How My Stage Management Responsibility Started
One more experience I will never forget was a time that John Wayne had a gathering on his boat in San Diego to support a charity that I can no longer remember. Mr. Wayne, Aldo Rea. Tim Hutton and others were there and we took the ship out for a spin, I got to attend as Josie Pollack’s friend. I found Mr. Wayne to be friendly and somewhat opinionated and, at times, funny. He was 6’4”, the tallest actor I had ever met at that point. John Wayne was legendary and his personality was intense, to say the least.
Well, it’s time to talk about something that happened that really changed my future. I had been volunteering my time in the theater’s production department and especially with the stagehands, I had been volunteering to work with the stage manager and some point Mr. Doolittle told me that the theater would sponsor me to become an Equity Stage Manager.
He even went so far as to put up the money for me to join the AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Union ) as well as the Actors Equity Union that is required for you to be certified as a stage manager, I was accepted and became a certified Stage Manager. Boy, you don’t realize how many performers and crew members count on your professionalism and focus. I remember when Doolittle told me about my first stage manager job at the Huntington Hartford, The play was called “Private Lives” by Noel Coward and it was set to star Brian Bedford and Tammy Grimes. He told me that he had arranged for me to have lunch at the Brown Derby which was just across the street from the theater.
Well wow, I was excited and showed up dressed in my best coat and tie to meet them. Well, the meeting was going beautifully when all of a sudden I sneezed for some reason and threw out my lower back, launching me into extreme pain and the ability to straighten up or walk for that matter. We had to call an ambulance so I could leave the restaurant and get some care for my condition. They took me to an emergency room where they ultimately gave me some muscle relaxers and stretched my lower vertebrae back into place which virtually illuminated a substantial amount of my pain and mobility.
So the good news was that I was back on my feet within 48 hours. Well, I thought my career as a stage manager was totally over and especially being considered to be the stage manager for the “Private Lives” show. Fortunately, the doctors gave the release to go back to work and the stars of the show said they would be happy with me being the stage manager for the show. So I was not fired before I even got to start and I thanked them for their faith in my abilities to perform the duties. So I was good to go with my first professional stage management responsibility thanks for Brian Bedford and Tammy Grimes faith in my abilities to do the job. When you consider the fact that I had never professionally stage-managed a show and I was only 25 years old at the time.
Note: To give an explanation for what happened with my back. I later learned that I had some curvature of my spine and that my last vertebrae did not form properly. Because of this, I was getting a lot of pain occasionally from my lower back. It could be brought on by something as small as a sneeze or bending over incorrectly. When it would go out just shaving would be very painful. When it would go out it would take several days for me to get back to work. I finally had enough and went to see an orthopedic surgeon. As part of his evaluation, he took a series of X-Rays and other spinal checks. He informed me that my problem was the fact that I had some curvature of my spine since my last vertebrae did not form properly and because of this a lot of the cartilage surrounding my lower vertebrae was deteriorating. He told me he could operate on this but couldn’t guarantee that the outcome would totally solve my condition.
Then he told me that my best solution would be a series of exercises that would build up my muscles surrounding the vertebrae. He then said something I have never forgotten. If you will do these exercises every day you can illuminate the pain and back issues for many years. Then he said I know you won’t do it because no one I tell to do this actually does it, I told him if I can make the pain and inconvenience go away I will definitely do the exercises every day forever. He said that most of the people just didn’t stick with it. It’s going to take you several months to accomplish what you need. Well, I did it, I go to the gym 5 days a week and since I do I have not had an issue with my back since then.
My Stage Management Capabilities
Well, the show went off without a hitch and everyone was very pleased with my stage management capabilities. I also became fast friends with the performers in the show and kept in touch for a while. The next show I got to work on was “Bell Book & Candle” starring Zsa Zsa Gabor. Ms. Gabor was a real piece of work. Basically, she wasn’t a very nice person. She went through 8 dressers during the rehearsals alone. We were having real difficulties finding anyone to want to work with her. Most of the time she was just plain rude to the crew and others in the cast who had to work with her. Everyone loved her sister but hardly anyone liked her. That said, the show went off well despite her and her less than good reviews. She thankfully didn’t give me much trouble and even asked me to work with her in her wigs business which I refused to do.
The next show was probably the one I was most proud of. There was a group of actors that came together to start a theatre group called the Plumsted Players which was a group of very famous actors who wanted to produce some classic plays that hadn’t been produced for years. Some of the members of the group where Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan, Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, and Agnes Moorehead. And many others that I just can’t remember. I was privileged to have met and become acquainted with Helen Hayes (first lady of the American Theater), Angela Lansbury and others. From the 50’s and 60’s era. One of the things that I found incredible was the language this woman would use would make you cringe. You didn’t want to make a mistake because when they came off stage they could out curse any man alive. The women I met and worked with could hold their own with any man. Their language just blew me away. Hearing the first lady of the theater say things you would never say to a woman. My next show was “Our Town” starring Henry Fonda, at the Huntington Hartford theater. I have got to say one of my favorite actors back then was Henry Fonda and the chance to meet him and work with him was a dream come true. Mr. Fonda was much more than I expected. He was a really nice man and very appreciative of everyone who worked with him. That said, he and I got along beautifully and he was very kind to everyone on the crew and the other actors working with him in the show. The show was a huge success and was sold out every night to great reviews. Mr. Fonda made it a point to introduce me to his wife at the time as well as kids Jane & Peter. Jane was very nice and Peter could have cared less and not all that friendly as he at the time was basting in his success with “Easy Rider”. Of all the shows I ever worked on Henry Fonda was the only star to attend the cast party at the end of the show He stayed until the party ended, engaged in conversation with everyone and posed for photos with just about everybody.
He had the uncanny ability to make everyone feel he truly appreciated your efforts in making the show a success. He always made you feel that you were a friend, not just an associate.
We kept in touch and when he decided to write produce another play. He got in touch with Josie Pollack and asked if I would stage-manage his new play which he was going to open at the Santa Barbara Civic Theater. The theme of the show was the Generation Gap (which was a hot topic back then”. It was a one-man show and all I was responsible for was making sure the sound and lights were working and there as I remember some supported video he used on the topic. Back then the problem was that your children didn’t like you and the Vietnam War was extremely unpopular and there were many anti-war demonstrations and many blamed everyone over 40 and were doing anything to stop the war and Henry Fonda’s Daughter was, unfortunately, the poster child of the conflict. I remember coming to the theatre to do a rehearsal and test the sound, lighting, and video to make sure all was working.
Pretty much, everything was going well. But on to the next where ALL good things got to end and better opportunities would come knocking. Let me tell you about Careers in Special Event Planning Lead me Back to Orlando.