Sunday, April 22, 2012

D'Arcy, Masius, Benton and Brigadoon

Once every one hundred years, so the legend goes, the Scottish village of Brigadoon emerges from the mist of the past and lives once again for only one day. Maybe D'Arcy isn't a fitting subject for a musical or movie, but it sure is capable of maintaining the magic. So it was yesterday, when - thanks to the efforts of Jerry Sexton - many of us gathered at a local pub in Kirkwood to rub elbows and share hugs and stories and laughs and a glass of brew or wine. Some new faces were there since the last appearance, and some faces were missing. Still, the village of DMB&B continues to live, if only in our hearts.

I never seem to find the time to talk to all the people I want to. Conversations are too short, memories too prevalent, questions and interests arise and disappear too quickly. I see a face across the room, someone I want to reconnect with, but don't quite get around to. It's as though, like Brigadoon, the mist will swirl in much too early, leaving dangling conversations and stories without punch lines, an intended handshake or hug unfulfilled. 

Fortunately we don't have to wait one hundred years for the next opportunity. As long as Jerry Sexton has an extra supply of name tags and the time to pull it together, the village will return much sooner. 


Monday, April 16, 2012

Charlie at 123

123 years ago today, Charlie Chaplin was born. To save you the math,
that makes it 1889. That was the same year the Eiffel Tower opened,
the dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania broke, and Thomas Edison showed
his first motion picture. 
That’s about as much as I’m going to write about today. The rest of this post is written by Charlie. Actually, his words extracted from various interviews. 

The only thing I’ll add is a couple of photos: one of him at the London Poor Law School at Hanwell, where he stayed in 1896 and ’97; 

and one  of him with the Fred Karno Troupe from England in 1913. Charlie is standing, second from right. Stanley Jefferson is standing, second from left. Stanley later changed his name to Stan Laurel. And that’s Fred Karno seated.

So now I’ll turn this over to Charlie.
(1915) I was born in a suburb of London 25 years ago. I went on the stage because there seemed nothing else to do. In fact, I don’t know anything else. Both my father and mother are on the stage, and so were all my ancestors as far back as I can trace the family tree. The first time I looked at myself on the screen, I was ready to resign. That can’t be I, I thought. Then when I realized it was, I said, “Good-night.” I had always been ambitious to work in drama, and it certainly was the surprise of my life when I got away with the comedy stuff.”
(1918) I want to be myself, that’s all. Why can’t people dissociate an actor from his work, and take the work as it is, and the man for what he is, as they do a business man? I like people. But I like them only when they’re perfectly natural and when they let me be perfectly natural. When in a great bunch of human beings I see on every face only one emotion, curiosity, I want to get away as fast as I can.
(1940) I doubt that at any picture of mine people have said, “This is it. This is the great moment.” Because I don’t spill over. It is better to suggest, to reach almost the  great moment, the final pathos, and then go on. I hate spilling over, and fear it. I am protected by being a charlatan. To be honest, I don’t search for truth. I search for effectiveness. Do you know why most writers fail in the theatre? Because they try to write what is worthwhile rather than what is effective.
(1967) I’ve never been obsessed with friendship. In the first place I’m shy. In the next place I’m busy. People usually think I’m very sad, but I’m not sad. Perhaps I’ve been sad in my youth for want of other companionship, but it was never suitable to me. So I’ve been alone. I’ve lived alone all my life I’d say, with the exception of this family and this last twenty-odd years which have been wonderful. What has always sustained me has been my work.
(1972, Tribute at Lincoln Center upon his return to the U.S.) 
This is my renaissance. I’m being born again. It’s easy for you, but it’s very difficult for me to speak tonight, because I feel very emotional. However, I’m glad to be among so many friends. Thank you.
Thank you, Charlie. 
And Happy Birthday.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bones in the River

This little story was inspired by Linda O'Connell in a recent post on her blog, Write from the Heart. It's a beautiful reminder of the Arch and Riverfront. Her story took me back. Here's a link to the post:

Bones in the River

1964 was a  year filled with excitement and change. LBJ was elected to continue the vision set by JFK. Khrushev has been tossed out by the Russkies. China showed the world it now had the atomic bomb. The Cardinals, led by a voracious Bob Gibson, won the World Series over the Yankees, led by a struggling Mickey Mantle. And I landed a job at KMOX-TV, the CBS station in St. Louis, at 12th and Cole Streets. 

I was one of the few single men there, which gave me a sense of freedom not enjoyed by most of the other guys. Then, to my good luck, three months after I started, the National Sales Manager hired a very attractive secretary. Her name was Mary Lee. She, too, was single.  So we began to hang out together. She was vivacious, in the mode of one of my favorite actresses, Betty Hutton. She was beautiful with a dynamite figure. And she had a great sense of humor, evidenced by how easily she laughed at all my jokes. 

Mary Lee and I would get together occasionally for lunch, or drinks after work. She went for Chablis, I preferred scotch and water, tastes now both thankfully put to rest. But our favorite lunch date was known by the code words, “Bones in the River.” As in, “Would you like to throw some bones in the river today?”

Here’s how it worked. We’d get into my 1960 Corvette convertible, top down, and head across Eads Bridge to East St. Louis. We’d wind our way through some side streets until we came to a small wooden shack with a take-out window and a hand-painted sign that said “Nichols BBQ.” We’d get two slabs of ribs, laid over slices of Wonder white bread, soaked in sauce, wrapped in wax paper, and head back across Eads to the St. Louis waterfront. We’d park on the levee, sit on the wall, and dig into the ribs. Oh, I forgot to mention. She had a root beer, I had an RC. In glass bottles. 

Behind us, on the hill overlooking the river, the St. Louis Arch was inching its way into the sky. Cranes crawled up the stainless steel legs, adding sections  slowly and carefully, approaching the day when the two legs would be joined by a final span. 

The grounds around the base were pretty much of a mess, looking like most other construction sites. But I’ve got to admit, it was exciting to think our city would soon have this distinctive structure. And there we were, Mary Lee and I, in its shadow, talking and laughing and getting sauce all over our mouths and hands. 

As we finished our ribs, we’d walk down to the edge of the Mississippi and ceremoniously toss the ribs into the brown, swiftly moving water. Sometimes we’d make a wish, but usually it was just a simple flip of the bare bones into the river. I don’t know if any of our bones ever made it to New Orleans, but I hope so.

Then we’d head back to the station and go our separate ways. 
That was in 1964. In 1965 we were married.
This May we will celebrate our 47th anniversary.

You may wonder if we ever went back for Bones in the River. We did. For our 25th anniversary. That was in 1990. A lot had happened in 25 years, including a completed Arch surrounded by beautiful grounds and an imposing staircase from the levee to the Arch. Nichols BBQ was now an empty lot, but we picked up some ribs that day at a BBQ joint in Soulard and sat on the levee once again. Mary Lee was still beautiful, still had a great body, and still laughed at my jokes.

Fortunately, some things never change.