THE JOB MARKET IN L.A. WAS NOT REALLY GREAT AT THE TIME, and I hadn't been back home since I left in 1963. So I decided to take a trip back to St. Louis, at least to visit for awhile. With that in mind, I said goodbye to my friends in L.A. and left about 12:00am on October 1, 1964.
If you know me very well, you know I'm a great long-distance driver. Ever see the movie "Vanishing Point", where Barry Newman tries to get from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours ? Well, I could probably get you to wherever you wanted to go almost that fast...without the Police chase. I'm an excellent highway driver, especially at night, and after leaving L.A. at 12:00am on October 1st, I arrived in St. Louis at 3:00am, October 3rd. I could write an entire chapter on that drive, but I'll save it for later.
TRADITIONALLY, OCTOBER HAS ALWAYS BEEN ONE OF MY BEST MONTHS, and as it turned out October, 1964 was right in there with the best of 'em.
After I got back to St. Louis I got to see the Cards beat the Yankees and become World Series Champs, and I also got in touch with some of my old friends who I hadn't seen since I left for California. In the process, I happened to call my friends from the Carrollton Players Bob & Donna Lasalles. Donna was excited that I called and said that they had been trying to get in touch with me in California, but after I left the Playhouse they didn't know where I was.
Donna told me that they had gotten a group together and formed Performing Arts Productions, and that they had leased the Crystal Palace in Gaslight Square, hired a Director, and were planning on puttng together an Improvisational Revue group to work there. They were trying to get in touch with me because they had told the Director about me and wanted to cast me in the show. Talk about "timing" ! Like I said, October has always been one of my best months of the year. (Except for October, 2008. More on that later.)
NOW, here's a footnote on why The Crystal Palace was available for lease at that time: Jay & Fran Landesman, the managers of the club, had gone to London to produce a musical version of "Dracula", leaving the Palace vacant. So the Performing Arts Productions group got in touch with Charlie Welles, who was in charge while the Landesman's were gone, and obtained the lease from him. Jay & Fran ended up staying in London, loved it there, and never moved back to St. Louis.
Donna Lasalles gave me the number of the Director, Bob Macek, they had hired to produce the Review, told me she'd alert him to my being back in St. Louis, and that I'd call him...which I did.
Bob asked me to meet him at the Palace, so I headed down there on a Saturday night (October 24, 1964). I found a place to park a couple of blocks away and, since it was a chilly Fall night, I was wearing a sweater, slacks, and some cool, ankle-high dress boots that I had purchased in L.A. As I approached the entrance to the Crystal Palace I saw Bob waiting outside to meet me, and as I walked up to him he said: "Damn, you look like an actor and you even walk like one !" From there on it was smooth sailing.
Bob had hired four Actors from Chicago: Bob Hilton, Al Fenske, Dick Harlan, and Marilyn Twito. He wanted two from St. Louis, so I was added, and then we found Tommy O'Connell. Tommy was a senior at Webster College, a very cute girl and a good actress. With the addition of Tommy, our group was complete, and The Impulse Players started rehearsals on October 28th.
The entire cast was good...all were seasoned pros. Tommy was a bit younger, but she caught on fast and was great to work with.
FOR ME WORKING AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE WAS A DREAM COME TRUE. As a young actor, I had seen many revues and shows at the Palace: Phyllis Diller, Burns & Schreiber, The Zonk Revue, The Compass Players, and many others. BUT, my favorites were the Smothers Brothers. I saw them twice in 1962: April 21st, and, December 28th. So, to be on that same stage just two years later was, for me, the ultimate peak of my acting career.
THE IMPULSE PLAYERS PRESS PARTY was held on November 17th, and we opened the next night. That's our Opening Night Cast Photo above in our dressing room, From the left: Al Fenske, Dick Harlan, Marilyn Twito, me, Tommy O'Connell, and, Bob Hilton. It was a candid Polaroid shot that encrypted the "Nov.64" date right on the front, and I've had it packed away in my Archives all these years.
If you look at walls behind us you'll see names written on them. It was a tradition at the Crystal Palace that whomever played there would autograph the wall on Opening Night...a sign that you had arrived. When it came time for me to sign, I signed my name next to my favorites: Tom & Dick Smothers. It was my way of honoring them, and thanking them for the inspiration they gave me as an improv actor.
Above left: An ad for our show that ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Above right: That's the always-cute Tommy O'Connell with me. We called this pic "Star Struck".
Above left: Al Fenske and myself in "The Twilight Zone"...notice how the bamboo pole between us separates the shot into two distinct poses; Above right: A ticket stub from our Opening Night Show.
Above left: This is one of my favorite pix: Bob Hilton, Al , and me, in: "The Deer Hunters"; Above right: myself, Marilyn Twito, Dick,Harlan, Al, and, Bob: "Love At First Sight"
Above left: A great street-view of Gaslight Square: Above right: Tommy, me, Marilyn, and, Dick: this is Tommy's answer to the above "Love At First Sight" pic with Marilyn..."Take Your Hands Off My Man !"
SPECIAL NOTE: The legendary Jay Landesman, long-time manager of the Crystal Palace, passed-away in London on February 20th, 2011. He was 91.
His wife of 60 years, a poet/writer/lyricist in her own right, Fran Landesman, 83, died five months later...July 23rd, 2011, also in London.
[ NOTE... All photos/images on this page are from my Personal Archive/Collection. ]
TWO FANTASTIC DOCUMENTARIES ON GASLIGHT SQUARE WERE PRODUCED BY BRUCE MARREN:
BECAUSE OF MY HISTORY with The Impulse Players and The Crystal Palace, Bruce asked me to appear in, and be Interviewed/Filmed for the Second Documentary: "Gaslight Square: The Legend Lives On". It was truly fun and a great experience ! I was able to share much info on our group that very few remembered, or even knew about. I think, part of it may have made it to YouTube. More about that later.
Bruce Marren's WebSite: http://www.brucemarren.com/
THOMAS CRONE'S "GASLIGHT SQUARE: AN ORAL HISTORY" was published in 2004 by The William and Joseph Press, in St. Louis. It's a fascinating look at this iconic St. Louis landmark, and I was privileged to be a part of it.
Thomas called me, we did a great Interview, and some of my memories can be found between Pages 67 to 69 of this truly great book. I say "some" memories because you've read many of them right here in this section of my WebSite, and there are more that I shared in the "Gaslight Square: The Legend Lives On" Documentary mentioned above. Oh, yes, there are still more that may be shared at a later date ! Stay tuned for that !
AND, TO READ MY REVIEW of this superb book on a part of one of St. Louis' most unique, long-remembered, legendary, entertainment districts of all-time simply CLICK-ON-HERE
NEXT: JK: ACTING 101...AND BEYOND !