Born and raised in St. Louis. In fourth grade at Mary Queen of Peace, a Catholic school in the suburb of Webster Groves, a Mrs. Vanderbrook gave me a 5 (equivalent to an A in public schools) in English; made me feel good about myself. Wrestled at Kirkwood High School; won some big matches but never reached potential (Had a conversation with David Mamet a few years ago in a San Francisco art gallery; we talked wrestling. As I said goodbye and walked off he called after me, across a room, ``Do you still wrestle?'') Junior year at Kirkwood had a British exchange teacher, a Miss Benham, who surprised me by giving me A's in English because, she said, I was a good writer; another boost of general confidence.
Went off to the University of Missouri. Did badly. Failed logic, or perhaps got a D-minus; the mind blurs. Taking German was a catastrophe, too. Passed ROTC and my English professor was encouraging, but overall grade point was terrible. So after one semester I hitchhiked to California, the last hundred miles came into Los Angeles on a Greyhound bus, saw orange orchards for the first time, blissful; hitchhiked to Santa Monica and first view of the Pacific Ocean, staggering.
Took classes at Los Angeles City College _ acting, international relations, Russian, journalism. Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, visited the campus while preparing for an LA fight with Archie Moore. I wrote in the school paper, the Daily Cub I think it was called, that Clay would lose. He showed up at the Daily Cub office the next day trailed by students. He yelled my name, waving the Daily Cub, asked if I stood by the prediction. I said _ in shock staring at him and the students _ yes. When students left we had a nice conversation. Two nights later he knocked out Archie. Aldous Huxley spoke at LACC; I covered for the Daily Cub. Interview was depressing; Huxley was coming to the end. I learned great minds don't last forever.
Needed to work as continued school. Got an acting agent, never made a dime. Costs a lot, though: pictures, right clothes, getting place to place for readings. Worked as a wrapper at Ralph's supermarket on Sunset. The supermarket of the stars. Open until twelve. Actors from the Hollywood Hills above would sneak in late. I developed a routine called ``crazy wrap'' for the late hours. Imagine robots bagging groceries. We all did it, to the chagrin of the checkers. It led to me hurling Ozzie Nelson's slippery chicken into a plate glass window. He smiled but didn't sign me to a television contract. I watched Johnny Mathis buy Presto Logs. I got in an argument with Gary Lockwood, star of ``The Lieutenant'' and ``2001: A Space Odyssey.'' He threatened to take a punch at me but didn't.
Hitchhiked across the country several times. Could make it to St. Louis in two days usually. Sometimes in wintry conditions. Once did LA to New York in under three days, this despite getting picked up on Highway 66 by a man who, unknown to me, had just escaped from a state penitentiary and was using me as a cover. We were caught near the Oklahoma-Missouri border after a chase by highway patrol and sheriffs' cruisers. The convict apologized to me as they took him off in handcuffs. Ten minutes later, after a sheriff's deputy apologized for handling me roughly and told me the convict was a murderer (not premeditated; he'd killed a man in a bar fight), I got another ride and was into Ohio by nightfall.
There, outside Columbus, I got a ride from a man who has just been released from the Ohio State Penitentiary and was heading for home in Pennsylvania; we talked throughout the night. He, too, had been convicted of murder. He'd killed a man, he said, with his bare hands. I saw he could, he was huge, but he was also gentle _ I thought of Lenny in Steinbeck's ``Of Mice and Men.'' He was friendly, nervous; what was waiting for him after an absence of two decades? He hadn't had contact with family for years. He bought me breakfast in an ancient coffee shop. He pointed out the window at a gravel road that wound up and over a hill _ it led to his family home. I watched him drive up that road. His name was Lee.
Married my high school sweetheart Nancy Burtch and we settled in Los Angeles and had a daughter, Amy. We both worked at various times. I got jobs at small newspapers around LA; covered crime, forest fires, just about everything which is per usual on small papers. Eventually moved up to the Monterey Peninsula on California's coast. We had another daughter, Anne. I worked for the Monterey Peninsula Herald (now Monterey County Herald), writing plays when I could find the time. I quit the paper _ Nancy worked _ to concentrate more on plays and thought I'd hit it when my comedy ``The Late Marc Buffant'' was accepted by the Squaw Valley Writers Conference. But the play was rough if promising, I didn't handle the situation well, and blew opportunities when Michael McClure and Robert Anderson, among others, offered encouragement. After a bit I forgot plays, relaxed some, and began to enjoy journalism, working in news, investigative, features, sports and the arts. Felt, and still do, that good journalism is of paramount importance. But papers, TV stations, radio, other news outlets, are losing touch _ often, I think, because many are owned by vast conglomerates who only care about profitability. It's sad and it's scary. We are, and will, pay for this situation.
So I entered the art world as a dealer, handling early California art _ very important, you wouldn't, for instance, have the national parks if early artists hadn't sent back glorious images to D.C. _ as well as contemporary work. Became fascinated by the people who created art. Wrote two films for the Monterey Museum of Art that won national awards; was privileged to work with Steve Rosen and Terri DeBono of Mac and Ava Motion Pictures. (I heard that Henry Fonda once said of feature film writing, ``If it's not on paper, forget the caper.'' True, but if the filmmakers aren't good, the caper's also a goner.)
Wrote essays for museum catalogues and books and co-curated with Patricia Leach the inaugural art exhibition at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California. That was an honor because Steinbeck is such a giant figure in our region, and because he counted artists among his best friends, and I was into the world of artists and literature. Also, we discovered the great marine biologist Ed Ricketts, the famous Doc of Steinbeck's ``Cannery Row,'' had lived in our house. I was soaking in Steinbeck.
Slowly I started thinking about writing plays again. One, ``The Floating Hat,'' is based on a story that is almost legendary in the early California art world: the relationship of Charlie Chaplin with the great Impressionist artist Granville Redmond, a deaf-mute artist. Imagine, a deaf-mute artist and the greatest maker of silent films. Together every day. Finding comfort and solace in each other. Through the Great Depression into the dawning of World War II.
Another, ``A Mild Concussion: The Rapid Rise and Long Fall of an Idealistic Computer Genius,'' is about the man who created the computer language we all use; his reward was exploitation and destruction.
Another play, ``Fortune's Way, or Notes on Art for Catholics (And Others),'' was performed in March at the Carmel Mission, Carmel, California. It's about Euphemia Charlton Fortune, who was born with a cleft palate, survived the night of fire of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, won a silver medal from the Paris salons for her painting and a gold medal from the American Institute of Architects for her design of the altar at St. Peters, In Kansas City, Missouri. A rare double.
Teresa Del Piero, a superb actress, played the title role, with John Brady as a bishop. It was staged by Conrad Selvig. Future presentations are expected over the next several months.
And it's Sunday afternoon and raining.
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...
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