Vivi in Italia

(Partial entry)

 

Clearly, what comes next is not about performing. It’s about adapting to Italian ways.

We settled in Genoa where I had got a job teaching English to Italian adults at The British School, and got an apartment in the city’s oldest section Centro Storico (Historic Center) a place full of life and vitality. Open balconies looked out over the tiny Piazza San Luca, where a small church had bell-ringing worship on Sundays, something we late sleepers hadn’t foreseen. Weekdays, the narrow streets below thronged with shoppers and visitors from morning to evening, people entering an appliance store,the cigarette- tobacco-candy-stamps-postcard shop (“Sale e Tabacchi” a national government-run enterprise controlling the legal sale of tobacco, salt and stamps) the narrow-framed place to buy women’s dresses with its “Entrata libera” (free admission)sign and the man hustling illegal cigarette lighters, calling out “Abbiamo la  bella Margherita”(“We have the beautiful Margarita”)while scanning the territory to make sure no Guardia di Finanza  (Customs Police) would spot him and haul him off. All that kept buzzing, humming and vibrating except from noon to 3pm during le ore di riposo (hours of rest). Plus Monday mornings when everything was closed, a fire-eating street performer who also escaped from chains in front of the very eyes of passers-by did his act, his exhortations reverberating across the walls of the buildings surrounding him. We loved it. Most importantly, in 15 minutes, I could walk to The British School from there.

Centro Storico w name

Genova centro storico w name our apartment

When Clegg hired me, he said that there was a procedure I had to follow, obtain a permesso di sogiorno (Permission to Stay)from La Polizia. He didn’t say why. But, as I later learned, his Genoa school, started in 1970, was not yet legally recognized by any local Italian authorities. And never was while I taught there. I had no contract. Payment in untaxed cash. I went immediately to the Questura, a branch of the national Police. Italy has two separate, equal police forces La Polizia and I Carabinieri. Municipal police are I Vigili Urbani and La Polizia Municipale. And don’t forget the above-named Customs Police.  At the Questura, I filled out multiple, much-stamped documents declaring that I was a journalist.

Helga got a genuine job. Clegg suggested that she look into working for the big international shipping and container company Sealand, a major presence in this biggest port in the nation. Being multi-lingual and already an experienced secretary, Helga was quickly hired. To start in October.

First, we needed to get thoroughly settled. This being Europe, we had to buy a refrigerator and stove plus pay someone to install light fixtures and a hot water heater. A strain on our finances.  We lacked furniture. All we had to start was the removable VW bed, the camping table and chairs plus a few kitchen utensils, mostly plastic. Camping indoors.

Helga’s brother-in-law, Peter, had told us that he’d be happy to give us furniture abandoned at his moving and storage company warehouse in Vienna. We’d have to import it. With documents. Helga’s future boss at Sealand gave tips on how to navigate through intricate Italian customs processes. The documents required, among other things, the name of the recipient, the “capo di famiglia.” Legally, that could not be me. I had no legal status. No evident financial responsibility. A living man not the head of the family? That didn’t belong in that culture. It took a lot of dramatic pleading and some Sealand recommendations to have a woman’s name listed as capo di famiglia.

After resolving that, Helga set off in the van for Vienna to choose furniture to be transported and acquire other things which her family would donate such as lamps, dishes, silverware. The one-day-990 km (620 miles) trip would take about 10 hours.

After lunch together in Verona, Helga drove north and I bought a train ticket to Genoa. The train departed Verona at 15:12. It never got me home. All passengers had to get off in Milano. Uno sciopero having stopped us in our tracks. Not, as it turns out, a rare event. “Sciopero” would be translated as “strike” except that such strikes often have been unlike American ones. They usually are work stoppages. Sometimes shorter than a day.

When an announcement came over the train loudspeaker upon arrival in Milano, I didn’t understand enough Italian to grasp why everyone, grumbling, was getting off. But a Genoa-bound newly- wed young woman spoke enough English to explain. She said that everyone would get rides home in I Pullman. Weren’t they some kind of trains? Sleeping cars? No. The words mean large inter-city buses. pullman Ours stopped outside every local train station all the way to Genova. I arrived home at 3 am.

It became clear that scioperi were most often to demonstrate the power and meaning of unions.  The reasons could be about working conditions, of course, or just statements to remind the government, which usually was financially invested in the big companies where they worked, that such unions had enough political significance to influence the frequent elections. There was even a regular phone number to call for an automated recording about which strikes were imminent in the next few days. Moreover, during a bank strike in Genoa, one bank stayed open so that no citizen would be completely inconvenienced.

We took on the roles of innocent foreigners, even after we became completely fluent in Italian, learning to smooth the way by seeming not to understand what authorities, such as police, were saying.  E.g. Driving in Genoa, I took a forbidden left turn, not having seen the sign prohibiting it. A vigilo urbano pulled me over. Some of what he said was not clear. I replied “I’m sorry. I don’t speak Italian.” He waved me off. Annoyed of course. An object lesson. At customs barriers, we’d pass as ignorant Germans, our license plate and seeming language puzzlement breezed us through. We regularly parked illegally half a block away from home at a piazza reserved for commercial vehicles and never got tickets. And one of The British School teachers, a Scot, Paul Fraser, had been driving a 1965 Citroën with an expired English license plate for at least five years without problems. We soon learned that foreigners often were considered welcome guests. Tourism = big business.   This was one of many ways we learned how things were done.

In 1973, after a visit to Vienna, Helga discovered that she has left some clothes at her mother’s home and asked to have it mailed to Genoa.

A few months later, the Italian postal system, a legend in its time, delivered an official much-document-stamped card, saying that the package must be retrieved at a Customs branch in the main post office, I took the notice there. Not being able to prove that I was Helga, the package was denied me.

At home, then, I wrote a two-page letter, in long-hand English, consistent with the Italian belief that more is better, identifying the writer as Helga, explaining that the clothes were vital to domestic life, especially the night gown, whose absence compromised our marital intimacy. She signed it. At the nearby Sale e Tabachi I bought multiple document stamps and used, one of my American X- Stampers (“Photographs-Do Not Bend of Fold”) stamping it multiple times, to make the letter as official-looking as possible. The package was handed over without question. Our marital intimacy thrived anew.

Despite such smoothing of the ways, that same year, two years after having filed for permesso di soggiorno at the Questura, I was called in. And told that I must leave Italy  I was required to depart within a week. My permesso had expired.  Leave? But, I explained, we had a home and my wife had a full-time job! How could that be? The Chief Superintendent said that he was very sorry. That was the law. Patiently, he added, that it might be possible for me to return sometime and perhaps get another permesso, so long as it was provable that I had left. Perhaps a stamped passport? he suggested. He regretted that he could not make it clearer. And could not lengthen the deadline.

Oh, I got it. Two days later, I drove to Lugano, Switzerland,(two and a half hours, 136 miles) having done so before to shop and had my passport stamped at the border. Back home, no one came to arrest me. Then, several weeks thereafter, seeing there was no urgency, I applied for a new permesso and got one.

In early 1974, a letter arrived saying that the Comune Di Genova was making a survey of apartments in Centro Storico to make certain that there were no fire hazards, requiring us to allow an inspector to visit. Finding that puzzling, we told friend and neighbor Jerry Reichman, a long-time American resident who earned his living as an Italian/ English translator. He thoroughly knew the intricacies of Italian ways. He was very amused.  “Oh, That’s actually the city tax office. It’s about yearly city residence taxes. Have you paid them anything?” Huh? We didn’t know we had to. “They’ll come in and look at how you live and ask seemingly friendly questions about what you own, almost as if it were a conversation. That way they can assess how much you should be paying. But they’ll never say that’s the reason for coming.”  What about inspecting for fire hazards? “Sure, they’ll make it look like that.”

An Inspector played his role. We played ours. When asked if we owned a car, we explained we had borrowed the VW from a German friend. It was never registered in our names. When we’d bought the van in Munich in 1971, we had no known address and weren’t even sure where we’d eventually settle.

About a year later, Italian procedural time, we were summoned to the tax office of the Comune. Legal papers showed that we owed 58,750 Lire, about $840, That was a shock, of course, Jerry had coached me, however, to contest the decision. Another performance: As an American journalist, this inhospitality was dismaying. That, as only with a free-lance income, my earnings were intermittent and that was the only work on which I could count. Moreover, we regularly sent money to my dear old mother back in the U.S. (That was true, a check for $25 on holidays and for her birthday.) None of this was verifiable with documents. No one ever asked  about my teaching. Helga’s work was documented, of course. The tax collector then asked what payment we thought would be reasonable. I suggested 30,000 lire. Instead of rejecting the idea or the offer, he gave us appeal papers to sign, saying that the office would contact us about its decision. We were bargaining.

When we preparing to return to the U.S in August 1975, a letter arrived telling us to pay 41, 700 lire no later than October 21st  We followed Italian traditions and ignored it. And left town.

OTHER PERFORMANCES

Jazz: Tony Scott, Joe Venuti, Stan Kenton

Tony Scott came to play in Genoa in the summer of 1972. His and Romano Mussolini’s Quartet had a weekend gig at the Estoril Beach Club. (Yes, “Beach,” a word in English. Hip) I’d read about them in Il Secolo XIX, the daily newspaper.

Arriving at the club, I had trouble recognizing Scott, but the clarinet gave him away. Photos on my LPs showed him with combed-back black hair, beginning to thin in the 1964 one with Shinichi Yuize and Hozan Yamamoto, enduringly famed “Music for Zen Meditation.”  By the time he was visible in person he was totally bald and had a long, scraggly black beard.    Tony_Scott_1978 year

During a break, I introduced myself, telling Scott how much I’d admired him and that I’d often broadcast his LPs in Philadelphia, Atlantic City and New York. He was delighted, of course, especially to encounter an American fan in Italy. We set up a taped interview for following day. He asked to meet at the club at 7 pm before warming up for the 8:30 show.

You might legitimately ask what I’d do with the interview. I had no radio show, And didn’t anticipate any in the future. Certainly not in Italy. With current intention of returning to the U.S. It didn’t matter.

But I did return. And hosted a jazz program for RAI.

Tony and I really hit it off. He was very impressed with how much I knew about him (“How’d you get into my life ?”) And my aunt Erminie’s connection to Shinichi Yuize solidified the connection. She managed Yuize’s U.S. career for about ten years before she passed away in 1969, giving copies of “Music for Zen Meditation” to potential concert presenters. Music-For-Zen-Meditation It turned out to be a regular source of Scott’s income for years. He, meanwhile, had been internationally peripatetic starting in the early 60s with rare visits to the U.S.

In our interview he said that he loved playing with Mussolini (of course) and that the pianist’s name sometimes got them club dates, given that people were curious about the son of the dictator (and violinist.) But it was clear that sometimes that name would turn away potential audiences.   romano-mussolini- w nameCertainly there were many jazz fans in Italy, In fact there was il Louisiana Jazz Club in Genoa. For such people, Tony’s name meant something. He pointed out that he was actually Italian himself, “I’m Sicilian and proud of it!” A way of challenging the idea that to be Sicilian in Northern Italy was seen as equal to being an American red-neck. Actually, Tony was Italo-American, born Anthony Sciacca in Morristown, N.J.  His parents were Sicilian immigrants.

After we finished the interview, he suggested that we keep in touch, giving  me his phone number in Rome, asking for mine, He also said that he’d let me know when he’d play again along my part of the Italian Riviera. Plus an invitation to drop in on him and his family the next time we were in Rome.

Mussolini sounded good. Sometimes, when he moved his head, it looked as if he was jutting out his jaw reminiscent of photos of his father.

The next spring Tony called, saying that he had a gig in San Remo, a famed festival location on the Italian Riviera, west of Genoa. He wanted to hang out, and see more of Genoa the day before the gig and to meet Helga. We invited him to stay overnight in the spare bed in our office.

Arriving at our door, he had no instruments with him. “They’re in my van, under the sopraelevata.” That section of highway runs above streets in the port, teeming with trucks loading and unloading merchandise to and from warehouses or to be carted into the narrow alleys of Centro Storico where no trucks or cars could maneuver.

“Gee, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said. “This neighborhood is not all that safe. I’ve had our van broken into twice.”

“What did they steal?”

“Nothing. It’s totally empty.”

You’d be better off doing what I do. Come on. I’ll show you.”

The inside of his scuffed FIAT van had broken bottles, torn cardboard cartons a few rags and crumpled newspapers scattered all over the inside. “No one thinks there could be anything worth stealing there, right?” he asked.  “My saxes and clarinet are in their cases underneath that fake floorboard. They couldn’t be any safer.”

“But you could bring them up to our place.”

“Nah, I don’t feel like carrying them. They’ll be all right for the rest of the day and tonight I’m sure. I’ve never had any break-ins Rome.”

While we were walking in the evening along Via San Luca, running by our Piazza, a few shops were closing, the owners pulling down and locking the iron gates as usual. During the night, by the way, hired patrolling watchmen would stop by, look in and put self-identifying slips of paper under the gates to show that they’d been there. And, as was sometimes true, at part of this evening, babbling men were clustered around a high cardboard box on the paving stones, evidently watching and participating in a card game, in which one man was flipping cards as if trying to fool anyone naïve enough to bet on winning laid-out cash waiting for a lucky winner.

“Look at that!” Tony laughed. “These guys are playing Three Card Monte. That scam is centuries old!”

Meanwhile the five men around the box kept up a constant dialogue as if they couldn’t hear or understand anything Tony was saying. Since part the game is to make it look as if an innocent bystander has figured out a way to trick the trickster, one man turned to me with a wink to show me how he was going to win. He folded over the edge of one card. Meanwhile another man kept looking up and down the street as if checking to make sure no police were around.

“OK! Watch this!” Tony said. “That guy with the cards is going to unbend the presumed marked card and replace it so fast, you wouldn’t notice!” I didn’t notice. Meanwhile the cast of this performance kept on babbling, as if we were now a part of the show. We watched for a little longer but no real potential victim showed up.

Tony and I drove separately to San Remo. That weekend he also had a gig an hour west in Monte Carlo.

When I arrived at the small beach-front club ahead of the performance, it was clear that Romano Mussolini was not the pianist. No surprise, actually. Tony had told me that he and Mussolini sometimes had separate gigs. Backstage in the tiny dressing room, he ran an electric razor over his bald head.

Meanwhile, recorded music was playing within the club. Not straight-ahead jazz, but rather something that sounded like a saxophone electronically modified to create echoes of itself. Later, I realized that that was John Klemmer using an echoplex, a then-new concept. Tony grabbed his baritone sax and went into the club, playing his own notes to mingle with Klemmer’s. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

The last time we saw each other was in 1974 during a spring trip to Rome. Tony invited us to his house to hang out and, later, to have dinner. I met Tony’s two sweet pre-teen daughters. Nina introduced herself as “Nina Sciacca Scott” and then called over her younger sister Monica.Monica Sciacca w name Monica would later have a jazz singing career as Monica Shaka http://www.monicashaka.com/monicashaka/Home.html. Nina was the inspiration for “Nina’s Dance” which Tony recorded in 1969 during one of his rare late 1960s visits to the U.S.

Their mother, Pauline, asked Helga and me if we liked Chinese food. Being Chinese , she wanted to cook some for us. What a delight! We had no genuine Chinese restaurant in Genoa, only one where Chinese cooks created something more Italian than Asian. And, except for one good Chinese meal during a visit to Bologna, there were no other Italian options about which we knew. Actually, our Italian friends were shocked that we’d eat Chinese food in what many consider the cuisine capitol of their nation.

I told Pauline that I wanted to learn to cook Chinese but that I hadn’t been able to find many special ingredients in Genoa. So she took us shopping with her to an open market filled with Asians, where we could find many elements I wanted. I loaded up. Then, preparing dinner, she taught me techniques.

Not long after, Helga and I went to the U.S. for a visit. We came back carrying extra luggage, clothing masquerading sauces, fresh ginger and a great Chinese knife. Plus a few cookbooks. At Zurich airport there were no customs problems. And none driving across the border into Italy.

It took some doing for our Italian friends to try my new-found cooking skills. Not because it was me. But because of the alien ingredients and the strange blending of vegetables with meat or fish and unusual sauces. They were nervous and only, on reflection, delighted.

As for Tony, when we left his sweet family and his warm hospitality he gave us his newest LP, one side his, one side Mussolini’s; he was trying to market it during gigs.  It sounded great but I had no idea how I’d ever broadcast it. I did so a few years later, though. On Italian radio.

That fall another famous jazz musician had a gig in Genoa. He too was Italo-American. Actually he might have been born in Italy. Venuti w name Joe Venuti was not only a legendary violinist; he was also renowned for varying his stories about where and when he was born. Lecco, Italy (not far from Milan) was one such place. Another was on-board a ship heading to the U.S. And Philadelphia was often mentioned. The years? 1896 to 1904. Whatever the exact year was the real one, he was close to my father’s age.

When he came to town to play at  il Louisiana Jazz Club in January 1975  Louisiana Jazz Club I had had no jazz show for several years and was not following what was going on in jazz. Most of what I knew about him went back to the Paul Whiteman/Bix Beiderbecke days, although I did have his 1960 Golden Crest LP of  Gershwin’s music with pianist Ellis Larkins.  There had been a major comeback in his career, stretching back  several years.

I later learned that he had two 1970s recording sessions in Milan with Italian musicians. One session featured three performers with him the same year we met : Paolo Tomelleri on tenor, Tony Parisi playing bass, and  drummer Giorgio Vanni. Also present were Nando DeLuca at the piano and Gianni Coscia with his accordion. (I kept written notes.)

Venuti talked about his early days and about how he came up with the idea of playing jazz on the violin. According to his story, he’d been on the last stand in the second violin section of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1921 (“about age 15”) studying with concertmaster Thaddeus Rich and felt that didn’t look like a promising career, causing him to be interested in a popular music career. Was that true? He didn’t seem to remember Stokowski was the conductor. And to not remember one of the most famous conductors ever seems odd.  FYI: Venuti’s history would mean that he had been there four years before my father joined the Orchestra in 1925.

Of course, we discussed Venuti and Eddie Lang’s influence on the Stephane Grappelli/Django Reinhardt groups about ten years thereafter. I pointed out that I regularly heard Grappelli’s recordings on nearby Radio Monte Carlo, but never heard Venuti’s. His only comment was that he thought Grappelli always sounded great.

Other jazz musicians who turned up were Stan Kenton and his orchestra for a one-night stand. I went backstage, proud of being a hip American who knew their music and knew the city. Backstage, I asked some band members if they’d like to see some of the city sights. “Nah. Just tell us where there’s a good restaurant near here,” the bassist said. A classic story. A one-night gig. Who’s got time for tourism?

GS on stage. Not on the radio.

In 1974 I actually performed myself.  At Genoa’s British Club. It came about through fellow American Don Ferguson who had been a teacher with me at The British School. Don knew the Club manager. The two of them thought it might be rather droll to stage a one-evening club performance of Tom Stoppard’s one-act The Real Inspector Hound.HoundThe manager drafted a few club members to take supporting roles, while Don and I played the leads, with, of course, acceptable English accents. My role: Moon. Don’s: Birdboot. No director. It was quite informal. The audience included a few fellow-teachers and others from The Overseas School (more about that  later). Certainly, given that Genoa was a major seaport, there had been other native English-speakers in town to swell the scene.  All in all, about 20 people sat around us in comfortable chairs and on sofas to witness our endeavor. Were we any good? Possibly. There were no reviews to stir any recollections now.

That was the only time in Italy that I had an acting role.

There was a brief, tentative attempt to be on the radio. Helga and I frequently listened to Radio Monte Carlo, whose multiple signals were both in French and Italian. Mostly we loved the jazz on the French station. I’d had a wild fantasy that I could become a d.j. on the Italian station.  And the headquarters, after all, were not very far away, west of the Italian Riviera, 180 or so kilometers, about two hours on an Autostrada.  Why not? I was an experienced jazz d.j. with an good library of LPs which had been shipped to us by then.

So, after a phone contact in the summer of 1973 with station director Noel Coutisson. I got an invitation to drop by and bring an audition tape. I slapped together the best I could using my LPs and recording my voice on the only recording equipment at home, a cassette deck.

The station was as elegant as any I’d ever seen, recalling my visit to the broadcasting OZ of WNEW about 15 years before. Radio Monte Carlo w name Coutisson, speaking impeccable English, was very friendly and courteous, asking if I’d want to settle in Monte Carlo, should he think that I’d fit in on his station. The idea of living in that slick, high-rise-dominated city didn’t feel all that attractive really. It had none of the personality of everything I loved about Italy. I didn’t say so, though. I said that I was more interested in having a show once a week, since a daily drive each way of two and half hours would be hard to manage.

I left the tape and he promised to get back in touch with me .After we parted I stopped in one of the many nearby casinos where I won 40 francs, about $18. (Monte Carlo is geographically and culturally most tied to France.)

Coutisson never contacted me and I never followed up.

In the audience

As for Italian radio, it never went further than listening (until 1979 when I had my own weekly taped jazz show on a Genoa station.)  We often enjoyed classical music programs on RAI 3 where that was the feature.

When starting to listen, we also were amused and entertained by RAI 2 which had quite a variety of programs. Most fun were easy-to-understand talent contests and quizzes, with live audiences. “Corrida” had amateur singers whose audiences cheered or jeered contestants, then voted for the winners.  In “Le piace il classico” contestants had to answer questions about classical music. Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony was the show’s theme music.

Both had prizes in gettoni d’oro (gold tokens). Since Italian law prevented gambling (uh-huh) no government entity, such as radio, could pay in cash. So the prizes (200,000 lire in one case, ca $250 then, $1,425 in 2015) were in gold coins equal to that value in gold at the time of the award.  gettone-oroThe award would not be sent until six months later, when the recipient could sell the gold at the then-current price.  Selling to the Bank of Italy was not advised; it didn’t offer good rates compared to private/business buyers.  These complications were characteristic of Italian baroque ways of doing things, given fractured history and separate regional identities where independence and individuality were prized.

My favorite was a radio play designed, it seemed, to teach English. The first episode of “Tarzan”  mixed a cartoon-like dramatization, with sound effects and music, involving occasional interspersing of English phrases in the narration where the action stopped and a woman narrator said, for example, “Tarzan was the son of an English lord,”  followed by a male narrator: “Tarzan era un figlio di un lord inglese.” Then she and he took turns repeating each word several times, adding such enrichments as “son, daughter” (pronounced “dowter”) “figlio, figlia.” tarzan-cover   Other useful English phrases included “The father of Tarzan was sailing to Africa” “Il padre di Tarzan navigava verso l’Africa” supplemented by repetitions of “mother-madre”  and “ a sailor saved the parents of Tarzan” “un marinaio salve i genitori di Tarzan.”  Actually none of these three translations were completely literal, as it turns out. The villain of the piece was growling “Black Michael ” who spoke only Italian. Tarzan narrated in Italian as well, as if an old man. The show ended with a rock song in English with a young male voice singing “My name is Tarzan.”  I could find no source for it on-line. Years later there was such a song in Disney’s 1999 Tarzan. The naiveté of the whole radio show was such fun.

There were other radio plays and many deliberately back-to-back commercials in clusters, often read by  men and women duos. The cluster concept was very common in state-run broadcasting in much of Europe then.

Il Teatro Comunale was a short walk away from our apartment through the narrow alleys and streets to Via XX Settembre. There, being a journalist, press tickets were available for a performance by Genova’s Teatro Comunale Opera Company of Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. Carlo Bergonzi was the visiting star. I’d always admired his recordings but neither of us were much devoted to live opera, often finding staging and acting stilted and forced. So we couldn’t help laughing at Bergonzi’s hammy movements, despite his fine singing. That didn’t endear us to people sitting nearby. We loved the music.

Another time we went to a concert there by l’Orchestra Sinfonica di Genova. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” was on the program. What we most noticed was how the string sections never bowed in unison. It seemed so Italian to be independent and personal. The sound was OK.

One of the first movies we saw in Genova was Gli insospettabili (The Unsuspected Ones) starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. It was actually Sleuth.  The dialogue was all dubbed into Italian and we understood virtually none of it. We did enjoy a toothpaste commercial, though, before the feature started. It was for Close Up, pronounced in the voice-over as Cloh-zay Oop.

In the next couple of years, more fluent in Italian, we saw two other dubbed films. Hitchcock’s Frenzy which kept the title. We exited the theatre truly shaken. i soppravissuti And I Sopravvissuti  (The Survivors) aka Soylent Green, equally understandable and disturbing.

(more excerpts)

I was fired at The British School when another American teacher and I tried to organize the staff into a collective group to get better pay. I succeeded, however, in keeping many of the people I’d taught as my personal clients.

I also started teaching at The Overseas School where children of American, English and others took classes. It was only as a substitute but I loved every minute and decided that that was what I wanted to do with my life. When there was staff opening it was not offered not me but to a young Englishwoman who’d been teaching at The British School. I was told that one main reason for choosing her was because she had a teaching certificate which I didn’t have.

I could have gone on being a substitute, of course. Instead Helga and decided to return to the U.S. so I could get a teaching certificate. With plans thereafter to return to our beloved Italy. We did come back. Only as visitors.

We took a passenger freighter to New York, bringing along only essential household goods in the hold. Most of my LPS, for example, were left in storage.

Why New York? Helga’s former boss had said, when we had left for Europe, that there would always be a job for her with him should she want it. She contacted him and he affirmed his offer.

Jazz Plus a Few Other Cats

Bill Watson was on QXR in 1976 when I was added to the substitute announcer list once more,  not that we ever encountered each other at the station. He had a weekly pre-recorded program sponsored by American Airlines. C.E.O. C.R. Smith had much admired Bill’s NCN broadcasts and personality and, not only paid to have him host three hours once a week on WQXR, but also hired him to select and announce all the classical music recordings heard on American’s in-flight music services.

I’m sure QXR required Bill to tape his show to be certain that Bill would not do something radical on the air for which he’d become so well-known during 15 years at NCN.  I heard one such program  while I had an evening shift. Bill said something about having received a letter from a listener whose name he mentioned. That was all he said about that person, no thanks, no comment,  moving on to announce his next music selection. Had this been the old days, he would have most likely excoriated the listener on the air for something in the letter. I asked the engineer on duty if Bill’s comments had been edited. “Yeah. All the time,” he answered.

Matt Edwards says that when Bill no longer had the American Airlines broadcasts, he was out of radio permanently and told Matt that he’d become a janitor at a New Jersey shopping mall. A New York Times 1992 obituary said that Bill died at age 77 in a Westchester County nursing home. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/12/21/nyregion/william-watson-eccentric-host-of-classical-music-is-dead-at-77.html

At QXR I became friendly with Earl Bradsher Jr. (aka Earl Bradley) who regularly broadcast weather features sponsored by Con Ed. Earl was one of the few out gay men I knew and was critical of closeted others such as those at WNCN. He was planning to start a classical music radio station in St. Petersburg and kept urging me to consider becoming his program director. Since I had no intention of leaving New York, when he moved to start up WXCR  (Tampa Bay Concert Radio), he asked me to record station IDs for him. Which I did gratis. In December 2015 I searched for his name on-line and found it in a 1983 piece in the St. Petersburg Times. Clearly at that time he’d started the station. What happened thereafter is yet to be found.

QXR dropped me from the substitute list when I went full-time at NCN.

Reunited with Jazz

At BAI I got to renew my weekly American Music series, again featuring contemporary concert/ “classical” music, jazz, film scores and cast recordings of musicals. Since at least half of my 1960s LPs were in still storage in Genova, I was in touch with record companies and began to re-build my library. Also there were a lot of new modern music LPs at NCN, never to be aired. I incorporated them into my broadcasts with David’s tacit acceptance because they never left the station and were only played on NCN equipment. Bob Richer OKd my taping there.

There were a few pop records coming into NCN. Among them was one by Gino Vanelli, Canadian pop/rock singer/writer who’d created a symphonic piece “Pauper in Paradise” which had a lot of appeal and seemed just right for the BAI program where any kind of musical cross-over fit right in. GinoWith that and other Vanelli discs, I became a fan.

This was a time when jazz musicians were into the trends of what sold best, latino sessions, fusion, funky hard-bop. Sure, I liked some of that and programmed it, but the mainstream was still my stream.

Of course, substantial audiences remained for much of what jazz greats were still doing in person but on fewer records than in the late 50s and early 60s. Plus there were  younger musicians who were carrying on such traditions, especially those debuting on newly-emerging Concord Records such as Scott Hamilton and Warren Vaché, both of whom I interviewed (Hamilton in 1981 and Vaché in 1985).

During that time Lionel Hampton had started his own label “Who’s Who In Jazz” great sessions where Hamp performed separately, with Dexter Gordon, Woody Herman. JJ Johnson, Charles Mingus Gerry Mulligan, Woody Herman and more. Hamp LPImpressive line-ups and lots of good playing. The production of the LPs left an indelible impression. They were the sloppiest such product ever seen, with misspellings of artists’ names, strange and varying typefaces, wrong composer credits for some of the songs, including Hampton’s taking credit for something called “Short Ribs” which was really Louis Armstrong’s “Struttin’ With Some  Barbecue.”  In one instance, a jacket cover made it look as if  Coleman Hawkins was on the recording. He wasn’t. Margaret Mercer was listed as a co-producer for some LPs; she had been an assistant to David Dubal around that time and later became Program Director at WQXR.

I hosted a jazz radio show in Italy, taped at NCN.

In 1978 I went on a holiday revisiting Genoese friends from the time when I’d lived among them. They included painter Gianni Ghiazza. When I told him about my jazz shows in New York he introduced me to Marco Remondini who had recently started his own radio station Radio Genova Sound.Radio Genova Sound English words. Very hip.

Marco had started the station in 1975 at a time when RAI owned and controlled all Italian broadcasting. His was one of a number of private stations that started cropping up around that time. They weren’t legal. But, since no government agency made any moves to close them down, such owner/operators continued broadcasting based on the widely- held Italian modus operandi that anything not officially prohibited was tacitly acceptable. Soon the private stations were being fined as unauthorized businesses but still not prohibited from broadcasting. They opted to pay fines and several decided to appeal their rights legally. In 1976, the Italian Constitutional Court, in a case involving a Florence station, held that the RAI monopoly was unconstitutional regarding local broadcasting. Radio Genova Sound was officially on the air. http://www.citi.columbia.edu/elinoam/articles/Broadcasting_in_Italy-Overview.pdf. These stations called themselves “public” radio to contrast with state radio. They also sold advertising, as did RAI.

Marco and I discussed producing a monthly two-hour bi-lingual show on tape and mailing it. He could only afford to pay me 40,000 lire per show (ca $50 then and about $190 in 2015) plus mailing costs. He thought it was equally hip to have someone on his station speaking some English. This is a characteristic intro: Allora, qui abbiamo un disco da Duke Ellington. This is the 1959 orchestra with Johnny Hodges, sax alto as soloist e dopo Jimmy Rushing canta and Dizzy Gillespie plays la tromba. The titles “Fillie Trillie” e “Hello Little Girl.”

The show was called “Jazz Da New York con Gordon.” It was a hell of a lot of fun.

On a second trip in 1980, I decided to take two boxes of tapes, 12 inch reels recorded at 7.5 ips, which equals one hour of the show per tape. I was carrying six months’ of shows and traveling by train from Germany, as opposed to my previous visit in a rented car. Arriving at the Italian border, two members of the Guardia di Finanza  (Customs Police) asked me what was in the boxes.   Guardie di Finanza col nomeIn Italian. Stupidly I replied in Italian, forgetting my old practice of speaking English when confronted by Italian authorities. Usually in such instances I was left to go on my way, being considered thereby to be a tourist i.e guest or because the authorities usually spoke very little English. This time I was taken off the train and questioned about the legality of transporting unauthorized recorded material, as if it were a product for sale. (At least I was smart enough not to mention that Marco paid me for the shows.) The Guardia guys felt that I should pay customs fees. But after some friendly discussion, given that I was an American and could prove it, and that I didn’t actually live in Italy, they decided to let me go and put me on the next train.

Then in 1981 I met Carla Verdacci of RAI during a party at a friend’s apartment. I mentioned my on-going show. She suggested that I send her a copy of one of the tapes; she might be interested enough to propose it to RAI back in Rome. She liked it. She pitched it. “Jazz da new York con Gordon” became a monthly RAI feature all across Italy for two years until I was no longer in New York. At  double the payment rate.

Reversing directions, two close Italian friends came to visit in 1976 and were eager to hear Woody Allen play his jazz clarinet. They knew the dates and the place. Allen appeared at Michael’s Pub on Monday nights. We went. His group of musicians, some of whom were familiar to me on records,  got into traditional New Orleans style. Woody on clarinetAllen sounded quite capable but not distinctive. But my friends didn’t care about that; they just loved being there. After one set, Allen took a chair on the stage and, sitting by himself, shook hands and held brief conversations sequentially with any people in the audience who wanted that personal contact. Sort of a Santa Claus line. My friends were thrilled to have the chance to speak with him, me translating. He was courteous and polite.

I did a few interviews for my BAI program. Two stood out. One with Ruby Braff. The other with Gerry Mulligan.

Braff was my all-time favorite trumpet/cornet player and I’d cherished his recordings for more than 25 years. He was appearing in the Newport Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall in 1980. Having never seen nor heard him in person I was looking forward to that. And decided to try to get an interview. With his phone number from the Festival publicity office, we made an appointment to meet at his apartment in the Bronx. Ruby w name

It was clear from the start that he was delighted for the attention. He was jolly and outgoing. We both had a great time. When the taping finished he gave me a couple of two new LPS he’d recorded in England. One was on the Pizza Express label, “Braff Plays Bing.” He told me a story Crosby told about himself. In the early 70s when Crosby was in his, a New York taxi asked him “Didn’t you used to be Bing Crosby?” To which he replied, “Nah. Must be some other fella.”

Braff also told me a Benny Goodman story. Braff had played in some of Benny’s 1950s groups, in person and on records. Eleanor Steber had gone to Goodman’s house to go over some music they were planning to perform together. Steber told B. G that the room felt very cold. Benny agreed. Excused himself and left the room.  And returned wearing a sweater. Without further comment. Steber told this to people she knew.

Ruby and I became something like friends. He suggested that we keep in touch and that we should hang out together. He’d call me. Which he did. He invited me to join him at Jimmy Ryan’s where one of his favorite trombonists Vic Dickenson was playing. They’d had some great sessions together for Vanguard Records in the 50s. Being a big fan of Dickenson, I looked forward to going.

I’d never been in Ryan’s, despite its reputation. It usually featured traditional jazz, aka Dixieland. Even though I loved such music along with all other styles, going to any club was not something I did. Ruby and I stood at the bar talking during the music. Conversation under such circumstances seemed normal. This was not a venue for a serious concert.  At a break, Vic Dickenson came over to the bar near us. Vic w nameDespite his vigorous outgoing manner on the stage, he looked serious. “I’d like to go over and tell him how much I admire his playing,” I told Ruby.

“Don’t embarrass him. Don’t embarrass him. He hates having to play here, ”  Ruby replied. Then Ruby went over to Dickenson, wordlessly shook hands and returned to me.

Soon we were conversing about musicians playing in clubs, competing with all the noise of talking people. “They’re listening,” he said.  “They hear what we’re doing. And I know when to play softly to get their attention, if I want it. That’s what it’s like in clubs.”

A month before, I’d gone on a Thursday evening to hear pianist Roland Hanna play in a small club near Washington Square. There were only a few people there to eat, drink and listen. Always a Hanna admirer, I was once again impressed with his gentle, lyrical pieces. Roland Hanna w name Clearly a party of six, really partying, wasn’t listening. Gabbing. Laughing loudly. All of a sudden in the middle of one piece. Hanna got up from the keyboard and went to a table by himself. Going over to him, I told him how much I liked his playing on records and just a few minutes ago before he’d stopped. “Yeah,” he said, sadly, “but how could you hear it?”  I replied that I could hear it and asked why he walked away from the keyboard. “What’s the point?” he asked. “I can’t compete with that.”

Telling Braff about that, Braff commented “Jesus Christ! What did he expect? It’s a club.”

And we talked too about Charles Mingus who’d eventually given up such live gigs, laughing together at  a Mingus’ recording, “Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus” where Mingus wanted to give the feeling of a club date and begins by telling the audience how to behave.

Another time Ruby invited me to one of his small clubs gigs in Fort Lee. He performed with a guitarist and a bassist and kept loudly calling out key changes after a few lines of notes in the same tune. It was very distracting.

In April 1982 he invited me and my girlfriend/eventual wife Hannelore to hear him at The Church of the Heavenly Rest on 5th Avenue at 90th Street. Pianist Dick Hyman performed with him, a pairing with great results already on records. Dick-Hyman-AP w name That afternoon Hyman played the church’s pipe organ. The idea for both of them was not entirely new; Hyman had recorded in 1977 on a studio organ with Braff in a set of Fats Waller-connected tunes (“Fats Waller’s Heavenly Jive.”). This time Braff was facing downstage, his back to Hyman, whose back was to his. They played magnificently. How did they coordinate without seeing each other? I asked Hyman afterwards. He showed me two mirror’s he’d set up on the organ wings.

Braff had told me by then he hated playing in such out of the way places as that one in Fort Lee, but that he always tried to avoid big clubs where there was a lot of smoking; he was developing emphysema, making it increasingly difficult to get the most out of his horn. FYI: He died of it in 2003, more than twenty years after we’d connected.

Having left New York for New Mexico later that year, I didn’t try to stay in touch. Frankly I made no effort to do so, just as I’d neglected to sustain a similar friendship with Tony Scott.

However, just a few years later, Ruby was appearing at one of Dick Gibson’s famed jazz parties at Denver’s Hyatt Regency Hotel which I regularly attended. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB117434857526842076.

Waiting for a set to begin, while standing in a hallway, drummer Bobby Rosengarden walked by. I recognized him from when he’d played with Woody Allen at Michael’s Pub. “Hello Bobby,” I said. “You’ve played with Ruby Braff, right? “ He said that he had. “Is Ruby anywhere around? I’m a friend of his.”

“Yeah?” Rosengarden replied. “Probably the only friend he’s got.”  And walked off.

I soon found Ruby in the hall, talking to bassist Michael Moore. I went over to them.

“Hello, Ruby!” I said. “I’m Gordon Spencer. Remember? We met in New York.”

“Yeah. How you doing Gordon? Good to see ya.” And he turned back to Michael Moore. Dismissed.

Certainly my feelings were hurt. But I let it pass. I’m sure Ruby had met a lot of people in New York and elsewhere. Given that this was at least three years since we’d last been in touch, it might have been natural that he didn’t remember me.

But what did Rosengarden mean?  In time, I learned that Ruby was becoming more and contentious with every one he knew. He accumulated quite a negative reputation, being called by some colleagues “Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hyde” no doubt also inspired by one his favorite Robert Louis Stephenson book.  You can likewise see him being nasty in an interview with Brit Jim Godbolt. lhttps://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2014/12/05/jim-godbolt-interviews-ruby-braff. However, there Braff is also full of praise for many jazz greats and turns out to be eventually quite congenial.  It’s a great interview.

Interviews with musicians can often turn out to be challenging. Even those of us who come fully prepared have to expect many variables. Some musicians are so outgoing and friendly, such as Louis or Duke, about whose interviews I wrote above, that the interviewer is almost superfluous.  Yet there are other artist who are not that articulate, or are distracted, or bored, or even annoyed especially when dealing with the same questions that they consistently get asked.

My interview with Gerry Mulligan had a much different feeling than the one with Ruby. In January 1981 I’d seen an article in New York Magazine about Mulligan, mentioning that one of his quartets was to play at Eric’s in February. I called the club to see if I could get Mulligan’s phone number so as to set up an interview.  That made it possible to call Mulligan. I told him that I’d admired him for years and that I often played his records on WBAI, WNCN, WOND, WFLN. Politely he said he wasn’t much available because he was working on writing new orchestral arrangements for a concert with the CBC Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in June. But that, if he had some free time later in the month, he’d get back to me.

As the date for the gig at Eric’s became imminent, not having heard from him, I decided to call again.  Responding, said, “Well, as I think I told you I’m really busy. But, all right, if you want to come up to my home in Darien, I guess I can spare about an hour. But no more. Would that be acceptable?”

Yeah, if I’d thought about it better, I might have realized that this was something of an imposition. But I was so eager to talk with him that I didn’t want to miss the chance. It was clear from what I’d recently read that Mulligan was, off the stand, an intellectually alive person with many interests in all kinds of things including (like me) classical Indian music and yoga, theatre, literature, movies. I felt as if we might bond. Well, anyway, I hoped we would. That was certainly naïve.

Arriving at his house, I was warmly welcomed by his wife Franca.  Mulligans w nameWe exchanged a few words in Italian and she led me into their living room. Mulligan told me (again) that he hoped we could keep the talk to no more than an hour.

Every so often in the conversation I felt that he was a little put off by the questions, not that they were in any way personal, but rather, as if, the answers were so obvious that they needn’t be asked.

It wasn’t a bad interview by any means, but listening to it later, he sounded impatient at times. I concluded that he hadn’t really wanted to be bothered but had felt it was an obligation, being, after all, somebody famous who needed to not be dismissive of the press.

We ran into each other again in February 1995 at a gig. He fronted a quartet playing in Milwaukee where I was living, hosting jazz shows and was part of advisory board for a series of jazz performances at the Pabst Theater. I was the m.c.  I didn’t expect him to recognize me after 14 years but went up to him to say hello and to remind him of that encounter. Remembering that Franca spoke Italian I thought it would be cool to talk to him in Italian because he must have known some. When I started speaking, he looked totally unsettled, as if facing an obstacle that threw him off-balance. I guess he didn’t understand. Apologizing in English, and told him my name. Then,  when introducing him on stage, we shook hands as if old friends. It had never occurred to me that backstage he could have been nervous before a performance. So many people are. Why shouldn’t he be?

Clearly we never bonded.

In 1978 I’d gone to a jazz concert at Carnegie Hall. Stan Getz was on stage. (“That’s some kind of genius,” Ruby said to me once.)  Before Getz started playing, he went over to the microphone stand then walked away from it.  Calling out backstage, he said, “Would someone take this thing away from here? We don’t need it.  This is Carnegie Hall for Chrissakes!”  A stagehand came and moved the microphone to the side of the stage. Many of us cheered. I vowed then I’d find a way to tell him of my admiration.

In late June 1982 I had that chance. He was to appear at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in a reunion concert with Jimmy Giuffre, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. The “Four Brothers” shared the bill with younger, further-out guys, the World Saxophone Quartet: Hamiet Bluiett, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and David Murray.

Through the concert promoters, I’d been able to phone Getz and he said to meet him backstage after he, Giuffre, Cohn and Sims had practiced out front.

They ran through a few arrangements, deciding who would solo where, Getz then came to where I was sitting, leaving the other men still on stage talking, occasionally playing a few notes, as if trying out things.

He seemed gentle, almost serene. stan getz w name Quite a contrast to ebullient Ruby Braff and opaque Gerry Mulligan. I told Getz of my admiration for his Carnegie Hall comment. He smiled. “Yeah. You’d think they would have known better. Horowitz wouldn’t have had a mic.”

I took my tape recorder out of a bag and plugged in a microphone. Immediately a tall, grey-bearded man in sloppy street clothes walked over to us.

“What are you guys doing?” he challenged.

“I’m going to interview Mr. Getz,” I replied, showing him the microphone and the tape machine.

“Says who?”

“What do you mean?”

“You have permission from IATSE?” ( The backstage tech union.)

“Gee, no. Do I need that?”

“Goddamn right you do!”

“Well, I’m an AFTRA member.”

“And I with the AFM,” Stan added.

“Look,” the IATSE guy said, getting pissed off. “I don’t care what unions you belong to. This is an IATSE space. You can’t record here. We do all the recording. You know, I could confiscate that equipment you’ve got. So you better the hell out of here right away if you know what’s good for you.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know.”

“Well, you should have.”

I was flustered and distressed, not able to think what to suggest next to Stan as we walked out of the building. Upon exiting, we ran into bassist Marc Johnson who just happened to be passing by. Johnson had played with Bill Evans at the same 1978 Carnegie Hall as Getz. Stan hugged him tenderly, said something I couldn’t hear and we continued heading toward Columbus Avenue.

I knew that Getz had used an echoplex a few times and I’d had felt that saxophonist John Klemmer, well-known for that device, sometimes had Getz-like tenderness in his playing.  “ I was wondering,” I said to Stan as we walked, “Do you think that John Klemmer was influenced by you?”

“God, I hope not” he replied grinning. Before I had a chance to ask what that meant, he’d hailed a taxi. Getting in, he asked, “Can I drop you off somewhere?”

Oh, I thought, he’s through with me. “If I go wherever you’re going, maybe we could talk there?” I suggested.

He directed the driver to an address in Greenwich Village. “Look, I’m staying at Irwin Corey’s house. I shouldn’t bring in any uninvited guest. Maybe we could do this some other time.” Perhaps he’d been put off by that IATSE encounter. Certainly I was.

He left me off near Times Square and I walked cross-town to my apartment, dejected.

Incidentally, long an Irwin Corey admirer, I always loved his Professor act (“The World’s Foremost Authority”) having seen it numerous times on TV, especially on the Tonight Show with Steve Allen where the routine  ended with Corey being chased through the audience i.e. “Stop that madman!” Irwin Corey w name  I’d even used some of his style in my Beyond the Fringe audition back in the 60s (see above).  Plus something in Corey’s face reminded me of my father in a jovial mood.

Actually I  met Corey in 1978. Gary Gumpert, an old friend from days at Temple University, had heard me on NCN and called to re-connect after so many years. He invited us to a party at his home in Great Neck. On a balmy April evening we sat in a small garden outside his house where Gary introduced me to some neighbors. Corey was one of them.

Corey looked just as I thought he would, except that his hair was combed and he was wearing clothes more casual than the falling apart semi-formal attire of his standard act. Naturally I told him how much I’d enjoyed his performances. “They are terrific, aren’t they?” he asked with a serious expression on his face.

Used to talking to famed people, mostly musicians, I wasn’t star-struck. Rather than pepper him with questions, I told him about how Gary and I knew each other and about Temple U and my own performing background. Corey seemed interested. Soon we dispersed into the party. But I kept subtly watching him to see how he behaved off-stage. He seemed very much like the Professor. At one point all of us started earnestly discussing politics. There Corey rambled on in the same tone as the Professor, throwing in non-sequiturs, making little sense. No one laughed. Maybe he was serious. But it was as if he and the Professor were interchangeable. Maybe doing that act so often, they’d merged somehow.

Speaking of old friends, in 1980, Jean Desjardins (aka John Gardner) a buddy from the 1960s, called and invited me to his wedding celebration at his home in suburban Philadelphia, an isolated house surrounded by woods and trees. It was one of the most original parties I’d ever attended. He’d not only hired caterers but wandering entertainers, including a double-talking comic who threaded and chattered among us.  Plus, all of a sudden, a bagpiper, completely kilted,  dramatically came marching through the woods. Rufus Harley, a black man who’d  billed himself as the World’s First Jazz Bagpiper. Rufus Harley w name I knew who he was; he played on a Herbie Mann concert LP from about ten years before. Evidently he was one of John’s neighbors.

During those days Fleetwood, Marzano and I collectively became friends with Gladys Buchman, a regular NCN listener. She sometimes called us and sent us holiday greeting cards and a few times invited us to dinner at her apartment. Together we eventually decided to take her up on the offer out of curiosity. It turned out that she was in her early 60s and lived in Alphabet City… Avenue C,  I think….in a public housing project with her husband Morris.

They were both very jolly people and seemed to be unendingly fascinated hearing our stories about ourselves. So us three minor celebrities had a great time hanging out together, which we’d  never done elsewhere or before. Plus Gladys and Morris would tell us about their kinds of lives about which we had no inkling, except to learn that they loved going to live concerts despite living on pensions.

Naturally,  I invited Gladys and Morris to dinner in midtown and once asked them if they’d like to see my cat, Sulu, given that they had three cats of their own.

Gladys couldn’t get over Sulu’s beauty. He was indeed magnificent. Sulu A 9-year old chinchilla, with deep blue eyes, beautiful white fur under light grey stripes. Many friends had remarked on his exceptional looks. Some had even said that he should get modeling jobs. A potential show business cat. Gladys thought so too. A friend of a friend of hers knew an animal talent agent.

Gladys gave me the name and phone number. Sulu and I got an appointment.

The agency was in a large office building on west 54th street. A tiny office, seeming to have one room, one agent.  Nothing unusual about the place except for an open cardboard box full of wriggling, chirping chicks on the top of a small bookcase.

“Before you let the cat out of the case,” the agent asked, “do you think the chicks are in any danger?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “He’s never seen any before.  It’s hard to say. But I can probably get him back into the case if there is a problem.”  Nonetheless, I scanned the office to see where Sulu might run and hide if he panicked. Not that chicks would scare him, but the agent’s reaction to threat could turn out to be too energetic.

“OK.,” the agent said. “Why don’t you let him out?”

Sulu was not eager to emerge. He had certainly not enjoyed the cab ride nor the ascension in the elevator. He was a house pet, not a traveling companion.

As in the past, I had to turn his carrying case on its side to, in effect, dump him out. The trick was to pick him up thereafter before he scampered away. Of course, he was nervous. Not because he was auditioning. That would have been my effect on him, wondering if Sulu was on the brink of a performing career.

I was able to lift him to my shoulders where he stared at me, as if to say, “What the hell is this?” Then he scanned the room. His ears picked up, hearing the chicks. He was very close to them. He looked. No other reaction. He turned to me, still puzzled. That was his audition. He passed.

The agent called me the following week telling me that Sulu had a job. A photo shoot. All I had to do was take him to a photo studio in the Garment District at the scheduled time.

There were several rooms in sequence at the studio. The receptionist sent us to one, saying Sulu would be up soon. The waiting room was full of cats, some sitting on human laps, others hiding under chairs. None of them seemed to be congenially mingling with the others. Stuck up felines. Nothing unusual there.

A man with an occupied cat-carrying case joined us, looking discouraged and picked up his coat.

“How’d it go?” a rather glamourous lady cat-companion asked.

“He didn’t make it,” the man replied.

I took Sulu out of his case and held him, stroking him, getting him resist the urge to hide under another chair.

Talking with the other cat people, I learned that we were all there for the same job. This was Sulu’s gig? I didn’t get it

A gruff male voice called out. “OK. Gordon. Bring Sulu in.” Certainly someone there knew what the star animal’s name was.

That room glared with spotlights. They were illuminating a draped wooden box on top of which was a different shaped box containing the delights of Tender Vittles Gourmet Dinner.

“OK, Gordon, here’s what we want,” said the man identifying himself as the director. “ We just want Sulu to sit next to the box, with one paw on it and look straight-ahead at you. Which is toward the camera, under which you’ll sit. Do you think the lights in his face will scare him?”

As before at the agent’s,  I knew Sulu was unpredictable. He was a cat. “Gosh. I don’t know,” I replied in a confident show business voice.

“Right,” the director said. “Could you take him over to the box, set him down next to it, put his right paw on it and slowly walk back?”

Sulu’s paw was placed. I backed away. Subtly.

“Camera ready?” the director whispered.

From somewhere behind me behind and the lights a voice answered “Ready.”

Sulu left the box and walked over to me and sat in my lap.

“Do you think he can do this?” the director asked gently, not at all aggressive.

As before, I pleaded innocent ignorance.

Same routine. Set the camera. Ready for the shot. Sulu back to my lap. Well, at least he didn’t hide under a chair.

After the third try the director said. “Sorry, Gordon. That’s a great looking cat, but this won’t work.”

I asked if I could stay and watch the next candidate and was told that that was all right, provided that Sulu didn’t fight with his competition.  Sulu and I took a seat together off to the side where he remained secure in the place he most wanted to be: my lap.

The next cat was striped black and white and didn’t look all that special. The lady who brought him placed his paw on the box and walked away. This animal could have been stuffed for all the movement it didn’t make. Multiple photos were taken. The cat never moved that whole time. Show business. There’s no business like it. I know.

I made no other attempt to further his career.

As for mine, I had a couple of minor roles in advertising.

I had an agent, Bea (Bernice) Beck, who would every so often get me auditions. She was the wife of one of the most famed voice-over performers of all time, Jackson Beck. Not that his name would be remembered by most audiences. Rather actors and announcers much admired and envied him; he got a lot of work.   Those of us who experienced the great days of radio drama knew him as narrator for The Adventures of Superman for many years. And he provided loads of voices for everything else, including cartoons, e,g. “Bluto”  in “Popeye” movies.

Bea did get me one memorable job. It was for voicing an Arby’s TV commercial. Young and Rubicam producing.

In the luxurious, classily decorated offices, I joined five other men in a waiting room going over the script. We said “hello” to each other. Plenty of resonant voices there, pretending that we didn’t mind that one of us could come away with the big cash which we deserved, given our massive talent, even if none of us was in Jackson Beck’s league.

The script: one page, one sentence: “Get your free Norman Rockwell glasses now at Arby’s.”  What a challenge.  Incidentally, almost 40 years later, they’ve become collectors’ items. Norman Rockwell glassses w name

My profound reading took the day. Subsequently the session took one day. All day going over and over that one sentence. The director had me say more variations that anyone could imagine.

Bea got me a buy-out. i.e Rather than receiving  residuals over the time that this commercial aired, I got a flat fee. AFTRA rates, of course. I don’t remember how much money that was; it might have been something like $700, given the fee of $2000 in early 2016.

For a couple of years I also produced and voiced radio commercials for New Jersey Symphony Orchestra concerts. This was a pattern I thereafter repeated for the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Symphony. Aside from my expertise with such content, I blew away the competition; Hannelore was a top executive in the marketing departments for the last three.