Bruce Allen: A Reluctant Grand Marshal

The stereotype of World War II veterans is that they don’t like to talk about their service. They did what they had to. They came home. They got on with their lives.

Tomorrow’s Westport Memorial Day grand marshal fits that stereotype perfectly.

Bruce Allen  was a combat infantryman, serving as a gunner in the 78th Division. His decorations include a Purple Heart (for wounds at the Remagen River Bridge in 1945), Bronze Star and Croix de Guerre.

Bruce downplays it all. After the war, he says, “I wanted to be away from all that. I never look back. Always forward.” He’s been to just one high school reunion, and did not join any veterans group.

Bruce Allen (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for

Bruce Allen (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for

After his service, he majored in theater and English at Wesleyan University. He worked in TV production at NBC and ABC (and freelanced at CBS), and became a producer/director at J. Walter Thompson and Grey Advertising. He was also a vice president and production supervisor at Grey.

Bruce and his wife Marjorie moved to Westport in 1957. His brother and sister-in-law (who was also Marjorie’s sister) already lived here. Bruce and his wife loved the water.

While scoutmaster of Troop 39, 13 boys became Eagle Scouts. He was director of community services for the Y’s Men, and has been active in Greens Farms Congregational Church as moderator, chairman of deacons and a church school teacher. Bruce also spent 46 years as an auxiliary and special police officer.

He says he is embarrassed to be named grand marshal. Speaking for many others of his generation, he says: “We did what we did. Then we went on with our lives.”

Tomorrow morning, Bruce Allen will lead Westport’s parade reluctantly. He’s been in it before — but only as an Indian Guide, police officer and Y’s Men member.

In recent years, he and Marjorie have brought chairs, and sat near Town Hall. He never imagined he’d be the one that so many paradegoers cheer on, and wave to.

“It’s a great day to honor all those who sacrificed for our country,” he says simply. “It’s a nice day for the town.”

(The Memorial Day parade begins Monday, May 25 at 9 a.m., at Saugatuck Elementary School. It travels down Riverside Avenue, across the Post Road bridge, then turns left on Myrtle Avenue before ending at Town Hall. Memorial services — definitely worth watching — follow immediately on Veterans Green, opposite Town Hall.)

WSJ Trains Its Lens On Stacy Bass

It’s been a busy month for Stacy Bass.

First, Gardens at First Light — her book on 12 exceptional gardens — was published.

Now the Wall Street Journal has turned its lens on the talented photographer’s home.

Stacy and Howard Bass' home. (Photo/Stacy Bass for Wall Street Journal)

Stacy and Howard Bass’ home. (Photo/Stacy Bass for Wall Street Journal)

A real estate section “Inside Story” describes the waterside home’s initial attractions to Stacy and her husband Howard in 1996: the constantly changing landscape, and the fact that from the property they could see the home where her parents lived when her father died a year earlier.

It was a “nondescript,” 4,500-square-foot, 5-bedroom spec home. They offered $925,000, just below the asking price.

Since then they’ve done 4 renovations — including a gut one with Peter Cadoux Architects.

A 3rd-floor office is light, airy, and offers wonderful water views. (Photo/Julie Bidwell for Wall Street Journal)

A 3rd-floor office is light, airy, and offers wonderful water views. (Photo/Julie Bidwell for Wall Street Journal)

The WSJ piece offers details about every aspect — including, of course, Stacy’s 3 pocket gardens. Each features a unique sculpture, framed by boxwood hedges.

(To read the full story, click here. Hat tip: Jane Sherman)

Stacy Bass, in one of 3 pocket gardens. (Photo/Julie Bidwell for Wall Street Journal)

Stacy Bass, in one of 3 pocket gardens. (Photo/Julie Bidwell for Wall Street Journal)


Harvey Gabor Helped Teach The World To Sing. The Rest Is History.

The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.”

The whole world. Even the make-believe world of “Mad Men.”

It took me a while, but I finally tracked down Westport’s real-life connection with the make-believe Don Draper.

Coke ad 3On the heels of last Sunday’s much-talked-about, social media-saturated series finale, new light has been shined on the once-beloved, now-super-syrupy Coke commercial.

Coke adCoke adCoke adCoke ad Thanks to the interwebs, everyone who wants to know now does know that Bill Backer, creative director on the Coca-Cola account at McCann-Erickson, scribbled “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” on a napkin after his London flight was diverted to Shannon, Ireland.

And — 44 years after the fact — once again the New Seekers’ song has burrowed its way into our brain.

But few folks remember that it was McCann-Erickson art director Harvey Gabor’s idea to bring 500 multi-colored, joyful, blue jeans-and-dashiki-and-sari-clad, Coked-out faces onto an Italian hillside, for a phenomenally expensive (at the time) $250,000-plus shoot. Without that visual, the song — and commercial — would have been about as memorable as anything Pepsi did at the time.

And fewer still know that Harvey Gabor was — ta da! — a Westporter. (Okay, he only lived here from 1983 to ’91 — working for a local agency that no longer exists — but this is still a great story.)

Though the “Hilltop” ad is a classic, it took a ton of work. Bad weather — first in London, then in the new site of Rome — caused frustrating delays. Gabor had to find a new “lead female” (a British governess pushing a baby carriage in the Piazza Navona). Some of the best shots came as his crew dodged power and telephone lines.

Harvey Gabor (right) shooting the "Hilltop" ad in Tuscany.

Harvey Gabor (right) shooting the “Hilltop” ad in Italy.

Gabor — who is now 81 years old, retired and living with his wife Barbara in Michigan — went on to win 4 gold medals, 5 Clios and over 100 certificate awards for print and TV ads.

The “Hilltop” commercial, meanwhile, has been inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame

It’s the real thing.


Harvey Gabor in 2012.

Harvey Gabor in 2012.

Click below for a fascinating video of Harvey Gabor visiting — and talking with, teaching at and learning from — Google’s New York headquarters, on an updated Coke campaign:

(For Harvey Gabor’s website — including information about his book Peeing With David Ogilvy, click hereFor the official Coca-Cola version of the making of the ad — including great details like how Harvey discovered the lead female role pushing a baby carriage — click here. Hat tip: Neil Brickley)

Staples Players Bring “Laramie Project” To Life

When Staples Players director David Roth announced the spring Black Box Theater production — “The Laramie Project” — 80% of the actors had no idea who Matthew Shepard was.

But why would they? The oldest were 2 years old when the gay University of Wyoming student was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in the Laramie night.

Roth and co-director Kerry Long are adept at presenting theater that educates audiences. This time, they’re educating their cast too.

“I don’t think kids in this community have any idea how tough it still is to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans in other parts of the country,” Roth says. “A lot of teenagers here don’t realize how we’ve gotten to this place of acceptance.”

Part of the reason Staples is a high school where students feel comfortable being who they are — whoever they are — is because of John Dodig. The principal has worked hard to create an environment of acceptance and inclusion. He retires this spring after 11 years at Staples — and 47 in education — so Roth and Long are proud to dedicate this year’s “Laramie Project” to him.

Sophia Sherman, Keanan Pucci and Nick Ribolla, ensemble members of “The Laramie Project.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

It’s the 2nd time Roth and Long are directing this show with Players. The 1st production was 8 years ago.

This set design is completely different. So is the use of technology, showing the use of TV cameras as world media descended on Wyoming.

Different too is that “The Laramie Project” now has a companion piece. In 2008 — 10 years after Matthew Shepard’s murder — the Tectonic Theater Project returned to the town. They interviewed many of the same people who contributed to the first play, as well as others — like Matthew’s mother Judy, and his 2 killers. All showed what had — and had not — changed in the intervening decade.

The result was another play: “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.” It recently become available for licensing. Players will be one of the first companies anywhere to produce that show next year.

Each cast member plays multiple roles in

Each cast member plays multiple roles in “The Laramie Project.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Roth and Long are excited about the opportunity to do their 1st-ever cycle. Some of this year’s cast will audition for the same roles a year from now. It’s a challenging way for them to look at their character’s growth — and their own.

The directors savor the chance to work with an ensemble. The cast of 18 covers over 60 roles. Each actor must understand multiple, nuanced characters. The hate crime evoked complex reactions among many Laramie residents.

It’s all part of the educational process that began when this generation of Staples students first heard the name “Matthew Shepard.”

(“The Laramie Project” will be presented in Staples’ Black Box Theater on May 28, 29, 30 and 31. Click here for times, and ticket information [available starting Saturday morning].)

“Art About Town” Floods Main Street

Once a year, downtown turns into a pedestrian mall. It’s “Art About Town” — one of Westport’s newest traditions.

Part art exhibit, part street fair — and all fun — it’s a great way to kick off a month-long exhibit of art (for sale!) by 65 artists, in 60 locations.

It started an hour ago. If you’re reading this before 8:30 p.m. on Thursday — there’s still time to go.

Just don’t think of parking on Main Street.

There were plenty of great artist demonstrations tonight. But none was more impressive than Rosiejon. She has no arms -- so she uses her feet. Amazingly, she has been painting for just a year.

There were plenty of great artist demonstrations tonight. But none was more impressive than Rosiejon. She has no arms — so she uses her feet. Amazingly, she has been painting for just a year.

Harry Moritz graduated from Staples in 2010 -- and from Pratt less than a week ago. Here's one of his creations.

Harry Moritz graduated from Staples in 2010 — and from Pratt less than a week ago. Here’s one of his creations.

Another kind of artist is performer Jared Rydelek. This was just his warmup.

Another kind of artist is performer Jared Rydelek. This was just his warmup.

This young man may be trying out for Art About Town -- the 2035 version.

This young man may be trying out for Art About Town — the 2035 version.

Joyce Landon is among 65 artists who is showing downtown, for the next month. Her works can be seen in the TD Bank lobby.

Joyce Landon is among 65 artists who is exhibiting downtown, for the next month. Her works can be seen in the TD Bank lobby.

This Open Space Is Deadly

Every spring, Westporters marvel at the “Daffodil Mile” that marks the long entrance to Willowbrook Cemetery on Main Street.

And the Saugatuck Congregational Church had made a strong commitment to the upkeep of its historic — though no-longer-accepting-bodies — cemetery on Evergreen Avenue.

But what about Westport’s smaller, lesser-known graveyards? Who is in charge of mowing the grass, raking the leaves, straightening the headstones? 

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith would like to know. He writes:

As I’ve been driving along Wilton Road to the Y, I’ve noticed an old cemetery behind a stone wall. It’s near #280. Recently I parked on Twin Falls Lane, and ducked across the road to explore.

A hidden cemetery off Wilton Road. (Photo/Scott Smith)

A hidden cemetery off Wilton Road. (Photo/Scott Smith)

It’s pretty cool, in the way that old cemeteries are. Many headstones are in disarray, and it seems that the most recent ones are from the early 1900s. Hard to say when the older graves first came to be. The family name Fillow appears on a few markers, though many etchings are worn away beyond recognition.

But as “06880”is filled with discussions about open space and other property issues, I wonder who owns and maintains the many small cemeteries around town. Are they private? Are they treated as open space? Is there an inventory of all these plots? And what’s the policy about walking among these memorials?

On a related note, I discovered a scenic (and pollen-covered) pond just beyond the cemetery, which is located on a bluff above the water. It’s a couple of acres in size. I never knew the pond was there, though I suspected it from the hole in the tree canopy you can just glimpse from the road.

The pond near the Partrick Wetlands. (Photo/Scott Smith)

The pond near the Partrick Wetlands. (Photo/Scott Smith)

How are these ponds treated on our property rolls? Are they all privately owned? Counted as open space as well? Are they taxed differently than land? And is there a census of the freshwater ponds within our borders?

The pond below the cemetery has a small dock at the far end. Judging from a Google map, this pond is close to the Partrick Wetlands, but separate fromt it.

Scott hopes that “06880” readers can answer his questions. Fire away!

I’ll add this: Westport is filled with tiny, forgotten cemeteries — from the Battle of Compo Hill-era plots on opposite side of Gray’s Creek (Compo Beach Road and Longshore) to the hidden-in-plain-view one on Post Road West, near the Norwalk line.

If you’ve got a story about any of our small old cemeteries, click “Comments.” This should be a lively (ho ho) discussion.   

This Old House #14

The main clue to last week’s mystery house was its former location: “on the present site of the Fine Arts Theater in State Street.” That identification, of course, dates from the 1930s, when WPA photographers took shots of a number of already-very-old Westport houses.

Dan Herman, Jill Turner Odice and Morley Boyd said that its current location is 23 Jesup Road. Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten confirms the site. (Click here to see a photo of the house, and read comments about it.)

It was not easy to do. Boyd says that a 2005 renovation — illegal, because the house sits in a historic district — “drained it of its historic integrity.”

Here is this week’s unidentified home:

This Old House - May 20, 2015

All we know is that it’s somewhere in Green’s Farms.

If you know its whereabouts, click “Comments” below. The WHS is seeking info on this and other “mystery houses,” in preparation for an upcoming exhibit on the changing face of Westport.

Landon: No Staples Principal Offer Yet

Published reports to the contrary, Greenwich middle school principal Shelley Somers has not been offered the principal’s job at Staples High School.

According to superintendent of schools Elliott Landon:

“The Greenwich School District sent out a press release a week in advance of the Westport Board of Education decision, with the assumption approval would be made. If the Board did not approve the appointment, the press release would not have been sent.

“Both she and I hope her candidacy is not jeopardized by this communication error.”

Staples seal

Nailing Some Westport Employers?

For a few years now, Westport’s nail salons have been “06880”‘s version of a big piñata. They just sit there — dozens of them* — waiting for me to whack away.

But the New York Times‘ recent expose of that city’s nail salon industry — detailing near-slave working conditions, exposure to dangerous chemicals and more — is no laughing matter.

Alert “06880” reader Mary Lynn Halland took note of the Times’ stories too. Turning to Westport, she writes:

I wonder if any of our nail salons will step up and announce that they 1) only employ licensed nail technicians; 2) pay minimum wage, plus overtime; 3) don’t charge employees for a job and/or training; 4) provide adequate ventilation, especially when working with acrylic nails, etc.

No, Kaley Cuoco does not get her nails done in Westport. At least, I don't think she does.

No, Kaley Cuoco does not get her nails done in Westport. At least, I don’t think she does.

I have never had a manicure (or pedicure), so I am no expert on this. But I’m sure many “06880” readers are.

Did the Times story make you think twice about your Westport nail salon? Have you asked the owners about their practices? Would you? Should you? If so, can you share their replies with the “06880” community?

Please click “Comments” to add your thoughts.

Sure, manicures are important. But so are the lives of the women who provide them.

*See? I can’t help myself.

Remembering Herb Barrett

Herb Barrett — a member of that great generation who settled in Westport soon after World War II, raised a family here and spent decades contributing to civic life — died today. He was 93 years old, and had moved with his beloved wife Lou to Pennsylvania several years ago, to be near his children.

George Barrett — one of Herb and Lou’s 5 children — writes:

My dad liked to describe himself as unremarkable, but  he was far from that. He was a gifted therapist, possessed of a special capacity to see the unique qualities in all people – and able to help people to see those things in themselves.

Herb Barrett

Herb Barrett

He was a very talented writer, a skill very few of us had the opportunity to enjoy, but so very obvious when reading though his journals and his letters to my mom from the war.

He had a raw musical aptitude which he never fully appreciated, but which his children were encouraged to polish. He could burst into song any time, and no microphone was off limits if it were in reaching distance.

He had a wicked sense of humor and an impish grin.

He was a proud veteran of the US Army – Signal Intelligence  Company, attached to the 5th Army headquarters. He spent 2 1/2 years abroad, in North Africa, Sicily and other parts of Italy. He lived through Anzio, which he rarely discussed.

He was married to my mom Lucille for more than 73 years. He was father to 5, grandfather to 10, and great-grandfather to 3 (with another on the way).

He loved Westport, and everything and everyone associated with Westport. At Compo Beach, he taught all of us to climb the cannons. Along with my mom, he lived and breathed the public school system, which drew him there in the first place. I’m not sure that he ever missed a Staples Candlelight concert when he was healthy.

He had a deep desire to see the walls between people dissolve. That is clear through his deep commitment to civil rights, his clear messaging to his children, and this classic section from a journal I found where he discussed his war experience:

I developed some wonderful friendships with the gang of fellows who shared the same tent…Neils O. Blackburn from Moroni, Utah; Kenny Biggs from Townsend, Montana; Charlie Sheehan from Cheyenne, Wyomingl Lou Ambort of Little Rock, Arkansas and Johnny Abs from Chicago.

Herb Barrett, during World War II.

Herb Barrett, during World War II.

I recall a discussion the night we pitched camp outside Santa Maria ( near Caserta). It was a bone chilling rainy night, and we piled together for warmth inside the buffeted pyramidal. How or why I can’t say, but we discussed religion — a Mormon, a Catholic, a Jew, a Lutheran, a Methodist and a Presbyterian.

We were no scholars. We just compared experiences. And when all was said and done, we felt that what we had in common ran deeper than our specific beliefs.

(Friends are invited to attend a service for Herb Barrett this Thursday (May 21), 11 a.m. at Temple Israel. Following burial, the family will receive visitors at the home of Marvin and Joan Frimmer, 138 Imperial Avenue. Contributions in Herb Barrett’s name may be made to Congregation Kol Ami, 8201 High School Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027.)