Our Jaded Teenagers

Back in November 1999, I was in New York when Chris Allen and I were producing a staged reading of a new version of the musical Paint Your Wagon. In spite of the terrible film adaptation, it is a very good traditional Lerner and Lowe musical. The script is flawed, but the original 1951 score is great, complete with many large men’s chorus numbers and a handful of beautiful ballads.

While I was there, Nancy brought our kids out for their first trip to NYC.  They were young teenagers at the time, between 10 and 15 years old, and had been to see nearly all of my shows as they were growing up. So the first night they were in town we took them to Times Square which they thought was kind of OK.

Then we went to the stage door of the Minskoff Theatre, where the musical of Saturday Night Fever had recently opened. We were met there by my dear friend Gerry Griffin, who was on the crew for the show. Gerry also happens to be my daughter Emily’s godfather.

Since it was only 7:00pm, Gerry took us right onto the stage.  It was the light-up disco dance floor from the movie. While we were standing on it, Gerry had it flashing its cool lights and explained to the kids how it cost over a million dollars to build and how it needed several hundred electric cables to run it.

As we were standing on the stage looking out at the empty seats in the theater, Gerry said to the kids “you guys are on the stage of a Broadway theater! How cool is that?” The kids just looked around then nonchalantly said “weren’t we going out for pizza tonight?”

Sigh! It’s just another backstage, Dad! We’ve seen a million of them!

Emmy’s Turn

I have written a few posts about how my life in show business has spilled over into our kid’s younger years, especially with our middle son, Neal. But our daughter, Emily, also had her fair share.

Like the time when she was in third grade at St. Norbert, the Catholic elementary school.  Of course she was in Girl Scouts and she told us that the next day at their meeting in the school Cafetorium, they were going to take turns going up onto the stage and sing along to their favorite recorded song.

During dinner when we asked her what was her favorite song that she wanted to sing along with she promptly told us “Dance Ten, Looks Three” from A Chorus Line. (This song is also known by its more popular name “Tits and Ass.”) After Nancy and I got over choking on our glass of wine we told her “no way, she couldn’t sing that song at St. Norbert’s” and she had to pick another song.

After giving it some thought she decided she wanted to sing “Frank Mills” from the musical Hair.  Of course Hair was equally inappropriate for St. Norbert’s, but the song “Frank Mills” was a sweet enough ballad – except for the one line about the Hell’s Angels. You can judge for yourself:


Not wanting to totally shut down Emily’s creative impulses, we decided it would be ok for her to sing that song.  However, we made her swear on a stack of bibles that she and her Girl Scout leader would ONLY play track #18 from the Hair cast album. God help us if they would have played any of the other songs from that show for the Scout troop. I’m sure our kids would have quickly been kicked out of St. Norbert.

Fortunately, Emily made sure #18 was the only song played that afternoon and all went well. I think she even earned a badge for it, but I don’t remember what the logo was on the badge. I can only imagine!


My brother, Kyle, is three years younger than me.  I call him my “younger brother” instead of my “little brother” because there is nothing little about him.  He is a tall, big man.  The kind of big that when I hug him, my arms can’t reach all the way around him.  And his heart is as big as he is, as is his sense of humor.

When we were younger and driving down the street, we passed a church with a sign that said “…Church of Christ” except the “f” had fallen off the sign.  Without missing a beat Kyle quipped “I wonder if they are chock full o’ Christ?”

He went to the same all-boys Catholic high school as me and my other brothers, but he was always getting in trouble for goofing off.  He tells the story of the day in class the teacher came down on him for something, so Kyle pulls an oversized rubber knife from his backpack and starts yelling “I can’t take it anymore” and commences to stab himself.  Remember, this was back in the late seventies.  Anyway, the teacher did not think it was very funny and neither did the Dean of Discipline, the aptly named Mr. Rock.

Then there was the time in his college writing class, when the professor had them sit in a circle and each tell a story of something really scary that happened to them when they were children.  The young lady before Kyle told the story of her and her family’s escape from Viet Nam when she was a child.  She recounted the late night trip in a leaky boat with soldiers shooting at them and how they had to stay crouched down in the boat to avoid the bullets.

After this somber story it was Kyle’s turn.  Having grown up in suburbia Orange County, all he could come up with was the story about the time he got lost at Disneyland.  “Oh, and did I say it was really scary until my parents came and got me?”

Kyle is also my bother that donated his stem cells to me when I needed a transplant to fight off my Leukemia and stay alive.  I love that guy!  Like I said, he has a heart as big as he is.  It is crazy to think my blood and immune system is now an identical match to Kyle’s.  Thank goodness he didn’t have any allergies to be passed on to me, but I do wish I had gotten a little piece of his great sense of humor.

It Isn’t Easy

Sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while, but I have been a little sidetracked by the holidays, good family stuff and a new job. Yeaa!

For some reason today I started remembering my time early in my show business career when I had the great privilege to work as the stage manager for Juliet Prowse and her show.  The last year or so of her time doing shows in Las Vegas she did a show centered around “dance.”  It was a natural and perfect topic for her, considering what an amazing dancer she was. 

In the show she and the company would perform new dances to several classic songs, everything from “Shall We Dance” to “Mr. Bojangles” to “All That Jazz.”  But the highlight of the show for me was at the very end after all these awesome song and dance numbers she would walk onto stage all by herself, dressed in her simple dressing robe, stand still at center stage and sing a song written by Billy Barnes – “It Isn’t Easy.”  The lyrics went:

Dancing looks easy, doesn’t it?

You sweat a little, get out of breath a little

But by and large, it looks like a simple thing

So what’s the great big deal?

If given half the chance

You climb upon a stage – hell, anyone can dance.


It may look easy – it isn’t easy

It may look simple – it isn’t simple at all

When you consider all the hours and hours of rehearsing

The millions of steps and combinations

The lifetime of classes, lessons and learning

The training the body, the stretching and turning

It may look painless – it’s very painful

It looks like nothing to it – it isn’t nothing at all

To spend a lifetime dancing in some depressing little hall

It isn’t easy at all

But ask a dancer what she’d do if she had a second chance

This dancer would tell you – I’d dance.

Then she would say good night, take a deep bow and we would bring the curtain down to end the show.  I LOVED that number and the way Juliet performed it.   I still remember every word of it today.  And through the genius of Billy Barnes, it perfectly summed up Juliet’s life.

My Show Business Kids

In one of my earlier posts I told the story about the time our middle son, Neal, was in first grade at St. Norbert and Sister Rose Mary came to me very worried because Neal had said he wanted to have a rum-bull on the school playground.  The poor little Irish nun had never seen West Side Story, so she didn’t know what Neal was talking about.  I assured her that everything would be okay and I would make sure Neal did not start a gang fight with the other first graders.  This is what happens when your kids see too many of the shows that you are producing.

Around that same time we were walking through Nordstrom with Neal and in the distance we heard to store piano player.  Neal froze and said “they’re playing Shapoopi!”  And they really were!  Why, I don’t know but also why our five year old knew the music to the big dance number from The Music Man is a whole other story.  So of course we had to find the piano player and Neal asked him to play it again.

By then the piano player had moved on to another song and he didn’t want to dig out his sheet music for Shapoopi, so he asked Neal if there was another song he wanted him to play.  Maybe something from Sesame Street?

Neal thought for a minute then said “yeah, do you know anything from Gypsy?” 

We literally fell over laughing.  For those who are not familiar with the show, Gypsy is the ultimate show biz musical about the loud stage mother pushing her daughter to eventually become Gypsy Rose Lee. Leave it to our five year old Neal to come back with that line.

And no, Neal did not go into show business, thank goodness.  But to this day we will catch him singing a little bit of a show tune or knowing all the Broadway musical answers on Jeopardy.

Theater Ghost Stories

In honor of Halloween, I thought I would recount my interactions with theater ghosts throughout my career.  First off, I am a believer that some forms of ghosts do exist.  All you have to do is sit in a church or a theater and feel the energy from the crowd to know that emotional energy is very tangible.  And since they say energy cannot be destroyed, I don’t think it is farfetched to believe that some form of that energy remains in a place and can sometimes be experienced physically.

When I was young and working at the Sacramento Music Circus tent theater, we were doing a production of Camelot.  Since it was summer stock with “star” casting, John Gray was King Arthur, Anne Jeffreys was Guinevere and Harve Presnell was Lancelot.  Even though this was a long time ago, it was still probably the oldest cast to ever play those roles!

There is a scene in the show when Lancelot supposedly brings a fallen knight back to life.  Now Harve Presnell was known best for playing light-hearted roles, but one evening when I was standing at the rear of the audience’s seats and Harve played that scene I swear I could feel the waves of emotion pouring from the audience.  It was as real and physical as if I was in the ocean feeling the waves roll over me.  It was really something.

Another time when I was stage managing Juliet Prowse’s show, we were on tour in Australia.  One evening we were loading into a beautiful, hundred year old opera house in either Adelaide or Melbourne.  I wanted to check out the acoustics of the house so I worked my way from backstage through the dressing rooms up to the top balcony.  It was pretty cool how well I could hear the crew’s voices all the way up in the rear of that balcony.

As I worked my way from the balcony, I went down the front stair cases through the theater lobbies.  Most of the lights were out but I was able to feel my way along with the help of the hand rails.  Off to the side of one lobby I saw the lights on in a room and the shadows of a crew cleaning up in a kitchen.  Along with that I heard the typical sounds of a kitchen clean up – the clanging of trays, voices and the sound of glasses being put away.

I called out a “hello” and suddenly the sounds ceased and the shadows disappeared.  All of the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I hustled the rest of the way back to the stage.  When I got to the stage, I mentioned to some of the crew that I saw the catering kitchen off the lobby.  They all looked strangely at me and said what was I talking about?  There was no kitchen up there.  Yeesh!  They must have thought “just another crazy Yank.”

I also worked for thirteen years at the Wells Theatre, a beautiful one hundred and five year old theater in Norfolk, VA.  Over the years I heard many credible stories of the five different ghosts who haunt that theater.  While I never personally experienced any of them specifically, there were many times when I was in there alone and I could definitely feel their presence.


Broadway Joe

Having spent most of my life in Show Business, I have gotten to do a lot of fun things.  One of them was when I was a young, twenty-two year old stage manager at the San Bernardino Civic Light Opera which back then about an hour and a half drive east of Los Angeles.  The production was of the not-so-well-known musical Li’l Abner, of the comic strip fame.  However, the production starred the VERY well-known Joe Namath in the title role.

I believe he was about thirty-eight years old at the time and he had done a couple of other musicals in the Midwest prior to our production.  While he may not have been called “Broadway Joe” for his musical theater talents, he was decent in the role and he sure packed in the audience.

He was also one of the nicest guys you would ever want to work with.  He respected the business and everyone else in the show, even the actress who had to carry around a little pig at every performance.  Show Business – go figure!

Every time I would go into his dressing room after the show, he had his feet up and ice packs on his knees.  But we would talk through the show in detail because he was always striving to improve his performance.

And I will never forget seeing the line of women outside the stage door after every performance, just wanting to see Joe and get his autograph.  Broadway Joe comes to San Bernardino.

Welcome To Tech Theater

Show Business and theater has a rich collection of traditions, which is not surprising considering how long theater has been around.  I am sure that among the first groups of cave men, there were a few individuals who were the storytellers.  I wonder if those special individuals were revered or made fun of as it seems to be today?

Books have been written about some of these traditions, like how it is bad luck to whistle backstage in a theater (someone might take it as their cue to lower a sandbag on a rope onto your head) or how it is bad luck to wish someone “good luck” before a show.  Instead you are supposed to say “merde” or “break a leg.”  Why? I have no idea.  And don’t get me started on where “break a leg” came from.  I have heard a bunch of different explanations for the source of that one.  And how it is bad luck to say the name of a certain Shakespearean play, so instead you say “the play whose name we cannot say.”

Then there is the tradition of teasing the newest and youngest person on the technical staff.  When I was getting started in theater as a young Production Assistant a loooong time ago, the sheets of colored material that you put in front of a stage light to get certain colored light were called “gels.”  I believe this was because they were made of some form of gelatin.  So the trick was to tell the new technician their job was to wash some of the gels.  What they didn’t know but soon found out was that when you put water on the gels they would melt into a messy goo.  Naturally the older technicians would take this very seriously while the young technician would freak out.  Ha ha ha!

But then the industry ruined this prank by making the gels out of plastic so they no longer melted.  But being the creative types they are, the technicians moved onto a new prank to pull on the young staff.  To be heard onstage, actors all wear small body microphones.  In order to keep the microphone pack (about the size of a box of cigarettes) from short circuiting from an actor’s sweat, the packs were put into rubber condoms.  Problem solved!  So at the beginning of each new show or season of shows, the tradition was to make the youngest, newest technician – man or woman – be given he job to locate and go out and purchase a whole case of condoms. Again, ha ha ha!

But now with the internet, a person can go online, place an order and have the case delivered to the theater – which still raises several eyebrows from the FedEx delivery person.  Those trashy show folk!  Now that I have been away from show business for a while, I have lost track of what is the most current form of torture that is inflicted on the new technicians but I sure they have come up with a few good ones.

Do Not Read Before Driving

I think it is hilarious how many warnings drug manufactures feel they need to state in their TV commercials for their products.

For a drug to fight depression: “may cause extreme anxiety or depression.  If this occurs call your doctor immediately.” Honestly! That’s what they said!

“Do not take before operating heavy machinery.”  OK, so my asphalt roller/flattener is out.  How about driving my fork lift or my corn combine?

“May cause an erection lasting four or more hours; if so, call your doctor.”  Are you kidding? If that happened I think the woman would be calling the doctor to save HER.  In the meantime the men are saying “great, sign me up!”

“This medicine is not meant for weight loss, but many people experience some loss of weight.”  Again, are you kidding? Sign me up!  It will take care of my problem AND help me lose weight.  But if they said “this medicine might make you smarter” nobody would care or be motivated to buy that drug.

“Do not combine this drug with large amounts of alcohol.”  Help me out here – define “large amounts.” No one should be drinking large amounts of alcohol anyway, drug or no drug!

For a smoking cessation drug – “may cause the urge to consume large amounts of alcohol.” See above.

“Do not take this drug during the day until you know how it will affect you.”  Check!  But if you take it at night, you will be asleep and not know how it is affecting you.

Or the ones with lists of side effects that goes on and on – at least half the time of the commercial.  But my brother in law heard the best one – buried in the list was “may cause anal leakage.” Ouch!

Ode to Rip

I have had the pleasure of working several shows with Rip Taylor who is still out there making people laugh, but the first time was a loooong time ago when he performed his act at the Sacramento Music Circus under the tent.  I still remember a great bit he did where he sang small parts of many songs, jumping from song to song without a stop.  If my old man’s brain remembers correctly, some of it went like this – and it works best if you sing them without a break between them:

(sung to the tune from Oklahoma)  I’m just a girl who can’t say n-n-n-n-n-n-n-

(sung to the tune “What’s it All About, Alfie?” – younger readers may have to google that one!) What’s that in the pool, algae?

(sung from the tune from The Fantasticks) Try to remember …umm….

(sung) We stand up for Jesus, we stand up for Jesus, we stand up for Jesus (spoken) Well sit down for Christ’s sake!

Applause, applause, applause, take a bow Rip, then exit aisle 7!

There were more that I just can’t remember, but I still think of Rip doing this bit whenever I hear any of these songs and it makes me smile!