Now My Proud Beauty
I have you in my power
In my younger days (have you ever noticed how you can’t recall what
happened when you were older) I did a fair bit of acting. I doubt that
I was a threat to Lawrence Olivier, or even Brad Pitt. Still, I emoted
on stage with great enthusiasm and my dramatic career is a good source
of anecdotage. I propose herein to lie about it with vigor.
In truth I have forgotten many of the gory details. Here, however, is
a resume of plays that I have been in. It is incomplete; there are a
few more that God in His Mercy has expunged from my memory.
Sundry roles and productions
- Master of the Universe in Captain Future Meets Gilbert & Sullivan, or, Alas! Who Loves a Spaceman?
- Darth Vader in Rivets Redux, or, Whatever Happened to Helmuth of Boskone?
- Richard Deadwood in Back to Rivets
- Father of the Hero in Lily, The Felon’s Daughter
- Sir Francis Levison in East Lynne (villain)
- A planter in Emperor Jones
- A spear carrier in Medea
- A minor character in The Merry Wives of Windsor
- Munro Murgatroyd in Dirty Works at the Crossroads (villain)
- House Owner in George Washington Slept Here
- Id of a female writer in ??? (mime)
- One of the brother’s Grimm in One must marry,a one act play done in German with subtitles
- A one act mime melodrama done to the Rhapsody in Blue (villain)
- Hermit in Seven Keys to Baldpate (Sr play)
- ???? (Jr. Play)
You Horrible Villain, You
As you may have noticed many of the plays that I was in were melodramas.
Perhaps I should give a word of explanation about melodramas or
mellerdrammers as they are sometimes called.
In the last century (in view of the eminent demise of the 20’th century
perhaps I should make it clear that I refer to the 19’th century) there
was no radio, no television, and no cinema. For entertainment people
had to make do with that which they produced for themselves. This may
account for the rapid population growth in those days.
There was, however, theater. Mere hamlets would have a theater. The
town of Highmore in the county where I grew up had an “opera house”.
Touring companies went from town to town presenting popular plays.
The taste of the time was robust; the popular productions were florid
in their excesses. Plots were melodramatic and the acting was very
It is easy in this day of electronic amplification, of spotlights and
gels, of electric lights and power machinery, how primitive the stagecraft
of yesteryear was. Stages were lit with footlights which
were gas lanterns (and, in an even earlier time, candles). Actors not
only had to project their voices – something that the stage actor must
do even today – but they had to make very broad gestures in order to
be seen at all. Makeup (real greasepaint) had to be wildly exaggerated
so that features were perceptible to the audience. Of necessity, the
acting style was broad.
The audiences were unsophisticated. They want rip-roaring good stories
filled with action and sentiment, plays which had moments where they
could weep, moments where they could cheer, and moments where they
could boo and hiss. They wanted melodrama and they got it.
Some of the popular plays of the time were Bertha, the Sewing Machine
Girl and East Lynne. I have never seen Bertha but
the title is suggestive. I have played in East Lynne and it is,
I assure you, quite melodramatic.
The plots of these plays were formula ridden. There was a hero and
a heroine. Their happiness was threatened by the villain who was
truly villainous. Mention of a long-lost relative in the first act
was a guarantee of his fortuitous appearance in the final scenes.
It should be understood that melodrama was meant to be taken seriously
and was taken seriously by its audiences.
Time passes. (Old age bids one no trump and youth overcalls wildly
with two clubs.) Tastes change. (And well they should – the old
outfits were getting rather aromatic.) The public taste improved and
the old favorites were set aside to gather dust. In due course a new
generation discovered the old favorites, whooped, and proceeded to
play them for laughs. Thus the great mellerdrammer revival of the
mid twentieth century. The new audiences wanted the most flagrant
excesses so a playwriting industry sprang up, creating new plays
in the old style which exaggerated the formulas.
My acting career began, I suppose, in high school. I appeared in
both the Junior and Senior plays. I recall nothing at all about the
Junior play which is probably just as well. The Senior play was
Seven Keys to Baldpate, a mystery by Earl Derr Biggers (he
of Charlie Chan fame). I played a hermit who lived at the Baldpate
mansion. Thus began my typecasting; over the years I have regularly
been typecast in one of two roles, either as a crazy old coot or as
a dastardly villain. Thus does art imitate life.
I suspect that the productions had all of the quality that high school
plays usually have and that my acting was as good as it might have
been expected to be. The real signifigance of my initial forays onto
the stage is that it established that I had one of the fundamental
attributes of the actor – the desire to get on stage and perform
This is no small thing. Many people, perhaps most, are chary of
getting up in front of others and performing. There are many people
who like being around the theater but who do not want to go on stage.
This is fortunate; if everyone were on stage there would be no one
to do the back stage work.
So I establised in my youth that I had one of the essential
attributes of the actor – the willingness to go on stage in front
of an audience. There are other attributes of the successful actor
such as talent. Unfortunately willingness to act and talent do not
always come in the same package.
Dirty Works At The Crossroads
Although I had the willingness I did not have the obsession to act
under any and all circumstances.
Thus it was that I did not seek out opportunities to act in the next
few years. Indeed no such opportunities came my way until I chanced
to return to college again, this time at South Dakota State College
(now SD State University – there has been a product upgrade since my
As it happened the engineering society (not the drama department)
decided to sponsor a play for Rabbit Rarities (the Jack Rabbit is
the totem animal of SDSU). The drama department was constrained to put
on plays of consequence; the engineering society was under no such
constraint. They chose a melodrama entitled Dirty Works At The
Crossroads for their dramatic entry. Said play is one of the
modern works, designed to be corny and played for laughs.
A casting call went out. I saw it and said to myself, self, that
would be neat. I showed up. My inherent native talents were
immediately recognized and I was cast as the villain, Munro Murgatroyd.
The villain, you must understand, is THE STAR of a melodrama.
The villain wears the traditional outfit – the red-lined black cape
and the long black twirled mustache. He twirls his cape (an artform
in its own right), he skulks, he laughs villainously. He moves through
the play performing acts of treachery and evil. The audience boos
his every move. In the end he gets his come-uppance. In this
particular play I was run over by a train, something that is not
easy to arrange on stage.
My performance was immensely improved by acquiring laryngitis a
couple of days before the production (it ran three nights.) I dosed
myself liberally of course and protected my voice. This did little
or no good. I got on stage, delivered one or two lines in my normal
voice, lost my normal voice, and then reverted to a low throaty growl.
It was very evil.
Plays, plays, and more plays
One production was enough to hook me. Thereafter I went out for
every thing that the drama department put on. I always got parts,
usually as the closest thing that the play had to a crazy old coot.
I like to think that the reason was that I tall and skinny (6’1″
and 160 lbs – I am not quite so lean these days) and that my
typecasting was based on physical appearance rather than being a
harbinger of things to come.
As noted we did serious things. George Washington Slept Here
is a comedy but we did it as theater in the round which made up for
the concession to popular taste. Medea covered classical
drama. Emperor Jones covered serious modern drama and
The Merry Wives of Windsor covered Shakespeare. The latter
was an odd choice – it is one of the least distinguished of the
In addition to the regular productions of the drama department
I also played in sundry coffee house productions. Of these I only
remember one in which I played the id of a female writer. This
was not a speaking role – it was strictly in mime. I was made up
in white with blue triangle eyebrows. I must confess that I remember
nothing else about the play except that it was written by a female
writer, the wife of one of the professors in the English department.
On the dusty trail – the play tour
Each year the more active actors were rewarded with the chance to
go on play tour. For the tour we had two one act plays and a mimed
intermission, the entirety of it scheduled to be performed in about
an hour or so. The tour consisted of
hitting 2-3 high schools a day in western SD for a week.
This was a major exercise in logistics. All of our staging and props were
in a van and were all carefully organized. When we arrived at a high
school we had somewhat less than a hour to locate everything, master the
lights, unload the sets and props, and set up the production.
We did three bits. One was a German one act play. We set up a slide
projector in back to flash subtitles. Kind of neat, sort of weird. The
play, One must marry, is a satire on the brother’s Grimm. The
plot revolves around the requirement that one of them must get married
under the terms of the will; neither wishes to, both being old confirmed
bachelors. I was the brother who had to get married.
For the intermission we did a mime melodrama choreographed to The
rhapsody in blue. This consisted mostly of the villain (I was the
villain, naturally) and the hero struggling back and forth.
third was the one act version of Madame Butterfly, which I was not in.
I do wonder what our high school audiences made of this odd collection
of plays. In one case we found out.
When we hit Pine Ridge (the Sioux reservation) we ran into an unusual
problem. The first line in the play is spoken by Madame Butterfly. She
is calling her maid; the line goes “Suzuki, Suzuki. Where is my little
Suzuki?” Nothing exceptional about that, you say? Ordinarily, no. In
this production, however, it was greeted by titters across the auditorium.
Thereafter each reference to Suzuki was met by a wave of sniggers.
Afterwards we learned that “suzuki” is very close to the Sioux word for
Another reward for my dramatic efforts was an offer of employment one
summer at the Rockerville Mellerdrammer. Rockerville was a motley
collection of tourist traps located in the black hills of South Dakota
not far from Rapid City.
It had been a
real town during the gold rush days. The mellerdrammer was one of the
Summer stock was fun. We held our shows in a large tent.
The profits for the place came from the sale of peanuts which the audience
was encourage to throw at the actors (the cape was necessary for self
defense.) At the end of the night the stage would be an inch thick in
peanuts. We offered two sterling plays, Lily, the felon’s
daughter, and East Lynne.
Once we had our lines and performances down pat we would ad lib
from time to time, sometimes breaking up the audience and sometimes
breaking up the cast. Ad-libs were of two sorts. Some were generic
asides used to squelch obstreperous members of the audience, e.g.,
“there’s a train leaving in ten minutes; be under it.” The others,
however, were improvisations, spur of the moment rewritings of the script.
These in turn fell into two classes – jokes and desperate ad-libbing to
cover the fact that someone had forgotten his line (or worse, had delivered
a line belonging to another scene.)
Lily, the felon’s daughter
Lily was one of the ”
I was the felon. The hero was noble but weak and the villain had swindled him
out of large sum of money which the hero embezzled. I took the rap for him. Our
hero fled to Alaska where, it transpired in the final scenes, he hooked up
with a long lost uncle fortuitously mentioned in the first act, became rich,
and returned in the end to save everything.
In the first act in an early scene the hero was supposed to have bought Lily
an engagement ring; the villain had swindled him out of the money for it,
of course. I, as a loving father, did not want to see Lily disappointed
(a sentiment I am sure you will agree with) so I bought a ring and gave it
to the hero to give to Lily. I warned him to be careful with it and announced
in ringing tones, “It cost ten-thousand dollars.”
An ordinary ring could scarcely have been seen from the audience so we constructed
one that could be seen. The “gem” was made out of tinfoil and was approximately
the size of a chicken egg. One evening, out of nowhere, I announced proudly,
“Be careful with it. It cost ten-thousand gold bond stamps!” This version
of high finance was well received by the audience.
At one point in the season the chap who played the villain in that play
had to be replaced. (I believe he was fired for ineptitude which was no
small achievement.) His replacement had to come up to speed very quickly
and in his first week he relied heavily on being cued (and holding a copy
of the script concealed under his cape.) In one scene he had done something
particularly dastardly and Lily (played by a woman by the name
of Carol Ries) had a line that started “You horrible villain, why don’t you …”.
[I disremember the actual line] One evening, when he was still desperately
coming up to speed, she ad-libbed, “You horrible villain, why don’t you
learn your lines!?” The audience cheered.
East Lynne is an old English play which can be played straight.
In this one I was the villain, the dastardly Sir Francis Levison.
During East Lynne, Sir Francis is persuading the first wife
of the hero to run off with him. To this end he has forged letters, love
letters from the hero to another woman. The villain, cad that he is, has
given the letters to said first wife; she is reading them and is sobbing.
As was usual the first row was occupied by small children who were taking
everything very seriously. In the middle of the scene one young waif
hollered out “He’s lying! Don’t listen to him!” Without a moment’s thought
I turned and growled at him, “Shut up kid! I’ve got a good thing going.
Don’t spoil it!” The audience broke up. The actress broke up and had to
hide her face until she stopped giggling.
East Lynne also produced, one evening, the immortal line, “Don’t worry Lady
Barbara, his goose is cooked. The place is surrounded by goose cookers.”
For intermission we had some rather corny skits. One of them was a bit
done in mime of a woman buying a dress. It seems the dress wouldn’t quite
fit so the sales clerk brings out a corset. After large amounts of squeezing
and tugging the woman is shoe horned into the dress. We also sang (or did
something passing for singing) several songs in harmony to the tune of
“How much is that doggy in the window”. I still recall one of them:
My mother and father were Irish
The last line, of course, sounds like “I am Irish stew”. This bit was
quite popular with small children.
Life as a summer stock actor
My mother and father were Irish
My mother and father were Irish
And I am Irish too.
We were supplied with room and board. Room consisted of two ramshackle
shacks, one for the men and one for the women. Sanitary facilities consisted
of two out houses, again one for the men and one for the women. The boy’s
club was graced by a resident bat who would fly around endlessly until we
finally turned the lights out.
And then there was the incident with the gainesburgers. The couple that ran
the place cooked for themselves and provided separate food for the cast.
One evening, whilst said couple were out on the town, the cast was determined
to dine better than they had, raided the couple’s fridge, and dined handsomely
on hamburgers or so they thought until the next morning when said couple
groused loudly about what had happened to the gainesburgers that they had
in the fridge for their dog.
Great moments in advertising
Once as part of an advertising promo for the mellerdrammer
I was lowered by helicopter into
a campground near the melodrama. I was dressed in my villain’s costume
and was making the rounds talking up the melodrama. I came a cropper
when I ran into a family that promptly informed me that the theater was
the devil’s work.
My finest advertising moment came when I did some promo work for Dirty
Work at the Crossroads. I was again dressed as a villain and was wandering
from table to table talking up the production. At one table I paused,
looked at what they were eating, and growled, “Bah, even a villain doesn’t
deserve this food.” The entire cafeteria broke out in cheers; I later
learned that the people who ran the cafeteria were very hurt and upset.
After my college stint (one of several) I went East to Boston. I hooked
up with some amateur groups and did a few plays, none of which I can recall.
In due course my acting urge died a natural death – for a while.
I eventually became a founding member of NESFA (the New England Science
Fiction Association) which, among other activities, sponsored an annual
SF convention called Boskone. One year the club conceived the amiable
notion of putting on a musical for the convention, a Gilbert and Sullivan
Captain Future Meets Gilbert & Sullivan,
or, Alas! Who Loves a Spaceman?. This fine work had previously
been presented in Los Angeles with Bruce Pelz playing the part of the
Master of the Universe. Naturally I was tapped (read: insistently
volunteered) for the role of Master of the Universe. To see me at my
finest, click here.
I don’t recall all of the
cast; some of the stars included Joe Ross, Freddy Isaacs, Larry Niven,
Karen Blank, and Selina Lovett as Sweet Little Asteroid.
There was one little problem. This was a musical and I had quite a few
of the lead patter songs. My voice is not exactly of operatic quality
and my sense of musical timing is not noted for its precision. The pianist
had to struggle a bit to make my musical cues noticeable to me. We managed
in the end although the pianist shed large amounts of hair as he pulled it
Captain Future made a deep impression on the nesfans. For several
years afterward Selina and I would burst into our duet upon encountering
each other. I still recall most of the words to “She’s called little
Asteroid, sweet little Asteroid, though she has never known why” and the
first verse of one of my patter songs.
Such a waste of brain cells.
Nesfa was bitten by acting bug. It was an annual tradition for a few years
to do a musical for Boskone. Usually it was a G&S; pastiche. One year,
however, they did The Decomposers, a parody of The Producers
which had as its finale a triumphal march to the strains of Springtime
I appeared in two more of these productions. In Rivets Redux I
played the real Darth Vader and was promptly wiped out by Helmuth of
Boskone, played by Tony Lewis. It was, I suppose, a bit part although
a bit part, properly speaking, is one of Dracula’s victims in a vampire
I also played Richard Deadwood in Back to Rivets. This was another
villain role; for some reason I recall almost nothing about the play even
though I was a major character. Richard Deadwood, BTW, was a
takeoff on Roger Elwood, a major editor
of SF anthologies in the 70’s. At one point it seemed as though
Elwood was going to be the Joe Fox of the SF world.
As time went by I wandered away from Nesfa and in turn Nesfa lost its
dramatic thrust. Thus ended my days upon the stage.
I have no idea if I will ever tread the boards again. I haven’t had
the urge. Perhaps I should. What, after all, does Sean Connery have
that I don’t have besides good looks, talent, and charisma?
This page was last updated April 5, 1999.