Thursday, September 20, 2018

Bliss Buys remembers (oral history) Sonoma County Stump


Simone Wilson, Bliss Buys & Joe Leary, 1980. Maureen Hurley photo

I ran into former Sonoma County Stump founder and editor, Bliss Buys after a poetry reading, the Petaluma Poetry Walk. Bliss, Simone Wilson and I had lunch at Dempsey’s and reminisced. I am sorry to say that I did not take any notes, it was a whirlwind visit. A blast from the past. Simone and I booth cut our journalism teeth at the Sonoma County Stump. There was so much more catching up to do, as I hadn’t seen Bliss since the Stump folded in 1981, when I was new to writing. I worked at the Stump from 1979-1980 until it folded.
I had a camera, I happened to live near the Sonoma County Stump office, I wandered in once day to see what I could see, and next thing I knew, I was given the centerfold to create a double-truck spread on Sonoma County poetry, and a deadline—and the rest is history. —The Paper and the Sonoma County Stump
Bliss and I met up in Petaluma the next day as she needed to meet up with her clients, to renew ads for a antiques periodical she had founded in 1989. It was so enthralling to trail after her as she visited a plethora of Petaluma antiques stores. The antiques guide went from a small Sonoma County monthly throwaway tabloid newspaper to an annual West Coast guidebook. Bliss was touching base with her clients.
Bliss wrote this synopsis in a Facebook group, Russian River History and Memories, “Our first office was on River Blvd. in Monte Rio where we got flooded. The last one was over the Mexican restaurant in downtown Forestville. At one point, we were located behind the Rio Theater in Monte Rio. We had an office on Hwy. 116 north of Sebastopol (where the late, beloved Joe Leary came onboard), one in Guernewood Park (where we got flooded again). There were two periods when we couldn't afford an office and worked out of my home, once in Pocket Canyon (where my partner was Patrick Lanzing), once on Trenton Rd. in Forestville. I wish I remember the last name of the designer of the masthead...John something. The theme was borrowed from a painting by Joan Miró depicting a tree stump that has one of its roots firmly gripping the axe that did the job. Probably the most complete collection of The Stump that exists, went to the museum at Sonoma State University. It may even include some of the very first editions, when Jack "The Carpenter" Husband started it and I was the typist. Deadlines were typically all-nighters. We typed the text, cut out the columns and pasted them with melted wax on big galley sheets. Those copies might still be there, in some dusty corner of the SSU storeroom. We had a good run—more than ten years. 
What follows is an ad hoc oral folk history interview with Bliss at her son Jay’s house on Pepper Road, Petaluma, reminiscing about the past. As is with most verbatim conversations, it’s sometimes disjointed, but one of the things I’ve learned about collecting oral folklore from my UC Berkeley professor, Dr. Alan Dundes, is to not try and fix syntax, grammar, or timeline. Nor interrupt.... Akkk!

We had dinner at her son’s place, and were sitting in the living room. Bliss was on a roll, talking so fast, that I had a hard time keeping up, so some of that disjointedness is the fault of the scribe using an iPad to take notes, vs. pen to paper. I inverted a couple of sentences for continuity. But it’s otherwise stet.

At one point, I would love to turn this piece into a proper interview, or perhaps Bliss herself, might be induced to document that part of her life—an extraordinary life lived on the edge of the continent, at the cutting edge of social change. 

For example, I had no idea that Bliss was part of the Morningstar community, I knew some literary bits from Ramon Sender Morningstar, so as the tale began to unfold, I was not prepared for that segue, I had goosebumps, and wanted to stray off-path, ask questions, but I sat on my tongue, or rather, thumbs. There was so much I wanted to ask her about Morningstar Ranch, Limeliters founder, Lou Gottlieb, and the Diggers as my mother’s bohemian history was part of that past. From the Morningstar letters I learned that Lou had the temerity to die on Bliss’s birthday. Another interview. Someday. And then Bliss was off back home to San Carlos, Mexico in the morning. No such thing as recollection in tranquility....

Bliss Buys remembers (oral history) at her son Jay’s place off Pepper Road, Petaluma (this is from my raw notes, found in my Notes app. She was talking so fast, I had trouble keeping up, is an understatement.)


Bliss Buys: I was with the Sonoma County Stump for 10 years. The Stump began in 1970 or 71. Jack Husband started the newspaper. I was walking down River Road, there was an old hotel that flooded regularly for rent, but the insurance paid out every year, and we moved in. We were in the basement, so we got flooded out. 

Jack needed a typist and I needed a job, thats how it began. I wrote the Morningstar Ranch story, but it was 3 or 4 months before he even read it. Finally he published it on my birthday, July 11th, it was his present to me. And so it began.

The Stump office was in the basement of that old hotel, when it flooded again, Jack left the paper. (And Bliss was left holding the bag). The 2nd place we moved to, was a house that straddled a creek, between Monte Rio and Guerneville. But that place didn’t prove adequate, so we moved offices again. We moved at least 4 - 5 times. Then we moved the Stump into the downstairs of my house off River Road, in Forestville, but I moved out of the house in Forestville, and into another place in Guerneville, then to Sebastopol, that’s when I met Joe Leary.

We started out with a regular typewriter, then someone named Dave loaned us a Selectric typewriter.. The Stump was always located in the river area, We had newspaper display boxes but people kept stealing them. At one point we charged for the paper but people kept stealing the money.

After Jack left, I made the Stump into a free paper, after a year when it landed on my shoulders. We expanded to Santa Rosa, there were serious things happening with the board of supervisors, we had to cover that stuff. Water quality control board. Because of the stories, I was asked to be on the board. I covered the Diablo Canyon story, and passed onto my board members, but nobody read it. Part of my concern was that there was talk about putting a nuclear plant in Sonoma County, at Bodega Head, somebody interviewed Rose Gaffney. And the story broke. Big time.

Joe came in one day to that ramshackle place we had in Sebastopol, he wanted to buy into the paper, we were desperate money, so he bought in for $500. He had an interest in alternative energy, he wrote a feature every issue. 

There are archives of the Stump. A woman named Mary Meyer collected all the issues and took them to Sonoma State library.

I lived on a road parallel to River Road in Pocket Canyon, with Stump editor Patrick Lanzing, we were together during 1974, it was during the gas shortage, I left him soon after. We moved to a place across from Speer’s Market on Trenton Road. My son Jay was 7 years old in 1975, and was going to Forestville school.

After we moved the Stump offices to The Forestville Inn, I lived with a man named George, from Porter Creek Winery. I lived there for a while but the Stump office was in Forestville. It was during the gas crisis. The commute was a problem. 

George was a newspaper hoarder, in the living room there was a pile of Stump issues all the way up to the ceiling. He pulled out the very first issue, handed them to me, and I sat on the floor and read the first issue, and cried. 

Circa 1980. We were barely surviving on ads, I was on welfare, they knew I was on welfare, they allowed me to collect ads. I could just barely cover the rent. I couldn’t afford to pay rent in two places. The Stump was at Trenton Road, back then.

Pocket Canyon, Randy the carpenter. Jane Hamilton built a beautiful double desk, for me and Patrick, we were together for about two years. He threw a mineral water bottle at me and stomped out. That was not the end of Patrick. We moved to the Forestville Inn, by then I was with George, When George and I split, my son, Jay and I slept on the floor of the Forestville Inn. That was our lowest point. We moved so many times, every other year, it seems.

Morning Star Ranch, I lived there before I worked for the paper. I went back to interview Lou Gottleib, later the title of the story and my name came from something that Lou said. He said it all comes down to how much bliss can you tolerate, that was when I took on the name of Bliss.

I built a handmade house with Steve and my son, Jay who was one and a half. Our treehouse was two stories tall, but the sheriff came and tore it down. I moved to Morningstar Ranch during 1969 or 70, Jay was born in 1968. After the 2nd or 3rd time the sheriff demolished our home, I talked Steve into moving to River Road in Monte Rio, he was on SSI, and I was on welfare. We had a little courtyard, and a utility building. I remember the tv, we watched Star Wars. First there was the gas crisis, then the drought, at one point we had no water. Steve and I had a falling out, I wanted to be involved with the community, but he didn’t, so I left him and camped out.

I moved to the Villa Grand hotel, I had my own room there in Monte Rio.

We moved to Port Roberts in Washington, and were there for several months, I came back to Monte Rio. The day I got back, Jay took off, that was when I ran into Jack Husband, in his 30s. Everybody called him Jack the Carpenter. He only stayed with the paper a year and a half, and then he was gone. 

I could either keep the Stump going, or let it fold. But there were still people contributing to it. There was a guy doing the books and collecting the advertising, before he left, he showed me how to do the books and to carry on. I was not not a really good salesperson, I was more interested in the editorial aspect. Patrick’s first fight, was that he wouldn’t sell ads, nobody wanted to sell ads. 

The paper was printed in Sonoma, then later by the Healdsburg Press, we were still typing the copy on typewriters, and we made the titles and headlines on a compugraphic machine at the News Herald. We hot-waxed on the headlines. It was a private webpress, a giant machine as long as this room, they also printed the Argus Courier.

At that time, I was interested in communal living, alternative education, and alternative energy sources. Those were the kinds of stories I wrote. The origins of the paper date back to the end of the Vietnam war. There was a lot of passion, we did a lot of articles about that.

One of the things I did at the Stump, was that I drew cartoons, that drawing of Abe Lincoln standing on a stump was mine. Jack and I came up with the logo, a tree stump, the idea of the axe succumbing to the tree came from a painting of Juan Miró.

The only training I ever had, the only time I ever conceived of myself as being a writer, was because of a professor I had in college.

I was just finishing junior college. My mother wanted me out, I had a stepfather. We didn’t get along. My stepfather was an alcoholic, it was oil and water. I was living in Dallas, I grew up in Corpus Christi, so I stayed with my dad a few months. I got a ride to Dallas and was dropped off at the YWCA, the next morning it snowed, it was the first time I ever saw snow, the first time, so I got a job with a cotton shipping co. 

I was living in Dallas when Kennedy was killed. I was working for a stock brokerage company, I was on my lunch break, I came back and the office was in chaos. The stocks tanked, then shot up. A lot of people made a lot of money on Kennedy’s assassination. I had a series of jobs working for the stock brokerage, I was a secretary, a receptionist, the low girl on the totem pole. 

My first crush was Bob Thomas, he was in navy, and stationed in Long Beach. One day he called me up said, let’s get married. He just wanted a girlfriend, he never had any intention of getting married. I had made one trip up to San Francisco, so I just packed up my stuff and moved to the city with one of his friends. It was 1964.

When the Stump finally folded, the Press Democrat did a story, a photo of me sitting in the empty office, it was a sort of a victory dance. I eventually worked for the Press Democrat selling ads in the classified dept, there was still a dress code in 1983-84, we couldn’t wear pants, it was so regimented.

Then I worked a while for Optical Coating, I was there as a temp, they put me on a research job, photovoltaics, but they let go of the research, leaving it to Japan and China.

While I was at Ockley, Tom at The Paper asked me to sell ads, he promised me $1000 a month, plus commissions. The regular ad sales person went on vacation, so I maintained her account, then Tom fired me.

I went to work for the Bingo Bugle, boring boring boring, but they had another little paper called Antique Adventures. They were going to close it down, and I said I wanted to keep doing the antique paper so, they basically sold it to me and they also sold me a Mac, $1000 for the whole thing. This was during  1984 through 1986.

I was living in Santa Rosa, in Bennett Valley. In 1989 I moved out to Petaluma, to Red Hill Road, right before the Marin County border, to the MacEvoy Ranch, but then it was bought by the newspaper heiress, Susie Slessinger, and we had to move out, back to Santa Rosa, then to the McBrown Ranch in Petaluma. Bill Wiley ? connected with us, we moved out there and I lived there until I was ready to give up on him, he was having problems with alcohol, so I moved to Gualala in 1989. I lived in a hotel, and I was playing music.

Jim Cochran and I met in 1989. That was when Jim and I started doing music together, we were married in 1992. We had started the Antiques Guide. The newspaper was a monthly. There was a woman selling advertising for us, she said you can make a map insert guide, and Jim jumped on it. As soon as we got it printed and distributed, we went to Costa Rica for a month. 

And then we produced second edition with the map guide. We kept the monthly publication going until we moved to Mexico. We kept our boat in Mexico, and commuted back and forth.

I was able to produce the paper and the antiques guide in Gualala where I was night manager, at the Sea Cliff Motel, I had a flat there. I was still working at the inn when the Twin Towers were hit.

We had three distributors, two had never gotten their books, when we were in Mexico, we realized we needed to be more hands-on. But Jim was drinking heavily. That’s when we decided to call it quits, and we quit doing the monthly newspaper in 2004.

We got back together, as we had a boat, he took the boat to Puerto Vallarta, a 33-foot Morgan Islander. He realized that if he didn’t quit drinking that he would die. That was when we got back together. Resurrected the antiques guide. 

Full circle.

Sept 20, 2018

Joe Leary& Bliss Buys, ca. 1980. Maureen Hurley photo

See the Blogger webzine, Cochran’s Collector’s Guide, 2017; their Pinterest, and their Facebook pages. The guide has gone to PDF format, see also, my 2014? blogpost, The Paper and the Sonoma County Stump. When I revised my blog, and made an attempt at filing my stories in chronological order, I moved the blogpost to 1979 to give my blog some continuity, but then I lost the creation date in the process. At least I know it was after 2011, vis à vis the Mary Moore letter. See also Ramon Sender Morningstar The Digger Archives. I found this reference in the March 1978 Oak Leaf: Jerry Garcia Band and Robert Hunter’s band Comfort will be appearing at the Sebastopol Veterans Auditorium on March 22 to do a Benefit for the Sonoma County Stump, a local newspaper. Tickets are on sale now so if you’re interested, go get ’em while they’re still available.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Virginia Rae interview: Sausalito's Gate 5 Theater & beyond


Vee Rae (Virginia Rae Kane) was an actor friend of my mother's at the Gate Playhouse Theatre in Sausalito during the late 1950s- early 1960s. I was young, still in the single digits, so my memory was sparse. But my first blog pieces in 2007 were on Gate 5, Tiki Junction, and also Juanita, which led to this post.

The photo that started it all. My mother, Kellé Reilly (later it was Kellé Green—
her stage name as there was already an actress, Maureen Hurley in SAG), 
Richard Knablin, Skip Rognlien and Vee Rae, Christmas, 1960. 
(Photo by Chris Gracida, courtesy of Richard Knablin.)

Somehow my mom's friend, Richard "Dik" Knablin stumbled across my blog post in 2009, and contacted me which led me to an email from Vee Rae. He sent me a photo of my mother with him and Vee Rae, and the memories came flooding back. Wow!

So this interview is a decade, or more like a lifetime in the making. Also, my drama teacher from College of Marin, James Dunn just passed away, he was also part of the lively and vibrant theatre scene in Marin. Come what come may, time and the hour run through the roughest day.

I was able to glean information on Skip Rognlien and Les Abbot, thanks to Google. I found a few reviews that mention Vee and other actors in the ensemble (Bill Edwards, Jim Holiday, Vickie Frazer, Sharleen Lambert, Diane Santich, John Rose, Jack Brennan and J. W. Cheetham, see newspaper archives at bottom), but nothing in print on my mother who worked so tirelessly behind the scenes with costuming, and she was also in most of the plays as well. I only have a few stills of her.

Skip Rognlien (1934-2018) was a ballet dancer

D. GORDON "SKIP" ROGNLIEN

When the Gate Playhouse director, stage manager, technical director, lighting and set designer, Skip Rognlien was killed in a head-on car accident in March, in Oregon, I realized that very few people held the oral history of that era were still among the living.

I had the idea of going up to Oregon to visit Richard Knablin and Skip Rognlien to collect their oral history. But life got in the way. I was laid up with a bum knee that wouldn't heal after surgery. I was goin' nowhere as they say. I couldn't even get across the room, let alone, drive to Oregon.

From what I can piece together, shows at the Gate Playhouse began in the fall of 1958 or 59. By 1962, or 1963, the Gate Five Players had folded, Les Abbott had gone off to Hollywood, as did Vee Rae.

Skip had returned to his home town, Kalispell, MT, to produce a few plays for Playhouse Actors in 1963. Then by 1965, he moved to New York and was producing plays for (another) Gate Theatre, and the Cricket Theatre. (Vee says he spent time in LA too. Need do get that story.) My mother would occasionally hear from Skip and tell me of his successes and escapades. I always loved Skip. He was kind to kids.

Skip, who was a lithe 6 foot 4 inches, was hand-picked by Mr. Balanchine, to attend the Balanchine School of American Ballet in Manhattan, but theatre was always his first love.
In the mid-50's, Marnie Cooper, a former Balanchine dancer, arrived at the University of Montana to teach ballet to football players. The theater department asked that she also teach a class for theater majors. The wife of the dean of music took home movies of our single performance, and a copy of the film was sent to Mr. B to show him what Ms. Cooper was doing out West. Evidently Mr. Balanchine took a look, for soon a letter arrived asking Ms. Cooper to ''send the tall boy,'' indicating me, to New York as a scholarship student. —Skip Rognlien
My earliest memory of Skip is during a rehearsal, him lounging on a tall wooden stool, wearing striped a sailor's shirt, telling everyone to "Take Five." And me asking my mother what it meant, as I conflated that with Dave Brubeck's album. She laughed and said it meant a smoke break. We stood on the ledge outside the back of the Gate as she smoked her Parliament, and flicked the butt into the dark bay.

While in New York, Skip also taught American square dance, and was founding president of the first gay square dance club, the Times Squares in New York.

Skip's obit mentions that he was involved with the theater for 50 years in New York City, San Francisco, and Sacramento. I wonder if that Sacramento nod is how my mother also wound up at the Music Circus theatre in the round, with Lloyd Bridges, in Guys and Dolls? My mom also costumed The Student Prince there. Vee Rae said that Les Abbot and Skip Rogniein worked several shows at the Sacramento Music Circus.

Skip also worked with  IBM’s Media Gallery, as the principal of Staging Techniques, LLC, which staged trade shows for major corporations. He retired to Oregon to run a B&B in Sullivan's Gulch, Portland. He retired from being an innkeeper, and built a home on the Oregon coast near Tillamook, and was active in the arts until his death at 83.

Les Abbott (1925-2012) DVC instructor IMDb
LESLIE (KARL) "LES" ABBOTT

Another member of the Gate Playhouse ensemble, director and producer, and later, Diablo Valley College instructor, Les Abbott, had died in 2012. Richard Knablin told me that Les had Alzheimer's for years. So it would be difficult to interview him. At the time I began to realize that all the principal actors were taking that final curtain call.

I don't know when the Gate Playhouse came into existence, but from a Sausalito Historical Society article on the Sausalito Art Festival review, I found this: "in 1959...Entertainment included folk and jazz singers, poets, dancers and performances by the Sausalito Little Theatre summer program and Les Abbott’s Gate Theatre Players."

After the Gate Playhouse Theatre folded in the early 1960s, Les Abbott, who was a member of the Actors Studio, moved to LA where he directed and acted at the Pasadena Playhouse. He also coached acting at NBC and Desilu Studio. Vee's interview fills in some of Les's backstory from the San Francisco days.

Neil & I ushered for that Dame Edna show, Theatre in the Square.
Les's obit history goes from NY direct to LA without stopping off in SF, which was a very important time. He formed two theatre companies Abbott-Abrams Productions and TheaterFest. He received his MA in psychology at Stanford, and taught at Foothill College, And of course, at Diablo Valley College, from 1973 to 2008, he mentored hundreds of young actors including my ex-partner, actor-singer Neil O'Neill.
Les directed over one hundred and fifty plays, including the West Coast premieres of Blues of Mister Charlie, All the King's Men, The Immoralist, Man with a Golden Arm, A Clearing in the Woods, besides numerous other plays including his final production, Angels in America, before retiring from directing. He also directed seven original plays and musicals with his production companies.
Leslie also authored 2 published books, Active Acting and Acting for Films and TV, that became part of the curriculum in some theater schools.  —from A Retrospective of Les Abbott's Life

Wonder what play they're reading? (Chris Gracida photo, Richard Knablin)
VIRGINIA "VEE" RAE KANE

When I contacted Vee in 2009, she was in the process of moving and didn't have access to her memorabilia, but we kept in touch over the years via Facebook. Of course I was curious as to what happened to Vee after the Gate Playhouse dissolved. The talented Vee was cast in the leading role of Annie Get Your Gun, and was going places. Did she make it, how did she get to Hollywood?

Last month, Vee sent me some photos of the Gate Playhouse which spurred me on to finally write this piece. I had originally planned on going to LA to collect her oral history, or folklore, but the timing wasn't right. So I made up a series of questions for Vee to answer at her leisure. This is what follows:

Gate Playhouse Theatre, ca. 1961. (Photo courtesy of Richard Knablin)
Hi Mo!                                                   Aug 29
I wrote a long answer to you about an hour ago but somehow the internet connection failed and I couldn't get it sent or even save a copy or have a draft copy! I can't tell you how frustrated I am (not the first time this has happened). Anyway -- I'll start again tomorrow. (Seems like I had to quit out but had no way to save the email I wrote). So... looking forward to answering some of your queries and will try to start again tomorrow. More to follow (hopefully)!!!

Gate Playhouse, Sausalito. Richard Knablin  photos 1961
OK, Mo—
I'm taking this a bit at a time, not in the order you wrote:
The Gate Playhouse: I got involved there approx summer 1958-59? when Les Abbott (having seen me in a theatre production at City College of SF) asked me to come audition for a musical he was mounting in Sausalito. I did audition and got the role of "Hildy" in the production of "On the Town".

I'm not sure Kelle was there at that time. After this show, Les directed "Annie". Your mom was very involved with the costumes and probably more at that time. She worked day and nite on the costumes.

Les Abbott and the Marquee. Richard Knablin photos 1961
Richard Knablin photos 1961
Skip Rognlien, I believe, did the sets and more. Kelle and Skip were close buddies. I believe that (as you may know), the theatre was formally a small movie theatre. I think it was Les who revived it. I don't know how long it lasted as I moved from Northern California in the fall of 1961. It was still going strong then, I believe.
My mom fitting a costume. Annie Get Your Gun? Or Guys & Dolls, Music Circus
Remembrances of Kelle are her endless patience and stamina. I'm serious when I tell you she worked thru the nite on the costumes and I believe had very little help. This was a huge costume show with tons of performers. I know we went to cast parties with the others and we were all one big happy group. She was very popular with us all.

Back of the Gate Playhouse opened abruptly into the bay,
a tiny ledge & nothing more than air. Richard Knablin photos 1961
I remember Athena—didn't know her last name (Note bene: Martin). She was legend there. She never did a show but was—apparently seriously with Les (tho he, of course, was gay).

I don't know what ever happened to Athena but my co-star, in "On the Town" who remained in Sausalito told me years later that she was "still around" (but this was many years ago). I "think" she may have had a son?? I may be confusing her with some of the other local characters??
(Note bene: Athena, who was my mom's best friend, was living with Les at the Alta Mira, and had a baby. Was it Les's? I remember visiting them with my mother.)
On "breaking free from the mold of the 50's" —hell, I have no idea but it's a great question. Maybe Dik (Richard) Knablin could help a bit with this one? As for the political climate—Geez! I was (and still am) somewhat apolitical, and being a rather "lightweight" theatre person wasn't at all interested in the outside world! We were ACTORS/ PERFORMERS, ETC! This was all that really existed for many of us I'm sure. (Ya' know—not too unlike the celebs today)!

On working with Les & Skip: Les was a gas! One of the funniest I ever met, and I still rely on some of his famous quotes. He worked hard on that theatre and held down a job as a waiter at the Alta Mira to help make ends meet.

I loved the guy—he was a dynamo and also quite intelligent. He was great in the City as a director of dramas and I think he excelled at this. In the City, he was a partner of "Abbot Abrams Productions". They were an equity house and produced many excellent plays.

My understanding is that Abrams caused financial problems and the whole thing fell apart so it was a few years before Les got to Sausalito. Interesting that he went on to teach and direct at Mt. Diablo (Valley) College for many years, and I think you are aware of that part of his life.

Skip Rognlien was truly a gifted and lovable guy. He and I became very close. We were friends in SF, in Sausalito & in L.A. Everyone who ever met him adored him. He was highly intelligent and had so many incredible jobs in NYC, L.A., etc.
When he and a partner bought a B&B in Portland (his later years)—I visited about 3 times & always had a fab time. Very hard to accept that he died in a traffic accident earlier this year. He was 83 but a very young 83 at that!

Back of the Gate Playhouse. Richard Knablin photos 1961 
Got off the track with the last bit but on that note: I don't remember us all doubling up on duties at the theatre. Les had lots of minions who hung around the place and I'm sure they did most of the work.

Programs were always printed I believe and Herm Arrow who lived in Marin took all of our photos—gratis, I believe. Herm's son, David Arrow stayed a close friend of Skip's for many years. Not sure what the cost of tickets were—we played mostly on weekends and I remember no totally empty houses and Sat. nites, as expected, were packed! Not sure where the audience came from but you know many from the City and probably most from friends/relatives of the cast!

Hope this helps a bit, Mo -- I'll check off more on your list as time permits -- feel free to offer further questions or clarifications if you need them. Stay tuned!!!
I wrote back: Yes, please answer in any way you see fit. Hopefully it'll be fun too. Awesome, so far, and you're chronicling something that's never been done before! Feel free to expand...Another question: when you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Mo: It IS fun and a kind of "life review" for me as well. Hopefully some of it will be useful to you wherever it takes you.
Going back to your first question since you asked about childhood aspirations, etc. I first became interested in theater as a chum on our block in SF (Parkside district) had a mother who believed in a child becoming involved in ALL classes artistic!

Thru her mom, I heard about (get this): "Aunt Lolly's Children's Theatre"! It was a class this woman held in her home in the Sunset/ Parkside district. When I heard that this class was to be about "dramatics"—I had no idea what that meant. I thought maybe it had something to do with "Elocution" classes or?

Anyway—I went to the class and immediately "Miss Lolly" cast me in character roles (I had a deep voice for one so young). She was also doing a play "Little Women" at the local Orphanage. She cast me in the role of "Amy". I had no idea at all what I was doing. I must have been a pre-teen at that point.

Anyway—that was the first experience I had in theatre. I think it stuck but I didn't really get active again until I was in high school in SF and discovered the "Opera Ring" run by Irma Kay (sister of the illustrious Hershy Kay (google him). So it was set, I wanted to be an actress. I think I can actually say I became interested on becoming an actress at age 11.
In 1957 I think when I started City College—the director of the theatre, Dr. Michael Griffin—cast me as lead in many productions. That sealed the deal! And that is where Les Abbott came into the picture (I also did chorus & small roles in the Opera Ring (theatre in the round) in SF intermittently.

I also toyed with the idea of being a "detective" back in the day! (I know—errant gene I guess). Later, I became interested in being a psychologist (doesn't everyone)? AND an investigative reporter! (HUH)?

As a note about who inspired me in literature (if that was the case)—YES! It's interesting you mentioned it—I have always been a huge reader (gene from my mother) and in high school, I had a marvelous Eng. teacher but one book we were required to read was: "Pride and Predjudice". I hated that book!

Suffice to say—I've realized I'm ignorant when it comes to Jane Austen and wanted to figure out what all the hoopla was about. AND SO—I just finished reading the book and I was surprised that I actually enjoyed some of it. It was a struggle for me in some parts but I was happy to say I got thru it and was rooting for Mr. Darcy from the get-go!

That said, I think I'll leave it to the Brits movie versions of more of Austen in the future. One last thought: I wondered how sophisticated was my English teacher to think a 15 or 16 year old girl would be able to relate to that book? Wishful thinking I'll bet, or bets on a very advanced young teen?

So that's it for now, Mo! thanks for your interest and the "stirring up of my much-needed dusting off—gray matter! More to follow after a day or so...hope you have a relaxing and peaceful and PLEASANT weekend and hopefully cooler!!

Hey Mo:                                                 Aug 30
Sorry for the stop and start. I'm overloaded with stuff to do but will try to knock out more answers to your questions as often as I can (and at the risk of boring you to tears).

Did I live in Sausalito or commute: Lived with my parents in the foggy Parkside district of SF and an actor friend used to drive me to Sausalito. I also often took a bus or my dad, if available, would drive me there. I lived in Larkspur much later in my life— from 1999 to 2003.

BTW: used to enjoy shows at the little theatre there (name escapes me [Lark Theatre?] ). This group was in the heart of Larkspur and a talented group of actors as well. I "think" I may have heard of or seen James Dunn at that venue (or maybe not).

As for Kelle's house in Sausalito? I never knew where she lived actually. One of the actors rented a cool abode in the hills above Sausalito and I think that is where we attended some cast parties, get-togethers, etc.

As for the cast from the shows at the Gate: I know Skip, after hanging around L.A. for awhile, finally ended up in NYC —he had a couple of great jobs there and even partnered with 4 other guys and formed a company called: "Staging Techniques" (rented video/movie equipment).

They were based as I recall in NY but also here in Hollywood. After that and a gig with IBM in NY, Skip and another guy bought a charming old house in Portland, ORE. and ran a B&B there for a number of years—much later—he moved to the northern coast of [Wheeler] Oregon—built a cool house there with another partner, and was there until he died in March, this year.

Dik (Richard) Knablin, one of my funnymen babysitters
Richard (Dik) Knablin also lives in Northern Oregon now—he went to work for a school in Palo Alto I believe (after the Gate). He retired to North Bend. Dik, as you probably know wasn't in any of the shows but hung out with us all—he wanted to be a writer.

Other cast members: Ronnie De Benedictis moved to NYC and then years later moved back to Sausalito with his partner and they bought a gift shop in town that they ran for a number of years.

Stan Church had several jobs over the years and I lost touch with him along the way.

If there are others I've forgotten— I'll send you an update—trouble is I've been involved with so many shows, theatre peeps, etc. Hard to remember, let alone keep track of them all.

Where did I go after: OMG! This would take forever to explain. Directly after the Gate, however, I wound up in Hollywood. A quickie explanation: I was having fun being in the chorus and taking small parts in Les' production of "Of Thee I Sing" (not sure if Kelle did the costumes for this one but think she may have)? (Note bene: she did.)

I got a phone call while actually at the theatre from Jack Pierce (a director friend from SF). He was in Hollywood directing "The Boyfriend" and wanted me to come down for a part in the show. Since I thought this was probably a good opportunity, I packed up and moved. Unfortunately, Jack had been fired and the new director was keeping the gal who originally had been cast!

Here's an interesting note for you: Remember Litchfield's Bermuda Palms in San Rafael? Jack signed on to direct an original musical there titled: "It's Great to be Alive". Thru my buddy who was in the chorus, I got to join in as well. When that was over, Jack staged a musical review on the premises and I was one of the principals.

Next door to Litchfield's was a club called: "The Wye Club". It was sorta tacky but I signed on with another actor pal to do their melodramas on the weekends. It wasn't very exciting BUT we got PAID!!!

Signing off now, Mo, for part 3 (we're almost done). bye for now....v

I just finished reading this, Mo and I loved it all! It's neat that this piece filled in some blanks for me and I picked up a few names I can elaborate on later, tho not sure I'll have much to report. I was a friend of Bill Edwards aka Guy Edwards aka Guy Williams (I think)! He was such a talented guy and very handsome. I wonder what ever happened to him.

I also knew Vicki Frazier —I just loved her. She had a terrific Jazz voice and I heard she gave up singing to marry an airline pilot.
John Rose was one of my closest and bestest of friends. He was a brilliant actor but could do anything necessary in the theatre—editing music, running lights, doing photography, etc. He got some fantastic reviews in the LA Times on his acting performances. Unfortunately, he died of AIDS very early on. 

I was surprised to read that Les Abbott actually lived at the Alta Mira.  My understanding was he lived in a room above the theatre (Skip also used a room there as well for awhile). But since Les worked as a waiter at the Alta Mira—maybe they gave him a room before he wound up living in the theatre?

Re: Athena's son—intriguing that Les might have been the father but somehow I doubt it. I knew Les very well over the years and I think he would have let something slip about this child. Also, Athena was "very" popular with many guys—she may have even married somewhere along the line. I do remember, now, my chum in Sausalito telling me
she got very involved in political events there.
To be continued....

(Photo by Chris Gracida, Richard Knablin photos 1960)