BY THE FALL OF 1961 I HAD STARTED ATTENDING CLASSES, in the Evening Division, at St. Louis University. I wanted to add more depth to my background of knowledge and contiuned acting at the same time. By the Summer of '62 I was forming a plan to take my studies even further.
In those days, if you wanted to truly study your craft as an actor, there were four potential schools that you could enroll in: The American Academy Of Dramatic Arts (New York), The American Theatre Wing (New York), The Goodman School (Chicago), or, The Pasadena Playhouse College Of Theatre Arts (California). So I wrote to all of them requesting info, application forms, and tuition costs. All of them answered me within a short period of time, and I went over all of the materials they sent.
As a "sidebar" to the above, my Aunt Bea (my Dad's sister), had moved to California many years earlier and had been, literally, begging me to come for a visit. So, on Saturday, June 30, 1962, I boarded a TWA Flight at the St. Louis International Airport and was on my way to California to see what this "veritable wonderland of surf & sun" was all about. And, in the process, to look over the facilities at the Pasadena Playhouse.
It was my first airplane flight, which was exciting enough, but as the plane flew closer to the Los Angeles Airport and you could look out over the entire area seeing pink, pastel, blue, yellow, stucco, wooden shingled, and every other kind of colored house or swimming pool as you looked down, plus the palm trees that dotted the landscape, and glimpse a view of the Pacific Ocean..well, to this kid from St. Louis, this truly looked like "the Promised Land" !
My Aunt and I had a great visit, I saw the Playhouse, liked what I saw, my Aunt was excited about being able to see me on stage there, and the wheels in motion for a 1963 return to California.
MANY THINGS HAPPENED between my first visit and my resultant move to California: I was still playing drums on some club dates with Eddie Thomas & The Blue Lights. They had worked around my acting & college schedules, and my last job with them was on the night of Saturday, September 7.th, at a club called the Mar-Lou Lounge that we had been playing in as Fri-Sat weekend regulars
In addition, a lot of things that are of a "family nature", and not to be gone into here, also transpired. I'll just say that my Dad drove out to California with me because my Aunt had gotten, suddenly, gravely ill and was in the hospital when we left on September 14, 1963, for my move to start my first semester at the Playhouse. Sadly, she died two weeks later...and never got to see any of the shows I was in at the Playhouse like we had planned so long ago.
THE HISTORY OF THE PASADENA PLAYHOUSE goes back to its origins in 1917 by its Founder, Gilmor Brown. It had begun as the Community Playhouse Association of Pasadena with performances done in various locations throughout the city. But, in May of 1924, the cornerstone for the building itself at 39 South El Molino, that would house the Pasadena Community Playhouse, was laid and a year later the Playhouse opened.
Its growth continued in 1928 when Brown established the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts wherein Batchelor's & Master's of Arts degrees could be obtained by taking classes at the College installed on the premises, and by 1937 the Pasadena Playhouse Association was incorporated .
Through the years literally HUNDREDS of established plays, new plays, and, world premieres would grace the Stages of the Pasadena Playhouse. Accordingly in 1937, due to its bringing national & intenational fame to the State of California as a center for dramatic arts, it was bestowed the honorary title of "The State Theatre Of California", and the building itself has been designated an Historic Landmark.
THE LIST OF ACTORS & ACTRESSES THAT attended the Playhouse reads like a "who's who" of the Theatre, Movie, Radio, and, Television Industry: Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Raymond Burr, George Reeves, Carolyn Jones, Robert Young, John Carridine, Ed Kemmer, Barbara Rush, Randolph Scott, Victor Jory, Jo Anne Worley, Lee J. Cobb, Lloyd Nolan, Gig Young, Shirley Knight, William Holden, Sally Struthers...well, you get the picture. SO, when our first day of classes began on September 30th, 1963, all of us First Year students figured we had a l-o-t of heritage to live up to !
NOW AT THE OUTSET LET'S GET SOMETHING STRAIGHT: If you think that at an acting school all you learn to do is "act", you are sadly mistaken. All First Year students had a schedule that required you carry around 18 or 19 credit hours. And here are the courses you took. Yes, they were mandatory: Acting; Speech; Dance; Fencing; Phonetics; Costume; Makeup; Stage Movement; Theatre Survey; Cultural History & Costuming; Architecture & Furniture; Lighting; Social History; Basic Stage Craft; Scenic Design; History & Literature; Production & Production Problems.
Add to that, while you were working on all of the nightly assignments involved with the above-named classes, you were also working on & rehearsing various plays that you had been cast in, plus doing Theatre Tech work, "striking" sets, etc. Sometimes you didn't have time for lunch or dinner...you were just too busy ! BUT, "busy" or not, you learned your craft. And, you learned to do it the right way.
(I still cringe everytime I hear local or national announcers, meteorologists, newscasters, et al, use words like "temp-a-chur" or "feb-u-ary". Many of them are making at least $100,000 per year, and they've never learned how to pronounce the words "temper-a-ture" and "feb-ru-ary" ! JACK WOODFORD was my speech and phonetics instructor at the Playhouse, and he would give them a flat-out "F" for those pronunciations. Here's how he would explain it: "Look at the word. Say the word to yourself. Break the word down into sylables. NOW, speak the word in a normal manner using those sylables, and you've got the CORRECT pronunciation ." God Bless Jack Woodford...he was fantastic ! )
SINCE I HAD ACTED FOR MANY YEARS before I ever came to the Playhouse, my objective was to hone & polish my craft. The time I spent at the Pasadena Playhouse was one of the most exhilarating & dynamic experiences that you could ever imagine. The lessons I learned, the information I acquired, the way my talents were expanded by just "being there" and living in those sacred halls of the total theater experience have affected everyday of my life since that period of time. Everytime I stepped on a stage, or, opened a mike since then has benefited from the knowledge that I absorbed there.
During my time at the Playhouse, I was involved in about 12 stage productions in an 8 month period...in addition to my normal studies & classes. Here are a few of the Highlights :
ABOVE: Kay Prichett and myself in "The Moon Is Blue" (November, 1963). Kay was a sweet, cute girl from Muskogee, Oklahoma. She was a trained dancer and was very good. Our Director was Peter Gordon. He was British, had acted in films, and was just super as a director. He relied on me quite a bit during our classes with him as he had studied up on my previous credits & resume'.
BTW: As I stated previously Jack Woodford was our Speech teacher and, by the time we left his class, Kay didn't sound like she was from Oklahoma...she sounded like she'd been born in London ! That's how good Jack Woodford was.
ABOVE: I was privileged to be asked at various times to work with Second Year & Graduate students in their plays. Dan Casaro was the Director of this one, a Lewis John Carlino play "The Brick And The Rose". It's sort of a "Westside Story" without music about gangs & drugs. I played "Tony", a gang member who has a very violent fate that awaits him: He gets his eye burned out by a cigarette ! Lucky for me we did that part off-stage !!
I'M STANDING ON THE END in each of those pictures above. Jerry Bono can be seen on the extreme left in the lower picture, and Larry Kavich is standing next to me in that one. I apologize, but I can't find the info for the other two in the pic...but, they were both very good, as was Dan the Director. These shots were from our February 12, 1964 performance.
MAXWELL ANDERSON'S "STAR WAGON" was another of my favorites. This was done in March, 1964, with ELLEN BAILEY directing. She was an extemely nice lady who also taught us in Makeup Class. Mrs. Bailey ended up having a long, illustrious career with the Playhouse. After the school itself closed she became the archivist of Playhouse History, and worked closely with the Alumni Association. ( NOTE: Sadly, Mrs. Bailey passed-away on October 22, 2015 at the age of 92. She will be missed by all who's lives she touched with her warmth, caring, and, dedication to both the Theatre, and, the Playhouse.)
ABOVE left: Dorothy Foster, Charlie Baumann, Bill Reynolds, myself, Pam Bartholomew; Above right: Pam Batholomew & me. What can I say ? I was a chick magnet, and Pam was cool.
NOTES ON THE CAST OF "STAR WAGON": DOROTHY FOSTER had come to study at the Playhouse from Australia. She was older than many of us and while most of us lived in the dorms, Dorothy had an apartment. I always felt sorry for her because I knew she didn't have very much money, it had taken almost all she had just to move here, and in normal living expenses & tution she was pretty well financially strapped. Dorothy was a kind soul and I hope life was good to her for she certainly deserved it.
CHARLIE BAUMANN and I were in all of our classes together. We found out, just before school began, that he was from Edwardsville, Illinois, and I was from St. Louis. We became best friends...and still are today ! Charlie, a very talented actor, still lives in Edwardsville, and I in St. Louis. We both ended back in our respective areas after many years of moving around the country, and re-connected in 1974. Good friends are hard to find, and Charlie's one of the best.
PAM BARTHOLOMEW was a tall, striking brunette, and a native-born Californian. She was a talented, good actress, we had all of our classes together, and she was just a pleasure to be around. I don't know what happened to Pam after we left the Playhouse but, when I think of her, I have nothing but fond memories and I hope that her life was good & happy.
IN FEBRUARY OF 1964 , AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SECOND SEMESTER, some new students arrived at the Playhouse. Among them were WES HOLDEN (William Holden's son), LEE AMES (Leon Ames' son), and, GARY LEWIS (Jerry Lewis' son). Gary was assigned to our dorm and arrived with his Mom, Patti, to unload his gear and check into his room.
Gary's room was on the top floor of the house and, one day shortly after he got there, I saw him lugging a set of drums through the front door. Since my room was on the first floor I offered to help him carry them up, and in the process told him that I also played drums. He thought that was pretty cool and invited me to help him set 'em up and play along with some records he had brought. Our House Mother, Mrs. Hockett, was not too impressed with the noise, but said that as long as we did it sparingly and no one else complained we could jam. After all: this was a College Of Theater Arts, and music is an Art Form all on its own.
Gary and I became good friends, had most of our classes together, and were doing plays together. I was his Uncle in one of our shows, "My Three Angels". As it turned out, by late '64 Gary had formed a group called "Gary Lewis & The Playboys", got a recording contract with Liberty Records, and by January of 1965 had a smash hit called "This Diamond Ring" that turned into a Gold Record ! In fact, Gary had FIVE TOP 10 HITS during the year of 1965 !
COINCIDENTLY, by 1967 I was working at my first job in Radio playing Gary's records (See the KLID page) which he thought was awesome at the time, as by late-'67/early-'68 Gary had been drafted into the service. Well, realizing the situation, I got Gary's PO address and had the teens from my area write letters & cards to him to let him know he wasn't forgotten. That really helped boost his moral and he was extremely grateful for their good words & kind thoughts, but his career at that time hit a speed bump due to his military service. But Gary was a real pro...he survived that, re-grouped, and is still touring today.
We had kept in touch, and here are a few shots from our time together in April of 1966 when Gary came to St. Louis with the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars. I took him in for an Interview with my friend Johnny Rabbitt (Don Pietromonaco), along with Billy Joe Royal, and then we went to the Club Imperial for the "Ike & Tina Turner Revue". What a night to remember !
ABOVE left: Gary Lewis and myself, backstage after his show at Keil Auditorium, April 17, 1966; Above right: Gary, Don Miller (Liberty Records Promotion), and me. This was during rehearsal for the show that night.
ABOVE left: Gary, me, and KXOK's Johnny Rabbitt after his Interview. Gary looks surprised as I remind him of the "No Smoking In The Studio" rule ! ; Above right: In the Manager's Office of St. Louis' Legendary CLUB IMPERIAL before the Ike & Tina Turner Show, April 18, 1966. L-R: Billy Joe Royal ("Down In The Boondocks"), Jim Brown (WIL Radio), Bob Kuban ("The Cheater"), me, Gary Lewis.
(For More Important Information & Pix See My RABBITT-KXOK Connection In The "RABBIT TRACKS" Pages)
STILL TO COME: "LIVING IN HOLLYWOOD, U.S.A ."
ABOVE left: My original map of L.A.; Above right: The huge white building in the back of this picture is where I lived in Hollywood. It's the Highland Towers Apartments. About a quarter-mile up the street is the Hollywood Bowl, a few blocks down is Hollywood Boulevard. It was a GREAT location !
ABOVE left: That's me in L.A.'s Griffith Park, Sunday, September 20, 1964...about a week before I left to come back to St. Louis; Above right: Some of the coolest places to eat in L.A. were the Brown Derby Restaurants.
ABOVE left: The World Famous Capitol Records Building just off Hollywood and Vine; Above right: the Legendary Magic Castle on Franklin Ave. just off Highland. A couple of blocks from my apartment.
ABOVE left: The Historic Hollywood Bowl at 2301 North Highland Ave. just up the street from my apartment house which was located at 1922 North Highland Ave; Above right: My official Home Savings & Loan passbook for the Hollywood Branch. Wonder if they're still there ? The book shows I still have a balance of $5.00 and, with Interest compounded since 1964, it should come to about...aw, I guess I'd better just forget the whole thing.
Above left to right: When I first came to California in 1962 one of the HOTTEST Club's was PJ's on Santa Monica Boulevard ! EDDIE CANO and his group held forth in the "Front Room" of the Club, and by 1963 TRINI LOPEZ was packing-in a fantastic crowd in the "Back Room" of PJ's !
Then, in 1964, Whiskey a'GoGo became the powerhouse night spot on Sunset Strip with Baton Rouge Native, JOHNNY RIVERS, having a line - sometimes a block long - trying to get into the Club for the dynamite action going on in there, complete with Go-Go Dancers that were gorgeous ! And I can tell you from personal experience...BOTH of these Hot Spots were THE places to "see and be seen" during that time period !! JK
NEXT: THE IMPULSE PLAYERS AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE, GASLIGHT SQUARE, ST. LOUIS