Category Archives: Entertainment

Rob Carlson: From Westport To Benefit Street, And Back

In a society that celebrates specialization, Rob Carlson is a generalist.

He’s a singer-songwriter. A corporate entertainer. An author. And a lot more.

Rob Carlson

Rob Carlson

For over 50 years — even before his 1966 graduation from Staples High School — Carlson has entertained generations of fans. He’s funny and fun. He’s got a wicked eye for the absurd, and a Robin Williams-like talent for picking out a wide range of targets.

Staples played a seminal role in Carlson’s musical career. As president of Orphenians, he helped organize the elite a cappella group’s 1st-ever trip (to the Virgin Islands).

He played trombone (“a useless instrument”), but discovered guitar (“you can actually play chords”). His folk band — the Triumvirate — opened for some of the famous rock bands like the Beau Brummels and Remains who played at Staples.

At Brown University — where he majored in American Civilization — Carlson was part of a burgeoning music scene. His most famous band — Benefit Street — included Staples classmate Josh Barrett. They earned New England renown.

In 1973 Carlson joined another former Staples classmate, Jon Gailmor, in a folk duo. Their Polydor debut album — “Peaceable Kingdom” — is still considered a classic by all who heard it.

But before hitting the big time, the 2 went their separate ways. Carlson headed back to the Virgin Islands, where he fell in love with Caribbean music.

Back in this area, he had a 10-year run playing local spots like  Grassroots and the Tin Whistle.

When his son was born — and Grassroots closed — Carlson got a steady gig running an independent production company. As “Ramblin’ Bob,” he wrote and produced a weekly tune in the style and voice of Bob Dylan, about whatever was happening in the news. The delivery was dead-on.

Christine Lavin heard Carlson in Portland, Maine, and gave his career a boost. He formed the Modern Man trio, which perfected send-ups of songs by the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry and many others. After 15 years, Modern Man played its last gig in October.

Carlson describes his music — reluctantly, because he dislikes categorizing it — as “folk/rock/Americana.” It includes elements of show tunes, R&B, Caribbean — you name it.

He’s “pretty much acoustic. I like the sound of wood.”

Benefit Street has now been reconstituted — with former Westporter Beth Bradley. This month they play the Grange in Greenfield Hill. On November 12, they and Beth Bradley will be at the Westport Unitarian Church’s Voices Cafe.

Palatine Ship - Rob CarlsonBefitting an American Civilization major, Carlson spent 30 years — “on and off,” he clarifies — researching and writing “Palatine Ship,” about the legend of an 18th-century vessel lost near Block Island.

But it’s music for which Carlson is best known. His audience, he says, is “mostly boomers. Every generation is fixated on the music it liked between the ages of 13 and 25. That’s pretty much what you like for the rest of your life.”

It’s a life Rob Carlson has known — and embraced — for over half a century. Westporters have long loved his distinctive voice.

It’s a good thing he gave up that useless trombone.

(For Rob Carlson’s website, click here.) 

Westport “Housewife” TV Show Debuts Tuesday

She’s not a “disgusting, piggy” former Miss Universe.

She’s not a 400-pound computer hacker.

She’s not even the “Second Fattest Housewife in Westport” anymore.

But she still lives here.

ABC-TV’s new show — with the new name “American Housewife” — premieres Tuesday (October 11, 8:30 p.m.).

Here’s the promotional blurb:

Katie Otto, a confident, unapologetic wife and mother of 3, raises her flawed family in the wealthy town of Westport, Connecticut, filled with “perfect” mommies and their “perfect” offspring.

Katie’s perfectly imperfect world is upended when her neighbor’s decision to move notches her up from her ideal social standing and sets her on a path to ensure that doesn’t happen, regardless of the consequences.

“Game of Thrones” it ain’t.

But feel free to curl up in front of your TV on Tuesday, to see how the rest of America sees Westport.

And don’t forget that gallon of ice cream!

(Hat tip: Bart Shuldman)

Who You Gonna Call?

I’m pretty sure these kids have never been to a drive-in movie:

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

They probably didn’t even know what one was, before today.

But they — and many other Westporters, of all ages — were pumped for our town’s 1st-ever drive-in movie, tonight at Compo Beach.

Homes With Hope and the Westport Cinema Initiative partnered to present “Ghostbusters.”

It’s a fundraiser — and fun.

Something for the boys in the photo to tell their grandchildren about.

Mike Kulich Funeral Service Set

Former classmates, friends and neighbors of Mike Kulich — and countless business associates and customers — were devastated by news of his sudden death last week. The 29-year-old Staples High School Class of 2004 graduate was an adult entertainment industry leader.

He was preparing for his wedding. Instead, he will be buried next to his father.

Mike’s funeral is set for Thursday, October 6 (1:30 p.m., Curlew Hills Funeral Home, Palm Harbor, Florida). A reception follows at Mike’s mother Sophia’s home, 4172 Ridgemoor Drive North, Palm Harbor 34685.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to that address, made out to the Tyler Kulich Trust Fund. He is 5 years old, and recently recovered from leukemia.

Condolences can be emailed to sophia@sophiastravel.com.

Mike Kulich

Mike Kulich

Next Attraction: A Drive-In Theater!

Today’s teenagers have out on a lot of things:

Dial phones. Dial-up modems. Drive-in movies.

Stephen Rowland is a very involved Staples High School senior. Among other activities he’s a varsity soccer player, serves meals at the Gillespie Center, and is a Homes With Hope youth board member.

A year ago, his father casually mentioned drive-in movies. Intrigued by the concept, Stephen searched online for more.

Kids: This was how America used to roll.

Kids: This was how America used to roll.

Not long after, the Homes With Hope youth board was casting about for a new, exciting fundraiser.

Bingo!

Producing a pop-up drive-in movie in Westport is not easy. But Stephen and the rest of the youth board found a company with a 40-foot screen, projector and sound system.

Compo Beach — near the kayak launch — seemed like the perfect spot.

Permits were needed, from town commissions. But Stephen and his peers pushed hard.

“The idea of driving up to a movie, not getting out of your car, being comfortable and having fun, is pretty cool,” Stephen says.

So this Saturday (October 1, 7 p.m.), “Ghostbusters” — a 1984 classic chosen for its broad appeal to kids, teenagers and parents — will be shown on what is believed to be Westport’s 1st-ever drive-in movie screen.

The only other better choice would be “Back to the Future.”

(The Westport Cinema Initiative is a partner with this project. The cost is $30 per car — cheap enough so that no one has to hide in the trunk. Besides, proceeds benefit Homes With Hope. Beach stickers are not required. Joey’s by the Shore will be open for food. For more information, click here.)

Remembering Mike Kulich

Mike Kulich — the 2004 Staples High School graduate who became an adult entertainment industry leader, founding 3 film companies and one of the world’s most 100 visited websites, plus a very successful PR firm — died suddenly yesterday.

Mike was proud of what he’d accomplished. In a story 4 years ago, I wrote:

After graduating from Staples in 2004, Mike spent a semester at John Jay, studying criminal justice. But the lure of his youth was strong. He soon headed west, got an apartment in Marina del Ray, and knocked on the door of industry kingpin Howard Levine.

“I was 18 or 19, a cocky kid,” Mike says. “He told me to get out.”

Today, Levine is Mike’s distributor.

The dogged Mike landed a job with International Video Distributors. He made cold calls, selling videos to adult stores, liquor stores — and, memorably, Westport’s Merritt Country Store.

As the growth of internet porn slowed sales of videos, Mike started a company that printed and replicated videos for big studios. After a big payout, last year he began producing his own films….

Mike is happy to explain that his success is a result of hard work.

“I knew from high school on that this is what I wanted,” he says. “I researched the industry, went with reputable companies, reached out, and built my reputation.”

Many people have misperceptions about the adult entertainment industry, he adds. “They think porn stars are hookers. But people here are really monogamous. Being on set is like another day at the office. People work, then they go home to their significant other. It’s just one niche in the entertainment world.”…

“I’m a studio owner at 25,” he says proudly. “For me to get to this position in banking or marketing would have taken most of my career.”

Mike was a watchdog for his industry. When a Michigan man lost his entire porn collection in a robbery, Mike replaced it with every title his company ever produced. At one point, that was 40 a month.

In April — when North Carolina passed what became known as the anti-transgender “bathroom bill” — Mike programmed his XHamster website so that it did not serve any computer with a North Carolina IP address. He said the blank screens would stay in place until the state repealed the bill.

Historic Westport Home Hits The Auction Block

Not many people realize the connection between Kodak and George Gershwin.

Fewer still know that both are connected to Westport

Leopold and Frankie Godowsky. (Photo/Zillow)

Leopold and Frankie Godowsky. (Photo/Zillow)

But Leopold Godowsky Jr. — a concert violinist with a passion for photography — moved here in the 1930s.  He set up a lab, and for several decades in town helped develop Kodacolor and Ektachrome.  Today he is considered a major contributor to the field of color photography.  He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005, 22 years after his death.

Godowsky’s wife, Frankie Gershwin — George and Ira’s younger sister — was a painter of oils and acrylics, and later a singer.  She too was a prominent Westporter.

In 2009 the Godowskys’ former home — a 7,000-square foot, low-slung compound at the end of Stony Point overlooking the confluence of the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound, featuring pools, a waterfall, tennis court and dock — became one of the most expensive teardowns in Westport history.

Now the Godowskys’ previous house here — at 157 Easton Road — is on the market.

The 7-bedroom, 10-bath, 6-car garage property sits on 2.75 acres. There’s a boathouse, indoor pool, 2 bars, a wine-tasting room, guest quarters, tennis court, waterfalls, walking paths, and stone bridges. The Saugatuck Aspetuck River flows through the back yard.

157 Easton Road

157 Easton Road

The Godowskys moved to Easton Road from New York in 1938. Four children grew up there, before moving to Stony Point in the early 1950s.

Her parents entertained guests like local residents Richard Rodgers, John Hersey, Maureen O’Sullivan and her daughter Mia Farrow.

The house will be auctioned off on September 30.

It is not the place Nadia Godowsky Natali — Leopold and Frankie’s daughter — remembers.

Back then, she tells Zillow, it was “a country house. Very simple…not pretentious.” That place, she says, is gone.

How does Natali — now a California-based psychotherapist, author of “Cooking Off the Grid” and Zen center founder — know? She’s seen photos of the former “bucolic compound.”

They were digital, Zillow notes.

Not Kodachrome.

(Hat tip: Wendy Crowther)

Moth Radio Hour: Westport-Style

A while ago, Jane Green told a story for the Moth Radio Hour. It was recorded in front of a live audience at New York’s Cooper Union.

Jane Green

Jane Green

In June, the Westporter — and internationally renowned author — told Moth stories again, on stage at an old, lovely theater in Boston. She was  joined by a Jamaican writer, New York City doctor, Puerto Rican actress and Boston fireman.

If you don’t know the Moth Radio Hour, you should. Broadcast on 400 radio stations — including WNYC in New York — it makes “This American Life” sound like amateur hour.

Story tellers have no script, and use no props. They stand in front of a microphone, under a spotlight, facing a room full of strangers.

The Moth Radio Hour is real, true stories, told by real, true people. Some are humorous. Others are heartbreaking. Some are both. All are transfixing and addictive.

moth-radio-hourAlert “06880” reader — and very-interesting-woman-herself — Katherine Bruan is a Moth fanatic. She also loves Jane Green.

So, Katherine thought, why doesn’t Westport — a town filled with talented, charismatic people, many with diverse backgrounds and all of whom have stories — have our own Moth hour?

It could be once or twice a year, Katherine suggested, at the Westport Country Playhouse or library. It would bring the community together. We’d all be entertained, moved and uplifted.

It’s a fantastic idea. And — to Katherine’s, my and probably your surprise — it’s already been done.

Starting last fall, Tom Croarkin organized several similar events at the Unitarian Church in Westport. He calls them “Story Slams,” but they’re really Moth Radio Hours without the radio.

Each participant gets 5 minutes. They can’t use props. And their story must fit a theme.

The Westport Unitarian Church welcomes everyone -- including story-tellers.

The Westport Unitarian Church welcomes everyone — including story-tellers.

The first one — last November — centered around “Lying Through My Teeth.” The second, in February, was about “Lost and Found” (stories were figurative, as well as literal).

May’s theme was “Trouble.” Fifteen folks got up and told woeful tales.

The next Unitarian Church Story Slam is this Friday (September 23, 7 p.m.).The theme is “Vacation.”

There’s a $10 admission fee (it’s a fundraiser for the church). BYOB.

To RSVP (not required) or more information, email tcroarkin1126@att.net.

So start thinking about your vacation stories. I’m sure Jane Green has at least one good one to share!

Housewives Alert!

A crew from the new ABC-TV series “American Housewife” begins shooting still and background shots at Longshore, Compo and other local sites tomorrow (Thursday).

Sounds like fun! After all, the hometown of the TV “housewife” is Westport.

Spoiler alert: The show was originally called “The 2nd Fattest Housewife in Westport.”

Of course, let’s welcome our Hollywood guests.

But ladies, if they ask you to be the star of a shot — maybe think twice.

Remembering Gene Bayliss

Since the 1960s, Staples Players has earned renown for its Broadway-style productions.

The directors and technical advisors deserve plenty of credit. But so do the choreographers.

Beginning in the 1960s, Players have been blessed with choreographers with actual Broadway experience. One of those was Gene Bayliss.

Gene Bayliss

Gene Bayliss

Bayliss — who died last week at 89 — had a storied life. A Birmingham, Alabama native, he starred in many shows at Northwestern University. He was head cheerleader there too, and when the football team traveled to California for the 1949 Rose Bowl, Gene made national headlines by cartwheeling off the train in a raccoon coat and straw hat.

In 1996 — for the school’s 2nd Rose Bowl appearance — he provided an encore at the alumni dinner.

In New York City, Gene — who combined “graceful, creative movement with articulate, expressive speech and leadership” — earned praise as a director and choreographer. He danced in commercials and on live TV, and worked with Dinah Shore, Dave Garroway, and pageants like Miss USA and Miss Universe.

Gene created the staging for the show-stopping “Telephone Hour” and “Lot of Livin” numbers in “Bye Bye Birdie.” He served as associate choreographer for “Carnival,” and recreated those shows (and many others) for over 150 regional and international tours.

He also produced product launches and corporate meetings for Fortune 500 companies.

Gene Bayliss choreographed the Miss Universe pageant in 1977. Here he acts as a stand-in for the winner during rehearsal.. He's crowned by the reigning Miss Universe Rina Messinger, as host Bob Barker looks on.

Gene Bayliss choreographed the Miss Universe pageant in 1977. Here he acts as a stand-in for the winner during rehearsal.. He’s crowned by the reigning Miss Universe Rina Messinger, as host Bob Barker looks on.

But it was Gene’s work with Staples High School that brought him his most local renown. Working with Players directors Craig Matheson and Al Pia, he brought Broadway to the high school stage (including a few signature acts from “Carnival”).

Every Christmas for years, Staples’ Candlelight Concert featured a new production number that he created and choreographed specially for the choir.

Those were his ways of giving something back to the worlds of theater and music he loved so much. (He was also happy to do something for the school his 6 children attended.)

Former Players and choir members recall his avid interest in their careers — and his care and concern for them as teenagers too.

Gene was vice president of the Connecticut Ballet School, and an active parishioner at both the Church of the Assumption and St. John’s in Weston.

A funeral mass is set for tomorrow (Monday, September 19, 11 a.m.) at Assumption Church. Interment with military honors follows in Assumption Cemetery.

Donations in Gene’s memory may be made to the Lambs Foundation, which supports America’s theater legacy. For Gene Bayliss’ full obituary, click here.