Sunday, July 31, 2011

Karamu House

Zelma Watson George

Located at the corner of Quincy and East 89th Street, Karamu House is the "oldest African American theater company in America." Founded in 1915 by Russell and Rowena Jelliffe, that also means Karamu shares with the Play House the distinction of being the longest continually running theater company in Cleveland.

The theater club at Karamu was originally called the Dumas Drama Club, and later the Gilpin Players after actor Charles Gilpin. In 1941 they adopted the name Karamu, which is Swahili for either "a place of feasting and enjoyment in the center of the community" or the word "pencil" depending on whom you ask.

By the 1950s, Karamu's reputation as Cleveland's "black" theater was firmly established, and had been for decades, premiering originally works by Zora Neal Hurston and once employing Langston Hughes as Playwright-In-Residence -- one of only two to hold that title. However, from the original husband and wife team of the Jelliffe's through the 1950s, the artistic and management directorships were held by whites.
"According to the record, Cleveland is one of the most progressive theatre cities in America."
- Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times
Interracial productions were the order of the day at that time -- in recent days we learned that character actor Roberts Blossom got his professional start at Karamu, and Tedd Burr used to tell me he was half of a couple that engaged in the first interracial kiss on a Cleveland stage though for the life of me I can't remember what show he was talking about.

Zelma Watson George (December 8, 1903 - July 3, 1994) sang the lead role in the opera The Medium for sixty-seven nights beginning in 1949 before the show transferred to Broadway? She returned to Cleveland, performing in The Consul at the Cleveland Play House and turn as Mrs. Peachum in a production of The Three-Penny Opera at Karamu. Later, of course, she was an advisor to the Eisenhower administration, as part of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Armed Forces from 1954 until 1957, and that was just the beginning of an illustrious philanthropic career.
For the record, Karamu House gave me my first professional theater job. I was a member of their youth outreach, Drama/Theatre for Youth Project (D/TY) from 1991-92, traveling Greater Cleveland in a van with four other young actors, performing world folk tales to elementary and middle school students. I also got to play Howard Wagner in Death of a Salesman on the boards of the Jelliffe Theatre. I never got to meet ether of the Jelliffe's in person - Russell died in 1980, but I did attend Rowena's funeral, she died in April, 1992 just a month after her 100th birthday.

Stealing Christmas, 1991
8/1/11 UPDATE: In 1997 the Zelma W. George Recreation Center opened in Luke Easter Park, which is also the site of the annual Unity Day Festival, an annual family-friendly event of fun and music in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, now in its seventh year. On the very evening I published this entry (July 31) George Clinton was headlining the event, when a douchebag with a handgun opened fire, wounding three and killing one.

The shooter remains at large.

African American Registry
Showtime In Cleveland (John Vacha)
The Handbook of Texas Online/Texas State Historical Association

Friday, July 29, 2011

Vacation & Recreation Without Humiliation

My extended family has visited the same sleepy vacation spot for over 100 years, Flood's Cove in Friendship, Maine. Sometimes I imagine what it must have been like, prior to the Interstate, when my mother and her parents would pile into the car in the 1940s to drive all the way from Lakewood to the Atlantic coast. How many days did that take?

When I was a kid, traveling the same route in my folks enormous, brown Chevy station wagon, I looked forward to having a Yes & Know book, a copy of Dynamite, and hope we would stop at either HoJo's or My Uncle Bill's because both had a pool. HoJos, however, meant fried clams.

My children are "deprived" compared to many of their contemporaries. There are no DVD players mounted onto the backs of our seats for them to watch. The girl does not have her own mp3 player ... yet. Last month on our drive to North Carolina, I read an entire book to them - the first Harry Potter book. For the trip to Maine, we are reading the second. We do, however, borrow audio and video "Playaways" from the library so there is video, but it's limited.

What would a driving vacation have been like in 1954? Imagine no seat belts. A child, if they are lucky enough to be an only child or traveling without siblings, would get to stretch out in the back with a pillow and nap, and hopefully not be thrown out the windshield.

Hotels did not have indoor pools, you'd be lucky to get an outdoor pool, a playground would be a bonus. Also, a hotel with an attached restaurant was also scarce. People usually packed their own food, anyway, in a cooler - a big, steel cooler. At least there was room for it, the cars were comically enormous. Keep in mind, no one spent hand over fist the way they do today. They saved money in the bank, and spent what they needed to. It's weird. So going to any restaurant was considered a luxury, even on a road trip.

Of course, if you were black, being allowed to stay in a hotel could also be a luxury. Or downright impossible. Picture this: prior to the advent of credit cards, you couldn't place a reservation for a hotel. Dad just drove until he found a place with a big neon sign reading VACANCY, and then paid cash.

And if you weren't white, perhaps the manager in St. Petersburg would inform you that the going rate is $50,000 a night. Ha ha ha. True story. Many traveling families of color spent the night in their car, after spending hours trying to find a place that would allow them to stay.

Retro Wife
Brigham Young University

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sexual Behavior in the Human Female

Dr. Alfred Kinsey's 1948 blockbuster Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was followed on September 14, 1953 by (duh) Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. It cost $8. Everyone claims they read it for the articles.

More than 5,500 women were interviewed, and they spoke liberally about sex, with partners and without, how many, where and at what time, if keeping your feet on the floor counts, and there was even the rumor of female orgasm.

We can now say with absolute certainty that these things are true:
7% of single women aged 20–35 and 4% of previously married females aged 20–35 are totally bi.

2 - 6% of females, aged 20–35, are pretty gay.

1 to 3% of unmarried females aged 20–35 are complete lesbians.

Married women do it 2.8 times a week in the late teens, 2.2 times a week by age 30, and once a week by age 50. Women over 50 were apparently not asked.

26% of all married women reported having had at least one extra-marital affair before the age of 40. Women over 40 were apparently not asked.

12% of all women like the rough stuff.
Or so it was true in the 1950s.

The fact is, this information came at a point in American history we generally think of repressed and conservative and that we are so much more open-minded about sexuality, and homosexuality in particular, than sixty years ago.

The logic went something like this: Because Communism is the opposite of America, and homosexuality is the opposite of America (because God hates ... well, you've been told who God hates) therefore homosexuality is Communism.

Like that joke about God being Ray Charles. But seriously.

So let's say there is someone in the State Department who has a secret homosexual life. Either a) they are a Communist spy or b) even if they aren't they are susceptible to blackmail in a way a straight person isn't so they may as well be a Communist spy, they will betray us eventually.

In other words, the bigotry inherent in an intolerant society can be used against you before the fact because straight-hate makes you untrustworthy.

Shorter answer; Being gay doesn't make a gay person a bad person. Being straight makes a gay person a bad person.

Indiana University

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Agatha Christie

After God, Agatha Christie (15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976) is the best-selling writer of books of all-time. Before God, He pales from the comparison.

1920 she debuted as an author with The Mysterious Affair at Styles, a book she had been working on for roughly four years. It was a very well-received first novel ("She betrays the cunning of an old hand." - The New York Times Book Review) and introduced the world to a legendary fictional creation, the fastidious and bizarre Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, a figure Christie herself would come to detest though she kept creating crimes for him to solve because he was so darned popular.

The most recent Poirot adventure in 1954 was Funerals Are Fatal (released in the UK as After the Funeral) which is notable as homosexuality is discussed as a possible motive for the crime, in this case between two women. It is described by one of the police inspectors as a "feverish female friendship" which is how I insist all lesbian relationships must be described from now on.

Christie was also a very successful playwright, though she never presented the character of Poirot on stage, sometimes even adapting Poirot novels for the stage, but eliminating him as a character. By 1954, her play The Mousetrap began its second year playing the West End where it remains to this day, the longest continually-running play in history with over a whopping 24,000 performances to date.

The Mousetrap at Great Lakes Theater
March 10 - 25, 2012

Yes, that's me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Arthur Loesser

Arthur Loesser (Aug. 26, 1894 - Jan. 4, 1969) was born in New York City and began playing piano at age six. A graduate of Columbia and the Institute of Musical Art (later known as Julliard) he toured the world as a concert pianist beginning in 1913.

During World War II he was an officer and a Japanese interpreter, and later became the first American to appear in Japan after the war, with the Nippon Symphony.

Loesser had joined the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1926, becoming head of the piano department in 1953. He was program editor and annotator for the Cleveland Orchestra (1937 - 1942), and a music critic for the Cleveland Press (1938 - 1956).

He also wrote popular books on music, Humor in American Song (1943) and Men, Women, and Pianos: A Social History (1954).

DID YOU KNOW ..? Loesser tells us the reason the piano became the most acceptable instrument for genteel ladies in the Western World is because of all of the things women aren't required to do to play one. They need not purse their lips, nor wrap them around anything, spread their legs or crane their necks. They just sit up straight and tap their fingers. But then, Loesser never saw Tori Amos.

In 1968, Loesser was awarded a special citation from the Cleveland Arts Prize for Distinguished Service to the Arts.

Arthur was the elder half-brother to Broadway composer Frank Loesser. It was Arthur who referred to himself as "the evil of two Loessers," a line Frank would steal and use in reference to his first wife.

Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Cleveland Arts Prize

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Let's Go Bowling!"

"Every size, age, kind, breed and class from all walks of life."
Except ... well, you know ...

Last year my wife took the girl to what they call Girl Camp, a weekend of feminist mysticism and indoctrination. Seriously, though I think they sit around a campfire and sing and cry and talk about boys. So the boy and I declared our home Boy Camp which meant we slept in, farted a lot and went BOWLING.

This weekend ... BOY CAMP YEAR 2: This time, it's Star Wars.

Bowling Proprietors Association of America presents:
Let's Go Bowling

Growing up in Bay Village, my parents would take me with them on League Night, when I was too old for them to seem to justify paying for a babysitter, but too young to leave at home on my own, like when I was eight or nine years-old. Besides, I knew there would be pizza at Dominic's afterwards.

Bay Lanes in those days was full of smoke, smelled of beer, and the "kids' room" was a plexiglass cage with broken toys and a black and white TV with very poor reception. Those under 18 were not allowed in the "lounge" which was a slightly more respectable plexiglass cage in the swinging 1970s style. I would often slip in quickly to snab one of the cardboard coasters or bev naps with dirty cartoons on them.


Nixon did not build the first bowling alley in the White House. He did have a new alley constructed (paid for by donors, not taxpayers) under the North Portico in 1969. However, bowling lanes were originally installed in the West Wing in 1947 as a birthday present for President Truman ... who did not like bowling. The staff, however, formed a league. Makes you wonder which bowl-happy member of the staff thought that might be a good present.

These lanes were torn out in 1955 to create a mimeograph room.

The White House Museum
Secret Bay Village

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Styles: First Read

You can’t have a good reading without good readers. Last night I had a good reading.

The goal is adapting a ninety year-old mystery novel into a one-hour performance with one set and five actors. As two men must be onstage, interacting with all of the other characters a lot, that means two men playing one character each, and one man and two women playing everyone else.

The “everyone else” can’t be too few people, the few the characters, the fewer the suspects. I already conflated a large number of characters, or had their actions take place off-stage. Even the victim is never seen, and why not, no one cares about the victim, only who the murderer is and how he or she did it.

Each woman plays two onstage roles … and that other man plays five. Five roles. Tricky.

Until last night, when it was illustrated that each makes only one entrance, and don’t contribute anything at all to the plot. So they are cut. Et voila!

So happy that my readers were interested by the plot, and the characters. Whew. There are a few characters who have not yet captured the readers’ interest, I can work with that. The entire read-through took one hour and ten minutes -- so I need to cut NO LESS THAN twenty minutes from its length.

And I can do that.

My apologies for being cryptic. All will be revealed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Brooklyn Thrill Killers

Jack Koslow, 18
Summer brings out the worst.

In the summer of 1954, four Brooklyn teenagers went on a senseless spree of violence and murder, terrorizing defenseless hobos. They beat one man to death, they beat Willard Menter, an African American, burned him with cigarettes and then dragged him for seven blocks before dumping him into the East River to drown. Several more were tortured. None were robbed. They did not know any of these people. They just fucked them up or left them to die.

These boys also admitted to horsewhipping girls in the park, and tying an old man's legs with gasoline-soaked cotton rags and setting him on fire.

None were gang members. Several were camp counsellors. They "liked athletics, played handball, swam at neighborhood pools, liked books and music." (Time, 7/30/1954)

When questioned about where they had arrived at such gruesome plots, they said they were inspired by comic books. This fact was mentioned at the Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency.

One charge was dismissed, another boy turned state's evidence. Two of the youths - Jack Koslow (18) and Melvin Mittman (17) - were sentenced to life in prison for the death of Willard Menter. The others were Robert Trachtenberg (15) and Jerome Lieberman (17).

Bizarre photo of the boys identifying the body of Willard Menter.

Sources: Time Magazine
Various disreputable websites

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Edith Stevenson Wright

Edith's Hanna Building Penthouse Apartment & Studio, 1954

Edith Stevenson Wright (1883 - 1975) was born in Youngstown, the daughter of a British immigrant steelworker. She spent her life largely in Cleveland, Ohio, as an accomplished and (as such things go) successful portrait painter, living and working in the Hanna Building penthouse. She was married to and divorced from theater critic Ivan Wright, they had two children, Blaine and Dare. Dare Wright was a fashioned model, later photographer, and author of The Lonely Doll (1957) as well as a series of other children's books.

Edith began training at the age of 13 at the Central Ontario School of Art, and by 16 she was mentoring under J.W.L. Forester, a British painter of government ministers.

In 1954 Edith had painted a portrait of Winston Churchill, which was unveiled at Christmastime at the University of Bristol. Sir Philip Morris, vice chancellor of the university, was so taken with the work that he told Edith he was going to arrange a sitting with the 28 year-old Queen Elizabeth, then only one year into her reign. Using dare as a model, she created an eight-foot drawing to prepare for this most amazing opportunity, which unfortunately never materialized.

The only Edith Stevenson Wright I have ever seen up and close and in person used to hang in the Schubert Library at the Cleveland Play House. It was a bit of a surprise, last fall, finally - after three years in the Playwrights Unit - to climb the circular staircase to the balcony of that dectagonal room to get a closer look at the cases filled with marionettes, and the portraits of former CPH Artistic Directors. I did not expect to come face to face with an artist whose name I was familiar with.

Edith had painted a portrait of actress and company member Helen Watkins. She was a player with CPH for decades, Edith's painting dates from the 1950s. In The Crucible, Ms. Watkins played Rebecca Nurse.

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll (Jean Nathan)
The Plain Dealer

Friday, July 15, 2011

Stan Freberg

Cleveland Television: August 21-27, 1954
Bob Clampett and his "Time For Beany" puppets during the last days of the show..Daws Butler and Stan Freberg had just left. WXEL and later WEWS carried the 15 minute puppet show from 1949-53. - Cleveland Classic Media

Stanley Victor "Stan" Freberg (born August 7, 1926) is such an important fixture in my world of 20th century American comedy, I can almost forgive him the fact that he despises rock and roll.

The son of a Baptist minister (wait - Freberg is a Baptist name?) got work right out of high school as a voice for animated cartoons, both for Warner Brothers and Disney. From 1949 to 1954, he and Daws Butler provided the voices for the Bob Clampett puppets Beany (Butler) and Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent (Freberg).

Freberg up top.

Freberg became a great success in creating outrageous commercials precisely because he hated, hated, hated commercials.

Freberg is credited with creating the first commercials which satirized commercials, changing them from brief, informational clips into amusing short films that were created to entertain.

His career was hampered, however, because he refused to advertise or accept sponsorship from any tobacco or alcohol companies.

It in unfortunate the extent to which he promoted his son Donovan Freberg in later work for Encyclopedia Britannica, one of the most loathed pitchmen in history.

Remember me?

Freberg's comedy albums started popping up in 1951. This particular number, a send-up of The Chords' Sh-Boom is particularly hilarious, and a big favorite in my house. It was released in 1954, b/w Wide-Screen Mama Blues. Other satires of popular music included a jazz pianist (he loved jazz) destroying a recording session of The Great Pretender and a rendition of Heartbreak Hotel where the echo effect has a mind of its own.

Press play.

Cleveland Classic Media

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Roberts Blossom

Pictured: Creepy character actor, and seated next to him, Roberts Blossom.

Roberts Blossom (March 25, 1924 - July 8, 2011) was that scary old man in Home Alone who was actually a nice old man.

He was a performer of stage and screen, you know his face, though since he retired from acting he has devoted himself entirely to his deep love of writing poetry.

Born in New Haven in the early 20s, his family soon relocated to Shaker Heights, and he attended Hawken School.

He went away to college, and served in WWII, returning to Cleveland to create a career in theater, as both an actor and a director at Karamu House and Candlelight Theatre.

Oh, and this is the trailer for Deranged, the only film in which Roberts Blossom played the main character. DO NOT WATCH THIS TRAILER.

His uncle, Dudley S. Blossom (March 10, 1879 - Oct. 7, 1938), was an important corporate and philantropic figure in Cleveland in the early 20th century.

Dudley Blossom was engaged with the Standard Tool Company, Central National Bank and Blossom Lock Company (among several others) and after serving with the Red Cross during World War I, was appointed city of Cleveland welfare director, and having a strong hand in developing City Hospital and Blossom Hill Home.

Dudley Blossom was also Chairman of the Great Lakes Exposition, and President of the Cleveland Orchestra during the late 1930s. Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls is named for him.

This weekend, conductor David Afkham makes his Cleveland Orchestra debut leading Beethoven's brilliant Third Piano Concerto and -- DUDE! Did you forget to pack the bong?

Roberts Blossom made his Off-Broadway debut in 1955 in the Shaw's Village Wooing, and the performance won him the first of three Obie Awards.


Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
The New York Times

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival

There was a star danced, and under that was I born.
- Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene 1
With 'As You Like It'
Shakespeare Festival Is Off to Good Start

By Peter Bellamy
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Thursday, July 12, 1962

If the production of "As You Like It" which opened at Lakewood Civic Auditorium last night, is any indication, things bode well for the popularity and success of the six Shakespearean plays to be presented by the suburb's Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival this summer.

The action is played lustily and moves swiftly. Male members of the cast, indeed, seem to sprint off stage, rather than walk, with an infectious joy of living. The wrestling match of the play is executed with crunching bodily contact and is an realistic, if not more so, as anything you'll ever see at the Arena.

As in so many modern productions of Shakespeare, producer Arthur Lithgow has foregone scenery for the visual and auditory effects of costume, lighting and music. The latter is in the Elizabethan period style and written by John Duffy, festival music director.

Read the complete review.
On Monday, we received a gift basket from one of our colleagues at the Cleveland Museum of Art, who happens to be my previous boss in the development department. the note attached reading "Happy 50th Birthday, Great Lakes! - July 11, 1961."

Yes, of course. In fact, earlier that day I had been grinding over a final report and happened to read the date of incorporation for our theater company, but hadn't connected that the day. In all the preparation for our 50th Season, the date itself didn't register. And as you can see, the first play came a full year later.

But, in any event - Happy 50th Birthday, Great Lakes. Happy birthday, indeed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tony Brown

Whither goest, Gurney Man?

Just prior to the celebrated Millennium, in the waning months of 1999 when everything seemed possible but nothing appeared to be certain, the Plain Dealer threw a retirement party for Marianne Evett, who for fifteen years had served there as theater critic.

The event was held at Windows On The River in the Powerhouse, back when the Powerhouse was a place people liked to go to. The theater community was invited - which I was delighted to discover now officially included me, as Artistic Director of the fledgeling Bad Epitaph Theater Company. The most influential people in Cleveland theater were there, to show respect for a woman who took her role as guardian of taste and professionalism in her purview very seriously.

This was the Marianne Evett who had championed the tenure of Josephine Abady, the end of the residency company at the Play House, and who eviscerated Peter Hackett. She was a champion of the rise of small, semi-professional houses like Dobama and Ensemble. She was not afraid to call out the often sloppy work produced at that time by Cleveland Public Theatre -- as Jim Levin reminded everyone in the room that night he made an unannounced grab for the mic to read a poem he had written for the occasion which may have been written to be amusing, or perhaps simply audacious, but in the end came off as inappropriate for the occasion.

My own relationship with Marianne had been one birthed in awkwardness. In a desperate attempt to get the PD to give much-deserved (we believed) ink to Guerrilla Theater Company, we sent daily, abusive faxes to the newsroom. When the diminutive Mrs. E. finally appeared at our theater to grant an interview (she absolutely refused to ever attend any of our performances) I was admonished and lectured that that was no way to get attention from a newspaper.

Get it?

Having proved a certain degree of competence over the 1990s and emerging as a thirty year-old with a promising new theater company in my charge, Marianne was a supporter of Bad Epitaph's preliminary offerings. After ten years, I had won over the most important voice in Cleveland theater.

Then we got another voice. Alas.

Twelve years on, with no party, no fanfare, no announcement in the largest daily paper in Ohio (wait, is it?) theater critic Tony Brown has disappeared. Just vanished. He hasn't written a theater review for a month, and I understand there still are plays going on around here. He's not tweeting, there's nary a peep from the man who has proudly invited controversy from that first night when he was introduced at Marianne's farewell party and we all sat on the edge of our seats to learn who would be creating the first draft of Cleveland theater history in the 21st Century.

"Criticism is by its very nature adversarial," he warned us, "Let's mix it up."

And mix it up he did. Sometimes literally. I need not elaborate. But where does that leave us? For the past several years I have been poring over old newspapers to learn my Cleveland theater history, history written by the critics. All theater history is written by the critics. And in Cleveland those critics have loomed large, from Tony Brown and Marianne Evett, Peter Bellamy and Tony Mastroinni (who double-handedly closed a Play House production of Lysistrata after three nights and got at least one person fired), Arthur Spaeth, Archie Bell and the legendary and much-beloved William F. McDermott ... for over a century, newspapers landed on doorsteps and people looked at them over breakfast or took them to work and there was a name attached to the opinions which told you which plays to see and which to avoid.

And today, there is no one. The theater people know the names of those who write about theater today, but no one else does. The PD gives as little space as possible to theater, doling it out to stringers like Don Rosenberg and Christine Howey. There are a few blogs dedicated to theater criticism, I would be interested to know what their traffic actually is, it can't be much. They certainly aren't paid.

The problem with theater criticism in the digital age is that the onus is on you to find it. A newspaper had the day's events of your community typed up and put in front of you. If I received a daily paper, I might even know how the Tribe is doing, but I don't. And the average baseball fan is not occasionally confronted by the photo of an actor doing their business with a writer telling you what to think about what they are doing.

Who will speak for Cleveland theater?

November 21, 2011 UPDATE.

January 1, 2012 UPDATE.

March 28, 2012 UPDATE.

Showtime in Cleveland: The Rise of a Regional Theater Center

Sunday, July 10, 2011


ad·ap·ta·tion [ad-uhp-tey-shuhn] –noun
1. the act of adapting.
2. the state of being adapted; adjustment.
3. something produced by adapting: an adaptation of a play for television.

In a theatrical adaptation, material from another artistic medium, such as a novel or a film is re-written according to the needs and requirements of the theatre and turned into a play or musical. - Wikipedia
When it rains ... it's nice. From the creative doldrums of early 2011 I have found myself in the enviable position of working on three commissions at once. For some of my colleagues (well, most of my colleagues) this is every day stuff. But it's new to me and I am grateful, for the work, for the validation, and for the expansion of my skills.

All three projects are different, though none stray far from what I am comfortable with, though all are in one way or another adaptations, which is to say, I am not creating work that springs entirely from my own mind.

One is a straightforward, abridged interpretation of a classic novel into a one-hour drama using five actors (whew.)

Another is a collaboration with another playwright, interviewing teenage subjects for creative interpretation into monologues to be performed by teenage actors.

The third is a collaboration with a public speaker, crafting her life stores into a solo performance.

Not bad, right? And yet it has been a challenge to keep my mind focused. It is a constant struggle to keep myself from spending time doing other things, like bloggi

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Patio Playground

It is difficult to improve upon the simple joy of miniature golf. The giant pirate ships are mere window-dressing. Can you hit the ball around the corner into the hole in 2 shots? Either you can or you cannot. Have a sno-cone.

Photo: Star News Online, Amy Hotz

We spent the last week of June in Topsail Beach, North Carolina. Nice rental, very nice, right on the beach. But I was charmed by the place across the street.

The view from our street-side deck.

Patio Playground was constructed in 1955. The basic design has not been changed since that time.

The paint job is new. Otherwise, we are talking eighteen holes in a compact space with enough geometric challenges to make it an adventure for adults as well as six year-old golf obsessionists.

I appreciated the fact that my children's wardrobes did not clash with the decor.

During World War II and until 1948 this stretch border islands (south of the Outer banks) was used for missiles testing, and even engaged in work that would lead to America's recently concluded space program.

Today people spend money and have fun here.

One of the few known photographs of "Mr. Kim." Can you see him?

Patio Playground is owned and operated by the mysterious "Mr. Kim" who resembles something like Harpo Marx and Danny Kaye with something to hide. But he does know how to rock the zydeco.

Patio Playground is open all afternoon, but positively rocks after sundown. The soundtrack is full of everything I like, Sinatra, Dylan, Chuck Berry but also Diana Krall, Stereolab, Beth Orton -- name it, it's cool.

They also sell ice cream & shaved ice. A relaxing, family-oriented joint. I tried to corner Mr. Kim on our last day and ask him about the origins of the place, but he said "the ice cream is melting" and slipped away.

Source: Star News Online

Friday, July 8, 2011

Warfel on "The Crucible"

Season's Uncurtaining of Play House's Euclid-77th St. Theater offers Arthur Miller's compelling drama, "The Crucible." First night impressions by (Cleveland Press) Artist Jim Herron.

Play House Does a Great Job With Miller's Stirring "Crucible"
By Jack Warfel
Cleveland Press, Wednesday, October 7, 1954

With expected forwardness, the Play House opens a new season in its Euclid-77th St. Theater with a play vastly articulate and compellingly assertive.

Uncurtained for a premiere last evening the work, by Arthur Miller, author of the prize-winning drama "Death of a Salesman," is titled "The Crucible."

Winner of the Antoinette Perry Award for best play of the year, Miller's newer effort has already been produced in Germany and France with success of varying degrees, following its New York introduction, before reaching Cleveland.

Contemporary futility, sham and vanity, balanced by persevering dignity and truth are pitched back into the year 1692 with a Salem, Mass. setting, for the evaluation by the author.

Salem's field-fire spread of witchcraft suspicions, trials and hangings cast long shadows into our present generations in sundry guises, easily identified in Miller's preachment.

Savage Portrait

In a sense the play is frightening by implications, certainly electrifying as theatrical fare.

Here is a savage portrait of gossip-mongering and character defamation among persons, communities and nations; also a bitter denunciation of groups with such extreme righteousness that they attempt to extinguish all but their own light in the world.

In the author's own explanation for this work, "Characters of Salem appealed to me because they were conscious of an ideology and knew what they stood for ... they understood what was happening to them and they knew why they struggled ... they did not die helplessly ... they did not whimper."

Conflict Essential

Miller believes that since 1920 American drama has been a steady year-by-year documentation of man's defeat,a trend in which the author places no trust.

"Conflict," he asserts, "is the essence of life and until man realizes this he will knock himself out trying to wipe it from the world."

There are sterling performances in "The Crucible," staged by Frederic McConnell. Ella Apple, one of the more gifted actresses from Karamu Theater's talent lode, acts Tituba, a Christian accused of witchcraft and snuffed out as an easy victim.

Her performance, as usual, is splendidly eloquent.

Kirk Willis Fine

Kirk Willis and Eve Roberts as husband and wife, brooding over his indiscretion with a servant girl who subsequently accuses the wife of witchcraft for doom's-sake, are altogether right.

The cast is uniformly skilled and includes major performances by Max Ellis, Frank Stevens, Helen Watkins, Robert Allman, Rolf Engelhardt (who gives his role a Shakespearean flourish), and William Paterson, the latter a calculating deputy governor.

Settings by William McCreary are studies in Economy, tremendously effective.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Spaeth on "The Crucible"

Also not from The Crucible

“Crucible” Looses With (sic) Hunt In Euclid-77th Play House
By Arthur Spaeth
Cleveland News, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 1954

In "The Crucible", being given stirring, disturbing life in the Euclid-77th Play House these nights, Playwright Arthur Miller has turned the pages of American history to strike a parallel with our times in the infamous witch trials of Salem, circa 1692.

It is not new to see Justice dramatized for us as a woman with bandaged eyes, being prodded and pressured into blind confusion by self-seeking men twisting truth and disregarding the rights of free men.

Cleveland’s Karamu theater is now showing us such a world in the sixth century before Christ when a wise Socrates must die because witch-hunting Athenian politicos elect him their expedient victim. There is brutally clear parallel with our hour in Maxwell Anderson’s “Barefoot In Athens.”

Hysterical Salem

And the parallel is implicit and as ominous in Miller’s angry poetic parable. The good and pious people of Salem trade sanity and reason for mass hysteria to accuse and hang helpless citizens as witches because of the tantrums of some silly Puritan girls.

I have said that such pictures of our imperfect world have been dramatized again and again. That is reportorial and not editorial. I meant no implication that there have been too many such plays or that our dramatists have gone overboard in rallying the theater to speak out against social cancer.

Alas, the contrary is too true. There can’t be too many such dramas. On hasty inventory, the writers in our theater today who have the courage to try to more than just entertain us can be counted on the fingers. Come to think of it, the fingers of one hand.

Lies & Gallows

Don’t get me wrong about Mr. Miller’s drama. It is no soapbox oration. The playwright does not cup his hand to your ear and demand you catch a modern echo. There is no ranting insistence that there, but for the Puritan garb, musical speech and 262 years, go you.

No, he trusts audience perceptivity and conscience as he looks into the lives of hard-working farmer John Proctor, Good Wife Elizabeth Proctor and their respected friends that are twisted to horror by the prattle of some silly girls.

At first the lies of the harpies seem too absurd but soon their splattering taint have become truth and the Proctors and others are tried and convicted of witchcraft in the Salem Meeting House. When doubt of its justice disturbs the court, John Proctor is offered the chance to save his neck by confessing to the lie of guilt. His refusal brings the roll of the drums beside the gallows.

No 'Death of a Salesman'

This is for the most part powerful and effective drama. But it is by no means on the lofty level with Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” There is a vagrant feeling that the author tried to compress too much shrill action and to crowd too many characters into his scenes. He achieves the hysteria of the witch hunt to the detriment of his forte for character insight.

You do not understand John Proctor and Goodie Proctor as you did Willy Loman and the wife who ate her heart out for her man. The other characters are largely the author’s chorus stepping out of the ensemble only long enough for each to contribute his single phrase to the collective insanity of the witch hunt. But for all this, “The Crucible” demands and gets your will to believe and be moved.

In this the author has zealous and artful collaboration in Frederic McConnell's staging and the excellent company with which he has peopled the Euclid-77th Salem.

Kirk Willis and Eve Roberts as John and Elizabeth Proctor ring wonder into those quiet scenes when they are alone on the stage. Rolf Englehardt’s with-hunting cleric who discovers too late the monster he has helped loose is pretty special, too. And that goes for William Paterson’s righteous deputy governor-inquisitor. Helen Watkins and Robert Allman as victims of the inquisition inject high spirit into their roles and Max Ellis’ malicious parson and Frank Stevens’ evil parishioner do the author and play no harm. And there’s Jane Squibb’s impure Puritan whose lies loose hell in Salem town. There is competence everywhere in the large cast.

And speaking of acting, that impressionistic setting by William McCreary, a framework of stained beams, is artfully primitive early American in pretending to be four varied locales in Salem of 1692.

So much for witch hunting in the Euclid-77th Play House, save an urgent, SEE IT!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Euclid-77th Street Theatre

During the 1930s and 40s, Cleveland Play House Artistic Director Frederic McConnell had a problem to tackle, namely that his theater had grown too big for the Brooks and Drury theatres -- he needed a third stage.

After a few opportunities fell through, CPH finally acquired a former Christian Science space on Euclid Avenue at East 77th Street, a building which remains today, appearing something like a domed mosque though it has never been one.

McConnell and his architects created something unique and rare in Cleveland theater history - a thrust stage!
"I never saw a theater in which the sight lines were clearer. The stage is semi-circular, and the audience is bestowed around three sides of the stage. It is altogether different from the ordinary picture-frame theater. It brings audiences into closer contact with the players and will form a wonderful background for certain types of plays, such as those of Shakespeare." - William F. McDermott
The Euclid-77th Street Theatre did, in fact, feature the works of William Shakespeare when it opened on October 15, 1949 with a production of Romeo and Juliet and for a time the Bard was an annual fixture in the CPH season, in this 560-seat auditorium.

It was on this wide, open stage that CPH presented the Cleveland premiere of The Crucible in 1954.

The Play House abandoned this location in 1983 when it invested in Philip Johnson's $14-million dollar money pit, which left the organization with three adjacent prosceniums, each chronologically less charming than the one that came before.

Showtime in Cleveland (John Vacha)
Cleveland Memory Project

Monday, July 4, 2011

What's on?

From Cleveland TV Memories (1999) by Tom Feran and R.D. Heldenfels:
In 1954, WJW started a five-minute news program called "Today's Top Story" to follow its late-evening "Sohio Reporter." To do commercials for it, they hired a young blonde actor from the Cleveland Play House to make his screen debut - Paul Newman.

Warren Guthrie was the "Sohio Reporter" on Channel 8. A speech professor at Western Reserve University, he was noted for shunning scripts in favor of delivering the news from memory with the aid of index cards.

Jimmy Dudley and Bob Long anchored the "Gray Drug News Parade" at 7 PM weeknights on WXEL.

Captain Penny referred to the Three Stooges by the Italian "Tre Potsie."

Bob Dale was one of Cleveland's first and most popular TV personalities. He lip-synched records and hosted the "Dinner Platter" show on WEWS. Dale also wore a whiskbroom-sized mustache to play kids' host Tim Twitter, a somewhat befuddled Civil War veteran (see above.)

"Bill Finn's Round the World Adventure" on Channel 5 during the late-evening hours takes viewers to exotic locales.

Kids visiting "Uncle Jake's House" the WEWS show hosted by Gene Carroll had to pretend they were descending into the basement on an elevator by bending their knees and dropping out of camera range.

"The Morning Bandwagon" was the WTAM radio show featuring the stations staff orchestra, conducted by Henry Gordon, and telecast on sister station WNBK-TV. Staff announcers Jay Miltner often lends his vibrant baritone as vocalist.

"Jakies" was the derisive term used by news photographers for the kids and bystanders who wave and crowd into shots on the street and in public places.

"Red Goose Merry-Go-Round" was the popular Saturday morning kids' show on Channel 9. It's host was curly-haired Walt "Kousin" Kay, who came from "Kousin Kay's Korner" on WJW radio. Coco the Clown and Merrily, the Lady from Story Land were his sidekicks.

John Fitzgerald sat at a bar delivering sports scores for Channel 8 on the "Carling Sports Final."


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dorothy Dandridge

In 1954, Dorothy Jean Dandridge (November 9, 1922 – September 8, 1965) became the first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film Carmen Jones. She was also the first black woman to be featured on the cover of LIFE.

Dandridge was born in Cleveland. Her father, Cyril, was a minister, and her mother, Ruby has been referred to as an "aspiring performer". Their relationship was tumultuous, father was abusive and in contradiction with contemporary mores, Ruby didn't put up with it. She left the house when five months pregnant with Dorothy, moving into her own home and making the acquaintance of a women who helped raise the girls. Dorothy lived at one time on 103rd Street, later on Central Avenue. Her childhood in Cleveland was brief, however. Following her parents' legal separation Ruby took she and her older sister Vivian on the road as an act called The Wonder Children, later The Dandridge Sisters.

Early film roles include an uncredited appearance in the Our Gang Short Teacher's Beau and as a singer in the Marx Brothers' A Day at the Races. Her career was marked by highs and lows, where she would make up for a dearth of decent film roles with nightclub work. Ironically, for the role which defined the pinnacle of her career, her historic success in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones, her singing was dubbed by another performer. The next film role offered her was as a slave in The King and I, which she declined.

Lakewood Public Library
National Association of Scientific Materials Managers (?)
Dorothy Dandridge (book) by Donald Bogle

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cedar Point

The official history of Cedar Point as an amusement park goes back as far as 1870, when it featured a dance pavilion, beer garden and bathhouses. Construction continued over the years, adding a broadway, theater and concert hall -- the first roller coaster, Switchback Railway, was installed in 1892.

By the turn of the 20th century it must have been quite a funtime destination, with new rides and attractions added all the time. However, during the Great Depression there was little expansion and the place was becoming financially troubled, and by the end of World War II Cedar Point was falling apart, literally, the boardwalk damaged in many places, the timber on its last roller coaster, the Cyclone was rotting. The only ride that remains from that period is the Midway Carousel, which was installed in 1946. In 1951 even the Cyclone had been torn down, though there were still plenty of existing rides including Laff-in-the-Dark, Moon Rocket, Loop-A-Plane and Bug (?) as well as funhouses -- Krazy Kastle, Fun House, and Noah's Ark. A 10-ride Kiddieland opened in 1952.

Krazy Kastle

In 1954 land adjacent to the park was acquired by Dr. Dean Sheldon for a bird sanctuary, and would become Sheldon's Marsh State Nature Preserve.

Noah's Ark

Ohio History Central