The names of people who were mentors to me, or you, without knowing it, would probably fill volumes. At this ripe young age (74), the memories are vivid. The parade continues:
MAKING SOUP - My second grade teacher, a lady named Madeleine Broderick, was my all-time favorite teacher. Ms. Broderick (we called her "Miss" in 1944) was, to me, the composite of all a teacher should be. She genuinely cared about every student. She was nurturing and conveyed what we were learning in only the kindest and non-imperious manner. She was also outwardly beautiful, with a strong resemblance to a then young actress named Jane Wyman. (I actually met Ms. Wyman many years later in Las Vegas, circa 1970, and she had maintained her warmth. She was also, as you may recall, future President Ronald Reagan's first wife.) What does all this have to do with learning how to make soup? It was Miss Broderick who consistently planned something special for us to do each week. Winters in Pittsburgh were not as harsh as some Minnesota winters, but nonethless, somewhat dreary, especially with the soot from the steel mills blanketing the air much of the time during that period, i.e., WWII. One particular week in February that year, Miss Broderick decided we'd have a good old-fashioned warm lunch. She had us prepare menus for our parents (for me it was just my Mom) made of colored construction paper and listing in large block letters the items we'd prepare and eat the following week. The "biggie" for me was vegetable soup, which crowned the cuisine for that much-anticipated day. On that day, she showed us how to cut the vegetables, added them and beef bouillon cubes to the boiling water, and "Voila", vegetable soup. I still prepare it that way to this day. For this seven-year-old, that was truly a "big deal".
LEARNING MORE OF MY CRAFT (ACTING, AT THE TIME) - There were at least two people in that arena who took me under their respective wings.
- The first was a Director named Frederick "Fred" Burleigh. He was the first professional stage director for whom I'd ever worked. In 1948, he cast me in a play at the Pittsburgh Playhouse entitled "STRANGE BEDFELLOWS". I was, and still am, a "giggler". Obviously, giggling on stage or during any performance, unless called for in the script, was, and is, verboten. Fred told me one night before the play opened that if I ever giggled again whil;e on stage, I'd be out of the show. He said it in his very commanding Boston accent. It was profound enough to prevent me from ever giggling on stage again. (Fred was also Shirley Jones's first stage director. She did her first play there in 1952 after she'd won the Miss Pittsburgh contest. It was entitled WONDERFUL GOOD, based in Pennsylvania-Dutch country, and I was in the chorus, just prior to leaving for New York to start my stint as one of the students on NBC-TV's MISTER PEEPERS. Our musical directors for that play were named Ken and Mitzi Welch. In later years, they were The Carol Burnett Show's musical directors.)
- The second was Tony Randall. Tony got his big break on television in the aforementioned MISTER PEEPERS. During rehearsal breaks each week, Tony would, one-to-one, discuss everything there was to discuss, about the world, show business, you name it. For reasons I don't know to this day, and never asked, he just genuinely wanted to, and became, a personal and professional mentor and guide, and definitely influenced much of the way I think today. He also kindly had his agent become my agent for future parts. Tony and I shared many great visits in various and sundry places throughout the country from 1952 until the time of his passing. I'm honored to have had the privilege to have his first-class wisdom imparted for over 50 years. His widow, Heather, remains a cordial acquaintance and we communicate occasionally.
There are many more who helped. If these memories inspire you to think about who molded you along the way, and who never knew it, then all chronicled will have been successfully imparted.
Thanks for reading and allowing me to share some great memories in this space. Please also, if you wish, visit www.startribune.com/video to wacth my A SENIOR MOMENT webcasts, the subjects for which change each Monday, as do my undershirts. :)