Tag Archives: Performing Arts

19th Century Celebrity Phat Boy Babbage


By on

0 Comments

EF BabbageThis is a story about a fat guy. In this politically correct and hyper-sensitive world, some of you might already be reaching for your keyboards to send me a nasty message for being so thoughtless. But without referring to him as fat, I couldn’t have written this piece. I’m pretty sure he knew he was obese, as did anyone who met him. But if there was ever any doubt, one could always refer to his professional name: Phat Boy. (Imagine … a name like that, 150 years before the birth of Rap music.)

His given name was Edward Frederick Babbage, the son of John and Frances Babbage, who emigrated from England in the early 1800s and settled in Rochester, New York. Among their five children was a pair of twins, Edward Frederick and Edwin Francis, born about 20 miles west of the city in 1841. Early on, Edward exhibited a propensity for gaining weight. He was considered large at age six, and weighed 200 pounds when he was fourteen. Continue reading

Adaptive Reuse in Rochester: Bread and Water Theatre


By on

0 Comments

6a01157088010c970b017c387a3014970bWhat follows is a guest essay by J.R. Teeter, the founding artistic director of Bread & Water Theatre. Since 2000 Bread & Water Theatre has had as its purpose the development of new dramatic works and affordable arts programming for the public. This essay first appeared on the site Preservation News.

Rochester, New York has fallen on hard times, not unlike many of the cities across the nation. The Erie Canal, once a major shipping route, is now considered obsolete. The city’s biggest employer, Kodak, is now bankrupt. Major businesses have either downsized, moved out of town, or both. When a new company takes an interest in the city, the red carpet is rolled out and tax breaks are doled out, sometimes at the cost of the city’s legacy. Continue reading

Local History Collaboration Leads To Annual Theater Event


By on

1 Comment

547569_600954409922681_354691017_nThree organizations – Colton Historical Society, Grasse River Players and Colton-Pierrepont Central School – have announced new collaborative work for 2013 following the successful production of Sunday Rock—The Folk Musical in 2012.  Last year, when they first combined their historical, theatrical and educational interests to produce the show along with author and Colton resident Evelyn Riehl and her family, they received lots of support and encouragement to continue.

The partnership has now committed to presenting a theatrical performance addressing a dimension of history each July around the time Colton celebrates its history. Over the winter plans were made to produce The 1940’s Radio Hour and to also pursue an oral history project in conjunction with it focusing on World War II. Continue reading

Unique Stoneware Jug Depicting Entertainment Acquired


By on

0 Comments

acrobat jug detailA four-gallon stoneware jug manufactured by Fulper Bros. in Flemington, New Jersey during the 1880s is now part of the New York State Museum’s Weitsman Collection of American Stoneware. Now on display at the State Museum, the historically significant piece of stoneware was recently acquired for the Museum by stoneware collector and benefactor, Adam Weitsman.

According to an announcement release to the press today, “The acrobat jug, a sought-after example of decorated American stoneware, has been breaking stoneware record prices at auction for decades and Weitsman had wanted the piece for over thirty years.” Weitsman recently purchased the jug from Allen Katz Americana the statement says. Continue reading

Met Museum Civil War Events Begin Tonight


By on

0 Comments

Met Civil War EventsThe Met is offering a wide range events in conjunction with their recently opened exhibition, Photography and the American Civil War.

A Civil War Dialogue will take place this evening, Wednesday, April 10, at 6:00 PM ($25). Novelist Geraldine Brooks and historian Tony Horwitz have both written about the Civil War-and are married to one another. They will discuss their work as well as their different approaches to the Civil War and the writing of history. The discussion will be moderated by Bill Goldstein, book critic for NBC’s Weekend Today in New York. Continue reading

Rouses Point: Northern NY Crossroads


By on

1 Comment

Gene Tunney in Rouses Point 3WFew villages in New York State can lay claim to as rich a heritage as Rouses Point, and like the oft-used real-estate axiom says, there are three primary reasons—location, location, location.

As New York’s northeasternmost village, Rouses Point can be found at the north end of Lake Champlain. Bordering on Canada to the north and Vermont to the east, for decades it was a shipping and transportation crossroads, serving both water and rail traffic. Continue reading

Circle of Life: Performance Art at the Cosmic Center


By on

1 Comment

Millais_Boyhood_of_RaleighWe are a story-telling species. We tell stories through various media which have changed over time as our technologies have changed. In ancient times the common modes of expression included the verbal story, art, dance, and music. These forms still are in use today. New forms have been developed and the ways of communication for millennia have evolved at a speed that is both wondrous and frightening to behold. Continue reading

Harlem Blues: Last Party At The Lenox Lounge


By on

1 Comment

On New Year’s Eve the cigar smoke was thick on the sidewalk in front of the famed jazz club, the Lenox Lounge. Men in tuxes and women in clingy gowns stepped out of white stretch limos, three deep on Malcolm X Avenue, a.k.a Lenox Avenue in Harlem, as blue notes popped from the chromed doorway.

A huge bejeweled crowd could be glimpsed dancing and drinking through the wide octogon window. Continue reading

Richard Whitby: Notable Upstate Musician


By on

0 Comments

Richard Whitby’s career in music had blossomed, and after years of hard work, he was offered Second Chair Trombone in John Philip Sousa’s band, and First Chair upon the lead trombonist’s imminent retirement. It was a tremendous honor, and highly regarded confirmation of his great talent, but there was a problem: Richard was still under contract to Carl Edouarde, who had no intentions of releasing him from a prominent run at New York’s Palace Theater. Continue reading

Louis Hensel: My Life in America


By on

0 Comments

Details of mid-19th-century life come alive in the letters of a German immigrant, translated by Sigrid Wilshinsky and recently published as My Life in America Before, During and After the Civil War.

Louis Hensel was born in 1817 and lived a life of travel and adventure, as colorfully described in letters to his granddaughter back in Germany. Wilshinsky translated them from Suderlein German into modern English. Continue reading

Bryan O’Byrne: From Plattsburgh to Hollywood


By on

0 Comments

In late July, 1941, a young Plattsburgh boy received permission from his parents to visit the movie house just a few blocks away. Hours later, he had not returned home, and Mom and Dad hit the streets in search of their missing son. Soon they were at the Plattsburgh Police Station, anxiously seeking help. Two patrolmen were immediately put on the case, which, unlike so many stories today, had a happy ending.

The two policemen obtained keys to the theater building and began searching the interior. There, curled up in his seat near the front row, little Bryan Jay O’Byrne was fast asleep. He later explained that he enjoyed the movie so much, he decided to stay for the second showing and must have drifted off into dreamland. When the theater closed for the night, no one had seen the young boy lying low in his seat.

Perhaps no one knew it then, but that amusing incident was a harbinger of things to come. Bryan O’Byrne was born to Elmer and Bessie (Ducatte) O’Byrne of Plattsburgh on February 6, 1931. Life in the O’Byrne home may have been difficult at times. Six years earlier, Bryan’s older sister was born at the very moment Elmer was being arraigned in Plattsburgh City Court on burglary and larceny charges.

Still, the family managed to stay together, and after attending St. Peter’s Elementary School and Plattsburgh High, Bryan went on to graduate from the State University Teacher’s College at Plattsburgh. After stints in the army and as an elementary school teacher, he pursued acting, studying at the Stella Adler Studio.

He appeared on Broadway with Vivian Leigh in “Duel of Angels” (the run was cut short after five weeks due to the first actors’ strike in forty years). Other jobs followed, but he soon surfaced in a new, increasingly popular medium: television.

In the early 1960s, Bryan began appearing in television series, becoming one of the best-known character actors in show business. Most people recognized his face from numerous bit parts he played in television and in movies, but few knew his name. That is true of many character actors, but ironically, in O’Byrne’s case, it was that very anonymity which brought him fame.

It all took place in the 1966–67 television season with the launch of a show called Occasional Wife. The plot line followed the story of an unmarried junior executive employed by a baby food company. The junior executive’s boss felt that, since they were selling baby food, it would be wise to favor married men for promotions within the company.

So, the junior executive concocted a plan with a female who agreed to serve as his “occasional wife.” He put her on salary and got her an apartment two floors above his own. Hilarity ensued as a variety of situations in each episode had them running up and down the fire escape to act as husband and wife. This all happened to the obvious surprise and bemusement of a man residing on the floor between the two main players. That man was played by Bryan O’Byrne.


O’Byrne’s character had no name and no speaking lines, but he became the hit of the show. Usually he was engaged in some type of activity that ended up in shambles as he watched the shenanigans. The audience loved it. The show’s writers had such fun with the schtick that O’Byrne became somewhat of a sensation. His expert acting skills made the small part into something much bigger.

Eventually, in early 1967, a nationwide contest was held to give the “Man in the Middle” an actual name. Much attention was heaped on O’Byrne, but the high didn’t last for long. Occasional Wife went the way of many other promising comedies that were built on a certain premise, but were not allowed to develop. It survived only one season.

O’Byrne’s career continued to flourish. Among his repeating roles was that of CONTROL Agent Hodgkins in the hit comedy series Get Smart, starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Over the years, O’Byrne remained one of Plattsburgh’s best-kept secrets, appearing in 45 television series, 22 movies, and several Disney productions.

Among those television series were some high-profile shows and many of the all-time greats: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Batman, Ben Casey, Get Smart, Gunsmoke, I Dream of Jeannie, Maude, Happy Days, Maverick, Murder She Wrote, My Three Sons, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Sanford and Son, The Big Valley, The Bill Cosby Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Lucy Show, The Munsters, The Partridge Family, The Untouchables, and Welcome Back Kotter.

Advertisers discovered the appeal of Bryan’s friendly face, and he was cast in more than two hundred television commercials. His experience in multiple fields and his love and understanding of the intricacies of performing led to further opportunities. He became an excellent acting coach. Among those he worked with, guided, or mentored were Bonnie Bedelia, Pam Dawber, Nick Nolte, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jimmy Smits, and Forest Whittaker.

Writer Janet Walsh, a friend of O’Byrne’s since the early 1980s, noted that, early on, he recognized the talent of young Nick Nolte. According to Walsh, “Nick slept on Bryan’s couch for a year. Bryan cast him in his production of The Last Pad, and that launched Nick’s career.”

Besides working as an acting coach for the prestigious Stella Adler Academy, O’Byrne also served on the Emmy Nominating Committee in Los Angeles. He spent nearly forty years in the entertainment business, working with many legendary stars, including Lucille Ball, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Wayne. His television resume covers many of the best-known, most-watched series ever. And through it all, he remained a nice, unpretentious man.

Quite the journey for a ten-year-old movie fan from Plattsburgh.

Photos: Bryan Jay O’Byrne; Bryan O’Byrne and Vivian Leigh; Michael Callan, Bryan O’Byrne, and Patricia Hart from Occasional Wife.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

The Civil War: A Musical Journey


By on

1 Comment

Four Seasons, Four Years is a new Old Songs production featuring eleven singers and musicians from the Adirondacks performing a selection of songs extant in America between 1850 and 1865. This performance takes place at View (the former Old Forge Arts Center) this Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 7:30pm.

The show includes both popular songs of the period as well as songs composed in response to the Civil War itself and events leading up to it. The songs are interspersed with historical narrative specific to New York State and the New York Volunteer Regiments.

Old Songs’ presentation of Four Seasons, Four Years – The Civil War: A Musical Journey brings the songs and sounds of the Civil War back to life without stinting on the truth, the tragedy and the horror. Selections from letters, historical papers and soldier’s diaries are read between the musical passages, creating a seamless flow of narration and song.

The cast of singers and musicians include Greg Artzner, Dan Berggren, Betsy Fry, Steve Fry, Reggie Harris, Terry Leonino, John Roberts, Bill Spence, Toby Stover, Susan Trump and George Wilson. All known in their own right as fine working musicians, they have joined forces to present this unique show in observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The songs of this period include Negro spirituals, shape-note hymns, marching songs, sentimental songs and songs and parodies written by 19th century writers such as Stephen Foster, George F. Root, the Hutchinson Family and Henry C. Work. The cast performs in individual and ensemble performances bringing these songs alive with great gusto, emotional impact and exceptional musicianship.

The production has been produced, compiled and directed by Old Songs, Inc. Executive Director Andy Spence in collaboration with the musicians. View their website at www.oldsongs.org  to learn more.

You may purchase tickets by calling View at 315-369-6411 or via email info@ViewArts.org.

Tickets are $25/$20 members, and can be purchased by calling View at 315.369.6411. To learn more about View programming, visit www.ViewArts.org.

Saranac Lake’s Hobofest Set For Sunday


By on

0 Comments

The Fourth Annual Hobofest, an all-day music festival “at-the-tracks” in Saranac Lake NY celebrating railroad culture and the “hobo spirit,” is happening on Sunday, September 2nd. This year’s Hobofest will take place under the “big top,” to assure against the variables of weather, from noon until 11pm. Eat and Meet Grill & Larder will serve local fare, also a children’s activities booth and festival & artist merchandise tables.

This year’s special guest is Washington State legend, Baby Gramps. A former street musician and train buff, Gramps plays antique resonator National Steel guitars, and sings his own unique arrangements of rags, jazz, & blues songs from the 20′s & 30′s, and many originals with wordplay, humor, and throat singing. His appeal is to a wide range of audiences from “jam-band” – having toured with Phish and the Flecktones- to punk to old timey traditional and to kids of all ages. He has performed across the States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.

Several unsigned, fully-realized ensembles, all “invested” in Hobofest, offer distinct takes on roots music: The intricate groove-grass pulse of Big Slyde, this year with the smoky vocals of Hanna Doan. The Adirondack-Brooklyn hybrid, Frankenpine, craft a modern take on bluegrass, with a colorful palette and original voicing. Crackin’ Foxy distinguish themselves with a post-vaudeville vintage of styled song, elegant female three-part harmony, and swinging arrangements. This year’s appearance of the young and grizzled Blind Owl Band, follows their recent romp through the Northeast, diving headlong into the mosh-pit of old-time as dance music.

The day traditionally kicks off with bluesman Steve Langdon hollerin’ and pickin’ ala John Henry against the din of the first arriving train. New to this stage this year are Eddy and Kim Lawrence, with their wry sense of humor, and deft fretwork from the Canadian border, Keene resident Stan Oliva, and Quinn Sands from Cleveland, OH.

Sir William Johnson’s Bookshelf: Millenium Hall


By on

1 Comment

Sir William Johnson’s 1774 inventory of his New York western frontier estate, Johnson Hall, revealed a superb collection of books and other reading material.

Books were a bit more difficult to acquire in 18th century Johnstown than at present, so one could presume that selecting titles was considered, even more precisely than today, by recommended taste, by familiarity with an author, or perhaps from curiosity after having read a report of the book in the newspapers that arrived from New York City or from England via a New York City agent.
Continue reading

Archival Exhibition Celebrates Brooklyn Academy of Music


By on

0 Comments

When it comes to the performing arts, New York City may forever be synonymous with the Broadway musical, at least in the popular imagination.

However, while there’s a lot to be said for Broadway, New Yorkers and performing arts aficionados alike know that if you want to see the work of the most daring and innovative artists working in music, dance, and theatre today, you need to venture far away from the lights of the Great White Way. Continue reading

New Drama to Bring Roebling, Brooklyn Bridge to Stage


By on

0 Comments

A new drama Roebling: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge is in development for a New York City Equity Showcase Production to be produced by special arrangement between the author Mark  Violi and Theater to Go. Plans are underway to present this show in March 2013.

Based on the true story of the Roebling family who helped conceive, design and finally build the New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, the play has been endorsed by the Roebling Museum and by descendants of John Roebling. “Roebling: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge” brings to the stage the human drama surrounding the construction effort to complete one of the most enduring engineering icons in the world. 
The play examines the beginnings of the project to build the Brooklyn Bridge in1869, through its completion in 1883. It is a play about a forward thinking family on the cutting edge of the Industrial Revolution. The play shows how this project foreshadowed the 20th century in its huge ambition, the revolutionary construction techniques developed by John Roebling and implemented by his son Washington, and in the recognition of the invaluable role that a woman, Emily Roebling, played in the completion of this enormous project. 
“Roebling: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge” has had two widely acclaimed non-equity productions in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey. The New Jersey premier was produced in 2010 by invitation of the Roebling Museum to open the restored Roebling Auditorium and it was because of the overwhelming response to this play that plans were implemented to bring it to NYC. 
Fundraising has begun through IndieGoGo. Through a special arrangement with Fractured Atlas, Theater to Go is able to accept tax deductible contributions and has arranged to offer some incentives donated by the Roebling Museum including artifacts from the Roebling factories. With the success of the fundraising, this showcase production is seen as a first step toward a larger New York production. Theater to Go is well known throughout the Mid-Atlantic region for their  unique interactive theater events. At the helm is Ruth Markoe who has produced, directed and performed throughout the region for many years and who brought the NJ premier to the stage. 
Photo: Mark Violi and Ruth Markoe holding original cable from the Brooklyn Bridge (provided).  

Roxy Rothafel: Legendary American Showman


By on

0 Comments

American Showman chronicles the life of Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel (1882–1936), the prolific movie palace showman and radio star who helped transform the moviegoing experience, radio broadcasting, and American popular culture to become an international celebrity.

Ross Melnick’s American Showman: Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel and the Birth of the Entertainment Industry (2012, Columbia University Press) is the first book devoted to Rothafel’s multifaceted entertainment career. Among Roxy’s notable popular culture contributions include the first showings of Robert Flaherty’s documentary “Nanook of the North” and the German film that reinvigorated the a genre, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” – oh, and there was also those Rockettes, and that mention in Cole Porter’s “You’re On Top.”

Continue reading

Cayuga Museum Opens Newly-Renovated Theater Mack


By on

0 Comments

The Cayuga Museum has announced that Theater Mack, the carriage house undergoing renovation for the past several years, has reopened. A massive brick building originally constructed around 1850 on the foundation of an earlier wooden barn, the carriage house was turned into a theater in 1941 through a collaboration between the Cayuga Museum and the Auburn Community Players.

Once known as the Museum Playhouse, the building became the cultural hub of Auburn from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. The building gradually fell into disuse after the Auburn Children’s Theater, the company that became the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, outgrew the space in the 1970’s.

The in mid-1990’s, the Board of Trustees of the Cayuga Museum set an ambitious goal of restoring each of the three buildings on the Museum property. The Museum has been steadily working on that goal ever since. Before beginning on the carriage house, the Museum completed more than $1.2 million in capital improvements on the other buildings. The Case Research Laboratory, birthplace of talking films, was restored and re-opened, and the Willard-Case Mansion in which the Museum is housed was renovated. The first phase of the carriage house project was finished in May 2010, at a cost of more than $248,000.

In 2011, the Museum named the carriage house Theater Mack in honor of long-time supporters the Maciulewicz family and their company, Mack Studios. Now, the Museum brings the project to fruition and the building returns to use as a multi-purpose space equipped for everything from a musical production to a wedding reception.

Theater Mack is a perfect little “jewel box” of a theater, retaining much of the charm of its 19th century beginnings and adding modern amenities. There is now heat, air-conditioning, restrooms, dressing rooms, and a catering kitchen, as well as a first-class sound system, and theater lights and draperies. The lower level and the main floor have been completely renovated but the second floor, where Theodore Case created a sound studio to make his test films in the 1920’s, remains intact. The Museum now turns its attention to plans for a new Case exhibit including both the laboratory and the sound studio.

It’s taken the same kind of collaboration that originally put the theater in the building during WWII to bring the project to fruition today. New York State, local foundations and many individuals and families donated more than $600,000 to the project. Several local contractors contributed their work at or below cost. The completion and re-opening of Theater Mack is a triumph for everyone involved. This totally unique building will become an asset to the Museum and the community for decades to come.

The new Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival has rented Theater Mack for ten weeks this summer for their concept show, The Pitch. The Cayuga Museum is already programming film screenings, lectures and shows for Theater Mack for the rest of the year and it is available for rent to organizations and individuals.

Doris Kenyon’s North Country Connections


By on

0 Comments

A frequent visitor to Ausable Forks (and once a resident) Doris Kenyon starred in nearly fifty silent films, including 1924’s Monsieur Bocaire with living legend Rudolph Valentino, and 1925’s A Thief in Paradise with Ronald Colman. During her long career, she played opposite all the great stars of the day, among them Loretta Young, Spencer Tracy, Ralph Bellamy, John Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Robert Young, and Adolph Menjou. Her fame was such that newborn Doris Kappelhoff (in 1922) was named after Kenyon. Kappelhoff would gain great fame under her stage name, Doris Day.

One of the leading men in several of Kenyon’s movies became the leading man in her personal life. Milton Sills was a major star of the era, and he and Doris had performed together many times. In May 1926, Doris announced she had purchased her brother’s camp, and a few weeks later came an update—she and Milt Sills would soon marry … on the shores of Silver Lake!
The ceremony took place amidst the October splendor of the leaf color change, creating a sensational backdrop at the camp Doris called “Moose Missie.” They honeymooned through the Adirondacks (two days in a suite of rooms in Agora at the Lake Placid Club), plus Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone Park. Meanwhile, workmen were completing a beautiful mansion on their sixty-acre estate in Hollywood, California.
The wedding had been announced in May 1926, but was delayed until October due to Doris being ill. (Seven months after the ceremony, she gave birth to a son, Kenyon Clarence Sills.) Following the wedding and lengthy honeymoon, Doris took some time off from acting, but returned soon to star in several movies with her husband. In effect, they were the industry’s “power-couple” of the day, starring in movies and receiving constant media coverage.
In 1929, they passed the summer at Silver Lake, where Milton was recovering from illness. Doris spent several weeks at the camp, but she also did about a month of vaudeville performances before the two of them returned to making movies. And, upon special request, she served in August as a judge for the baby parade and pageant in Lake Placid’s summer carnival.

In 1929, Doris gave a concert performance in New York City, confirming that she still had a great singing voice. At the same time, unlike many other silent-film stars, she smoothly transitioned into the world of “talkies,” remaining one of Hollywood’s top stars.

In September 1930, tragedy struck Doris’ life. Shortly after playing tennis with his family, Milton Sills, 48, suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack. Doris, just 33 at the time, was devastated by the loss, burying herself in work to help ease the pain.
She had been recognized in the past for other skills—writing, poetry, and as a pianist—but it was singing that Doris really missed. Plans had already been made for a return to regular concert performances, and after the death of Sills, Doris went on a world tour.
After many successful European shows, she returned to the United States with a renewed interest in her film career. Through the 1930s, Doris remained a major movie star, appearing in at least fourteen more films. She was also quite busy on the marital front. First came Syracuse real estate broker Arthur Hopkins in 1933, a union that lasted only a few months (annulled). Next, Doris was married to Albert Lasker in 1938 for a year (divorced). Finally, she married Bronislav Mlynarski in 1947 (that one lasted twenty-four years, ending with Mlynarski’s death in 1971).
Through the WW II years, Doris again supported the troops by singing with the USO. In the 1950s, she acted in television shows, sang on the radio, and performed two roles in radio soap operas. From silent films to the advent of television, she had done it all.
It was an incredible career spanning the Metropolitan Opera, stage, screen, vaudeville, concerts, radio, poetry, television, and writing. She was a success at everything she tried (even marriage, in the end). One of Hollywood’s lasting stars, Doris Kenyon passed away from heart trouble in September 1979, just a few days shy of her 82nd birthday.
Photos: Top―Poster from a Kenyon movie. Bottom―Doris Kenyon in A Thief in Paradise.
The Doris Kenyon story is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.