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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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Cynthia Huntington is a Finalist for a National Book Award

When the list of National Book Award nominees was revealed, I was pleased to see my old friend Cynthia Huntington nominated for her poetry book, Heavenly Bodies. Cynthia was a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown for two years while I was Director there in the 70s. I have kept an eye on her work for some time.

Heavenly Bodies, by Cynthia Huntington

Published by the Southern Illinois University Press, Heavenly Bodies has been described as a blistering collection of lyric poems, which give an intimate view of the sexual revolution and rebellion in a time before the rise of feminism. Heavenly Bodies is a testament to the duality of sex, the twin seductiveness and horror of drug addiction, and the social, political, and personal dramas of America in the 1960s.

Echoing throughout are some of the most famous—and infamous—voices of the times: Joan Baez and Charles Manson, Frank Zappa and Betty Friedan. Jinns and aliens beckon while cities burn and revolutionaries thunder for change.

Cynthia Huntington is the author of four books of poetry, including The Radiant (winner of the Levis Prize), The Fish-Wife, and We Have Gone to the Beach, as well as a prose memoir, The Salt House. A former New Hampshire State Poet Laureate, she is professor of English at Dartmouth College, where she serves as senior faculty in creative writing. She served as chair of the poetry jury for the Pulitzer Prizes for 2006.

I congratulate Cynthia sincerely for her current achievement and look forward to reading Heavenly Bodies (and perhaps pass it on to John Case for his Monday morning poetry program.)

Stanley Kunitz remembered…

I was the Director of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown (MA) in the late 70s, and one of the great men and women I worked for there was Center co-founder Stanley Kunitz.

The Pulitzer Prize winning poet, who died in 2006 at age 101, kept working as he got older. His last published poem was called “Touch Me”  and was written in 2005. As I was looking around the web, I found him doing a live reading at age 100 and felt so good hearing him again.

I used to visit with him as he worked on his beloved garden in P-Town. We’d talk about flowers and poets and just about anything. Stanley could always maintain a stimulating conversation.

Just imaging an artist of Kunitz’s stature maintaining his literary power right up to the end of his life gives me a great deal of optimism that we can all maintain our creativity in the face of an anti-creative world.

Here it is:

Thanks for the memory, Stanley.

Helen Frankenthaler dies at 83…

When I became the Director of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA in the 70s, one of the framed images in my office was of Helen Frankenthaler and her then husband Robert Motherwell standing in front of “The Barn,” an old painting studio at Day’s Lumberyard, which later became the Center’s property. It reflected summer, when a large number of NYC abstract expressionists headed to the end of Cape Cod to vacation and paint and drink cocktails together. Franz Klein, Myron Stout, Jack Tworkov, Hans Hoffman and others made the tip of the Cape an exciting place.

When the FAWC started, “The Barn” became studio space for our own artists, but it was clear that the space was haunted by memories of Frankenthaler who, after breaking up with Motherwell, moved her summer studio to Long Island. We always felt like she was part of our lives.

Frankenthaler was a leading abstract expressionist at a time when women were not taken seriously by critics and peers (Hans Hoffman once commented ‘who would believe this work was done by a woman?’), yet she became famous, highly thought of, commected sand a presence in major museums.

Aside from her paintings, Ms. Frankenthaler was known for her lithographs, woodcuts, etchings and screen prints which she started makinfgin the 60s… indeed, some critics have suggested that her woodcuts have made her most original contribution to printmaking.

Frankenthaler died at age 83 on Tuesday at her home in Darien, CT.

 

Budd Hopkins, 1931 – 2011

Elliot "Budd" Hopkins

According to the NY Times, Budd Hopkins, a distinguished Abstract Expressionist artist who — after what he described as a chance sighting of something flat, silver, airborne and unfathomable — became the father of the alien-abduction movement, died on Aug. 21 at his home in Manhattan. He was 80. I only discovered this today and I’m sorry to be just getting around to it. I knew Budd at the beginnings of his UFO phase when he was an advisor to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA, during my period as Director.

Budd at that time was married to the second of his three wives, art historian and critic April Kingsley, and they lived in a futuristic

Artwork by Budd Hopkins in the 1980s

concrete cottage that looked a lot like one of Budd’s paintings, in Truro. It wasn’t long before his artwork was overshadowed by his observation of a “UFO” and the publicity it gained. Being a member of the circle of New York artists that in the 1950s and ’60s included Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline, Budd had access to the press and was somewhat of a celebrity in summers on the Lower Cape.

Budd’s UFO sighting occurred on Cape Cod in 1964. After that he researched other sightings, people who claimed to have been abducted, and the government’s denial of the existence of any such phenomena. He was quick to point out that he had never been abducted.

He wrote about his experiences as a UFO researcher in his memoir, “Art, Life and UFOs,” published in 2009 by Anomalist Books.

B. H. Friedman… Novelist and Biographer… Dies in Manhattan at 84

I knew Bob Friedman in Provincetown in my Fine Arts Work Center days back in the seventies. He was an advisor to both the Writing and the Visual arts programs and was best known for his biography of Jackson Pollock.

I first met B. H. Friedman before I started at the FAWC as a friend of Hudson and Ione Walker whose house I was staying in on a Provincetown summer break. He was an interesting conversationalist and a friend to most of the well known artists who summered in P-Town.

He was well known as a New Yorker writer, too. The cause of death was complications of pneumonia, according to, Daisy Friedman, in the NY Times obituary.

Sorry to see that Norris Church Mailer has died..

Back in the late seventies, when I was director of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA, Norris Church Mailer, then the wife (I guess she was his last) of Norman Mailer, was on my fundraising list, as were most NYC celebrities. As I recall she was a very nice woman and mother to one of Mailer’s several children.

Mailer died three years ago and Norris Church Mailer died on Sunday, of gastrointestinal cancer that she had battled for 11 years, in Brooklyn Heights, NY.

She was a former Wilhelmina model who met Mailer while getting an autograph 0n his book on Marilyn Monroe. Her own memoir, “A Ticket to the Circus,” was published earlier this year.