"Since flesh can't stay, we keep the breath aloft. Since flesh can't stay, we pass the words along." --Erica Jong

Monday, March 26, 2007

The University of Utah





The U of U was on the hillside across from my brother Gaylen's house on Sunnyside Avenue. The Zoo was only a little farther up the hill. I walked to the University and back home every afternoon, and the fields behind the National Guard Armory were empty except for meadow larks and sparrows. I lived in the basement of Gaylen and Marianne's little house until their new house on Orchard Drive in Bountiful was built. Mom and Daddy were building a new house on the lot just to the west, and were getting ready to move from California. Every morning after the move to Bountiful, Gaylen and I would climb into his Volkswagen and chug off to school together. He had his new PhD in Music, and was teaching several classes in music theory and composition, and French Horn. I took Music 101 from him, and felt obligated to get an "A" because I really didn't want him to think I was stupid. I loved the class, and he was an awesome teacher. I spent much of my free time between classes in the listening library of the music building listening to Palestrina Masses. My friend Janet wrote, warning me that this was a terrible place to meet men, and she worried that I would become an old maid.

I loved my Physics and Astronomy classes. I barely made it through a year of French. Paris est dans le Sud de la France. Le Seine traverse Paris. The new Pioneer Memorial Theater had just been completed, and most of my classes were there, or in Kingsbury Hall, next to the music building. I loved to sit under the trees between the two buildings, listening to the hodgepodge of sounds coming from the windows of the various practice rooms: piano scales, violins, horns, voices.... When Kingsbury became the home of the Ballet and Dance Department, I began to live my life, from dawn until dark, in the basement of the Theater building.

My theater classes were fine. The University accepted most of my Playhouse credits, so I had all upper level classes. I wrote home:

May 25, 1961

Dear Folks, Thanks for the dress and sweater. They're very nice, and fit fine. Gaylen's house is really going up fast. The basement and floor are in. Marianne is so excited-- she's been planning paint colors and decorating and such. The kitchen is all built in. Gaylen has been trimming all the trees on their lot and yours.

Do you know who the happiest motorcyclist is? The guy with the bugs all over his teeth! And have you seen the new Helen Keller doll? Wind it up, and it walks into the wall! (Not very funny?)

I have a rehearsal at 2 this afternoon. We open on Wednesday. I got my name in the paper this morning-- spelled wrong. We have been having late run thru's lasting until after one a.m. I play Dunyasha Thursday night. One performance out of four. Amy E. plays opening night and the week-end. So Byron took me aside after rehearsal & told me why I was playing just one night. He said he was sorry I wasn't playing more, but that there were "a lot of things involved," such as the fact that Amy has been here three years, and this is the first good part she's had. Mrs. McGrath (Byron's wife, Grace) was there when he was talking to me. She said she liked my Dunyasha, and that when she looks at me she thinks of 25 plays I could do! That was nice.

I met John Jory last night (Victor Jory's son). We talked for a long time. He came again tonight, and asked where in California I lived, & how come I was here, & how I liked the Playhouse, etc. He's done a lot of shows there, since he was a little boy.

Maybe I'll just enroll in the Writer's Conference this summer, and save my money for the Fall quarter. There aren't a lot of classes offered in summer. I'll just concentrate on the Conference, and maybe some of the summer shows. I'll have to get a manuscript together-- don't know what....

Wednesday

Opening night's over. The show ran 20 minutes late. Amy felt very bad about it, she was in tears. It will be me in tears tomorrow. John Jory told me he's coming tomorrow night. And Gaylen and Marianne will both be there. So there will be at lest three people in the audience. There was a full house tonight. More later.

Thursday

We had another full house-- even had to turn people away. MY night is over. Byron patted my cheek, called me "Angel," and said it was "Swell." Who knows? Since I have just one night, there's not much use for criticism. Marianne and her mother came. Gaylen has been writing a philosophy paper all day and all night. Her mother is mad at me, I think. See, we had this weird-looking bug on the wall, it could run like hell, boy. Gaylen was after him with a piece of paper and a Kleenex. Marianne was shrieking and her mother was on his tail with her shoe, stomping and shouting, "WELL MY GODFREY, GAYLEN, KILL IT!" (That's the nearest to swearing I've ever heard from her).

"My sister'll be mad at me if I do," he said. Up to now I was just an innocent bystander. "He won't kill it," said Marianne.

"WELL I'LL KILL IT!" And Mrs. J. runs at it with her shoe again. So I took Gaylen's Kleenex & picked up the bug & put him outside. My cat was running wild by this time, rolling up all the rugs, with her eyes big and her ears back flat-- Hot damn! Quite a fun little episode, huh? The cat's all lovey now tonight. Goodnight.

Saturday

Tonight is the last night of "Cherry Orchard." Grace McGrath told me I was "just wonderful." I heard a lot of good things from a lot of people. She said I was the best Dunyasha she'd ever seen. I wish I could do it again tonight, even if Byron does feel obligated to Amy because she's been around for so long....

After last night's show my ride decided to go with the rest to a little bar called the Blue Angel. I felt awkward and out of place because everyone was getting drunk but me. Joyce the Stick. Gaylen and Marianne will begin to wonder-- I'm always bringing half-crocked people in to use the bathroom at one or two a.m.... Byron and Grace are having a cast party after the show tonight. Full house again, with people standing, crammed in every aisle. I wish you could see it.

Gaylen's going to plant a couple of little apple trees on your lot. I told him I thought Mrs. J. was mad at me. He said, "Well, she makes ME mad, quoting the Bible about the Lord sending things to torment man! The world is full of bugs-- every drop of water is full of little bugs, and most of them are harmless, if she only knew it!"
He's a good brother. XOXO

So that's how things went, generally. I went to the Writer's Conference that summer. Robie McCauley talked with me about my manuscript of stories (for 20 minutes and 6 dollars). He said my stories were too short and unfinished, and too grotesque.

Well. I got to do "Look Homeward, Angel" on the mainstage. Actually, I went to read for the understudy for Mercedes McCambridge, the actress coming from Hollywood to play Mrs. Gant. I only went along because my friend was trying out for one of the roles, and I read just because I was there, not because I expected to get the role. I was already involved in another show. Allen Somebody was doing "The Rainmaker," and I was doing Lizzy. We had several performances in Salt Lake and were taking the show to Moab in a few weeks. I could have had the understudy role. The director, Robert Hyde Wilson (we called him "Rawhide") said I read it perfectly, and he seemed disappointed and angry when I apologized and told him I couldn't do it....but he gave me a smaller part. In theater lingo, "Break A Leg" is a good-luck wish. As it happened, Ms. McCambridge actually broke her leg and was unable to come, so they hired an actress from New York, Leora Dana. She inspired me. She was a wonderful actress, absolutely awesome. Every night. I wrote home: I would love to keep trying for professional theater. If I am too old (by the time I finally get out of school) to play charming young things, then I'll play character and mother roles. After seeing Miss Dana in "Look Homeward Angel." She has played mother roles her whole career. I'm not a very charming young thing anyway!

Well. We took "Rainmaker" to Moab. And it was fun! I was Lizzie! Gene Pack, who hosted a classical music show on KUER for many years after, played my brother Noah. Steve Somebody-- I've forgotten his last name-- (he was a dead ringer for James Dean) played Starbuck. We took publicity photos in an old barn. Steve What's-his-name, standing up in the hayloft emptied the flashbulbs out of his camera down onto the bald head of Gene Pack, standing unaware below him. The flashbulbs bounced off like ping pong balls. I laughed and rolled around in the hay until I thought I would die of laughter. No one else seemed to think it was THAT funny.... Steve and I had a love scene in the "tack room." I discovered that I really liked kissing! I mean, it was 1963, I was almost 24 years old. I had certainly kissed, and been kissed before. But here, in the middle of "Rainmaker," I discovered that I really really liked kissing! And I can't even remember his last name!

Kim Hunter, who I had admired greatly since I was a teen-ager for her role as Stella in "Streetcar Named Desire," (she won an Academy Award for that), came to the U. to do G.B. Shaw's "Major Barbara." I wrote home: "I saw "Major Barbara" between rehearsals Saturday. It's a great show. I am very impressed with Kim Hunter. I sneaked into a symposium here this afternoon sort of by accident. The Theater Guild was listening to a discussion of Shaw, and "Major Barbara," and Kim Hunter was on the panel. I sat in the back with the newspapermen. (This was an accident, too, as I just walked in and sat down, uninvited. I didn't know then what, or who, was happening). Anyway, it was the most interesting hour of the day.

Anyway. I took a directing class from "Rawhide." I decided to do Christopher Fry's "A Sleep of Prisoners," which we had done when I was on the road. I cast a very good friend, Victor Gordon, a fine actor who was also Black, as God. In the 60's, people were marching for equality, and bombing churches, and killing civil right's workers and burying their young bodies in landfills. Our performance would be in a church in Bountiful, in my Ward on Orchard Drive. There were a few raised eyebrows at our rehearsals, but the show went very well. Rawhide gave me an "A". Years later, Time Magazine wrote a piece on the status of Blacks in Utah, and they interviewed Victor Gordon, who apparently felt like a 2nd class citizen among Mormons. I've always regretted that I never wrote a letter to the editor of Time, wondering if Victor remembered the time when he played God in a Mormon church?

Graduation was a blur. Forty-plus years later, I discover that the Baccalaureate Address was given by Neal A. Maxwell, "...but speaking the truth in love..." He said: "It is they to whom we look for concern with justice, whether this concern is held in spite of the fact that we live on a planet that someday will blink, quiver, and die or whether the concern is held because life on this planet is part of a continuum in which we strive for proximate justice; it is they to whom we look for some shared realism about the nature of man and for assurance and reassurance that man is sufficiently rational and good that, therefore, we need not despair. It is they to whom we look for shared concern about freedom....It is they to whom we look to place a premium upon knowledge as essential to survival in a changing world.... If all of us cannot link arms for the task of dealing with conflict by communicating the truth...we shall be a crippled culture-- a pathetic huddle of the timid, the apathetic, and the fearful-- a society likely to end as Eliot said, 'not with a bang, but a whimper.'"

*

3 comments:

slickdpdx said...

Nice mug shot!

pepektheassassin said...

The card signed "Doc" was from Doctor C. Lowell Lees, head of the Theater Department.

k said...

This looks marvelously like you're in a Juvie Hall of your own incarceration!

I'd give a lot to have one like this, me.

About Me

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1. In dreams I am often young and thin with long blond hair. 2. In real life I am no longer young, or thin, or blonde. 3. My back hurts. 4. I hate to sleep alone. (Fortunately I don't have to!) 5. My great grandfather had 2 wives at once. 6. I wish I had more self-discipline. (I was once fired from a teaching position in a private school because they said I was "too unstructured and undisciplined." --Who, me??? Naaaahhh....) 7. I do not blame my parents for this. Once, at a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told me my little boy was "spacey." We ALL are, I told her. The whole fan damily is spacey. She thought I was kidding. I wasn't. 8. I used to travel with a theater reperatory company. My parents weren't happy about this. 9. My mother was afraid that I would run off and paint flowers on my cheeks and live in a commune, and grow vegetables. I once smoked pot. ONE TIME. 10. I don't drink or smoke. (Or swear, much. Well, I drink milk, and water, and orange juice, and stuff. Cocoa. I love Pepsi.) 11. Most of my friends are invisible. 12. I am a poet and a writer. All of my writing on these pages is copyrighted. Borrowing (without acknowledgment) is a sin.