Friday Flashback #232

A recent “06880” story on the death of Hal Holbrook noted his 1959 Halloween appearance — as Mark Twain, of course — at Staples High.

I wrote: “The school had just opened its modern North Avenue campus. The PTA had an active arts program, bringing musicians, dancers and actors to the new auditorium stage. Hal Holbrook might have been the most famous name of all.”

Staples High School auditorium in its first year: 1959.

He sure had competition. As John Kelley notes, in those early days of the new high school, Ottilie Kaufman — who lived right next to the south entrance — organized and produced a one-of-a-kind, first-ever performing arts series at Staples that included (in addition to Holbrook) the Weavers, Marcel Marceau, Ferrante and Teicher, Odetta, Sir John Gielgud , Andrés Segovia and others.

Segovia — a world-renowned Spanish classical guitarist — died in 1987, at 94. But his legacy — and his visit here — lives on.

Soon after another legendary Latin musician — José Feliciano — turned 75 last year, our Weston neighbor received a gift: Segovia’s footstool.

Autographed. And from that March 1960 Staples concert.

A page from the 1960 Performing Arts series program.

The back story: Prior to his show, Segovia came to the Kaufmans’ home next door to the high school. He warmed up in the living room using that footstool. Many classical guitarists do that; it supports the instrument, as they play seated.

Growing up in Spanish Harlem in the 1950s, Feliciano was highly influenced by the skills and intrigue of Segovia’s delicate flamenco style.

The antique stool sat in the Kaufman family’s attics for decades — first on North Avenue, then at Ottilie and Zenn’s son Roger’s house. A guitarist, singer and founder of Old School Music’s concerts, promotions and events, he’s as famous locally as Feliciano and Segovia are internationally.

The stool seemed a fitting present for Feliciano, who always sits when he plays. Now the “Feliz Navidad” and “Light my Fire” Latin/jazz/blues/soul/rock musician is sitting pretty with Segovia’s stool in hand — er, under foot.

From left: local drummer Tyger MacNeal, Jose Feliciano and Roger Kaufman, with Andres Segovia’s footstool. The 75th birthday presentation was at Sakura.

4 responses to “Friday Flashback #232

  1. Wow! I had never heard of this fabulous performing arts series that happened in 1959-60. What a lineup!

    And, once again, you have brought to light a piece of Westport arts history I imagine very few of your readers were aware of.

  2. Just as I was wondering how I could have missed Segovia and the other brilliant performers listed, I saw the year of his performance. 1960. Years later when I was about 12 years old, my aunt who adored Segovia and had seen him perform in Spain, took me to one of his concerts in the City.
    As I recall, his genius with the guitar earned him the nickname of “Manos de platos” or hands of silver.

  3. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    We were privileged to have had the performing arts series at Staples. As a student there in the earlier 1960s I among others participated as a ticket taker and usher, as a member of the Service Club. You didn’t have to go to NYC to have an inspiring and rich cultural experience!

  4. Ottilie Kaufman had an eye for talent.and an “Inkling” that a then 35 year old Hal Holbrook ..was a major talent to be- and booked him in 1960 for a new and exciting “Performing Arts Series”at Staples in Westport.

    He spent the afternoon at our house on North Ave . For 2+ hours we watched Bela Lugosi in Dracula….prior to a lengthy makeup to appear 90 years old in his new show: “Mark Twain Tonight”.

    He was a low key, humble, sweet and charming Midwestern guy.
    My mother, like many others- was smitten with Hal…so he signed
    a very nice 8x 10 picture to her that night….which we held on to.

    Roll the tape forward (55 years) to 2015…. when Hal played
    Mark Twain at the Stamford Palace theater. .I got tickets, went
    up in the attic, dusted off the picture & took it with me to
    hopefully meet with him at The Palace….

    Then at 90, he needed NO makeup for the part-perfect !
    Needless to say he filled the theate and performed in typical Holbrook fashion: to a standing ovation and an encore ….ad libbing and
    telling the classic Twain yarns and anecdotes that entertained
    more than a thousand audiences for almost 60 years.
    After the show in the green room….The picture amused him greatly -his comment :I was so young!”

    Of course I asked “Did he remember us-or the show in
    Westport? not really….I didn’t care….we so enjoyed the
    chance to see him again…Then when I said we watched Dracula
    together he said ” Oh yes…we were both scared.”

    Hal Holbrook..one of Americas greatest actors passed two weeks ago.
    RIP Hal.
    He was my kind of guy.Humor was central to the passage of time.
    He quoted Mark Twain for 60 years about life:
    About Golf….he said: “I cant think of a worse way to ruin a nice long walk….”and “Be good, and you’ll be alone…”

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