t understand what the person talking to you is saying, but you sure as heck can hear the noise of a fan in the next room. And when a vacuum is turned on, you know why dogs hate them.

Now, one aid for the hard-of-hearing that I found that really helps is close- captioning on the TV. On taped shows, it affirms that what was said is as silly as what you thought you heard. And on live shows, the accuracy and spelling often suffers, but what comes across the screen is often more entertaining then what was actually said.

I remember when I first started using it, and two of the grandsons were over. Alex came running through the room, glanced at the TV, and stopped.

“Avery, Avery,” he shouted to his brother, “Come here and look. Grandpa’s TV is so smart, it can even spell.” I am glad he said it loud enough for me to enjoy it.

Published SPPP, 8/2, 2006

       And there are occupations that cause damage to your hearing. Stagehanding is one of the worst. You can’t wear earplugs and hear cues at the same time. If you are on headset chances the cue caller has his/hers mic open, which amplifies the noise. And rock and roll concerts!!! The PA fader is set at 11. (See SPINAL TAP)  

       Pyro explosions are becoming more plentiful as more spectacle is needed to cover up the lack of talent. And, of course, the audiences of today tend to confuse concert going with playing an interactive video game, they think they have to make more noise than the entertainers on the stage. 

The Old Hand :

For a great many years my brother Ray has had a lot of trouble hearing but never had much success with hearing aids. The problem with all the various hearing aids he had bought over the years was they all amplified the sounds, but  the heat and noise made them unpractical to wear at work, driving a blacktop dump truck, and the lack of clarity made them frustrating to wear anytime. Ray reached a point where if anybody wanted to say something to him, they better just talk loud because the hearing aids were in the dresser drawer.

Recently, having retired from his noisy job, he gave the hearing aid route another try and finally got one that worked for him. Not only did he wear it, he even kept it turned on.

The first time he wore it to the weekly card tournament, he announced to everything that they would no longer have to holler at him. He had a good hearing aid and he could hear them, and even understand what they are saying. He went on to tell them how it is different from the ones he had before, how much clearer it sounds, and how being able to hear makes a big change in a person’s life.

One of the card players, who had been considering getting a hearing aid himself, asked Ray, “What kind is it?”

Ray looked at his watch and said, “Ten to nine.”

Published SPPP, Bulletin Board 9/27/11

           

260px-Dave_Letterman    A month or so after this story was published, David Letterman used it in his monologue with two differences. He said it was his mother who got the new hearing aid, and it was his son who asked her what kind she bought.

            Come on, David! My story was true. Yours was probably bought from someone who sent your writers a copy of the published story. Okay! But do you really think anyone would believe that your son, age 8 at the time, would really care what brand of hearing aid his grandmother bought?

 

            We can officially add two more certainties to Ben Franklin’s death and taxes.

           First: With the depletion of the ozone layer, cataract surgery will be as common as tonsillectomies were in the 40’s and 50’s.

            Second: With the volume of things like IPods and rock concerts  cranked up to destruction levels, hearing aids will be as common as eye glasses were before contacts and lasik.

            So please, on behalf of all of us with bad hearing, speak slowly and don’t mumble. WHAT SAY?