Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
He was a classical pianist who entered Julliard at age 9. There he met the guy who would be his partner for 40 years, Lou Teicher. Their early concerts together focused on classical music, with the twist of the "duelling grand pianos" which became their signature. The "Grand Twins of the Twin Grands" eventually found their orchestrations of movie themes propelling them into pop stardom. They recorded over 150 albums, with 22 going gold or platinum; they sold over 90 million albums worldwide and gave over 5200 concerts before retiring 20 years ago. In the early 60s, they hit Billboard's Top Ten with their piano renditions of the themes from The Apartment and from Exodus, as well as "Tonight" from West Side Story. They continued to record movie themes throughout the 60s, and ended the decade with another top ten smash, the instantly recognizable Theme from Midnight Cowboy. I think my folks must have had a Ferrante and Teicher recording in their collection, as my mother and both my sisters played the piano. But I know my best friend from school, Robert, was a big fan and had many of their albums. While everybody else was listening to Creedance Clearwater Revival, Robert and I were listening to Ferrante and Teicher. No wonder we got beat up a lot. Teicher predeceased Ferrante, dying last year at age 83.
This gal died several weeks ago. Recognize her?
He was an actor born in South Africa who appeared with playwright Athol Fugard in the latter's 1960 play The Blood Knot. It was the first time a black actor and a white actor appeared together onstage in South Africa, and cemented an artistic relationship between the two. Mokae became a leading interpreter of Fugard's work, appearing in Boesman and Lena, A Lesson From Aloes, and, in 1982, in Master Harold...and the Boys, a performance for which he won the Tony. Three years later, a television movie was filmed with Mokae recreating his role, and Matthew Broderick as the young Master Harold. I love this script, and the role of Harold is one of those I always wanted to play; it remains on my Wish List. I have some doubts that it will come my way, however, as Harold is 17.
She was one of Charles Manson's babes, and was a major participant in what may be the most gruesome, and is certainly the most notorious, of all American killing sprees, the Tate/LaBianca murders. Nobody has ever been able to fully explain the fanatical hold Manson had over his harem of lost women, who formed a community of sex, drugs, and violence in the late 60s. (There were a couple of men in the group, too, who committed much of the violence in exchange for all that free sex with the gals. Straight guys will do anything to get laid.) Manson brainwashed his ladies into believing that a race war was at hand, a world-wide conflict which the Manson family would survive by hiding in a hole in the ground. The blacks would win the war, but by annihilating all the whites, would have no one to run the world. At that point, the Manson clan would emerge from their hole and be proclaimed Leaders of the Planet.
What could go wrong with that plan?
In August of 1969, Manson noticed the race war was taking too long to get going, and decided to give it a push by committing a series of murders which could be blamed on blacks. He sent Susan Atkins and several other family members to the Beverly Hills home of Roman Polanski, an estate he had previously visited while looking for Doris Day's son, a record producer whom he believed had made promises he had not kept. Isn't this a great story? Anyway, Manson knew rich white people lived at the address, and believed murdering them would ignite the race war. Atkins and her three cohorts invaded the residence on August 8th, interrupting a small gathering and slaughtering the five people present. Atkins herself repeatedly stabbed Polanski's wife, actress Sharon Tate, while she begged for mercy for herself and her unborn child (Tate was 8 and a half months pregnant; Polanski himself was in Europe at the time). Patricia Krenwinkle chased coffee heiress Abigail Folger across the front lawn before subduing her, and doing her in. On the way out, Atkins wrote "pig" in blood on the door.
The next night, Manson himself drove Atkins and others to the Los Feliz home of Leno LaBianca, a wealthy grocer, and left them there to kill everyone and hitchhike home. Can you imagine picking up that crowd and driving them across the Valley? After slaughtering the grocer and his wife, they wrote "Helter Skelter" in blood on the fridge, forever ruining a perfectly good Beatles tune. The back-to-back murders traumatized Los Angeles for months, and may never have been solved had Atkins not bragged about her starring role in the events to a couple of cellmates when she was being incarcerated on an earlier murder charge (another one ordered by Manson). She failed to show any remorse during her trial, and was sentenced to death. Her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when, in 1972, the California Supreme Court briefly invalidated the death penalty. She was denied parole 18 times, including only a month ago, when her brain cancer was so advanced she slept through her hearing. During the 38 years of her captivity, she married twice (who the hell were those guys?), and at the time of her death this week, was the woman who had been incarcerated in the California penal system the longest (that honor now falls to her co-murderess Patricia Krenwinkle).
I don't remember the Tate/LaBianca murders as they happened, but the entire horrific episode was captured in a fascinating television film, Helter Skelter, in the mid-70s. Actor Steve Railsback's portrayal of Charles Manson was so convincing, it sank his promising career; nobody could see him as anyone except the mesmerizing cult leader. It's one of the most electric performances I have ever seen on film. Go to Netflix and rent the thing; it'll freak you out.
As for Atkins, she died this week at the age of 61. She is survived by her second husband, who is also one of her attorneys, and an illegitimate son (she gave birth while living in squalor with the Manson family; the child was removed by the state, and has not been heard from since. If you were Susan Atkins's son, wouldn't you remain hidden?) During her incarceration, she became a born-again Christian (don't they all?), and did her best to erase memories of the frightening words she uttered during her sentencing in 1971: "You'd best lock your doors and watch your own kids."
Friday, September 25, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Well, I finally got back to Wayside Theatre this week, to attend a matinee of their current offering. I am deeply disappointed in myself that I did not get out there for their previous production, The Gin Game, which starred two of my favorite actors of...um... mature years, James Laster and Faith Potts. I lost track of their run, and missed the whole thing. I like The Gin Game (I saw stage legend Julie Harris and stage ham Charles Durning play it years ago), and I see that cranky male role in my future.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I had my dear friend Claudia with me for most of the last week. She is my oldest friend; we met in high school back in the middle ages. When I left Los Angeles to attend grad school, she flew out to visit me several times, and has continued that routine since I landed in DC. Usually, she can hook it into a business trip (she works in the health insurance industry, but we don't spread that around, as we don't want her attacked on the street).
We always have a terrific time together, and this week was no exception. She had to work during the day, but we had plenty of private time in which to catch up. We sat front row center at Dirty Blonde one night (I wrote about that show here), and we caught a Saturday matinee of A Piece of My Heart at American Century Theatre. We were quite caught up in that story of the women who served in the Vietnamese War. We also had time for a movie (Julie and Julia, which we loved. I enjoyed pointing out DC's own Helen Carey in one of the supporting roles) and we indulged in our favorite pastime, eating, with several meals out, several meals in, and much grazing in between.
Claudia and I have always had an easy relationship, dating back to our first meeting in our high school drama class. She was a topnotch stage clown back then, but ultimately gave up acting to, you know, have a life. I doubt she regrets that decision, but I may have detected a little bit of wistfulness, a little bit of wondering "what if...?" while we watched an old video of one of her stage successes.
Claudia's visit started me thinking about how lucky I have been with the ladies in my life. With rare exception, the best friends I have had over the years have been women, and always straight women at that. This is not an unusual occurrence with men in my tribe. I imagine if you asked any gay man, of almost any age, to list ten life-long friends, the majority would be straight women. I've been so lucky to have my ladies in my life; a few, like Claudia and Judy (I wrote more about our history here) have remained constant influences, while others may have drifted away over the years. But I am thankful to them all: to Janie, who helped me through the first years of college, to Mindi, who helped me through the first years of grad school, to Jenny, who shared my post-collegiate years, to Bobbi, who awakened my artistic life, and to Barbara and Deborah, who remain with me today.
I'm not the first one to notice the phenomenon of the gay man's close friendship with the straight woman. Whole books have been written about it. I bet Michelangelo and Da Vinci had their gal pals, and any thought of Noel Coward will soon be followed by a thought of Gertrude Lawrence. These are intensely important relationships to the gay man, which makes it doubly grotesque that a nasty nickname was given to our ladies back in the 70s. I have never used the epithet, and won't repeat it here (it rhymes with Flag Tag), and I find it astonishing that the very men who depend so much on their straight female friends would demean them with this ugly label.
Thankfully, you don't hear the term much these days. But the tradition of the gay male-straight female friendship remains in full force. The younger gents in my tribe continue to enjoy such relationships. I wish I knew how to upload and share a video of my Claud, perhaps the song with which she stole the video we watched last week. But I don't. I have, though, run across a very sweet little video posted by one of the young actors with whom I worked this summer. Dave is working at Wayside Theatre this season, and on one of his days off, he reunited with one of his great friends. On a lark, they made this stop-action video together; it perfectly sums up the way I feel about my ladies. I have a hunch we all feel the same.