I love the Art Institute of Chicago. In fact, I still am a member and try to make a visit there on every visit to the city. I've periodically posted here photos of some of their great collection -- like Grant Wood's American Gothic and Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. Or Georges Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette, and...okay, you get the idea. Well, as it turns out, today is the 125th anniversary of the place. (And by "today," I mean yesterday when I meant to post this...) And this is a very nice, short minute-and-a-half video they made for the occasion -- The Art Institute of Chicago: The First 125 Years.
I was hoping to go to today's Northwestern football game, but the only seats were near the endzone, so I figured it was not to be. But then for a series of unexpected occurrences -- which began with me contacting my good, close, personal friend Morty Schapiro, president of the beloved Northwestern, about a totally different matter (well, okay, perhaps "occasional email buddy" is closer...) -- and with a helpful assist from Bob McQuinn (to round out the tale), it ended up with me getting a ticket on the 37-yard-line. Huzzah.
What's additionally odd about this is that my dad had had season tickets to Northwestern for 51 years -- and I went through the exact same gate to get to the seats. (They were one section over, but still... The same gate!) While that initially struck me as wonderfully bizarre, I realized that it probably made sense. He had his tickets from being on the medical school faculty, so these are probably the same NU section. Odd that it maybe hasn't changed much in all this time, but it seems reasonable.
By the way, not to worry, this isn't all about sports. I'll get to the other part in just a moment. But it would be inappropriate to overlook the game -- since Northwestern was an underdog, and playing #20 Wisconsin. And they won! 31-17. The game wasn't even that close, as NU had a lead 31-10 with about 7-1/2 minutes to go.
The thing is, Northwestern is actually a bizarre team this year. They lost to Akron (who lost to mighty Central Michigan today). And had to come from behind in the last minute to beat both 1-7 Rutgers and 0-6 Nebraska. Yet they're 5-3 and just beat #20 Wisconsin. And lost to #5 Michigan by only three points, when Michigan came from behind in the fourth quarter to score with only four minutes left. I can't figure it out. They are either the best 5-3 team in the country, or the worst 5-3 team in the country. But I'm glad they've won five games. One more win and they're eligible for a bowl game.
Making the day all the more fun is that, as part of the kindly offer of a ticket to the game, I also got invited to the "president's pregame brunch" that's held at a building in the stadium parking lot. A bit more elaborate than a tailgate party. Scrambled eggs, frittatas, lox and bagels, grits, muffins, croissants, biscuits, yogurt parfaits, fruit and lots to drink, including some stronger libations. A wonderful way to start the day. They even had a small contingent from the NU marching band come in and play three school fight songs and the alma mater (the latter written to the music of Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn...)
By the way, for those of you who watch Pardon the Interruption, you can know that Michael Wilbon is a bit Northwestern support and has an NU football helmet behind him on the set. In fact, he's also a member of the university's board of trustees. If you've ever wondered, though, if it's mainly for television and a sports show -- it's not. Though that should be eminently clear, it was nailed down for any doubters when he was there at the pregame brunch and even served as host for the few presentations. (After talking with my pal Morty, I briefly greeted Wilbon who had come by to visit with the president. At least that's my assumption, since I don't think I was his first choice.)
For those who like to take notes, that's Morty Schapiro off to Wilbon's right in the dark purple sweater. Next to him is the school's excellent athletic director, Jim Phillips.
When Schapiro gave his speech, it was clear why he's been so successful at the school. He was not only charming, he was extremely funny in his comments and off-handed quips. Afterwards, though, I told him that much as I liked visiting with it, it was his wife I wanted to meet, and he introduced us.
I wasn't being facetious. His wife, Mimi Rothman Schapiro, is a fellow-Writers Guild of America member. She's written half a dozen TV movies, most (if not all, but I'm not sure) for the Lifetime channel. Among them, she wrote A Promise Kept: The Oksana Baiul Story, about the Russian Gold Medal figure skater, and the challenges she faced. (You can see her other credits here, including an episode of Diagnosis: Murder.)
What really impressed me though is something that requires a bit of background.
I first came into contact with Morty Schapiro, when I wrote a lengthy piece six years ago about two stories that concerned my dad and his 51 years having season football tickets to Northwestern games. It got to his attention, and offered a wide range of kindnesses to my dad -- like sweatshirts, scarves, caps and other paraphernalia from the school's recent Gator Bowl win, as well as an invitation to see a game in the president's box. That got us in email contact, as I said, and we've lightly stayed in touch over the ensuing six years.
Anyway, when Morty brought me over to his wife and introduced us, her first words were -- "I loved the stories you wrote about your dad!" I was floored. You have to remember: we'd never met, never spoken, never exchanged emails, the articles were written online and not anything I'd sent to her, we'd had zero direct contact -- I think at most maybe she had been aware of my novel, The Wild Roses, and had perhaps bought a copy six years earlier -- but that's it. We were absolutely total strangers. And six years later, he first words to me were an immediate recognition and reference to the article I'd written about my dad. We also talked about Los Angeles where she's from, and us both working at the Universal Studios tour (me as a tour guide, her at the Prop Plaza area). As I told Morty afterwards, "You married well."
The whole event was enjoyable. Tom Brokaw was there, since his granddaughter goes to Northwestern, and it was Family Weekend. (I had a brief chat with him, because I wanted to mention we had a friend in common -- news producer Clare Duffy, who I've written about here often, usually during the Olympics when she covers them, producing Brokaw's pieces. He said, "I don't just know Clare Duffy, we're joined at the hip.") Also there was Mike Adamle, a football great who was the Big Ten MVP and earned All America honors. I mention this because we had had one class together -- not quite a highlight for him, I suspect, since he was a senior and I was a freshman and...well, he was the Big Ten MVP and had no idea who I was. But it was a small class, about 20 people, so I remember him because...well, he was an All American. He went on to play in the NFL for six years, broadcast for NBC, and later co-hosted the show American Gladiators.
And after all that, Northwestern won the game.
I've been seeing some terrific theater during this Chicago visit. (The elves taking care of the homestead are jealous...)
Today, I went to an enjoyable, richly produced and funny and touching, though somewhat-slight play in its American premiere from London’s Old Globe, Nell Gwynn, about one of the first actresses on the British stage, who went from (probably) prostitute to famed actress to mistress of King Charles. It’s at one of my favorite theaters here, the Shakespeare Theater – the lobby is gorgeous -- not in an ostentatious way but beautifully designed with clean, but textured lines and lots of wood and brass, and the inside is designed so that the stage looks like the Globe. A small troupe of musicians sat in the boxes in the back.
This is one of the things that impresses me about Chicago theater – not only does the public support so many companies, like the Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, Timeline, Apple Tree, Northlight, the Writers Theater and more, but most of them have wonderful theaters, not just “spaces” to put on plays.
Also, the day before I saw an enjoyable world premiere play at that Writers Theatre in Glencoe, which is another theater I love. It’s the one I’ve mentioned that began life in the back of a bookstore, but expanded to a 115-seat theater in the Women’s Club…and a couple years ago completed a wonderful new structure with two theaters, both quite intimate – this one I was at the other day seats only 90 people and was a wonderful venue. The play was Witch, a very funny drama that’s a sort of Faustian story between an up-and-coming emissary of the Devil and a woman who the town people think is a witch. (“They think I cast a spell on them, but all I did was ask someone to move her bucket.”) And a second plot about the lord of a castle, his son and a poor man with aspirations that interweaves with the main story.
By the way, I knew that they get the main theater critics in Chicago to drive out her in the suburbs to review their productions, as well as the New York Times (even when they were in the bookstore) and Wall Street Journal on occasion. And I knew (as I've written) that Jessie Mueller performed here before going to Broadway to win a Tony in Beautiful. (I saw her here in She Loves Me.) But I just discovered that Carrie Coons did a Tom Stoppard play there in 2011 before she got a Tony nomination for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and starred in the mini-series of Fargo (for its third season) and the recent The Sinner, as well as other things.
And then there was also the pretty good play,Curve of Departure, that I wrote about here the other day that starred Mike Nussbaum.
I've long been impressed by the quality -- and support -- of theater here. And this trip has just confirmed it all the more.
There's a point to this all, bear with me.
The other day, I went to see a play, Curve of Departure, at the Northlight Theatre in suburban Skokie, just north of Chicago. I've been to the Northlight before -- it's a very nice facility of a little over 300 seats that's surprisingly part of the local Doubletree Hotel. The four-person play written by Rachel Bonds has gotten very good reviews, and I enjoyed it though found it a bit unfocused. But what got me there was that one of the co-stars, playing the patriarch of the family was Mike Nussbaum.
Mike Nussbaum is a hugely popular actor in Chicago, all the more impressive since he came to acting late, changing careers from being partners with his brother-in-law running, of all things, a pest control company). But it worked out awfully well for him, since he's been at it now for well-over 50 years. In fact, Acators Equity lists him as the oldest-working actor on stage. That's because he's 94. And he was spritely and vibrant on stage the other night, giving a fun, lively performance full of texture and enthusiasm.
You probably would recognize Mike Nussbaum, because he's done tons of movies and TV shows, with a distinctive Chicago accent. (Though he plays a character from New York City in Curve of Departure and uses a good New York dialect.) His most recognizable roles are most likely Men in Black, where he played the kindly shop owner who "splits apart" to reveal that the tiny alien leader is living inside this human shell. And also he had a major role in Things Change, the terrific movie written and directed by David Mamet, opposite Joe Mantegna and Don Ameche. In fact, he has a long history with Mamet, who got his start in his home of Chicago, and has appeared in numerous Mamet plays in the city, as well as the original Broadway cast of Glengarry Glen Ross. And also many of Mamet's movies. His versatility is extensive, and maybe 10-15 years ago he had the starring role in King Lear at the well-regarded Chicago Shakespeare Festival Theatre.
Which brings us to the point here.
It's that Mike Nussbaum got his start acting in summer camp at Camp Ojibwe in Wisconsin, appearing in plays written by one of the counselors -- my dad, Edward Elisberg! My dad didn't stay in the theater, becoming a doctor which was his first love since literally age 10 when he wrote a poem about wanting to become a doctor, but he's always felt great affection for Mike Nussbaum's very long success.
And I know that my dad's story is absolutely true and not one of those parent tales that gets embellished over the years. That's because about five years ago Mike Nussbaum was starring in another play at the Northlight Theatre, Better Late, which was written by my friend Larry Gelbart. Because I was going to be in town, Larry got seats for me and my dad, as well as my cousin Susie, and we all went to see it. The play was wonderful, and afterwards we hung around in the lobby waiting for the actors to leave the dressing rooms. (That's where they depart at the Northlight.) When Nussbaum showed up, I went over and introduced myself as a friend of Larry Gelbart, and we had a nice chat about that -- and then I mentioned that I believed he also know my dad, Edward Elisberg and pointed...and immediately his face lit up, he threw his arms out and shouted, "Eddie!!!!" My dad came over, and they had a warm, terrific conversation.
(To be clear, this wasn't the first time they'd seen each other in 75 years. They didn't cross paths often, very rarely, in fact, but I do know that they briefly visited at the Shakespeare Theatre when Nussbaum did King Lear. And when he had that Household Pest Control business I mentioned, I assume my dad overlapped with him then because Nussbaum's brother-in-law partner was the father of one of my brother's friends.)
After the play the other night, I again waited around in the lobby for Mike Nussbaum to arrive from his dressing room. Again I introduced myself to him and noted that I was the son of Eddie Elisberg. His face once more broke in to a big smile, and he spoke affectionately of my dad. And I was surprised by impressed that he was even aware that my dad had passed away recently. So, clearly he kept up with the "old gang" -- though I suspect there isn't much of the old gang left.
I believe Mike Nussbaum has said that this will be the last stage play he appears in. (In fact, the show closed the very next night.) Though I suspect he'll keep acting in films and TV, since there's less of a physical and mental strain -- though he was often prancing around the stage the other night almost like a kid.
I have no idea what Mike Nussbaum will, in fact, be up to next, but it was -- and always has been -- a joy to see him.
The other day I went to the Chicago History Museum. I'd been there once before, many years earlier when they had a tremendous anniversary tribute to Burr Tillstrom and Kukla, Fran and Ollie, which had broadcast its legendary show out of Chicago. The place seems to have changed quite a bit since then, and for the better, much more expansive than before.
One thing I particularly loved was, of all things, their floor. After you entered the main museum and headed towards the back, the floor was designed as a massive map of the Chicago area with highlights of the city's history and landmarks marked all over wherever you walked.
Not everything at the museum was consistent in the detail of how it was presented, though among the secondary displays there was a fairly interesting exhibit on Abraham Lincoln. But the standout section was the museum's centerpiece, the Crossroads of America section on...well, the history of Chicago.
It's a massive, well-woven area with the history overlapping in a wide range of areas -- early Chicago TV, merchandising from the founding days of Sears and Montgomery Wards, sports, theater, blues music, architecture (that dealt with innovators like Frank Lloyd Wright, Burnham & Root who developed the first skyscrapers, Danmark Adler & Louis Sullivan, and more), manufacturing on a large scale like George Pullman inventing the Pullman train sleeping cars and Cyrus McCormick creating the first wheat thrasher, as well as smaller, individual items but with much personal impact like the Kraft company developing its macaroni & cheese, Sunbeam coffee makers, early Zenith radios and more. Also, race relations, social programs such as Jane Addams' Hull House, Margaret Sanger's efforts that lead to the local Abbott Labs development of The Pill, and the scientific efforts of Enrico Fermi and his team researching the first atomic bomb at the University of Chicago. And this being Chicago, needless-to-say politics, with a focus on the 1968 Democratic convention and the ensuing riots and police brutality.
Most of the Crossroads of America vast space was wonderfully done. I was disappointed that the sports section covering the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Amos Alonzo Stagg, the women's baseball league (that started in Chicago by Cubs owner William Wrigley during WW II and was the theme of the movie, A League of Their Own) and more was exceedingly thin and cursory, though at least they touched on all these. But only touched and with few artifacts on display.
I also wished there was much more on Tillstrom and Kukla, Fran and Ollie. I'm definitely biased there, but considering that he donated his full archives to the museum they had so much to work with. But happily there was attention paid to it, and to the early days of Garroway at Large (Dave Garroway's show which lead to the creation of the Today show which he hosted), and Stud's Place with Studs Terkel, among others. Too little, for my taste, and almost nothing on radio, especially since Chicago was probably the center of the early days of radio. But I did enjoy what they did present.
It will come as no shock that I loved that they had the first Chicago street car -- Car No. 1 -- the only existing one from the era, which you could walk through, along with having a good display on that era and its development.
Perhaps the most detailed and therefore interesting sections was on disasters throughout the city's history. The Haymarket Riots, the sinking of the Eastland just barely off the coast in Lake Michigan, (two years before the Titanic, where 848 people died), a 1919 race riot and the previously-mentioned 1968 Democratic Convention riot.
There was a deeply-detailed timeline of the city's history alongside a model and map of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Though what leaped out to me at that exhibit was a street sign that should have meaning, as well, to longtime readers of these pages --
Jo Baskin Minow is the mother of the oft-mentioned here Nell Minow, and wife of Newton Minow, FCC chairman under JFK. She's on the board of directors of the museum, and it was a nice honor to see.
More on that in a moment. But first we'll get to a wonderful special exhibit they had on blues music in Chicago (separate from the much smaller one they had in the permanent Crossroads display). Not only was it full of rich detail, covering people like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, but there was also a great of hands-on material. For instance, they had areas with an electric guitar display where you could jam along with piped-in music, a recording studio mixing board to play around with, a room where you could design an album cover and even a room that along with artifacts on the walls had two musicians sitting around playing guitar and blues harmonica.
I note this, as well, to bring us full circle to the point I made before. This particular blues exhibit was held in a wing which you got to off of a central balcony --
Yes, there she is again. The Minow Parade continues.
(You can't read it on the plaque off to the side, unless you have incredible eyesight, but our pal Nell even gets mentioned there. Okay, not by name but the description of "three daughters" counts...)
By the way, as much as I very much enjoyed the Chicago History Museum, I almost didn't make it very far into the place. It was a case of bad timing (and honestly, bad management). Which brings us to the reason why in a vent.
When I arrived, there were three or four school groups visiting, mostly with little kids, and it was like being at Wrigley Field during a Cubs game. And I'm not exaggerating much. After all, keep in mind that sound reverberates off the marble walls and stone floors, especially in a closed environment. It was sort of hellish. Just as an example, I had to return a phone call, and it was so incredibly loud that I wasn't able to do it, I simply couldn't hear. I needed to wander around to find a corner nook where it was at least somewhat quiet enough so that I could hear marginally reasonably. (Again, remember that this wasn't at Wrigley Field, but inside a museum.) I understand and even love the enthusiasm of kids discovering things at a museum, but this seemed to transcend that and was separate on a different level. It was your basic yelling and often just running around, not from excitement at the exhibits. And not occasional bursts with pockets of quiet, but non-stop screaming for about an hour. That's great for a playground and at a school assembly and even a field trip to an outdoor venue -- but not in a museum. While I was surprised that there was no effort by teachers to control their students, I was almost more surprised that there was no effort by museum staff to do so. After all, they know there are a lot of other patrons there visiting, trying to read the displays and focus on the material. And I know the museum staff was bothered by the noise themselves, since they commented wearily on it later. So, it wasn't a case of just me thinking something was out of order. I have no idea if this was a daily occurrence, or just a rare event -- but I do know it was bad enough that I almost left. But I figured the groups would leave soon enough, and most of them did within the hour. When there was one school left, they were a bit older, and things from that point on for the next 2-1/2 hours were fine.
Actually, better than fine -- an extremely nice place.
Certain songs enter the public lexicon and after a while people forget where it is that they actually came from. One of those that pops into mind is "My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)". It's sort of the taken its place along side of the other city anthem "Chicago" (That Toddlin' Town) and to many people they may even be from the same era. In fact, "My Kind of Town," rather than being written during the Roaring 20s or a bit later was written in 1964 and comes from a move, Robin and the 7 Hoods, which was a sort of Rat Pack musical with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and also Bing Crosby, among others In fact, "My Kind of Town" was nominated for Best Original Song, though it lost out to "Chim Chim Cheree" from Mary Poppins. It was written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen.
I love Sammy Cahn's work, and he had an absolutely wonderful one-man (in a way...) show called Words & Music that he toured the country with, and I think it even played on Broadway. (The "in a way" part is that he had three singers to help out on certain numbers throughout the evening.) The one quibble I had with it is that whenever he came to another city, he would change the words from "Chicago" to wherever he was -- and tweak the words to fit that "town." I'd been waiting the whole show to hear "My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)" and it was such a letdown to hear it about Los Angeles. Ack.
No, it's about Chicago. That's like changing, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" to "I Left My Heart in in Tallahassee" just because he playing there and trying to suck up to the audience. This not only is about Chicago, it has a context. And that context is that the gangster Robbo who's turned benevolent has just been found not guilty of trumped-up charges, left the courthouse and been greeted by an overjoyed crowd.
Which is when he sings this. (This video quality isn't great -- but the song is.)
Well, I made it in. The train actually arrived impressively close on time -- in fact, five minutes early, getting into Union Station in Chicago after almost 40 hours on the rails.
(This is hardly the best photo of the Southwest Chief, but it did its job well, as I deboarded and headed out into the station.)
The elves taking care of the homestead said they had an even better time than I did because it was like I was incommunicado for two days, and they had everything to themselves. (In fact, I did have full phone access, and although it turned out that the sleeping cars did have Wi-Fi, the network was dicey and very slow. There was 4G broadband, as well, and better, though not ideal. But it let me stay in touch somewhat reasonably.)
Most of the yesterday was spent going through the desert, mainly New Mexico and then later in the day and through the night across Colorado. It's not the most colorful part of the journey, but the rocks and foothills are wonderful to watch as you pass by.
I didn't spend as much time in the observation car as I did on my previous trip, but that's largely because I had a coach seat the time before, and this time the windows in my roomette sufficed quite nicely. They also changed the configuration of the observation car. My recollection from before is that it had comfortable high-back chairs that swung around. Now, they had tables in one half, and smaller chairs in the other half.
I didn't find it as interesting as the previous design, although what makes the observation so nice is the wide expanse of all the windows when you look around, and the sense of the sky above.
I was also looking forward to it at night, which most people don't think of with the observation car. But the last time I recall entering the totally dark car that was largely empty, and you barely can see the desert around you -- but because you're nowhere near any towns, the sky is overwhelmed with stars that almost seemed to brighten the area. Unfortunately, this time they had some dim lights on throughout the car which mucked up the effect. Perhaps if I went later (this was around 8:30) the car would have been darkened and it would have been as wonderful.
By the way, after getting into downtown Chicago this afternoon, my train traveling wasn't over yet. I walked north along the Chicago River about eight minutes to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. That's the old, significantly re-built Chicago & Northwestern train station which serves most of the local trains in the area (though the Union Station does handle some, while more a center for Amtrak nationally). From there I caught the Union Pacific North to Evanston. Much shorter. That trip was about 25 minutes.
I may toss in a few other Tales of the Train later, but at the moment I'm still getting settled and we'll leave it there for now.
And what the heck, I might as well round things out and include that finishing train trip. I've always loved these suburban commuter trains because they're double-deck. They've been that way since I was a kid, and most of the time I love to sit above and get a better view of the ride. They felt very magical back then when they introduced them, and they still do all those years later.
And with that, we'll leave the trains for the time being.
The longtime morning show host of classical music station WFMT in Chicago, Carl Grapentine, signed off today after 22 years with the broadcast. He's been broadcasting for 42 years, starting in Detroit, but he's been at WFMT for 32 years. He'll continue at the station, he's not retiring, but it'll be for special projects and a regular podcast.
How he came to WFMT is an amusing story. He was working in Detroit at classical music station WQRS that had, in fact, modeled itself after WFMT. He had made his first connection with the Chicago station a few years earlier when he was visiting the city at a broadcast convention and had met Norm Pellegrini, the station's longtime Program Director.
“That brings us to the summer of 1985,” he remembers. “I was in Chicago for a few days so I called Norm and asked if I could stop by, say hello, and see the new WFMT studios at 3 Illinois Center. We were sitting in his corner office overlooking the lake when someone popped in and asked me, ‘Did you say you were from the Detroit? I think your radio station was sold this morning!’”
“Naturally I was shocked. Later in the day I made some phone calls and found the story to be true. But the important detail is what Norm said to the news. ‘Y’know…we have an opening here!’ That was late July 1985. After the exchanges of some taped auditions and an in-person interview, I was invited to join WFMT. My first day on the air was January 9, 1986.”
Thanks to the magic of streaming on the Internet, I've gotten to hear him on occasion here in Los Angeles, though I really haven't listened to his show much in recent years -- with the two hour time difference, a Chicago morning show starts around 4 AM on the West Coast. The guy has a terrific program and is a wonderful host, with a warm voice and engaging personalty -- but I have my limits. Still, I would be sure to listen to him on my trips to Chicago.
This week, however, I made sure to check in for his finale. And I got up a bit early to hear today's last morning broadcast. He deserved nothing less, for a particular reason, which I'll explain.
I have somewhat of a connection with the good fellow. Actually, my mother did. When she passed away in 2011, I told the story about it at her memorial service. (And I posted the speech here a couple years later.)
A brief background.
My mother had polio. It greatly limited her activity, but she was still respectably mobile, and would even take many world trips with my dad. She'd get tired out very regularly, though even that didn't stop her. She had her additional connection to the world -- she used a telephone like Jascha Haiffetz used a violin. She'd call anyone and everyone and was masterful on the phone. In part, too, because she was so sweet. That helped a lot with her phone magic.
(After my dad had quadruple bypass surgery several decades ago, he cut down greatly on eating meat. One of his favorite foods was the wonderful chili at my fave Charlie Beinlich's -- which I've written about. But my mom called them up and got them to make meatless chili for him. She's call ahead, tell them how many bowls they'd need, and then show up for dinner. This went on for years. But no, that's not the fun part of the story. A couple years ago, my mother had passed away at this point, I was in Chicago and would be going in to Beinlich's for lunch. I knew my dad would like their chili, so I called up and explained who I was and asked if they could make a couple of bowls of the meatless chili that I could pick up for my dad. To my surprise, the long-time owner, a wonderful guy, said, "No." But I loved his reason. "We only did that for your mother.")
Trust me, I'm getting to Carl Grapentine in a moment.
She just was just a maestro on the phone. And WFMT was one of her main outlets. She listened to the station all the time. It just flowed through the house. She loved WFMT. But she didn't always catch what a piece of music was, or who played it. So, she would often call up to ask. They eventually got to recognize her voice, and were always wonderful in getting the answers for her.
And that brings us to the story. I'll start a little before, to add a bit more perspective.
And she never complained. This wonderful person who lived pretty much most of her life in pain, wouldn't complain. It was her life. It was life. She accepted it.
I want to put Carl Grapentine and the relationship he had with my mother in perspective.
I have a good friend RIch Capparela who is a terrific classical music announcer. He's been on several stations, but mostly KUSC here in Los Angeles. And for many years, he had the morning show. So, I figured he'd appreciate the story. When I told him, he didn't just appreciate it -- he was stunning by it. "I would never do that," he said. It wasn't that he didn't want to be nice -- Rich is actually an incredibly nice person. A listener once asked if he'd do a favor for her mother who loved his show and asked if he'd record something for her birthday, that the daughter would play and make it seem like it was the daily broadcast, to trick her mother as a birthday gift. And Rich did that. Pretty nice. But nicer still, when the mother had to go into the hospital for some reason, Rich went to visit her here. Awfully nice guy, as I said. It has an even better pay off -- they fell in love and got married. So, when Rich Capparela says he wouldn't have done what Carl Grapentine did, that speaks volumes. His reason was a very good one -- it was because of the responsibility. If something happened at the station and he couldn't make the call when he said he would -- or if he just simply forgot -- or for whatever reason he couldn't make the call, he just didn't want the responsibility of screwing up and causing a problem for someone.
But Carl Grapentine made the call. In fairness, it probably helped that he'd been taking phone calls from my mother for years and likely felt that he knew her, and liked her. But whatever the reason, he made the call.
So, I made sure to set my alarm early and get up to listen to his final morning show broadcast.
I should have phoned him and asked him to give me a wake-up call...
As I post this, there are still 40 minutes to go before he signs off at 10 AM Chicago time. (At 9 AM he played his last "official" piece of music from the playlist -- the trio leading into the duet at the end of Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss, the last thing he played on the air in his final show on WQRS in Detroit, as well, which is among the seven reasons he gave why he chose it -- but there's a final hour of "bonus show," pieces of personal music he wanted to wrap up with.) If you catch this article before then and want to give it a listen, you can click here to stream the show.
Last month, I wrote (a lot) about going to back to Northwestern University for a sort of reunion/ fundraiser weekend of the Department of Communications, which ended in a big gala, A Starry Night, hosted by Stephen Colbert, filled with alumni performers from Broadway, movies and TV. (And written by good pal of these pages, the Lady Shellington, Shelly Goldstein.) I also mentioned attending an event of current students, part of the acclaimed American Musical Theatre Project, started a few years back by Dominic Missimi, which has turned out some impressive grads, like Heather Headley, and also presented some world premiere production and workshops for writers to work with students, all of which I wrote about here that describes the program better, and in much more detail.
The hour-long event was terrific, and I was impressed by all the performers who were showcased. And I wouldn't be surprised if at least some of them join the list of illustrious alums from the school's theater department. Unfortunately, there was no video to embed with the article, but I did my best to find alternative clips of some of the songs, as well as a few performers who especially leaped out.
Well, it turns out that there was video of the showcase, and they've just uploaded it onto the Northwestern Commfest site. And I've embedded the full thing below.
The whole event is worth watching, since all of these young performers were truly impressive. But as I said, two of them especially stood out. And rather than find alternative clips and entirely different things (but it was the best I can do), I can now show them to you directly.
What impressed me with all the performers -- but most-especially with these two -- is that they don't just sing the songs, but perform them. (A trait I've noticed with Heather Headley whenever I've seen her. Clearly, this program is where they got it from...)
One person I mentioned in that earlier article was a recent grad, Meghan McCandless. (And no, there is no truth to the rumor that all women in the Northwestern theater department have to be named "Meghan M." It just works out that way. Some get roles in Broadway shows, others get royal weddings...) She actually performs in three songs throughout the video, and it's worth checking them all out. But if you only want to watch these two particular performance, this first one, a song titled, "I Need More," from a show Fly by Night that had its premiere production at Northwestern through the American Musical Theatre Project starts at around the 9:15 mark, and you can jump directly to it.
The other song, is from a workshop world premiere production the AMTP did of a show called, Michael Collins, about the Irish revolutionary. It has book and lyrics by Ryan Cunningham and music by composer Joshua Salzman, both of whom received the Jonathan Larson Award, named after the songwriter of Rent. The number is introduced by Cunningham, and feature the same student who played the title role in that initial production. It's a very good song and a wonderful performance -- and unfortunately, I don't know his name. I didn't catch it at the live event, and Cunningham says it so fast, I can't decipher it. It's something like "Judson Dresner," but as much as I tried to do some research, it was for naught, and that's the best I can do. But here he is and that song, "Live Like You're Going to Die." The sequence begins around 26:45.
As I said, the whole concert is worth watching, there are quite a few gems, introduced by the program's director David Bell. The performances begin around two minutes in or so. Most of the introductions and information before the songs are pretty interesting, though you can always scroll past. But if you don't want to watch the full thing, do at least jump to those two songs.
By the way, this freeze frame below is the other Meghan M., Ms McCandless. So, if you want to scroll through for all her numbers, that's what you should look for...
When deciding on a "Today's Tweet," this is an absolute no-brainer. The Chicago Tribune has never been especially known for its whimsy, but they tweeted this today –
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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