Tag Archives: Charles Edward Pogue

An Opera House…in Kentucky?

You Can't Take It 10It would have been about 1:00 in the afternoon on a weekday in 1970…
…in an opera house…
…in Lexington, Kentucky.

Why was I there?

Was it to see a production of Carmen, or Madama Butterfly, or Rigoletto?

Nah!

I was there for the weekday bargain matinée at the Opera House Movie House on a fairly sketchy block of North Broadway. For a $1.50 I was settling in for a cinema mini-festival of the Barbra Streisand/Jack Nicholson classic; On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (she sang, he didn’t…thank God) followed by Waterloo featuring Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer in the mud (neither sang as I recall…thank God).

The theme of this film pairing is strikingly apparent; tedious films employing and contrasting singing and cannon fire as mediums for selling a ticket or two…and maybe a tub of Buttercup Popcorn.

Frankly, I don’t recall much of the afternoon that was indelible in an uplifting way. I recall a long afternoon of affordable and forgettable flicks. I recall dimness, not just in the screening room, but in the lobby (skimping on lighting – a double savings; lower electric bills and less spent on actual housekeeping). I recall passing on the Buttercup offerings; the dim lighting couldn’t obscure the sharp, refinery whiff emanating from the butter(?)-dispensing mechanism. I recall the occasional skittering noises of the legendary rodent cleaning crew in the dark rows of the screening room celebrating the discarded remains of the Buttercup offerings.

Hey!
Buck fifty.
Two films.
You get what you pay for.
Plus Yves Montand and Ivo Garrano…and Mickey and Jerry (without Tom).

Well…that was then.
Eight years later, at age 27, I’m playing the 70+ year old Grandpa in Studio Players’ production of You Can’t Take It With You on the Opera House stage – same building. The seats are new. The balconies and boxes are gilded and populated with Lexington theater-goers. The lights are bright. The lobby, halls, staircases, carpets, and aisles are proudly pristine. No Buttercup products are in sight (or in smell).

What happened?

In the 70’s, the Opera House was attacked by ice storms, gravity, and old age. The wrecking ball loomed.
The city of Lexington and a group called The Opera House Fund said “No.”
A serious architect, and a serious Lexington, and a serious Opera House Fund (thank you Linda Carey and W. T. Young) redesigned and restored the structure – not to a museum roadside attraction, but to a thriving driver of Central Kentucky’s performing arts community.

A year after the success of You Can’t Take It With You, I played a deliciously young and foolish Cornelius in Studio Player’s production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker in a Saturday afternoon performance to 54 (count ‘em!) attendees in a house that seats about a thousand. Another fairly grim afternoon in the Opera House, but at least the grimness was in striving for something good, not in hygiene or affordability.

I should mention here that in both of these shows I got to work with my friend Paul Thomas. Paul has retired a myriad of times from the teaching profession and is now the House Manager of the Opera House. I believe the Opera House muckety-mucks value his participation, but are unaware that his best and highest use is ON-stage, not off. Such is fickle fame.

In 1981, I urged everyone to “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in Lexington Musical Theatre’s production of Guys and Dolls. This was a notable production for Paul’s vocal exploration of musical scales of which Schoenberg never dreamed.

In 1982, Paul and I played in Brigadoon, also for Lexington Musical Theatre. Paul demonstrated a technique for holding a gun that the NRA is still trying to explain and justify.

Both of these edifying experiences were on the Opera House stage.

In 1987, I had the totaling fulfilling experience of playing Dr. Watson to my friend Eric Johnson’s Sherlock Holmes in the world premiere of my friend Chuck Pogue’s luscious script; The Ebony Ape, on the Opera House stage in an Actor’s Guild production. A two-story set, perfect and beautiful costumes, Fred Foster, Julieanne Pogue, Martha Campbell, Rick Scircle, Matt Regan…a glorious time for Mrs. Leasor’s little boy.

This was also on the Opera House stage…thank you very much.

A year later, in The King and I (a Lexington Musical Theatre production directed by my friend, Ralph Pate), Janie and I appeared in our one and only show together. She was lithe and lovely. I was…not so much, but I got to sing some beautiful songs for which I was not particularly suited (not, alas, an uncommon occurrence).

This was also on the Opera House stage. Sorry…but look at Janie! Isn’t she fine?

Carousel 01Now…
…skip ahead with me to 2006.

I’m asked to play the Star Keeper in the University of Kentucky Opera Theater’s production of Carousel at (you guessed it) the Opera House.

Well, I guess I could.

I walk out on the Opera House stage, count the stars – the stars!– , revive the protagonist and inspire him to return to life and assure his daughter that she’ll “Never Walk Alone.”

Whoa.

This is a far cry from 1970 and Waterloo and…

“On a clear day, rise and look around you and you’ll see who you are.
On a clear day, how it will astound you that the glow of your being outshines every star.
You’ll be part of every mountain, sea, and shore.
You can hear from far and near the words you’ve never heard before.”



Well…
…maybe…
…not so far.

The Big Lebowski

Looking forward to seeing The Big Lebowski on a big screen in a real moo’om pitcher theatre tomorrow night.

I finally got around to watching The Big Lebowski on an endless and gloomy flight to Alaska. I watched it on my tiny laptop with a lousy headset. I possess an overblown belief in the grand, super-sized movie screen housed in my imagination. I believe I can watch my friend Chuck Pogue’s Dragonheart on a TV screen at home and hear Sean Connery’s dragon whisper behind me, from a mouth of teeth and fire that could fricassee my head and swallow it like a hot-buttered kernel of popcorn and never miss a word of “The Code” until a burp interrupted his recitation.

I actually believe that…and it fills me with happy wonder.

But this Lebowski viewing plumb defeated me and was totally unfair to any flick. I’m sure it affected my judgement.

I like some of the Coen Brothers’ work a lot. Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, and Blood Simple are favorite films for me.

I know Lebowski has a fervid following. But I found it to unpleasantly disjointed and certainly overly reverential to bowling. I have bowled in the past (in a league no less!) and enjoyed the hell out of it, but I never experienced the metaphysical awe of flying pins represented in Lebowski. I mean, come on! It’s not baseball!

What I really admired in the film was;
– John Goodman’s boisterous performance.
– John Turturro’s sharp cameo.
– Sam Elliott’s finest performance since his star turn in Frogs. (Talk about damning with faint…)
– The opening and closing monologues (again Elliott).

It was an OK film, but it was no Blood Simple. I don’t think I blinked after the first twenty minutes of that film until the closing credits.

I’m hopin’ the big screen at the Kentucky Theatre will “pull it all together” for me.
The geezer abides….

Perfect Baseball Weather – Alert!

“Boy, the weather’s great tonight and s’posed to be even better tomorrow. Looks like perfect baseball weather for tomorrow afternoon’s game! C’mon out!!”  –tonight’s dogged Reds announcer.

It is a beautiful night. The forecast is rosy. The Reds are playing poor baseball tonight and deservedly losing…again. The Reds’ season record is sadder than sad, bluer than blue…deservedly. Tonight’s crowd is less than impressive. The announcer’s exhortations for attendance are understandable.

But “perfect baseball weather” sets me to thinkin’…

I understand the idea of perfect baseball weather, but I have an expanded definition of what that is.

  • It’s October, 1976. I’m in a tiny apartment in Dallas with my old friend, Chuck Pogue, and my new friend, Larry Drake. I’ve convinced them (being lapsed baseball fans) to tune in the Reds/Phillies playoff game on Chuck’s 12-inch Sony Trinitron. The temperature in the dim room was probably about 72 degrees. Watching that magnificent Reds team utterly dismiss Philadelphia delighted me and rekindled a passion for baseball in Chuck and Larry that never left them. The weather was perfect that day where I was.
  • Last summer, Janie and I drove over to a community softball field in Frankfort to spend a sizable chunk of a hot, sunny, humid day watching her great-grand-niece play. Eight-year-old ladies running randomly after ground balls and running with abandon around the bases to compile football-like scores, followed by a drive home with my babe through the farms and green-ness to which I am addicted, was perfect baseball weather to me.
  • My back yard in the early 60’s playing wiffle ball; it never rained…never.
  • High in the red-seated Alps of Riverfront Stadium, architecture actually swaying a bit with each impassioned roar of the crowd, watching the Reds win a World Series game in the bottom of the ninth while I was wearing a winter jacket and gloves…yes, perfect baseball weather.
  • Eating Dodger Dogs at Chavez Ravine while the visiting Cubs’ Ernie Banks in an immaculate white business suit is introduced to the crowd…no complaint about the climate here.
  • Sitting three rows behind Joe Morgan at Riverfront a week after his induction to the Hall of Fame; I recall it was hot, it was humid, there were bugs, it was perfect baseball weather.
  • It was also perfect while sitting behind the dugout of the Hickory Crawdads at the Lexington Legends field and being embarrassed as Chuck harassed the Hickory players to give us a hat. I later ordered the hat online – that’s just how cool it was – the hat, not the weather.
  • There was another memorable Legends night when it was 186 degrees and the setting sun was smack in our eyes during the first six innings and the Legends lost by five. But a train chugged past the left field fence, whistle singin’, and a promotional baseball bound in basketball leather and stamped; “UK Wildcats” was given out. Perfect baseball weather.
  • Tonight the Reds have continued to play poorly and are further behind and will undoubtedly lose again. But I’m sittin’ in the library, the windows are open, the frogs are singin’, the dog is chasing a mouse with glee and incompetence while the cat Googles “mouse”, and Jeff Brantley is describing his prodigious eating adventures. Perfect baseball weather to me.

Make America great again?

It’s great now.

Baseball is being played in perfect weather all over the land. How great is that?

Don’t screw it up…or give it away…or loot it……and shun those that do.

Let’s play two.

Olympic Thoughts in the Bluegrass

Olympic thoughts for my friends in Frankfort.

Arirang.

Korea’s historic anthem.

Very cool and mightily moving.

But…

In Kentucky, we have artists as well, and they have things to say.

We have Jean Ritchie…and Zoey Speaks…and Dwight Yoakum…and Everett McCorvey.

We have Michael Shannon…and Ashley Judd…and Joe Montgomery…and Jennifer Lawrence.

We have Frank X. Walker… Robert Penn Warren …Charles Edward Pogue…and George Ella Lyon.

We have storytellers…and stories…and dreams…and hopes……and more than a few suggestions.

Throw them away, ignore them if you will. Discard them, and discard a path to success – a path to wonder.

Yes, it’s useful and good to pursue and master the employable skills of today.

But why?

In the theatre, we consider the whence, the whither, and the why; whence have we come, whither are we going, and why are we making the journey. These questions match up remarkably with Kentucky’s historic place in the life-arc of our nation. Great questions and great possibilities have flowed through Kentucky, why should today be different?

…only if we continue to choose to be small…

The arts can provide the “why”.

There is a saying;

“If you have two pennies, spend one for bread and one for wine; the bread so you can live, and the wine so you will want to.”

The arts are the second penny.

Spend it.

My First and Last Job Interview

It was spring, 1972, and suddenly I needed a job. Make that both of us needed a job.

My friend Chuck Pogue and I had written a musical. It was a sure boffo smash. It had everything, gangsters, gals, bumpkins (besides us), 20-30 songs (all stunners), and repartee (snappy, very snappy).

We had just spent the afternoon recreating the script and songs in Professor Charles Dickens’ (yes that was his real name) backyard. Charles seemed amused and amazed at the rampant hubris of two college actors whose musical education consisted of several years singing in a rock band for one and a teen years’ immersion in the films of Fred and Ginger for the other.

But the 100-page script and the sheer number of songs were undeniably real – maybe not real good, but real. How could Charles break the news to these aspiring Harbach & Youmans without also breaking their hearts?

He punted.

He promised he would mount a “backers’ audition”-style production of the show next fall if we would rewrite over the summer.

Great!

But…

Chuck was from Northern Kentucky and my folks were living in Michigan. If we were to stay in Lexington that summer, we’d have to find a way to pay the bills. That meant getting a job.

Chuck got the bright idea of calling an acquaintance of ours who acted in local productions and owned a small chain of women’s sportswear shops. Our acquaintance gently pointed out our deficiencies for selling women’s sportswear, but mentioned his partner was just beginning to open a string of liquor stores and seemed to always need help.

Contact information followed and was followed up. There were two openings at two different stores. I got one interview, Chuck got the other. Off we went.

Chuck went to his interview impeccably groomed, coat and tie…and cape……and cane.
I went to my interview with shoulder-length hair, wearing jeans, moccasins, and my floppy leather Clint Eastwood hat.

I’m not sure which of us was more proud.

The store manager who conducted my interview was desperate. He had no other employees and was expecting a houseful of dinner guests in about 27 hours.

The interview consisted of four questions;

1. Do you know anything about liquor? Answer; nope.
2. Do you know how to run a cash register? Answer; never have, but I’m a pretty quick study.
3. Are you 21? Answer; yeah, my birthday was last week.
4. Can you start tomorrow? Answer; what time?

Chuck’s interview wasn’t quite as sanguine (I suspect the cane was a bit intimidating), but he soon got a job for the summer at Shillito’s department store.

My four-question grilling led to a job for the next 44 years.

It was a different time.

Cinema Scarcity – Ack!

A geezer thought.

We rarely watched movies on TV in Lexington in the 60’s. There were few channels and thus, few movies to watch.

I remember there were two channels; Channel 27 (CBS) and Channel 18 (NBC). When Channel 62 (ABC) finally began broadcasting, it was overwhelming. How would you find time to watch it all? That turned out to be a non-problem since no household owned more than one TV and dad controlled it. Lawrence Welk, Walt Disney, and Jackie Gleason’s domination of my home’s screen (singular, please notice) was assured no matter what channel the Beatles were on.

The only time movies were offered was in the mornings (I was at school) or after the 11pm local news (I was in bed on school nights). The late flick (singular, please notice) would be followed by a recitation of the poem “High Flight” over images of jet planes (“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth…”), the Star-Spangled Banner over a static image of the flag, and a sign-off announcement from the station until tomorrow morning over a geometric image that looked like the title of a musical piece by Anthony Braxton who none of us had ever heard of much less heard. None of this late programming could remotely be called inspiring.

Things improved when ABC took a chance one Saturday night and screened THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL under the TV banner; “Saturday Night at the Movies”. It was a surprise ratings hit and within a couple of years almost every night had a “… Night at the Movies” broadcast.

Still, there were only three channels, and no such thing as video tapes, DVD’s, DVR, NetFlix, YouTube, or Roku. It was tough for movie lovers. The Student Center at UK would screen foreign films once a week, but it always snowed on those evenings or rained frogs and it was a three-mile walk (uphill both ways) to the theater. I’m tellin’ ya, it was tough!

If Channel 27 scheduled FRANKENSTEIN at midnight on Saturday, you sucked it up, stayed awake and open-eyed, and prayed your antenna was aimed in the proper direction coz there was no recording capability and the chance might not come around again in your lifetime to experience Colin Clive screaming “It’s alive!!!”

Desperate times for movie addicts, indeed.

I remember in 1971, my friend Chuck Pogue and I would climb to the top floor of the UK residential towers on Saturday nights at midnight to commandeer the communal TV set and tune in Channel  9’s broadcast (out of Cincinnati) of Uncle Bob Shreve’s blurry presentation of awful all-night flicks sponsored by Schoenling Little Kings Malt Liquor.

It doesn’t get more desperate than that.

Awful films.

I loved ‘em.

When I hear today of the “good ol’ days” and let’s “make America great again”, one of my many trepidations concerning that thinking is the fear of returning to those movie-watching options of my youth. Call me shallow, but I’ve seen all the Lawrence Welk I need to in this lifetime. Bobby and Cissy, the Lennon Sisters, and Myron Florenz on the accordion…just kill me now.

Puns or Guns? A Time to Declare.

I have been connected to the Guignol Theater and the University of Kentucky Theater Department since my junior year at Bryan Station High School.

My high school English teacher arranged for our class to have access to discounted tickets to UK’s production of Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT. Jill Geiger played a major role in that production. Jill went on to perform with and later own The Dorset Playhouse in Vermont. She was a successful person.

The day before we attended the show, my teacher gave us instructions on how we were to behave in “The Guignol”. The exclamation marks come from my remembrance of my teacher’s obvious reverence for this Temple of the Arts we were entering. How quaint.

I wore my clip-on tie (my fellow Guignolite and playwright/screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue – a successful person – was not to teach me to tie a proper knot for another five years), applauded at all the proper places, and was suitably impressed. So much so that I attended (on my own this time) UK’s next production in the Guignol of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s THE RIVALS. Bekki Jo Schneider (friend, mentor, and ex-sister-in-law) played a major role in that show. She became the owner/operator/director of Derby Dinner Playhouse in Southern Indiana. She was a successful person.

The next year, my senior year in high school, I attended DARK OF THE MOON in the Guignol and UNDER MILKWOOD in the Laboratory Theater which is now named the Briggs Theater (Wally Briggs spent his adult life teaching theatre to UK students. Yes, he was a successful person). DARK OF THE MOON featured Julieanne Pogue. Julieanne has gone on to a strong regional acting career, become an award-winning reader of books for the blind, and an uber-caring psychologist. Julianne is a successful person.

Both of these shows also featured a freshman in leading roles.

This explains why I attended UK to study theatre. Where else could I possibly want to go? UK offered an immediate opportunity to act…..in major productions…..in real costumes…..on beautiful and exciting sets…..in front of real audiences.

I remember these audiences as being drawn from ALL of Lexington. John Jacob Niles (another successful person) sat in the middle of the first row every opening night I can remember. Teachers from Lexington schools were there. Mary Agnes Barnes reviewed for Lexington Herald. John Alexander reviewed for the Lexington Leader. Betty Waren wrote a theater page for the Herald every Sunday. The Theater Department faculty was there…usually multiple nights. One memorable Sunday matinee was attended by Jose Ferrer (he was successful too).

I attended UK for two and half years, performed in seventeen shows, and became an adult; a thinking, listening, caring, listening, evaluating, listening, tax-paying, listening, voting, listening adult.

The arts do that for you. They make you whole. They make you reason. They make you listen.

Teach our children to add and subtract. Teach them to write a logical paragraph. Teach them to tell a whimsical story. Teach them their country’s history. Teach them the scientific method. Teach them to sing. For God’s sake, teach them civics so they know how their government works and are thus less vulnerable to the lies being shouted.

Make them whole. Make them successful.

Frankly, I feel safer around a good guy with a pun than a good guy with a gun.

A Geezer Remembers; Old Yellers.

One night while watching an exquisite double feature on TCM (Creature From the Black Lagoon and Tarantula), I was able to put aside, for a moment, the fashion questions posed by these flicks (Julie Adams’ stunning white bathing suit – white always being the sensible choice for swimming in the Amazon – and Mala Powers’ inexplicable white gloves in a crusty desert town with dirt roads), and consider the respective screaming techniques of those actors. Ms. Powers’ pitiful squeak came out a poor second to Ms. Adams’ flawed, but lusty bellow. Ms. Adams’ technique was probably better suited for the stage than the camera. She paused, registered the menace (as implausible as it was), took a deep breath, and cut loose with a face-shattering, but perfectly coifed shriek. Not bad. I’d give it an eight (the bathing suit, brooking no discussion, gets a solid ten).

The female star/victims of these cinematic expressions of the 19th-century penny dreadfuls are often referred to as “scream queens”, but how often do we really evaluate their screaming abilities? We (or at least I) revere Barbara Steele, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, Judy Geeson, Evelyn Ankers, and so many others for their contributions to the horror genre. However, their contributions are usually visual; big eyes, big hair, big…? The exception in this group would be Ms. Geeson. Her screaming in the sublimely crude It Happened in Nightmare Inn (imagine a Spanish Motel Hell) was spot on.

As fine a shrieker as Ms. Geeson is though, there’s one old yeller that’s truly the queen.

My first play on the Guignol stage at the University of Kentucky was “Playboy of the Western World”, directed by Charles Dickens (yes, that was his real name) in September, 1969. One evening in rehearsal Professor Dickens coached me in a reactive moment to let forth a “Fay Wray” scream. I had to confess my complete ignorance as to who Fay Wray might be. Charles muttered “dull…flat…literal undergraduate students…” and moved on to presumably more literate and direct-able cast members.

However, I took this admonition to heart and later in the year I had a chance to see Ms. Wray’s performance opposite the title character on top of a New York skyscraper in KING KONG. Keep in mind this was before Netflix, TCM, Youtube, cable television, Tivo, streaming, dvr’s, and vcr’s. I didn’t even own a television set! I had to be alert to when a local channel (two channels – count ‘em – two!) would be showing the movie and then impose on some classmate (probably Chuck Pogue) to let me come to their place watch it. Watch it I did, and to this day for me, no one screams like Fay Wray. It’s spontaneous. It’s instant. It’s totally committed to the moment.

The next fall, I was cast in the Guignol’s production of “Billy Budd”. This play takes place on a British ship in the 1800’s. Why a college theatre department comprised of about a dozen active males and about five dozen active females would choose to do a play with a cast of 26 males and no females is beyond my pay grade, but schedule it they did, and the predictable result was that there were a few guys in the cast that had seriously limited experience on stage. There’s a big moment in the first act of the play in which a sailor falls (offstage) from the heights of the ship’s rigging to his death. His screams are the audience’s only connection to the tragedy of the moment. Unfortunately, this part was being played by a young English major whose previous stage experience consisted of accepting his high school diploma. The director (Ray Smith) held auditions for offstage screamers to create the moment. Guess who got the part.

Fay Wray will always be the ultimate scream queen to this grateful geezer.