Category Archives: Arts

Remembering Kevin Gray — 3 Years On

Kevin Gray — a very talented member of Staples Players in the 1970s, who became the youngest actor to play the lead role in “Phantom of the Opera,” and acted in or directed more than 150 productions — died 3 years ago today of a heart attack. He was 55.

His wife — Dodie Pettit — cherishes his memory. She helped put together a video called “Acts of Faith,” incorporating one of his concerts. It shows Kevin as he was: funny, inspiring, and immensely talented.

He left us far too young.


Jetty In Winter

Jetty - Patricia McMahon

Photographer Patricia McMahon says: “No matter how the light hits our jetty, it always entices me. This view never gets old.”

Daniel Hall’s “First Date, Last Date”

The Hall family are familiar figures in Westport.

Bill and Mary Ann are longtime music educators. Their daughter Emily sang at Staples, studied opera at the Boston Conservatory, and just released her 1st full-length EP for kids, “Sun in the Morning ‘Til the Moon at Night.”

Daniel Hall

Daniel Hall

Daniel Hall performed at Staples (Class of 1997), earned a BFA in theater at the University of Michigan, then spent 10 years acting in New York. He guest starred in “Law & Order,” and had a recurring role in “Guiding Light.”

Five years ago, Daniel moved to L.A. He acted in “Graceland,” “Mad Men” and “Newsroom,” and played opposite Jaime Pressly in “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.” He’s got a part in the upcoming Cinemax show “Quarry,” and John Stamos’ “Grandfathered.”

Daniel is very excited about his most recent project. HBO seldom shows short films — but in February they’ll air “First Date, Last Date.”

Consisting of one long shot, the video stars Daniel and Andrea Bordeaux as a couple meeting for the first time in a diner, as an apocalyptic world breaks outside. The film takes them through a unique — and uniquely peaceful — journey.

“Not to be cliched, but all of my life has been based on the nurturing I got in Westport,” Daniel says.

Staples Players director Al Pia had a profound impact.

“I think of him often,” Daniel says. “He taught me about confidence, to find strength in my own voice, and how to be a leading man. Actors often have anxiety. He helped me work through that. He was a great coach and leader. He kept me in the game, and made me hungry.”

Hungry enough to get a role as an HBO actor in a diner, on a first and last date while the world around him falls apart.

(“First Date, Last Date” debuts Wednesday, February 3, 10:50 p.m. EST on HBO Now. Click here for the entire schedule.)

Andrea Bordeaux and Daniel Hall, filming "First Date, Last Date."

Andrea Bordeaux and Daniel Hall, filming “First Date, Last Date.”



Jesse Nusbaum Sculpts His Own Path

The University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball trophy rooms are filled with awards. National champions amass plenty of hardware.

But the most intriguing items may be a pair of Husky heads. The eye-catching sculptures are the work of Jesse Nusbaum.

The Weston native presented them to UConn coaches Geno Auriemma and Kevin Ollie recently, in honor of the Huskies’ twin national championships in 2014.

University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, with Jesse Nusbaum and his Husky sculpture.

University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, with Jesse Nusbaum and his Husky sculpture.

The sculptures are worth quite a bit. One day — perhaps soon — when Nusbaum becomes nationally known, they’ll be worth even more.

The 25-year-old is already gaining a reputation. A little over a year into his career, he earned an invitation to last month’s prestigious Art Basel Miami show. He’s on the fast track — though his favored artistic medium requires patience and time.

Growing up, Nusbaum says he was “a jock.” A black belt by age 7, and youth soccer and basketball player, he was an All-State baseball player at Weston High. Except for an injury, he might have done the same in wrestling.

But he also worked with rock, soapstone, metal and pewter in the school’s art classes. “It felt so natural to me,” he says.

Horse, by Jesse Nusbaum.

Horse, by Jesse Nusbaum.

Nusbaum’s father is a noted lawyer, and Jesse grew up with the expectation of law school. He graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2013 not with the political science degree he had started, but as a studio art major.

After studying a year for the LSAT, he entered Charleston School of Law. “The dean loved that art degree,” Nusbaum says proudly. “He thought it was great I was using my brain in a different way. He saw me as very creative.”

It did not take long, though, for Nusbaum to realize a legal career was not for him. “I had no passion for it,” he says. “My mentors from Muhlenberg knew I was miserable. ‘You have a gift for art,’ they said. ‘Don’t waste it.'”

Without telling his parents — “it would crush them,” Nusbaum says — he requested a leave of absence. The dean supported him. “Follow your heart,” he told the aspiring artist.

Nusbaum went to work in his Weston studio. His specialty is animals. His style is hyper-realism. Each piece is intricately, intensely detailed — sometimes including actual animal parts, like bull horns and teeth.

Jesse Nusbaum at work in his Weston studio.

Jesse Nusbaum at work in his Weston studio.

“Although my hands are the tools to make a sculpture, 90 percent of the work comes from  my mind,” Nusbaum explains. “I constantly change the shape as the work progresses.”

Bronze gives his work an ageless, timeless, weathered finish — rugged, polished and clean.

It takes Nusbaum 2 to 3 months to sculpt one piece. The finishing process takes another 2 to 4 months.

Bull, by Jesse Nusbaum.

Bull, by Jesse Nusbaum.

But the results are worth it. Nusbaum was particularly proud to present the Husky heads to the UConn coaches. After Auriemma asked a lot of questions about how Nusbaum worked, the young sculptor realized there could be a market for animal heads for many more sports teams. “Just think of all the Yale alums…” he says, envisioning a vast bulldog market.

The sculptor works on marketing too. Instagram is key. In just a few months, he’s amassed 75,000 followers.

The Art Basel invitation capped off a fantastic year. Nusbaum attracted plenty of notice at last month’s prestigious show.

Jesse Nusbaum with 2 of his sculptures at Art Basel Miami last month.

Jesse Nusbaum with 2 of his sculptures at Art Basel Miami last month.

As much as Nusbaum loves his current life, he does not regret his brief stint at law school.

“If I hadn’t gone, I always would have wondered ‘what if…’,” he says. “Now I’ve got perspective on both sides: law and art.”

Over the past year, he adds, “I’ve met so many great people in the art world. They’re selfless and happy. You don’t always see that around here.”

He’s picking up new fans — and patrons — every day.

Mersene — whose Indulge by Mersene shop on Railroad Place specialize in unique, funky and very cool items — saw some of his small rhino sculptures. She offered him a showing in her store. A  great mix of people showed up just before Christmas.

Alligator, by Jesse Nusbaum.

Alligator, by Jesse Nusbaum.

In the months to come Nusbaum will seek out art shows and galleries, to show his work here and in places like Manhattan and Brooklyn.

And he’ll keep sculpting — patiently, realistically, and very, very happily.

PS: Last spring, Nusbaum told the Charleston law school dean to forget that leave of absence. He won’t be returning.

(For more information, including samples of Nusbaum’s work, click on


This story ran last year. Several readers asked me to republish it today. Here it is.

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

Happy 90th, Joan Walsh Anglund!

Damn! “06880” missed Joan Walsh Anglund’s 90th birthday by a day.

I’m sure she’d have something wise, clever — and very, very soothing — to say about that.

The poet/author/illustrator — who spent many years in Westport, and raised her children here — wrote over 120 children’s and inspirational books. They’ve sold more than 50 million copies, and been translated into 17 languages.

Joan Walsh Anglund quote

Among her most famous quotes:

  • Do not be sad that you have suffered. Be glad that you have lived.
  • Life is in the living. Love is in the giving.
  • Where is the yesterday that worried us so?

Wikipedia says that last year, a US Postal Service stamp commemorating Maya Angelou contained Anglund’s quote “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song” — seemingly tying it to Angelou.

That’s not the first time. President Obama wrongly attributed the sentence to Angelou when he presented the 2013 National Medal of Arts and Humanities to her.

“I hope it’s successful,” Anglund said of the stamp when it was issued.

In the 1960s and early ’70s, Staples High School principal James Calkins — who spoke often of the importance of love — frequently quoted Anglund to the student body.

"Do You Love Someone?" -- one of Joan Walsh Anglund's many illustrated books.

“Do You Love Someone?” — one of Joan Walsh Anglund’s many illustrated books.

When Calkins left Staples, Anglund’s daughter — a student there — thanked him using her mother’s words: “I did not hear the words you said. Instead, I heard the love.”

A website dedicated to Anglund lists a few of her famous fans: Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth, Cary Grant, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Ethel Kennedy, Carol Burnett, Helen Hayes, Phyllis Diller, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Rosemary Clooney, Shirley Jones, the Emperor of Japan and Elizabeth Taylor.

And, it adds helpfully, “etc.”

“06880”  joins Joan Walsh Anglund’s many admirers — in Westport, and the world — in saying: “Happy 90th birthday!”

Or, to quote herself: “A (person’s) health can be judged by which he takes two at a time: pills or stairs.”


Fireworks Over Westport

Sure, this photo is 3 days late. But it’s worth the wait.

On New Year’s Eve, ace Westport photographer John Videler launched a drone.

Hovering over the Westport Arts Center, it captured this spectacular view of the First Night fireworks celebration. (Click on or hover over to enlarge.)

(Drone photo/John Videler)

(Drone photo/John Videler)

If 2016 is anything like this First Night “first photo,” we’re in for an astonishing year!

Westport Welcomes New Writers’ Studio

Westporters love words. We argue, read — and write.

This town is already home to 2 thriving writers’ centers: Westport Writers’ Workshop and Write Yourself Free.

We’ll soon welcome a 3rd. Fairfield County Writers’ Studio opens in January at 21 Charles Street, near the train station.

Classes will be held by best-selling authors, well-known editors, top literary agents, television pros and publishing experts. Aspiring and established fiction and non-fiction writers can enroll in master classes and workshops.

Westporter Jane Green and Linda Fairstein head the list of instructors.

Hard at work at the Fairfield County Writers' Studio.

Hard at work at the Fairfield County Writers’ Studio.

Fairfield County Writers’ studio was founded by Tessa Smith McGovern and Carol Leonetti Dannhauser. McGovern is a top-selling Amazon author, and teaches at Sarah Lawrence’s Writing Institute. When her children were in Westport schools, she taught workshops for their classmates. She helped her son Phil and his baseball teammates publish an app of their sportswriting.

Dannhauser has written for the New York Times, Business Week and Good Housekeeping. She teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University.

“Our chief aim is to create a nurturing community where writers and artists can come together in our creative space, and find the instruction and support they need to have fun, write and publish — wherever they are in their careers,” McGovern says.

Write on!

A. E. Hotchner: Hemingway’s Muse Still At Home Here

A. E. Hotchner has just published a new book. Hemingway in Love: His Own Story is an intimate portrait of the troubled writer, by a man who knew him well.

Hemingway committed suicide in 1961. Hotchner — a longtime Westport resident — is still going strong in his 90s.

A. E. Hotchner, with his latest book. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

A. E. Hotchner, with his latest book. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Earlier this week, “06880” reader Fred Cantor chatted with Hotchner about his life and times in our town. Here is his report.


A. E. Hotchner, the well-known writer and philanthropist, moved to Westport from New York City in 1953 — but not for all the reasons commonly associated with such a move.

“Somebody said to me: ‘Go to Westport. It’s an inexpensive place,'” Hotchner recalls.

A real estate broker showed him a 1920s home, on 5 acres, that had been empty for 2 years. “A real white elephant,” Hotchner remembers it. “Nobody wanted it, it was so big.”

But he and his wife, with 2 young children, liked the possibilities. They made an offer that was accepted.

A. E. Hotchner and Ernest Hemingway, in an undated photograph.

A. E. Hotchner and Ernest Hemingway, in an undated photograph.

The Hillandale Road home and surrounding acreage have provided Hotchner plenty of solitude to write the nearly 20 books he has published over the years, including his latest.

Like his previous works, Hotchner composed an initial draft of Hemingway in Love by longhand, on an old roll-top desk in his 3rd floor study in the finished attic that was already in place when he moved in.

What motivated him to write a new part of the Hemingway story almost 50 years after his acclaimed biography, Papa Hemingway?

The publisher’s lawyers edited out controversial parts of the 1966 manuscript that dealt with people who were alive then. Finally, Hotchner feels he is able to tell “a great tragic love story” that had such an impact on Hemingway’s life, and was perhaps even “more dramatic than what Hemingway was writing about” at the time.

“He was under siege,” Hotchner explains.

Hotchner was not only close friends with one of the 20th century’s most iconic authors. He was also close to one of its most celebrated movie stars: Paul Newman. That friendship led to their co-founding the Newman’s Own charitable endeavor.

 A. E. Hotchner has lived on Hillandale Road -- and been part of Westport -- for more than 60 years. (Photo/Fred Cantor

A. E. Hotchner has lived on Hillandale Road — and been part of Westport — for more than 60 years. (Photo/Fred Cantor

But long before that wonderful philanthropy, Hotchner was involved in a much smaller local charity event that was an integral part of small-town Westport life in the 1950s: the writers-vs.-artists basketball game in the Staples High School gym.

Hotchner played with illustrious teammates like Peter De Vries and Max Shulman. The event raised money for good causes — but there was pride involved too. Hotchner recalls De Vries being injured one game, lying on the bench unable to continue, encouraging his teammates to win.

Hotchner has other fond memories of his early years in Westport: a downtown butcher in a straw hat; a Main Street hardware store that sold nails by the pound; a farm just down the street from his home where cows grazed, and nearby homes dating back to the Revolutionary War.

Westport has changed considerably since 1953. Nevertheless, over 60 years later Hotchner very much enjoys his home. He considers his property “an oasis.” He calls the grounds “glorious.”

And — nearing the century mark — he likes being surrounded by “what’s familiar.”

Bob Dylan, Paul Simon And A Westport Christmas

In 2009, Bob Dylan saw some of Jeff Scher’s films. Both the singer and the filmmaker/animator are also painters. In fact, their styles are quite similar.

Dylan commissioned Scher — who grew up in Westport in the 1960s and ’70s and, after showing his works at the Museum of Modern Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Pompidou Centre, has returned to live here — to make a Christmas video.

Scher rotoscoped the video from a couple of generations of home movies, many shot in Westport. The boy is his son Oscar. The doors he closes at the end were based on home movies Scher shot at the little playground behind Earthplace.

Here’s the video, with Dylan singing — I kid you not — “The Little Drummer Boy”:

Paul Simon saw Dylan’s video. The next year, he hired Scher for his own Christmas song.

Wanting something different, Scher used small objects animation to visually support the song. He shot on a light box with a camera aimed down from overhead.  The color bits were made by projecting the black and white onto color paper and re-filming.

Simon’s video is a bit more ironic than Dylan’s. Another Christmas miracle.