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The questions you ask yourself…

I’m discovering as I face brain surgery and it’s unknown consequences that I find myself asking questions about what I have and have not accomplished over the last 66 or so years. It’s not a pleasant experience, btw, only one that makes me realize how many things I REALLY wanted to do which will probably never be realized. I guess, however, that this is common to just about everyone.

(Sorry… this is much longer than I expected and it will not hurt my feelings if you sign out right now,   – Bill)

Starting with the basics:

  • I have a wonderful wife who is taking care of me when she also maintains a full time teaching job that keeps us supported and in our mandatory health insurance mode.
  • I have three impressive and incredible grown children, Cassandra, Penny and Will (who we call Buddy… I don’t know where “Will” came from), and four wonderful grandsons, 3 in Maryland and one in Connecticut. (Allow me to say while I’m in this particular note about how lucky I am to have my son-in-law Matthew Corrigan in Connecticut who has made sure Cassandra could be down here with me during all of this.)
  • I set out many years ago for a life in the Arts, something I really discovered while a prep-school student at Tabor Academy in Marion, MA.  Between painting and sculpture creation under Lou LaVoie, drama and theatre discoveries under Tom Weisshaus, ending as President of the Drama Club where i acted, but didn’t do much in tech theatre, I was poised to take off when I headed for The School Of Speech/Theatre Department at Northwestern University in 1964.

And just what did I do that I remember proudly?:

  • After I discovered systems analysis through an amazing engineer, art collector and professor, Dr. Gustave J. Rath, I created my first small theatre company, Systems Theatre, which applied this amazing intellectual technology to performance creation. Our first major production was an adaptation of Frank Zappa’s “Lumpy Gravy” which eventually played Chicago’s Performing Warehouse between sets by the two great bluesmen B.B. King and Albert King (who I got to give a ride home to later… wow!) When I ended up in NYC in 1971 I restarted Systems Theatre with some of the same people who were with me at Northwestern
  • There were a couple of plays that we did at Theatre at St. Clement’s, one of the really great off-off Broadway locations in the city. Well reviewed, well attended and most important to me was my adaptation of Thomas Merton’s “Original Child Bomb” which had gothic-y chants composed by a wonderful musician, Ed Roberts, who I had met when teaching for a year at Tabor. Ed and I went on to do several shows together… at St. Clement’s and other places. My greatest pride came in a project we did a little later:
  • Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark”, an opera for children, was presented at the Whitney

    The Whitney

    Museum of American Art, thanks to a contact I made with one of the most  influential people in my life and someone who I am so proud to call a friend today, Berta Walker. Berta was working as the Administrative Assistant to Steve Weil at the Whitney and was looking for children’s programming. Ed and I suggested doing “Snark” which we had just started working on and now we had a reason for pushing through. We opened to great reception at the Whitney and, a little bit later on, Berta and I produced it for a few weekends at a little theater on the East Side of Manhattan. Following that, it was taken to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, a major museum which had been started by Berta’s grandfather, where it was also successful.

  • My friend and former Northwestern student John Driver, who played the original Bellman in “Snark” had been writing a musical based on Samurai warrior Mushami called “Ride The Wind” with pretty much of a rock ‘n roll score and martial arts based choreography. This was during the time that “Kung Fu” was a big television show, and we thought we were really on something here, so Berta and I decided to produce it (the company we created was called Snarkophilus Productions after our big success). We started out aiming for Off-Broadway, but then the Bijou Theater, a little house at the end of Shubert Alley, became available and we booked it. We were now a Broadway show… albeit a very small one. My set design professor, Sam Ball, agreed to do the sets, which were built by Northwestern students and which I brought to New York driving a truck across country. A number of the actors who auditioned were folks I had known from the New Theatre Workshop, a small non-profit group which acted as a try-out location for new plays that writers were working on. I was their stage electrician for a year before they tore the theater down to build the CitiPlace Center on 57th Street.
  • Unfortunately, “Ride The Winds” didn’t pass the New York Times test and I was no longer a Broadway producer.
  • I had to work, so I took a job as Administrator of the Jamaica Arts Center in Queens, where I structured classes, set up concerts, scheduled movies and ran the books. It was there I met Elly, my current wife, who I hired to teach Photography in the class size darkroom I had built in the Center’s basement (I took up photography, too… something I really loved.)  Eddy came down and we did a little revival of “Snark” in Jamaica for the kids in Queens. When I was hired later on by The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA, by their Board President (you can probably see this coming… it was Berta Walker), Elly came with me and we settled in on  lower Cape Cod. I helped the Work Center fund raise, grow and prosper over three years, then spent another three years on it’s Board. Elly and I however, moved down to the mid-Cape where we started a business that would keep us in debt and development for the next decade: Our photo studio, Photography Associates of New England Inc., and U-Design, Inc.
  • The appearance of the Apple Macintosh computer, the laser printer, a piece of software called Aldus PageMaker and things like scanners, modems, etc., inspired us to set up a rental-area business where folks would come in, rent space in a booth, and lay out, with our help, their ads and brochures. After a couple of years, we moved it to Hartford, CT… back in my home state. At one point we had U-Designs in three cities in CT (that was a mistake!) and we started doing more jobs for clients ourselves rather than booth rentals. We worked with major and minor companies, lots of non-profits, plus we offered desktop publishing classes. At one time we had a dozen or so employees. During this time I did no theatre, maybe a little painting, but not much (Elly was our painter and her work was wonderful.) While in Marlborough, however, I was recruited to be a Justice of the Peace, where I married several couples (I specialized in non-believers who I thought should have a person of their own.) I did start designing computer fonts at this time… still do it, especially my “picture fonts” which have been used on this blog many times. U-Design Type Foundry has attracted hundreds of buyers, for which I have great appreciation.

More recent years… “Things fall apart, the center does not hold” – TS Eliot.

  • We had built a passive solar house in Marlborough, CT, where we moved so Buddy could go to school there and we could lead the suburban life (eventually, we moved the last vestige of U-Design to Marlborough where it finally ended up in our house until it died.) I started going out and getting jobs as an Information Technologist at some larger companies, finally ending up at Computer Sciences Corporation, where I spent five working years. For most of that I was commuting to the Maryland-DC area every week to do a major piece of work for the Internal Revenue Service with a bunch of my colleagues. I made more money here than I ever had before. When my whole department was laid off after three years I even got six months of part-time work for the IRS itself to finish some of the project stuff.
  • Elly and I sold the Marlborough house and bought a historic co-op space in Old Greenbelt, MD, where I was still doing CSC work. Eventually, when there was no more work and a guy in his late fifties had a hard time finding IT jobs when the market was stuffed with lower earning young guys. I had to take early retirement which, thanks to CSC’s salary, brought me a higher Social Security than I had expected. Elly took a teaching job in Graphic Design at Hagerstown Community College in Hagerstown, MD, and we eventually moved to

    Ride The Winds

    Hagerstown, then Shepherdstown (our favorite) and now Harper’s Ferry. While I was living in Greenbelt, I got involved with two community theatres, the Laurel Mill Playhouse and the Greenbelt Arts Center. Amazingly enough, with the entrance to all of this I made by meeting Linda Bartash, I directed several plays and musicals. The highlight of these was a revival of “Ride The Winds” which I got John Driver to rewrite the second act for. It was well-reviewed in the Washington Post and local papers and I breathed a sight of final relief. I also, amid all the shows I did, had a really good production of that unusual musical “Urinetown” at Greenbelt, also a success.

  • I got involved with a new Community Theater in Shepherdstown, The Full Circle Theater, where I

    The Hunting of the Snark, in Shepherdstown

    became the House Electrician and ran lights on a bunch of shows, And then, can you believe it, I go to to do a revival of “The Hunting of the Snark” and Eddy, who was then living in Pennsylvania, came down from time to time to help my friend and music director, Ruth Raubertas, get our favorite opera for kids off the ground. Everyone seemed to like it, but this was my last chance to direct anything and I sank into an ongoing depression hoping I would get to do it again some day. I don’t think, now, that it will happen. I have to say, though, that I made a great friend of John Case who played the Butcher in that last production. John had a weekday morning radio show on WSCH 89.7FM on Shepherd University’s radio station and originally he invited me on for an interview and eventually I was on every Friday, which John started promoting as “The Bill and John Show.” I guess I did OK, since a few months later the station manager, Todd Cottgreave, gave me a show of my own on Saturday mornings which I called “Talk To Me” and which I made into a call-in production. I think the radio shows really saved my intelligence and ability to carry on while under depression.

So those are things I’ve been thinking about. What I haven’t discussed here is this blog, which is the major occupation of an old, retired guy’s day. I hope I can keep it going for years (as you can see, I love to talk)… if it has to cease, however, someone will put up a final post.

Time to feed the dogs.

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I have such an urge to direct again…

… and what I really am eager to do is a production of the 1953 musical “Kismet“, whose music was adapted from classical work of Borodin.

The wonderful Arabian Nights story of 16th Century Baghdad about a fortune teller, a Wazir, a young Caliph and two very lovely women is something I have loved most of my life.

Many of it’s musical numbers became song classics. “Baubles, Bangles and Beads“, “Stranger in Paradise” and this:


“This is My Beloved.”

The show was a starring vehicle for Alfred Drake and the Broadway debut of Richard Kiley.

Unfortunately, my current physical condition makes it seem like I will never be able to direct again. If the tumor is removed it will probably endanger the part of my brain where cognitive creativity is connected. If we don’t solve the problem and I keep having seizures I will never be able to drive again and won’t be able to put in the solid effort that coordinating a musical production, especially a large and complex one as this, would be very difficult. It could certainly, however, make West Virginia community theatre history.

And then I have to find one of the local community playhouses who might let me do it… find 20 great performers … get a nice piano score for my dear collaborator Ruth Robertas to play from… and find a local choreographer who can bring the dancing girls to life.

If I get through this surgery and all that accompanies it, it will take at least a year before I can even get started (apart from notes I am doing now) putting it together. One can hope. It gives me something to focus on.

 

The Opening of “The Book Of Mormon”

I wonder how much Mitt Romney has effected the success of The Book Of Mormon? I don’t think his identity as a Mormon has anything to do with it.

For a little entertainment though, let me give you, my readers, the opening of The Book Of Mormon at the 2012 Tony Awards on Broadway – Hope you enjoy it:

Director Albert Marre Dead at 86…

 

I remember sitting in the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut back in the mid sixties watching the premiere performance of “Man of La Mancha“. The musical, directed by Albert Marre, eventually won him a Best Director Tony when it appeared on Broadway at the ANTA Theatre.

I went to the La Mancha performance not because I knew anything about the show, nor did I know anything about Marre, but because my friend Charlie Leipart was in the cast (it was our summer break from Northwestern University’s Theatre Department.) I discovered, however, what a wonderful musical it was… I couldn’t wait for an Original Cast album to be released.

Marre began his theatre career as an actor, making his Broadway debut as both performer and associate director in 1950 in The Relapse. One year later, he was director alone, on The Little Blue Light.

In 1948, Mr. Marre was a co-founders of the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA, one of the country’s first classical repertory companies. In 1953, he was hired by Lincoln Kirstein to be the first artistic director of the New York City Drama Company at City Center, where he staged Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Merchant of Venice and Shaw’s Misalliance, all in 1953.

The musical classic Kismet came next, and he won a 1954 Donaldson Award for Best Director of a Musical.

Marre introduced Broadway audiences to composer Jerry Herman in 1961, when he staged Herman’s tale of the birth of Israel, Milk and Honey.  He wrote the book for the 1970 musical Cry for Us All and the 1975 musical Home Sweet Homer.  His final non-La Mancha Broadway credit was the musical Chu Chem in 1989.

 

I was thinking about my own labor history…

 

Since I’ve been taking a look at unions today, it occurs to me that I have been a member of two unions back in my New York past.

As a theatre worker in the early 70s, I had experience as a member of AEA (Actors Equity Association) and LOBTET (the League of Off Broadway Theatre Employees and Technicians.) LOBTET was eaten up by Equity after a couple of years and does not exist anymore.

As an Equity member (which I had to join as a professional stage manager), I was involved in the Off Broadway strike in 1970 or 71. Equity was protesting the fact that actors in off-Broadway productions were often paid very little or nothing at all, but took jobs so that they might be seen by critics or casting direc tors or Broadway producers.

I had to picket the Theatre De Lys (now the Lucille Lortel Theatre) one night. I walked back and forth with my

Shelley Winters

picket sign, alone, while the General Manager of the theatre sat in the ticket booth and stared at me.

After a while I was joined by another Equity member, and this was one of the most interesting occurences in my theatre career. The other picketer was Shelley Winters!

Shelley and I picketed for about two hours, carrying on a neat social conversation, until we decided that it was past what would have been curtain time and we quit. She got a cab and I walked down the block to the subway.

That’s my Union Story.

 

Actress Celeste Holm, 95, Dies…

Celeste Holm, the versatile actress who achieved fame on Broadway in the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s hit musical “Oklahoma!” in 1943 and five years later won an Oscar for best supporting actress, died today.

In a career of over 70 years, Holm did other Broadway shows such as “Bloomer Girl” and as the replacement for Gertrude Lawrence in “The King and I.” She made films like “Three Little Girls In Blue,” “The Snake Pit” and “All About Eve.”

Celeste Holm won an Academy Award for supporting actress in the 1947 film “Gentleman’s Agreement” and was nominated two other times. She also had frequent roles on television, including in the 1990s series ‘Promised Land.’

Holm died in her apartment on Central Park West in New York City.


For old guys like me who remember Ichabod Mudd…

…the actor who played Captain Midnight‘s sidekick, Sid Melton, has died at age 94.

One of the many second tier actors on Broadway, in films and on early TV, Melton’s face was immediately recognizeable from his regular roles in the television shows “Make Room for Daddy” and “Green Acres,” and for his unflagging reliability as the comic relief in many science-fiction and noir films of the 1950s.


His career ranged from 1939 to the early 1990s with a role on The Golden Girls.

Alice Playten (August 28, 1947 – June 25, 2011) died today…

I was so sad to hear of the death of Alice Playten in a posting from Charlie Leipart on my Facebook Page. Playten was 63 years old.

Originally a television face in a 1970 Alka-Seltzer commercial, Playten went on to act on and off-Broadway, in films and on a number of television shows.

I first saw Playten onstage in the rather abstract off-Broadway musical Promenade by Al Carmines and Maria Irene Fornes, where she played Miss U. She went on to appear in shows such as The Last Sweet Days of Isaac and National Lampoon’s Lemmings (for which she received one of her two Obie Awards.)

Alice Playten was liked and admired by so many in the Theatre.  As Charlie said in his Facebook post:

“What a light and joy Alice was to the theatre. I am stunned and so very grateful that her life touched mine. She brought her amazing talent and joy for living to all who knew her.”

The Tonys are tomorrow night and I’m curious…

… about which of the songs in “The Book of Mormon are safe enough to present as the sample from the best nominated Musicals. Mormon is up for 14 Tonys, and although it probably won’t win them all, as the Drama Desk Awards showed last week, it is sure to take SOMETHING home.

I’ve been playing the album over and over on my iPhone and I think the piece that stands the best chance is the opening number “Hello,” yet that doesn’t show the experience in Uganda which makes up the body of the work. The songs in Uganda pose the biggest problems for television which cannot easily take “fuck you, God” or any and all the messages about the clitoris, or even the closing scene, which is a variation on “Hello” also full of the F word.

I must sat, I love the score and the story, however. I wish I was in New York so I could go see it (where apparently, it is frequently sold out.) It’s going to be a long time, if ever, before this gets to the Community Theatre market.

Playwright Lanford Wilson Dies at 73…

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lanford Wilson has died of pneumonia complications at the Kindred St. Joseph Hospital in Wayne, N.J. Wilson lived in Sag Harbor, N.Y.

Wilson was one of the founders of the Circle Repertory Company, an off-Broadway repertory group where he premiered his plays. Known for such works as “The Hot l Baltimore” and Talley’s Folly“, he explored such themes as contemporary gay identity, youthful angst and the  modern lack of the usual social or ethical standards.

A number of Wilson’s plays reached Broadway, and he received three Tony nominations for best play. But today he is most closely associated with the off-off-Broadway scene. He won the Pulitzer for “Talley’s Folly.”

A revival production of “Burn This,” directed by Nicholas Martin, is set to open at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles on April 3.

Shepherd University is doing one of my all-time favorite musicals…

…Candide is coming in February. For those of you in the Shepherd, WV, area who are not familiar with this, what I think is Leonard Bernstein‘s best show, here is Bernstein himself conducting the Overture shortly before he died. Just a taste to get you interested:

Blake Edwards dies at Age 88…

The great film director, writer, creator of the Pink Panther and husband of Julie Andrews died with his wife and children at his side.

From Yahoo:

Edwards, 88, died from complications of pneumonia Wednesday evening at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., after being hospitalized for about two weeks. He had knee problems, had undergone unsuccessful procedures and was “pretty much confined to a wheelchair for the last year-and-a-half or two,” said publicist Gene Schwam, who knew him for 40 years.

At the time of his death, Edwards was working on two Broadway musicals, one based on the “Pink Panther” movies. The other, “Big Rosemary,” was to be an original comedy set during Prohibition, Schwam said.

The list of films he created, wrote and/or directed was an amazing collection of contemporary classics, including:
* My Sister Eileen (1955)
* Operation Petticoat (1959)
* Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
* Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
* The Pink Panther (1963)
* A Shot in the Dark (1964)
* The Great Race (1965)
* Darling Lili (1969)
* The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)
* The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)
* Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978)
* 10 (1979)
* S.O.B. (1981)
* Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)
* Victor Victoria (1982)
* Curse of the Pink Panther (1983)
* A Fine Mess (1986)
* Son of the Pink Panther (1993)
… and many, many more.

Hilly Elkins died… just saw it in the NY Times.

Veteran producer Hilliard Elkins, the man who brought us “Oh! Calcutta!” and made sex both funny and available in the American Theatre in 1970, has died of a heart attack at his home in Los Angeles… age 81. From the NY Times:

Hillard Elkins - 1970

After forming his own company, whose clients included Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Robert Culp and Mel Brooks, he set up as a producer and in short order developed a string of notable plays and films, including the musical “Golden Boy,” the film “Alice’s Restaurant” and the Broadway premieres of two plays by Athold Fugard. With Al Goldin, he made his Broadway debut in 1962 with “Come On Strong,” a Garson Kanin comedy starring Carroll Baker and Van Johnson.

_____

Mr. Elkins went on to write his own chapter in the history of the 1960s counterculture when he produced “Oh! Calcutta!,” Kenneth Tynan’s musical sex revue, and, with Mr. Penn as director, produced the film version of Arlo Guthrie’s shaggy-dog song “Alice’s Restaurant” (1969).

“Oh! Calcutta!” made by far the bigger splash. Consisting of sexual fantasies sketched by notables like Samuel Beckett, John Lennon, Sam Shepard, Edna O’Brien and Jules Feiffer, it offered copious nudity and simulated sex acts.

It opened at the Eden Theater in the East Village in 1969 and two years later transferred uptown to the Belasco, where it became an enormous hit, running for more than 1,300 performances despite often withering reviews.

Clive Barnes, dismissing it as “witless,” “doggedly sophomoric” and “soporific” in The New York Times, wrote in his review of the Off Broadway production, “To be honest, I think that I can recommend the show with any vigor only to people who are extraordinarily underprivileged either sexually, socially or emotionally.”

When I was in New York shortly after graduating with my MA in Theatre from Northwestern (and after a year of Prep School teaching), Hilly Elkins employed a number of my friends and he was the one I really wanted to work for (along with Hal Prince, who none of my friends worked for). I didn’t get to… and Hilly took off for Hollywood shortly afterward.

Oh well… another part of my NY Theatre world is now gone for good.

Tom Bosley has died at age 83.

I am sorry to see that Tom Bosley, an actor whose work I have been watching since I was a very young man, has died at age 83 of heart failure that may have been related to his lung cancer.

While everyone I know immediately thinks of Bosley as Ritchie Cunningham’s father on Happy Days, my first exposure to him was as the Mayor of New York, Fiorello H. LaGuardia in the musical Fiorello, the role which won him a Tony Award (1959). I saw Fiorello when he had it on a summer tour a year after he had left the Broadway cast (and after which the B’way show closed…without Bosley there was no Fiorello) at the Springfield, Massachusetts tent theatre on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition. He took the Bock/Harnick Musical all around the country where he was heartily received everywhere.

He spent most of his career on Television, however… Happy Days, a long-running role on Murder, She Wrote as Sheriff Amos Tupper, and guest spots on other shows.

I will remember him and his performances.

Kevin McCarthy has died at 96…

Kevin McCarthy, the suave, square-jawed actor who will always be best known as the star of the 1956 science fiction movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” died Saturday at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Mass. He was 96 and lived in Sherman Oaks, Calif. His death was confirmed by his daughter Lillah McCarthy.

Nothing in the NY Times notice said why he was on Cape Cod, but I assume he was vacationing. The Hyannis hospital serves the entire Cape, so he might have been staying in any of the towns from Provincetown to the Canal. One of his daughters, Mary Dabney McCarthy, lives on Cape Cod.

Kevin McCarthy was born on Feb. 15, 1914, in Seattle, the son of Roy Winfield McCarthy and the former Therese Preston. Both parents died in the famous influenza epidemic of 1918… their four children (one of which became the famous writer Mary McCarthy) were sent to live with relatives in Minneapolis. After five years of near-Dickensian mistreatment, described in Ms. McCarthy’s memoirs, the youngsters moved in with their maternal grandfather.

McCarthy went to college at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University with the intention of having a career in diplomacy… but at some point he took up acting and went to New York in the late 1930s. His first part was in Abe Lincoln In Illinois.

After serving as a Military Policeman in WWII, he returned to NY to actively pursue a theatrical career. At 35, a veteran of seven Broadway plays,  he was cast as Biff, the shallow, elder son of Willy Loman, in the London stage production of “Death of a Salesman,” Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1949 drama about illusion and the common man. His portrayal of Biff in the 1951 film version earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

Although Body Snatchers is what most people knew him from during his long life, he never abandoned the stage and did both live and filmed performances for the rest of his life (his last film was 2 years ago.)