Monday, May 30, 2016
"Man is a strange fish, Who dares cross the seas, The penitent sea captain, Could use Noah's knees."
In my own paltry experience as a stage actor, I have never had the lead to the best of my knowledge or description. My meager successes have been in the Supporting Role or as an Ensemble Member. When I wrote CASANOVA'S LIPS, I made sure that there was one part, if ever the show toured professionally or had turned into a film, was made for me. This role was Quasi Modo, the Hunchback accomplice to cat burglar Le Chat.
Quasi was an extension of the characters I had played before. He was Renfield, renamed Igor in DRACULA, A MUSICAL COMEDY. He was also Dirk Sneath, henchman to lead villain Simon Darkway in LOVE RIDES THE RAILS. I knew how he sounded, how he looked and how he moved. But in the production I was supposedly teaching/directing at Santa Barbara City College, I had no intention of acting in any way in the show. I would do voices in audio (taking advantage of my radio job and studio facilities at KTYD AM & FM), but that's it. Well, that changed a bit, but I'm getting ahead of the story. Back to Quasi.
A shortish blonde curly haired young man showed up at auditions named Steve Moris. To the best of my knowledge, he had done little if any acting, and never comedy. Or so he told me. A Boho type, he may have played acoustic guitar and dabbled in art. Dark chalks. He did a portrait of Peter Sellers for me as a production gift; an image of him during THE LAST GOON SHOW OF ALL in 1972 (what happened to this picture is a minor story in psychotic obsession and deception, best saved for a later date or never). Steve seemed physically suited for the part and he had an enthusiasm for play and experiment. Perfect. He would be clay for my Raving Rodin or Crazy Camille Claudel.
Quasi was given a lion's share of the visual jokes and verbal puns in the play. His break in into the Louvre on Swinging Bell Rope, like Topkapi on TCP or The Pink Panther on psilocybin, was a sound and visual highlight of the play. And lines like: Le Chat: "Any ideas, Quasi? Quasi: "I have a hunch." Le Chat: "I know you do, Quasi. No need to be so self-conscious about it." Plus he walked around the stage like a bouncing crab on crack. Most of the actors, including the framed Gaudy American Tourist Couple, didn't even see him. If he wasn't tall enough to shake your hand, he shook your knee.
My respect for designer Charles Thomson Garey and his team extends beyond his magnificent set; almost like Chinese Screens that folded from Madame Blavatsky's parlour into the museum walls of the Louvre. One set piece I madly envisioned was the machine that manufactured Casanova's Wax Lips. A conveyor belt affair, rolling out oversized sculpted red lips (with the occasional 'defective' black pair), the machine was topped with a genuine operational Jacob's Ladder. This with Quasi's hunching form added a Frankenstein's laboratory feel to the set. Magickal!
Other great support from the actors included my old friend Paul Bergevin playing a number of roles, including the worldly Playboy late night Museum Guard (with girlfriend troubled second Museum Guard, Mickey Aguilera). He topped that moment, as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, summoned accidentally in a Blavatsky séance instead of Casanova himself. Detecting a budding romance across the Ether with Blavatsky, Paul's Mozart delivers my favourite inlines of the play: "Now I am happy. I have nothing to worry about. Except Ken Russell. I'm terrified that he might do my life story. Boy, are my mates pissed. For his sake, I hope he lives forever."
I've recently had the pleasure of communicating with Lisi Tribble Russell, the wife of the late great director, and I am pleased to say she understands my humorous salute to the man who influenced much of my later work.
My friend Joe Maxwell assumed the role of the Clouseau like police inspector, Auguste Bedpan (a pun on the Edgar Allan Poe detective). I gave him some of my other funny lines: "We have arrested a man for sexually assaulting the Venus de Milo!" "What are you charging him with?" "Statue-tory rape!" And when the hapless gumshoe finds the planted Hawaiian shirt that belonged to the framed Gaudy American Tourist, he shouts in victory "Ah ha! The New Zealand National Flag!" *giggles* Joe Maxwell would work with me again in my comedy video show CRACKERS AT EIGHT. His younger brother, Steve Maxwell, wonderfully played the youthful Pablo Picasso, scribbling on the Louvre Museum wall. Pablo's embarrassed Mother was portrayed by Ann Soderquist.
I had a terrific supporting cast. Art Hayes played the Museum Guide, crucial to the set up for the crime. Kathy Conklin was Nous Alons, the servant to Madame Blavatsky. She delivers the visual punch line to another one of my favourite sight gags. Le Chat, after indulging in two cups of Lipton's Belladonna Tea. In the teabag. ("This Belladonna tea is Bela Lugosi!") After finishing his two cups of tea, Blavatsky hits one of those little hotel desk bells. "Oui, Madamme?" asks Nous Alons. "Take his bags." Well, you had to be there. *giggles*
Barbara Barnes and Bob Goranson were quite delightful as the Gaudy American Tourist Couple, Lee Harriet & Ozzie Waldman. Barbara had a wonderful Estelle Parsons or Shirley Booth quality to her Lee Harriet. And Bob was a perfect Mid-Western all around good guy simpleton. A smart William Bendix type or a sports-minded, thinner John Goodman. I hoped the audience would pick up on the Triple Entendre in their names, a play on both Ozzie & Harriet, but combined, Lee Harriet Ozzie Waldman, a symbolic pun for Lee Harvey Oswald.
Bill Slater was my solid, old school hero type: smart, but ultimately ineffectual. A true work of art, literally and figuratively, was Diane Clarke as Desda-Mona Lisa. Sitting, framed behind the Louvre museum wall, she was a visual gem, as well as a silent accomplice and girlfriend of Quasi Modo.
And so 40 years after the event, where has everyone gone? Down other paths, it would seem. Paul Bergevin is still a friend, banking institution and SPACE PIRATE RADIO music and art lover & collector extraordinaire. And artist friend David Fontana is still a Brother in Alms to the Muses. I read that Le Chat, John Casken entered the field of medicine: dentistry, I believe, and is living in Hawaii.
The play did seem to have a life changing effect on Steve Moris, my comic surrogate Quasi. Years back, he wrote me telling that the comedy bug from the show had stayed with him. He entered the field of Stand Up Comedy and made a successful career of it. He toured with Louis Anderson and has a ton of credits behind him now. Well, how do you like that? I guess he did steal the show!
Thank you, everyone...
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
John Casken was a very interesting Le Chat, whom I probably underestimated. His physical presence was similar to that of dark-haired and moustached Jonathan Harris, Dr. Smith on LOST IN SPACE or Clifton Webb in LAURA or ALL ABOUT EVE. The role was difficult for him, I think, and I probably didn't give him the right help he needed. I apologize for this. I still think he did an admirable job and looking back, I'm quite fond of his interpretation. One critic was dismissive of his performance, but since this fossil of a scribe was pretty much despised because actors and directors feared his tiny comments, his impact was a minor pimple on the butt. I'll tear some new ones about these "experts" later.
Charles Waldron as the Host, Dr. Leon Brownkowski, was a minor revelation. The part was patterned after the old PBS TV series, THE ASCENT OF MAN. This BBC produced documentary was shown on PBS, written and hosted by a Jacob Bronowski, whose long winded monologues inspired my ponderous character parody. I called the show THE DESCENT OF MAN, not realizing at the time that the real program was inspired by the same title, which was Charles Darwin's second book on evolution. As MAD MAGAZINE once said, "Small minds run in the same gutter." Anyway, after watching episodes of the real show on my parents' TV and seeing PBS in Los Angeles present the program, I thought it was the right framing device for my 'historical comedy.' And it would provide the punch line for the play. So Waldon had to be the anchor for the production. He also provided a number of my Dadaist sight gags and drops in and out of alternate universe comic setups. Charles was shaky and undisciplined in the beginning (he once came to rehearsal quite inebriated and unable to work). But after sober reflection, some embarrassment and profuse apologies, he worked as a solid professional and gained critical praise in a field of mixed reviews.
This would probably be as good a place as any to call out one of the reviewers. And in the process, explain the joke that cost me $200. Two anecdotes for the price of none: in the opening of the show, the program began like it was the opening of the PBS parody. THE ASCENT OF MAN. Like all PBS programs at the time, the non-commercial Public Broadcasting Station would attempt to let the viewers know that the show had been made possible by a grant (cash payment) from someone say like Mobil Oil or some other public minded, yet heartless corporation. These soft sell, Orwellian plugs always darkly amused me, and in my satirist's crystal ball, I knew they would ultimately become the blatant commercials they now are on so-called commercial free TV. So in the darkened theatre, I began with the onscreen titles, accompanied by the music of "Pomp and Circumstance." Each title was solo. And slow moving. To build the joke:
"The following program has been made possible by a grant from BORNJUCK."
"Manufacturers of fine Swedish condoms."
"Designed in mind for the two of you (Anything else would be absurd)."
"Delicately ribbed to give a woman gentle, urging sensations."
"Reservoir tipped or lubricated."
"Available in nude latex and assorted colors."
"Try the Black Panther. It's a riot."
"50,000 Swedes couldn't be wrong. Or safer."
"THE DESCENT OF MAN."
"With Dr. Leon Brownkowski."
"Professor of Anthro-Polygamy, Pomona Men's College."
My great tech crew made these titles, photographed and letterboxed on Kodak slide and projected on the theatre screen. Audience recordings made of both opening and closing nights records the laughter, building on each title and proving to me the audience was getting it. That couldn't be exactly said of one department head and one local scribe.
The theatre critic for the Santa Barbara News & Review, Jim Cook, was especially catty. A theatre director in his own right, he thought he had the inside skinny on the show and its motives. He felt the play was obvious and not "subtle, barbarian" in approach. Now his insight was based on his knowledge of my love for English theatre. He flattered my acting skills, I admit, in the review saying my "acting and timing is of the best," in my cameo as Russian Segei Suitenpanz to dancer Isadora Duncan. But the subtlety eluded him when he said these titles were a steal from the play THE RULING CLASS. This revelation was unleashed because he once asked and considered me for a local production of the Peter O' Toole known black comedy. We had discussed it at the Cabaret Theatre, where he had directed THE THREEPENNY OPERA, after I had done DRACULA, A MUSICAL COMEDY. So he assumed I had read the play (I hadn't and still haven't) and assumed I stole the PBS intended satire from that source. Oh, well. *giggles*
The other incident came almost immediately in production from Theatre Department head Dr. Pope Freeman. I don't think he ever actually read the whole play. He got to the first bit, saw the condom joke and wanted it removed. He wasn't mean about it, though Pope and I had some tense moments on later collaborations; tense moments that I never, ever experienced with Max Whittaker. Pope said, "Let's not make this play X-Rated. Let's bring it down to an R." An R? This thing was just barely a GP (PG not the norm yet, maybe, and certainly not a PG-13, yet to come). I wasn't cutting my set up sight gag. We were approaching tech week, and I said, "Well let's test it in previews. If anyone is offended, then I'll remove it."
Now I've told some folks that this joke cost me $200 to keep in (1976 money). When I signed on to do the show, besides my teaching salary, I was promised the obligatory writer's royalty. Like any other show produced on the SBCC stage, a $50 a performance fee was paid (the matinee was gratis, on me), like to Samuel French or Dramatist's Play Service. Well, the joke stayed in. And the Writer's Fee was non-existent. "Sorry," said Pope. "The play didn't make a profit." Tell that to Samuel French. Salo! I didn't push it. I had creative control. The joke was worth every penny. *giggles* times two.
It was not my intention to get waylaid here and not finish discussing the third lead, actress Ann Ringer, She played Madame Blavatsky and she was a charming young lady. As they would say in the Thirties, "she had spunk" (actually a very rude, crude expression). "She's got Moxie!" would perhaps be more appropriate, referring to the soda pop. Like "full of Pep." Anyway, she was quite adorable, young, but enthusiastic. I liked her so much, I didn't even flirt with her. She brought out the Protective Papa Bear in me. Her performance, especially when the gypsy costume came on, was quite transforming. She reminded me of a young Liza Minnelli playing Maria Ouspenskaya in THE WOLF MAN. The local hacks were not kind to her performance and I think I wanted to cuddle her and say, "Job well done." I know looking backward today, I think she was a better actress than say, Lena Dunham in GIRLS. Seriously...The quality in the comparative Big Picture is really going down.
Supporting actors next. And when dealing in a comedy about thefts...they often steal the show.
Friday, May 13, 2016
"Who must drop his anchour, Aft' steared into bay, And master the maiden, Lands, claimed that he lay."
The class is Theatre Production. I am Instructor. That's what it says on the papers I was given. With a list of names that were my students. This really can't be right. I must be joking. Somebody must be kidding. Those who enrolled will shortly realize the mistake they made. I have never taught a class before. And with my inbred resentment to the schooling Hell I had endured, it is safe to say my approach will come off a bit unorthodox. I think I recall first addressing the class by saying, "Welcome to Theatre MADNESS 1-A" or close enough for Jazz.
There was the audition process to begin. I gave everyone a questionnaire to fill out. Basic information needed for casting, but also some insane questions, like a MAD MAGAZINE employment form parody. I wanted to know what kind of sense of humour each student had. This was the Seventies. I couldn't get away with this approach today. One of the non-serious questions was, "Would you be willing to expose your knees?" I did seriously ask each student who their favourite comedians were. Ice breakers. And the hope to get this group on my side and on my wavelength. Not sure, I succeeded there, but we DID put a play on. A play like no other. Not an X-Rated one like my VOID IN WISCONSIN (this WAS a class, and despite my lack of educational expertise, I WAS a professional and knew which lines not to cross and which ones to give a nudge. Well, maybe).
My actors were really all good people. The first thing I had to learn was that I was directing amateurs. This wasn't the RSC. This wasn't a film or major stage production where I had the luxury of casting the "perfect person for the perfect part." This was a class of student--the majority fresh out of high school; the others older. I learned that maybe the person who looked right for the part, was perhaps less equipped to deliver the performance, than the one who initially didn't seem fitted for the role. If I had stayed in this one profession, I think I would have gotten it down. I will return to the actors in a bit.
One person I'm sure I frustrated, if actually didn't piss off was the Scenic Designer. The man was Charles Thomson Garey, and I have to say--if never actually to him--the man was fucking brilliant. I went into production with nothing except the concept: basically two set pieces, interchangeable. Madame Blavatsky's salon, and the Louvre, with some slight slight of hand changes, as the conclusion at top and bottom of the Tour d' Eiffel, and the narrator's stage left position (stage right to the audience) to fill the action in. When I started rehearsals, I blocked action to nothing, which was frustrating to Mr. Garey. I remember being a jerk and telling him if he gave me the set of his last production, I could fit my play around it. I was being sloppy by being improvisational, sort of a Marlon Brando Method Acting Approach to set design. I underestimated the man. When I told him what I wanted, he delivered the most brilliant, functional set I had ever seen on the Little Theatre stage. His blueprints were amazing, and I have kept them all these years to remind me of pure craftsmanship. I don't think I ever thanked him and excellent crew at the time, but I thank him now. His set design was an inspiration and I am thoroughly impressed. And very grateful.
Talking set design, I want to mention one lovely detail, and private *giggle* inserted in the show: in one of the scenes set in the Louvre--prior to the theft of Casanova's lips by Le Chat and Quasi Modo--the Museum Guide (played by Art Hayes) conducting the tour which sets up the Frame Up of the Gaudy American Tourist Couple, comes upon a young boy scribbling on the wall under the portrait of the Desda-Mona Lisa (played in life size full frame by the beautiful Diane Clarke). The boy, dressed in brown shorts, coat and beret (played by a young Steve Maxwell; brother to Joe Maxwell, who played the Inspector Clouseau character, Auguste Bedpan) is drawing a woman with two eyes on the side of her face. He is the young Pablo Picasso, although identified only as Pablo. He is drawing in chalk and is with his Mother (played by Ann Soderquist). The Museum Guide busts the juvenile and throws him out. "I want people to see my paintings!" shouts the young Pablo. "Forget it little boy," says the Museum Guide. "Only real artists have their works hung in the Louvre."
The tiny Picasso chalk scribble on the wall was done by my good artist friend David Fontana. He also designed the theatre playbill or program, as well as the poster, and later the cover of the paperback adaptation of the play. The mini pre-Banksy was brilliant. It is one of my artistic regrets that this bit of graffiti was never photographed. I have many photographs from the show, but as is usual in a production, I never get enough documentation of the production during production. As always, my dear friend David Fontana shares the twisted and (hopefully) inspired wavelength I operate on, and the show would not have had the Magick I wished for, without his contributions.
I do have recordings of both opening and closing nights. And the audience response tells me more than what some of the Powers To Be thought.
Let us see what is in Madame Blavatsky's deck of Tarot Cards...
Sunday, May 8, 2016
Working on the front room floor of my little studio apartment on Chapala Street, THE CHAPEL, more fondly known as Altair-4 from the film FORBIDDEN PLANET, so named and agreed upon with my former roommate Pedro, I was fired up! Excited and Ready and Steady to Go. Inspired with ideas. With a full supply of SPACE PIRATE RADIO import LPs to supply soundtrack. The radio show ran uninterrupted on the air at KTYD during my full gig of production. Five days at Santa Barbara City College, weekends on the radio Midnight to Six A.M. No breaks. How did I do it? Madness, of course. The Fun of Madness. Ah, the Energy of Youth!
Okay. So the concept of CASANOVA'S LIPS was certainly inspired by THE GOON SHOW--breeding ground for my favourite comedy character actor, Peter Sellers and the anti-establishment surrealistic comedy of Spike Milligan. I'm sure I was influenced by one particular episode entitled "Napoleon's Piano." This dealt with the attempted theft from the Louvre of the actual piano Napoleon played at Waterloo. Crazy, of course. And on a subconscious level, the basic caper comedy format of the original THE PINK PANTHER and TOPKAPI must have somehow been in there.
But my approach or plan of attack was different. Influenced by the way comedy can convey ideas hidden within the jokes, as in THE GOON SHOW, or placing subtext and punning on cultural references, as in THE FIRESIGN THEATRE, I wanted to be the purveyor of a more radical, revolutionary type of satire, cloaked in the seemingly harmless veneer of the ha ha. If Henny Youngman was actually a member of the Weathermen ("Take my Bomb, please!"). If Senor Wences was a part of the Baader-Meinhof.
A turning point for me in my early life was the murder of President Kennedy. Although I realized he was no Saint; that his family background was murky at the least, the concept of coup d'état in what was purported to be the hallmark of civilization, the Good Ole U.S.A...This was Unacceptable. That a group of individuals in the United States, forged together by a link of Fourth Reich (or is that forthright) thinking and philosophy, could attain their goals by killing a beloved President in the streets of redneck Dallas, Texas, like a Third World Banana Republic. Madness. It didn't happen immediately on November 22nd, 1963, but by the time Mark Lane had written RUSH TO JUDGEMENT, the textbook definition of a 'Patriot' was villainy in my soul. We had all been duped.
So over time, I had a major epiphany. If you told the truth, trying to reach kindred spirits, you probably would put yourself in the line of fire. If...however, you suggested a nugget of possibility, wrapped in a chewy coating of giggle... well, you MIGHT just get away with it.
(And there's another chapter or three here on such procedures in the media. I've made a study on it in my long career in the trenches of broadcasting. Stay Tuned.)
So how does a subtext about political murder wind up in a silly, mainstream, family oriented old fashioned, laughs aplenty melodrama? Well, understanding the ways and means of Propaganda used by the Right, the Left leaning satirist uses the very purpose of Satire: as Agitprop. But with the touch of a softer satin glove. And coated in a gallon of giggles.
The Story So Far...
Paris, 1876. A frustrated, forced into semi-retirement cat burglar, visiting his friend, famed psychic Madame Blavatsky, contemplates his next heist. Indulging in a cup of Lipton Belladonna Tea and listening to La Blavatsky read poetry from Shelley's "Prometheus Unzipped," the rhyme referring to lips gives Le Chat the dream induced idea for the Crime of the Century.
"Who is the greatest lover in the world?" asks Le Chat, fired up by the Belladonna Tea ("Belladonna tea now comes in tea bags?" Le Chat asks earlier, leading up to one of my favourite sight gags in the play). First question first. "Warren Beatty," responds Madame Blavatsky. "Who is Warren Beatty?" asks an incredulous Le Chat. "Warren Clyde Beatty," Blavatsky replies, with fond memories. "He was an animal trainer in the Ukraine National Circus. I was so young then. And he had so many girls. Even my mother, who was the circus fortune teller. She would..."
Le Chat is only asking who was the Greatest Lover in the World, not Madame Blavatsky's personal life. When the answer is given: CASANOVA, the insane idea begins. Casanova was the Greatest Lover in the World, with complete and total power over all the women he met. And his power was in his KISS. As it turns out, Casanova's lips are enshrined in the Paris Louvre, under guard, encased in glass. Anyone who possessed these LIPS would have complete and total power over all the women in the world in the current century.
And here is where Industry steps in as well as entrepreneurial savvy: Make a mold of the original lips, fill them with wax, and Voila! CASANOVA'S WAX LIPS! Guaranteed to turn any loser lover into the object of female devotion. Pathetic males, unable to score with women, would gobble up this miracle product. It's a cinch! Le Chat would be fabulously wealthy. The only task at hand: to steal the famed lover's lips from the Louvre.
To do the deed, Le Chat would need an accomplice. A second story man. Bell ringer. Agile. Sports minded. Football. Used to play Hunchback for Notre Dame. His name? Quasi Modo.
There would have to be a fall guy. Staking out the museum before the robbery, the appearance of two Gaudy American Tourists, a couple named Lee Harriet and her husband Ozzie Waldman (one of my Triple Entendres) become the perfect frame up.
What ensues is quite simply, nuts. Putting this together?
Now I know the feelings people like Ernie Kovacs, Jacques Tati, Ken Russell, Terry Gilliam and even Orson Welles must have felt.
Easy to Assemble Plans follow........
Sunday, May 1, 2016
"And those who seek secrets, Of power corrupt, Must French kiss the ladies, Whose lips are sealed shut."
As an acting student at Santa Barbara City College, it was my good fortune to have as instructor, Mr. Max Whittaker. I've praised this man's talents here at the Melting Watchtowre in the past. But I feel enough can't be said how lucky it was to have such a gentle, sensitive and intelligent man as your director/teacher; whose enthusiasm for the purer side of the theatrical arts world could be such an inspiration. I felt I was very undisciplined in my attitude and approach to the educational system, a catalog of grudges held for suffering the "slings and arrows" of Inquisitional Instructors in the past. Especially in high school. I've mentioned the psychologically crippled human beings who brought their secret suburban problems to class, and got back at the spouse, parent or employer by giving the pain to the pupils, Pinochet style. In high school. I wanted to learn like the College kids. I've never mentioned it before, but in the world of aptitude measurement, at age 10 or 11, I was told I was on an 18 or 19 year old level. This didn't mean anything to me on an egotistical scale. I just loved to read books, talk about things the other kids weren't doing and was called upon by my teachers to always read before the class, while the others weren't. At that age, I hadn't developed a disproportionate showman's bravura yet. At least, I wasn't conscious of it. That would come later.
But how I would have appreciated having a teacher like Max Whittaker in my Sophomore, Junior or Senior year in a Hell-Hole Environment like John A Rowland High School, Rowland Heights, California (Home of those beef eating, steer branding Rowland Raiders. Preparing young minds and bodies for a new form of Native Peoples Genocide).
So, I'm lucky to be in Mr. Whittaker's production of "LOVE RIDES THE RAILS, or will the mail train run tonight?" What should be just a groan-inducing, chuckle producing chestnut of an old fashioned melodrama, turns into an hilarious, extremely hip, partially psychedelic comedy masterpiece. And it's because all the elements are perfect. Everyone--and I do mean EVERYONE--in the cast and crew are brilliant. This is a comic ensemble of professionals one will never quite experience again. And all under the master hand of its director, Mr. Max Whittaker.
The play is a success. It's a Big Success. I mean a REALLY BIG SUCCESS!. With unanimous reviews of its laugh quotient and packed audiences for the entire run in 1973, LOVE RIDES THE RAILS becomes THE most successful play in Santa Barbara City College's aged, but oh so comfy, Little Theatre.
For an actor, this was the Bliss one climbs the highest mountain for, hoping for speaks with the Guru. Better than the Best Sex. And everyone knows how much I love sex (although most of the stuff written on various walls of Santa Barbara bathrooms have thankfully been repainted over).
I am lucky to have had a part in the play's success. Jump ahead to 1975...
No longer pursuing the once practical goal of becoming an English Literature or Drama teacher, once held in a high school run by instructors who found themselves curiously excited and therefore condemning of my David McCallum/Illya Kuryakin haircut; crushing any chance of having me work moderately in their repressed, hypocritical, Father or Parent abused, ultra conservative, neo-fascist, pseudo civilized Urban Environment- my school days charade has ended and I am in the Real World or semi-illusory one of a vibrant career in Radio.
The Powers that Be at Santa Barbara City College's Drama Department have decided that to coincide with next year's Bi-Centennial Celebrations, it would possibly be advantageous to do another melodrama comedy in the spirit of LOVE RIDES THE RAILS. Max Whittaker's directing commitments have already been made, as had Doctor Pope Freeman's, the new head of SBCC's Drama Department. Since Pope directed the productions at the Lobero Theatre and Max those on the campus, an outside Director was needed. It is to the courageous wisdom or utter folly of these two respected gentlemen that I, due to my contribution to LOVE RIDES THE RAILS, be asked to direct this production. Mr. Whittaker had already let me direct the SBCC Theatre Guild Production (of which I was President at that Season) of my original experimental comedy NOTHING IS SACRED, which immediately followed and rode off the success of LOVE RIDES THE RAILS in Spring 1973. He had also allowed me to direct the X-Rated one act of mine, VOID IN WISCONSIN for my Director's Final in Directing Class. As I said, I loved this man for the Freedom he allowed me. Anyone else would have changed the locks and notified authorities.
Pope Freeman had directed me in Moliiere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, produced under the title THE WOULD-BE GENTLEMAN, as well as MAN OF LA MANCHA and the high profile production of KING LEAR, with great character actor Ford Rainey in the title role. He agreed to Mr. Whittaker's enthusiastic recommendation that I direct this comic melodrama, so the Wheels of Industry began to roll. I was flattered and excited.
Especially excited by the fact, that to produce this play, I would have to be an Instructor in the credit class of Theatre Production. This could be a problem, right? As I was not a diploma enhanced Theatre Major. No Doctorate. No Master's. Not even an A.A.!!! Just a Bachelor's. And when I mean Bachelor's, I mean it in the single man: Playboy, Esquire, Gent, Rogue, Cavalier variety. Oh, my! This is going to be an obstacle, yes?
Fortunately, no. This is at a time when you can become an accredited instructor based on professional experience. And lucky for old Guido, my radio career and work in theatre, film and television lets me delve into this world of admittance and a BRAZIL-like scenario of bureaucratic paperwork. My fingerprints are somewhere in a dark and forgotten space in California. I guess the DRAGNET-like environment is worth it.
This high school kid who was frequently suspended for the crime of having a bit of hair touching the ears and the same on the back of the neck,not in step like a Marine, was now going to run a college class. Oh, my, my! Not quite the Model-A Glenn Ford in THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE or Sidney Poitier on Mescaline in TO SIR, WITH LUNCH. *giggles*
So I am given the task in late 1975 to choose an appropriate old chestnut melodrama to cast and direct during the Spring 1976 session. And the selection is ghastly. The titles I go through are either so turgid, there is little room for invention, as we could do with LOVE RIDES THE RAILS. Or they were so deliberately campy, having no authentic flavour and coming off like failed sitcom pilots. I was not inspired by the choices given. But I had an idea.
After writing my earlier comedies, VOID IN WISCONSIN in 1972 and NOTHING IS SACRED in 1973 (my first written comedy was S'OUR TOWN in high school in 1966-1967, a parody of Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN), I had a number of story ideas. One of them was a GOON SHOW inspired idea, but with a FIRESIGN THEATRE concept of multiple subtext--political in this case--and a feel of stage created imagery like classic MAD MAGAZINE, vintage Ernie Kovacs, the audio of Stan Freberg and the form of George S. Kaufman meets Tom Stoppard. This was CASANOVA'S LIPS.
To this day, I don't know how I was able to sell the administrators of all things dramatic at SBCC, the audacious concept of NOT DOING an old fashioned melodrama to tie in with the 1776-1976 celebrations; but to let me write my own original comic play, set in Paris in 1876. A comic compromise of a hundred years. A (seemingly) middle of the road approach in theme and spirit. But actually a satiric subterfuge. A comedy with a covert concept. Multiple levels depending on the viewer's perception or wavelength. Something with, what I liked to call, the Triple Entendre.
The Madcap Adventure will continue...