Unsung Hero #6

This Saturday at 4 p.m., when the Westport Cinema Initiative screens “The High School That Rocked!” Fred Cantor will sit contentedly in the Town Hall auditorium.

Few in the audience will know that the ever-smiling Westporter came up with the idea for a film about 6 major bands — you may have heard of the Doors? — that played at Staples High School in the mid-1960s.

Cantor then produced the intriguing film. He tracked down archival photos, arranged interviews and found funding.

Fred Cantor, at the opening of the Westport Historical Society’s “The High School That Rocked!” exhibit. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

After the talkback that follows the showing, Cantor will head across the street to the Westport Historical Society for a cocktail hour. Guests will enjoy the “High School That Rocked!” exhibit — inspired, and curated in part, by Cantor.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, Cantor will sit on the Levitt Pavilion grass. He’ll watch with satisfaction as an all-star cast of Staples High School 1971 classmates — Charlie Karp, Brian Keane and Michael Mugrage, all of whom played and recorded with the biggest names in entertainment — join several other very talented ’71 classmates for one of the best shows of summer.

Cantor masterminded that event too.

He won’t get much credit for any of this. But he won’t mind. It’s just his way of contributing to the life, joy and history of the town he’s called home since he was 10 years old.

Cantor moved to Easton Road with his family from Fresh Meadows, Queens. (He loves that place too — and wrote a book about the middle class families that thrived there after World War II.)

While serving as a public interest lawyer in New York City, he and his wife Debbie Silberstein bought a 2nd home on Drumlin Road. They now live there full-time. True to his volunteer — and community-minded — form, Cantor is active in his road association, and a great neighbor to all in need.

Fred Cantor, in the Staples High School 1971 yearbook.

His selfless ways are legion. Several years ago, a Staples freshman soccer player with a single mother had no transportation after practice and games. Every day, Cantor — a former soccer star at Staples and Yale — drove him home.

Twenty years ago Cantor combined his passions for soccer, writing and history with a book, “The Autumn of Our Lives.” He followed the Staples team for an entire season, and told a compelling story of the changes — and similarities — between 2 teams, 25 years apart.

Cantor has done more than perhaps anyone in the world to keep the Remains’ memory alive. The Westport band that opened the Beatles’ 1966 tour — and that was, Jon Landau said, “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll” — has been memorialized in an off-Broadway play (“All Good Things“) and documentary film (“America’s Lost Band“).

Cantor came up with the idea for both. And made sure that both got made.

Always, he stayed out of the limelight.

These days you can often find Cantor at the Westport Library. He’s researching some element of Westport history.

Often, that research — or simple inspiration — leads to an “06880” story idea.

You may not have known the enormous impact Fred Cantor has had on this blog. Or this town.

Now that he’s this week’s Unsung Hero, you do.

(Know of an unsung hero we should celebrate? Email details to dwoog@optonline.net)

15 responses to “Unsung Hero #6

  1. This is a complete surprise. Thanks for your very generous praise but I would never view myself as a hero of any kind, nor would I say I was “unsung” in that there have been articles written about some of my creative projects which have acknowledged whatever role I had in them.

    And thanks for publicizing Saturday’s events by the Westport Cinema Initiative, the Westport Historical Society, and the Levitt Pavilion because, among other reasons, those are three local arts organizations I think are wonderful.
    PS–I believe Joanne Romsno and Bonnie Erickson are responsible for the post-Levitt party at the ‘Port. I was not involved in organizing that in any way.

  2. What a great call profiling Fred Cantor! He is truly a town treasure. He is always around and always ready to lend a helping hand. But don’t forget his amazing photography which he always happily shares with Westport community groups and this blog. (His photo of the Saugatuck Cribari Bridge at sunset is spectacular and he generously has allowed the Westport Preservation Alliance to use it in our campaign to save the bridge.). Bravo Fred!

  3. I love to hear stories if people like this, who “connect the dots” of things around them. I think connecting dots like this is what is special about life. – Chris Woods

  4. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    You and Fred are lifelong friends for good reason obviously. I envy you both for the reciprocal love affair you have with your hometown.

  5. Fred, you have always been a generous, open-minded and sincere person
    — this is a very well deserved acknowledgement! Cheers!

  6. Nancy Powers Conklin

    Fred is a “rock star” to me in all that he does for the town and in bringing attention to the famous bands that played at Staples High School in the late 60s, no matter who doesn’t believe us! He gives his all in every endeavor. So proud of Fred. He is one special person!

  7. Great selection!!!

    I know Fred only casually as my daughter, son-in-law and grandson became his neighbor a few years back and I met him for the first time when he stopped by to join my son-in-law James and I to watch the Yale Bull Dogs in the NCAA Frozen Four hockey tournament about 4 or so years ago. He was gracious, funny and a perfect guy to watch a game with. Since then, there is always a wave or, when time allows, a moment to chat when we spot each other on his walks.

    However, I do feel that I got to know Fred from his frequent comments to this blog. In fact, I one time said to Angela, my daughter, Fred is of the school that “If you cannot say something good about someone, do not say anything.” Even when he may have a differing opinion with someone, his comments are constructive, and done with elegance and consideration. So contrary to the bellicose style used by many on the internet (and in Washington) these days.

    That is a hero in my book…unsung or otherwise.

  8. Fred is a self styled Westport historian, and a wonderful guy, who I have been friends with since we were barely teenagers growing up in Westport. The Reunion Band concert at the Levitt this Saturday, (in which all the band members were literally classmates of Fred’s), the exhibit at the Westport Historical Society, and the award winning “High School that Rocked” film, which I contributed a small part in, is all Fred’s brainchild. I am so glad to see Fred get some well deserved recognition for his considerable contributions to Westport’s rich, and unique musical history! Kudos to you my friend!

  9. Margaret Hart Rynshall

    Fred, your big heart, and great sense of humor, plus your shared addiction to “ephemera” are just a few reasons why I admire and adore you. Hope to see you Saturday, my friend. And thank you, 06880, for this special tribute!

  10. I had the great joy of working with Fred on the High School That Rocked exhibit at the Historical Society. He is one of icons of Westport who make life so pleasant here. Thanks, Dan, for featuring Fred and his contributions over the years.

  11. Carissa Simon Baker

    Fred Cantor is and always has been a fun, happy, intelligent and interesting classmate. AND ALWAYS SMILING! He has been a gift to all who grew up with him, and now to everyone in town and on this blog. FRED ROCKS!

  12. Fred—well deserved! Sorry to be out of state this weekend. As usual Dan, nice article. Go ’71!

  13. Fred,
    All of us that attended Staples during that incredible time of the late ’60’s can’t thank you enough for all that you have done to put the film and the exhibit together.
    Now when we say “you’ll never believe the rock groups that played at our high school” we will have the proof thanks to you!!
    Enjoy Saturday evening!! Knowing each of those folks as our classmates then and as our classmates now will just make the evening even sweeter!!

  14. Lovely tribute to a lovely man.

  15. One of the best things about living in Westport is getting to know people like Fred. He’s even better than this tribute. My favorite Fred quote.. “the perfect is the enemy of the good” …. words to live by.

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