Category Archives: Entertainment

Pop Go The Photos

Michael Friedman has done a lot in his 73 years.

The Staples High School Class of 1961 graduate produced “Hello, It’s Me.” He managed Todd Rundgren and Kris Kristofferson — as well as (with Albert Grossman) the careers of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Band, Odetta, and Peter Paul & Mary. He did publicity for the Dave Clark 5 and Herman’s Hermits.

He sold Americana and folk art. He also owned the Ash Creek Saloons in Fairfield and Norwalk, along with Darien’s Goose restaurant.

With such varied careers — and so much going on — he could be forgiven for losing the negatives of photos he took nearly 50 years ago.

Of course, they were not random snapshots of the Friedman family at the beach, or their naked newborn in a bathtub.

These were up close, personal — and superb — shots of some of the biggest names in the music world.

Mick Jagger (Photo copyright Michael Friedman)

The Stones. Janis Joplin. The Band. Johnny  Winter. Gordon Lightfoot. James Cotton. Ian and Sylvia. Rita Coolidge. All are artists Friedman worked with in the 1960s.

Last January, his wife Donna stumbled upon them. Friedman spent the next several months printing, restoring and mounting the photos.

Soon, they’ll head to the California Heritage Museum in Los Angeles.

Janis Joplin (Photo copyright Michael Friedman)

But right now, they’re part of a pop-up gallery in Bedford Square. Friedman’s taken over an appropriately scruffy, unfinished space opposite the Spotted Horse. Dozens of images are on display there — and for sale.

Michael Friedman in his pop-up gallery. His photo shows Levon Helm, legendary drummer for The Band.

There’s been no publicity. Yet plenty of folks discovered the intriguing gallery during last weekend’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. The word is getting out.

But remember: This is a pop-up place. Soon, the photos will be gone.

At least this time Friedman will know where they went.

The Girl Bands Of Westport

I’m not sure how I missed this story. Maybe I was listening to music, instead of reading.

But last week the New York Times featured 25 female bands “making some of the most acclaimed, urgent, politically relevant music around.”

Three of them — fully 12% — include Staples High School grads.

Charly Bliss is an all-Staples group. Three are guys — Sam Hendricks, Spencer Fox and Dan Shure — but the Times singles out lead singer Eva Hendricks.

Her “gooey croon tops ’90s-style power-pop songs that slide from major to minor, sweet to sour,” the paper says. Click here to listen.

Palehound features Ellen Kemper. The singer-songwriter “builds songs out of everyday details, with music that can whisper or roar,” writes the Times. Click here to listen.

The quartet Mannequin Pussy, meanwhile — with Marisa Dabice — “captures all flavors of emotional torment in short bursts that range from ferociously thrashy to delicately melodic.” Click here to listen.

(Photos/New York Times)

And you thought the fact that the Doors, Cream and Sly & the Family Stone played at Staples was cool!

(Hat tip: Katherine Ross)

Blues, Views & BBQ Festival Rocks On

Huge crowds enjoyed yesterday’s opening of the 10th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival, at the Levitt Pavilion and Westport Library parking lot.

Rain kept attendance down early today. But as soon as the drops stopped, folks came. The lawn and lot were filled nicely from 2:30 p.m. on.

Organizers pushed the schedule back slightly. Anders Osbourne is now set to play at 5 p.m. Deep Banana Blackout follows at 7.

There’s still time to enjoy one of Westport’s greatest music-and-more events. For details, click here.

The Levitt Pavilion main stage offers some of the best music anywhere….

… while in the library parking lot, future stars from the School of Rock play.

For the 4th year in a row, Dane Tilghman came from Pennsylvania with his blues-oriented art.

These 2 fans enjoyed the music while sitting on the Levitt lawn …

but the mud didn’t deter this guy from dancing.

What’s a Blues, Views & BBQ Fest without food from Bobby Q’s?

It wasn’t quite Houston. A few puddles did not stop this youngster from enjoying one of the attractions in the library parking lot.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Harvey was not far from organizers’ minds. The Westport Downtown Merchants Association collected food and clothing for victims, and donated proceeds from yesterday’s BBQ cooking competition to relief efforts.

Ladies Sing The Blues

When Beth Iovinelli belted out a song at last year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival, she basked in thunderous applause.

Then — referring to the Levitt Pavilion stage, site of the sold-out 2-day event — she asked her friend Suzy Bessett, “Notice anything missing?”

She meant: Any other woman.

Iovinelli was the only female singer the entire weekend.

The blues boasts plenty of legendary ladies — think Etta James, Big Mama Thornton and Janis Joplin. But over the years, bands have become male-dominated.

This year, Bessett and Iovinelli take one small step for (wo)mankind.

The 10th annual event (September 2-3) will include a rock-the-house show by the Sisterhood Blues Project. They’re set for Sunday (September 3, 12:30 p.m.).

Sisterhood Blues Project (from left): Beth Iovinelli, Betsy Benham Fruda and Suzy Bessett.

On a weekend filled with powerhouse performers — Galactic, Deep Banana Blackout, Bonerama, Paul Barrere & Fred Tackett, and the return of Anders Osborne — this is one you don’t want to miss.

The 3 “soul sistahs” grew up in Norwalk. Bessett — who organized the group — began singing as soon as she could talk. But she stopped when real life — an investment banking career, marriage, kids, a move to Westport — intervened.

Eventually, the lure of karaoke proved powerful. Then in 2009, she joined Ms. Suzy’s Opus. For years, they — with Bessett fronting — were a popular fixture on the local scene.

Bobby Q’s rooftop was a favorite venue. That Main Street restaurant/bar has moved to Norwalk, but the blues festival it spawned is still here.

Ever since the new Levitt opened 3 years ago, Bessett dreamed of singing on its stage. When Iovinelli noted last year that she was the only female singer at the festival, Bessett asked Blues, Views & BBQ founder Bobby LeRose about a celebration of women musicians. He instantly agreed.

Bessett recruited Iovinelli and Fruda. Both spent over a decade with the Third Sister Band, opening for GE Smith, Rick Derringer and Murali Coryell. They currently front the B Side Band.

The new group weaves together powerful vocals, harmony, soulful blues — and of course, sisterhood.

They’ll be backed by some strong brothers. Westporter Crispin Cioe played sax with the Rolling Stones. Westport native Tim DeHuff is a renowned guitarist. Drummer Vito Liuzzi played with the Johnny Winter Band. John Mulkerin is on horns; Mike Ventimiglia (Pimpinella) plays keyboard, while bassist Scott Spray has performed with Johnny and Edgar Winter, Eric Clapton and Joe Walsh.

They’re still working on a set list. But, Bessett says, they will probably perform at least one song from one of the great female blues singers.

The sisterhood lives.

(For more information on the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival — including musical lineup, food, activities for kids, tickets and more — click here.)

Pic Of The Day #132

Rowing past the Levitt (Photo/Robert Mitchell)

Friday Flashback #54

In today’s technologically marvelous world, any kid with a camera and a computer can make a movie.

Local teenagers do it uncommonly well. Nick Ribolla (“Welcome to Westport“) is one viral sensation example; there are countless others.

In 1962, movie-making was considerably more difficult.

So when a group of Westport youngsters made a feature-length, color production, everyone took notice.

And by “everyone,” I mean the New York Times and Life magazine — along with plenty of movie-goers.

A New York Times story of December 7, 1962. Note that Ralph Bluemke had his own director’s chair.

“I Was a Teenage Mummy” was a spoof of classic horror films. The plot is typical: a 3,700-year-old mummy menaces (of course) Westport.

The movie was the brainchild of Ralph Bluemke. He was the “old guy” — 22.

His co-producers were Jeff Mullin (15) and Allen Skinner (14). The cast — all local kids — ranged in age from 15 down to 9.

Allen Skinner (left) sets up a shot for director Ralph Bluemke. Co-star Jayne Walker looks on. (Photo/Westport Town Crier)

All the cameras were borrowed. “A local automobile dealer lent a Cadillac for one sequence,” Life reports, “and one mother was conned out of her new Mercedes.”

The Westport Police Department lent a cop car — and a cop.

Some scenes were shot at Longshore; “suburban  homes were pillaged for props and costumes.”

Somehow, a pilot at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) persuaded passengers to sit in their seats for half an hour after landing, while a climactic scene was filmed.

Life reports on a “Mummy Movie Made by Kids.” The captions read: “A 9-year-old villain unwraps a teenage mummy in Westport” and “Movie victims litter Connecticut beach in a simulated Sahara.”

Like any moviemaker, Bluemke faced challenges. The mummy’s makeup took 3 hours to apply each day. And “a passing train or somebody dashing by in a bathing suit could bug a whole scene,” he told Life.

“I Was a Teenage Mummy” had its world premiere at the Fine Arts Theatre (now Restoration Hardware) on April 26, 1963. The next night, there were 2 screenings at in the Staples High School auditorium.

Publicity for the world premiere of “I Was a Teenage Mummy.” The tagline read: “It may not scare you to death. But you’ll die laughing.”

Though “obviously an amateur production,” a website notes, “the details are spot on. Lots of little touches and accurate costume details that make it an impressive achievement for a group of youngsters, or adults for that matter. It doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

More than half a century after its release, “Teenage Mummy” lives on. You can buy a DVD for $10.

Ralph Bluemke — the young director — thought of everything, cinematically speaking.

But he never imagined that 50 years later, anyone with a TV could watch his film about a 3,700-year-old mummy terrorizing his — now our — suburban town.

“I Was a Teenage Mummy” — the DVD case.

John Fogerty Rocks Westport

Rock Hall of Famer John Fogerty rolled through a few dozen of his — and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s — hits last night, before a packed Levitt Pavilion crowd.

His kick-ass band — including his son Shane — gave a non-stop, 2-hour performance. “It was the best Levitt concert ever,” one woman said when the show finally ended.

If you weren’t there — you missed a legendary event.

If you were — keep on chooglin’!

John Fogerty … (left) (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

… his fans … (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

… and his tour bus.

Another view of John Fogerty … (Photo/Alan Frost)

Ann Sheffer: A True Westport Playhouse Star

In the mid-1960s, Steve Gilbert was a beloved Staples High School art teacher. After school — as technical director for Players — he taught students how to create the remarkable sets that gave that drama troupe some of its early renown.

Each summer, Gilbert had another job: general manager of the Westport Country Playhouse. His Staples connection gave him an easy pipeline to willing workers. He hired set builders, ushers, even parking lot attendants.

Some of Gilbert’s teenagers — like Lindsay Law and Ann Sheffer — went on to careers in theater or TV.

Nearly all recall those summers as defining moments of their lives. They learned so much about the arts. They interacted with stars, and struggling actors. They hung out there together after work, and formed lifelong bonds.

“That’s where we grew up,” Sheffer recalls.

Staples Players received a replica of the Globe Theater. Steve Gilbert is at far left; Ann Sheffer is on the far right.

On Saturday, September 9, she returns to the Playhouse. As part of the annual gala — which this year features “Hamilton” Tony Award nominee and Grammy winner Jonathan Groff — the 1966 Staples grad receives the Leadership Award.

It’s been in the works even before Sheffer was born. 

Starting in the 1930s, her grandparents spent summers and weekends in Westport. (Their property, on the corner of Cross Highway and Bayberry Lane, predates the Merritt Parkway and Nike site — which became the Westport Weston Health District and Rolnick Observatory.)

As a child, Sheffer’s grandparents and parents took her to the Playhouse. She still recalls sitting in those red seats, for Friday afternoon children’s shows.

The Westport Country Playhouse, back in the day.

At 15, she became one of Gilbert’s ushers. The Playhouse calendar included 12 shows every season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The set would be struck Saturday night. A new one was constructed on Sunday. On Monday, the next play opened.

Going to the Playhouse was “the social event” of the week, Sheffer remembers. “People kept their own seats, and their own days of the week, for years.”

Much has changed — from summer habits to entertainment options to theater itself.

But Sheffer’s commitment to the arts — and the Westport Country Playhouse — never wavered.

Ann Sheffer

After graduating with a degree in theater from Smith College, she earned a master’s in theater administration from Tufts, and an MBA from the University of Washington. Sheffer worked with many non-profit arts groups, serving on boards at the local, state and national levels.

In 1999 — after decades assisting a variety of Westport organizations — Sheffer was asked to help plan the Playhouse renovation. During that long but fruitful process, she championed its history and cultural significance. That includes preserving posters from the Playhouse’s long history. They’re now displayed in the lobby.

She helped procure $5 million in bond money from the state. She also negotiated a $2 million grant to name the adjacent barn for Lucille Lortel, along with annual funds for new plays.

Sheffer has long supported the Playhouse’s education programs. Her brother Doug was a props apprentice in 1968. (That’s why every play featured furniture and other items from the Sheffer’s home — including Sheffer’s mother’s high school diploma, which hung on the wall when Shirley Booth starred in “The Desk Set.”)

In 1968, the Westport News profiled Playhouse apprentices. Doug Sheffer is shown in the photo at right.

Sheffer was a trustee until 2015 — “15 amazing years working with Joanne Woodward, Annie Keefe and a dedicated board” that completely transformed an old, leaky and unheated barn into a theater for the next generation.

When she accepts her award at the September 9 gala, Sheffer will no doubt speak about what the Playhouse has meant to her, for so many years.

She may also weave together some of the strands that continue to tie the Westport Country Playhouse to the rest of the community. For example, the Susan Malloy Lecture in the Arts — named for Sheffer’s aunt, and set for September 11 — will feature a panel discussion on “Falsettos.”

Interestingly, in 1994 Staples Players presented that groundbreaking show about gay life as a studio production. The principal did not want it to be shown at the high school — so the Playhouse offered its stage.

The same stage that — 30 years earlier, and more than 50 years ago now — was a home away from home for a generation of Staples Players.

Including a very passionate, and impressionable, Ann Sheffer.

(The Westport Country Playhouse Gala on Saturday, September 9 begins with a 5:45 p.m. cocktail party. A presentation to Sheffer, a performance by Groff and a silent auction follow. All proceeds benefit the WCP’s work on stage, with schools and throughout the community. For more information and tickets, call Aline O’Connor at 203-571-1138, or email aoconnor@westportplayhouse.org.)

The Westport Country Playhouse today.

 

John Fogerty Sellout Nears

Tickets are going fast for this Thursday’s John Fogerty concert at Levitt Pavilion. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member — who made Rolling Stone’s Top 100 lists of both the greatest guitarists and greatest singers of all time — headlines this year’s gala fundraiser.

Fogerty wrote and sang some of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s most classic songs, including “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Fortunate Son.” As a solo artist, he’s known for songs like “Centerfield” and “Rock and Roll Girls.”

For gala tickets ($275, including a pre-concert cocktail party, premium seating and an after-party); preferred seating tickets ($125) and patron tickets ($95), click here or call 866-811-4111.

When Comics Were King

Over the years, Westport has been known nationally for a few things.

During the Civil War, our onions helped Northern troops stave off illness. In the ’70s and ’80s we were awash in marketing companies.

And for a longer period of time — the 1950s through ’90s — we were part of “the comic strip capital of the world.”

Vanity Fair’s September issue explores that funny period in our history. Writer Cullen Murphy — whose father was one of those illustrious illustrators — looks at all of Fairfield County as the world capital. It was

where most of the country’s comic-strip artists, gag cartoonists, and magazine illustrators chose to make their home. The group must have numbered 100 or more, and it constituted an all-embracing subculture …. In the conventional telling, the milieu of Wilton and Westport, Greenwich and Darien, was the natural habitat of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit — and I was certainly aware of the commuters who took the train into Manhattan every morning from my own hometown of Cos Cob. But, for me, those salarymen with their briefcases seemed like outlandish outliers.

Murphy cites Westport’s “large cluster” of cartoonists Bud Sagendorf (“Popeye”), Leonard Starr (“On Stage,” “Little Orphan Annie”), Dick Wingert (“Hubert”), Stan Drake (“The Heart of Juliet Jones,” “Blondie”), Jack Tippit (“Amy”), John Prentice (“Rip Kirby”) and Mel Casson (“Mixed Singles/Boomer”).

Bernie Fuchs’ famous studio. It was demolished earlier this year.

Murphy’s father compared Bernie Fuchs to Degas. The writer adds: “Fuchs’s career was all the more remarkable because he had lost 3 fingers on his drawing hand in an accident when he was a teenager.”

Murphy does not mention Curt Swan (“Superman”). I’m sure he’s missed others.

From the 2002 book “Curt Swan: a Life in Comics”

Murphy offers a few reasons why this area attracted so many illustrators: lack of a state income tax; affordable homes, and of course the presence of other artists.

It was solitary work — which is why so many Fairfield County illustrators got together in groups, here and on Wednesdays when they brought their art to their editors in the city. They talked about their work. They also ate and drank.

Murphy notes:

One defining reality about the cartoonists was that although their characters —Beetle Bailey, Snoopy, Prince Valiant, Blondie — were known worldwide, they themselves passed through life more or less anonymously. Unlike actors or sports figures or reality-TV stars, they were never stopped on the street. They didn’t have a “gal” to protect them or “people” to speak for them.

Semi-domesticated, they depended heavily on their families, especially wives, who in many ways held the entire enterprise together, from basic finances to rudimentary social cues…. Life was interrupted mainly by mundane chores. More than a few collectors have bought original comic strips and found notations like “prescription ready” or “diapers, bologna, Chesterfields” in the margins.

Bud Sagendorf, and his most well-known character.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. Murphy writes:

The concentration of cartoon talent in Fairfield County was a product of special circumstances, and those circumstances have disappeared. Newspaper comic strips are not the force they were, and few magazines still publish gag cartoons.

The New York City newspaper strike of 1962–63 led to the demise of the Hearst flagship, the New York Journal-American, whose funny pages were the best in the country. Making it there was like opening at the Roxy. Now it was gone.

New York remains the center of the publishing industry, but the railroad is no longer a lifeline: the Internet has meant that artists can send their work from anywhere. Connecticut has a state income tax now, though that’s not what has made Fairfield County unaffordable — Wall Street is responsible for that.

Westport, of course, is now a financial capital — both as headquarters to the world’s largest hedge fund, and home to many financial executives.

I wonder what kind of cartoon Bud Sagendorf, Stan Drake, Mel Casson or any of the others would draw about that.

(Click here to read the entire Vanity Fair story. Hat tips: Doug Bonnell and Paul Delano)

From comics to capitalism: Westport is now home to Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund.