Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Spotting

Robin Williams at Redwood High School ca. 1969.
I met Robin at College of Marin in 1970. Even then, he was mesmerizing. I used to follow him everywhere around campus. Especially when he did silly walks while wearing a swimming cap and not much more than skimpy green gym shorts. He was the pied piper. I was just seventeen.

Imagine Robin wearing a women's swim cap with strap dangling. (Redwood HS ca 1969)
To my mother's delight (she was an actress at the Gate Playhouse in Sausalito), I joined the College of Marin theater department so I got to see Robin in all his zany roles. He did an incredible yellow-stockinged cross-gartered Malvolio that absolutely stole the show. He also stole my heart way back then and never gave it back. I was too frightened to audition for roles but I did costume design and ushered shows.

Robin was a brilliant actor. The comedy angle, he just couldn't help himself. It was always bubbling over. Robin would spontaneously riff on Shakespeare solliloques until we wet ourselves laughing. He drove director James Dunn nuts but we all loved Robin. College of Marin was like an extended childhood—we both attended CoM for three years. 

Offstage, Robin was just about as shy as I was, so at cast parties we'd sort of sit there looking down at our feet kicking rocks and go au-um. I absolutely adored him. I think he knew it too because he once invited me to a party at his house in Tiburon. I hopped into in my old Volvo panel truck (at least it started), and followed his VW Bug to Strawberry. We gassed up at the station, he dropped a rolled-up dollar bill and took off. The wind fluttered it to my feet. I picked it up. Portent of things to come.

I remember going over to the Trident restaurant on the Sausalito wharf just to watch Robin who was working as a busboy/waiter. He'd juggle plates, knives and glasses, do cartwheels, and a side dish of stand-up comedy while bussing dishes. It was always hilariously entertaining until the owner shooed us out.

I was no stranger to the Trident. In the mid-60s, my actress-mother was once a famous Trident waitress wearing little more than a bustier and fishnet stockings—she knocked 'em dead nightly with those showgirl legs—Bing Crosby autographed a napkin for her. Even in the 70s, Trident glitterati included: Grace Slick, Carlos Santana, David Crosby, Bill Graham, Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and Bill Cosby.

Another favorite Robin-spotting pastime was watching Robin-the-mime greet perplexed shivering tourists at the end of the trolly car line in San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square. Or watch him improv at the Old Spaghetti Factory. I saw him once at The Boarding House, but by then his fame was growing, and it was crazy jammed, so I left without saying hello or goodbye.

Robin took the LA comedy clubs by storm, and in 1973, he was accepted to Juilliard along with other classmates of mine, Mark Rasmussen, and Joel Blum (a 2-times Tony winner), but Robin always kept up his west coast connections. Marin was home.

Robin Williams & Joel Blum in the wild west version of Taming of the Shrew, directed by James Dunn,  1971, went on to win the Best of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that summer. Many of us helped raise funds (car washes) for the tour, but didn't go with the cast. Harvey Susser was also my drama teacher. It's his photo. Don't know why the Daily Mail is claiming it.  Great interview with James Dunn, though. 
I only saw Robin once again in 1981 at a concert after he got famous. Backstage, after a Bread & Roses show at The Greek Theater (I was the resident calligrapher for Mimi Fariña), I ran into Robin later with Michael Pritchard, and Eric Idle. Robin did a wild ribald set with Michael Pritchard that had the audience rolling in the aisles.

Robin Williams & Michael Pritchard at the Other Cafe reunion in SF (photoNathan Nayan)
I watched the show from the wings. Robin came offstage and recognized me...which shocked me. He gathered me up in his arms saying, I know you! I know you!!! and kissed me soundly. I said: Eww! Gross. Stop. Sweaty! swatting him off...

I got to hang out backstage with Robin, Mike and Eric Idle and watch them crack each other up. I don't remember what was said, one-upmanship was involved, and I had laughed myself senseless. Somewhere I have photos of the show.

Robin said he'd keep in touch. Never happened. 

I always thought I'd see him one more time again.

special thanks to Nathan for letting me use his photo
Robin Williams' Magic Mirror
Memory: Robin Williams
Dream: Robin Williams

1 comment:

Maureen Hurley said...

Hi Deborah,

Soooo sorry I never even saw your message on my Facebook Artist Page until now. I accidentally clicked on the wrong button and there you were! Wow! Thank you for reading my posts. Most of the time I feel so all alone in this process, writing in the dark, so it's heartening to know someone is reading them. I did not know Kendrick Rand by name, but I've discovered that I knew a lot of people, but not necessarily by name. Sometimes I begin writing about something and everything falls into place. The memories, the names....

Yes, Lagunitas, I've not written much about the Sons of Champlin, let's just say the blue air was rather rarified during those days and Bill Bowen, who lived on Dead Man's Curve, was our go-to guy.

Thank you very much for sharing your stories. I love them and would be honored of you'd post some on them under my blog posts. I've reposted your message here so as not to lose it. Facebook has a way of devouring old posts.

Maureen Hurley

Deborah Hamilton
Aug 18, 2014 2:11am
Hi Maureen,

I have wanted to meet you in person for awhile because I've lived in Lagunitas for about 40 years and found your histories of the SG Valley once while googling. So maybe we could keep in touch?

I am now in Paris & leave to work in Chiapas in a month. I may be in Marin to see the parent at Christmas, though who knows.

I've really loved your posts about Ireland, which I first visited 3 years ago, and many other topics. Thumbs up! So nice to read someone at intelligent and well-researched as you.

I was in French class with Robin where you had to talk (duh) so he was kind of chatty and funny but not manic. We'd both been taking French for a long time & were in the tiny advanced class.

When I would see him later we'd speak French and talk about politics & Marin which he really loved despite his stand-up jokes about how we're rich jerks. He read a lot. I did graduate degrees in French & Comp Lit & bought a tiny cabin in Lag so kept my presence there despite being broke. I moved there because the Sons lived there and I was totally crazy about them.

My high school& college boyfriend was Peter Schwab, from Drake, who still lives in the old Spagnolli dairy off of San Francisco Blvd/ Sorich Park.

I went to the College of Marin a bit but didn't do drama though I remember James Dunn. And Kimo Campbell -- remember? Peter was editor of the COM newspaper & went on to work at the Examiner and then the IJ, and I was a reporter for a bit.

I interviewed Richard Brautigan at COM in 69 for the Redwood Bark - LOL. OK, he had the womanizer vibe. I hate to name drop, but those years were amazing in the values we all shared.

When people talk about how AMAZING and FREAKY Robin was I thought, huh? because all my friends at Redwood & Marin were like that, though yeah he did have that manic stage energy. It was a great time and place to be a teenager.

Did you know Kendrick Rand in Stinson, who died a few months ago? I rented from him a few years and he told me that he went to high school with Sylvia Plath then went on to have the north beach cafe MDR which attracted lotsa poets, and Brautigan considered Kendo his best friend for his last 10 years or so. Kendrick is the writer magnet!

I had an audio tape of Sylvia reading at the BBC which he borrowed and gave back to me, shaking his head and saying, what a phoney! Her accent is totally fake!

Anyway, thanks for your writing. I'd love to talk to you more about the SG Valley sometime if you are willing. When I moved there I met Marie Rexroth. I was so sad when Specks burned. OK, enough.

take care, deborah