Category Archives: Looking back

L’Chaim, Chabad!

In early 2012, “06880” reported that the former Three Bears would turn into a Chabad Lubavitch synagogue. It would be used for prayer services, educational programs and other meetings.

The 9,180-square foot property sat on 2.73 acres, at the corner of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike. It was a historic site.

Three Bears Inn, in its heyday. (Photo courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

That’s where the Three Bears — with 6 fireplaces — operated from 1900 until 2009. It reopened for about 5 seconds as Tiburon restaurant, but the property was soon abandoned. Weeds sprouted on the once-stately site — parts of which still stood from its days as a stagecoach stop, 200 years earlier.

The story noted that complaints had been made by a neighbor about work being done without permits, and bright security lights infringing on neighbors.

Other concerns included traffic, wetland impacts, and exterior alterations to a historic building.

The interior of the Three Bears, from its glory days. (Postcard/Cardcow.com)

That story ran when I still permitted anonymous comments. It drew the most responses ever: 217. (The record still stands.)

They ranged far and wide. Readers waded in on Chabad’s mission, good works, and religious tolerance/intolerance in general; zoning issues like the permit process, residential neighborhoods, traffic, historic structures — even the pros and cons of anonymous comments.

What a difference 6 years makes.

As Chabad of Westport prepares for its grand opening celebration May 3 — including a ribbon-cutting ceremony with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — the neighborhood has changed hardly at all.

The Chabad of Westport exterior, on Newtown Turnpike.

The exterior of the Three Bears has been preserved. Some of the interior wood beams and other features remain too. More than 10,000 square feet have been added, but it’s in the back, barely visible to anyone. It’s all done in traditional New England style, with a barn-type feel.

Even the parking lot has been redesigned, eliminating a dangerous entrance near Wilton Road.

The renovated space — designed by Robert Storm Architecture, and carried out by Able Construction — includes seating for 300, in a light-filled multi-function synagogue; 8 classrooms for Hebrew school; event spaces, with a special area for teenagers; a large library, and a state-of-the-art commercial kosher kitchen.

The synagogue in the back includes plenty of light.

Eight apartments above can be used by visiting lecturers, and Orthodox observers attending events on the Sabbath who are too far away to walk home. (The apartments — completely renovated — were once leased to 3 Bears dishwashers.)

A large mural gives energy to the teenagers’ space.

The building process has reinforced for local Chabad leaders the importance of its site. Over the centuries, the property has been not only a restaurant, inn and stagecoach stop, but also (possibly) a house of ill repute, says congregant Denise Torve.

To honor its history, Rabbi Yehuda Kantor and Torve are seeking artifacts to display, and memories to showcase. Photos and recollections can be sent to DeniseTorve@aol.com.

An old sign hangs proudly in the new library.

Chabad has come a long way from the days when members met in the basement of the rabbi’s home, and rented the Westport Woman’s Club for High Holy Days services.

Of course, zoning issues continue to provoke intense Westport controversy. Only the location changes.

(Chabad of Westport’s grand opening celebration is set for Thursday, May 3, 6 p.m. at 79 Newtown Turnpike. It includes a ribbon cutting, mezuzah affixing, ushering in of the Torahs, buffet dinner, music and dancing. The entire community is invited.)

Own A Bit Of Zsa Zsa And Eva Gabor

Growing up on Clifford Lane in the 1960s, Joan Wright remembers stories about the pink interior at nearby #5.

The home off Old Hill was owned by Jolie Gabor. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, her daughters Zsa Zsa, Eva and Magda visited often.

Eva — who acted at the Westport Country Playhouse — wed her 3rd husband, plastic surgeon John Williams, there. The marriage (one of Eva’s 5) lasted just 11 months.

The Gabor house on Clifford Lane.

The house is now on the market. Built in 1951 on 1.25 acres, it’s 4,235 square feet — large for that time — and includes 5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms and a pool.

And the listing realtor is … Joan Wright.

Sounds like a neat little plot twist.

(To see the full listing, click here.)

The Gabor family

Bambi Linn’s Broadway

Bambi Linn left Westport years ago. But when she lived here, she was one of our legendary arts icons: a former Broadway dancer who as a 16-year-old joined the chorus of “Oklahoma!”, and 3 years later played Louise — Billy Bigelow’s daughter — in the original 1945 production of “Carousel.”

She starred on Broadway for 17 more years. Her last show was “I Can Get it For You Wholesale.”

Bambi Linn is now 92. The New Yorker magazine caught up with her recently, at the “Carousel” revival. It opens next Thursday (April 12).

She attended a preview matinee with her husband, former ballroom dancer Joe De Jesus. (He taught countless Westport teenagers how to dance.)

Bambi Linn (right) as Louise, and Jan Clayton (Julie Jordan) in the 1945 production of “Carousel.” John Raitt played Billy Bigelow.

The New Yorker “Talk of the Town” story called Bambi Linn “petite and zesty.” It described her encounters with Renée Fleming, who now sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and Brittany Pollack, the current Louise.

It zips through Bambi Linn’s past (at age 6 she studied with Agnes de Mille; during “Carousel” she had enough downtime to go across the street to watch Ethel Merman in the 1st act of “Annie Get Your Gun”), and touches on the different ways in which the 2 productions — nearly 75 years apart — treat Billy’s beating of his wife Julie, and slapping of his daughter.

“I never thought of it as domestic violence,” Bambi Linn says. “I never thought of Julie as a put-upon woman. She loved him, so she was willing to accept it. But I come from an era way back.”

It’s a typical New Yorker “Talk of the Town” piece. You’re never sure what the point is, or why it’s there in the first place.

But it gets you thinking about something — or someone — you haven’t thought about in a long time.

Like one of Westport’s most famous Broadway stars, of all time.

(For the full New Yorker story, click here. Registration may be required.)

Eric Roberts, Sandy Dennis, And Westport’s Cat House

Vanity Fair recently ran a long story on Eric Roberts. In a career spanning over 40 years, he’s amassed more than 400 credits. No wonder the magazine calls him “the hardest-working man in Hollywood.”

Back in the day, he worked pretty hard in Westport too. The article describes what happened in 1966 when Sandy Dennis — nearly 20 years his senior — first saw him. She thought he could be the Next Big Thing. 

Vanity Fair says: 

What first impressed Eric when he walked into Sandy Dennis’s house in Westport, Connecticut, was her 2,500-book library. Even when he was a boy, disappearing into books was one way Eric handled his social isolation.

Eric Roberts (Photo/Sam Jones for Vanity Fair)

“So I go over to Sandy’s house and we start talking about books. After about a month, I’m over there in the afternoon, just me and her in the house, and we’re having a talk about cats. How many cats on this property? She goes, Probably 30. And her house had 12 rooms, so you didn’t feel cats were an issue. So I was fine with it. And I’m a cat person anyway. . . . The next thing I know we were rolling around together.”

They began “this little book affair,” which turned into a 4-year relationship, from 1980 to 1983. It almost ended, Eric says, after he had a brief relationship with another actress while Dennis was on the road doing a play. Sandy found out and forgave him, but there was another problem: “Too many cats. By now there’s a hundred cats. Not 30, there’s 100,” Eric recalls.

Sandy Dennis

He offered to start an animal shelter if she would agree to keep just 10 or 12, but Sandy refused. Neither would budge, so Eric asked for his engagement ring back. Over the years he had bought her an antique jewelry box and a lot of jewelry, but he wanted her to return only the ring.

“Sandy went upstairs and stood at the top of the winding staircase,” Eric recalls. “Here’s your engagement ring,” she said as she hurled the jewelry box and it crashed to the floor, smashing into pieces.

He never saw her again. (She died in 1992.)

In fact, she died right here in Westport, of complications from ovarian cancer. She was just 54.

(To read the full Vanity Fair story, click here. Hat tip: Susan Iseman)

 

 

Fairfield County Hunt Club: Horses — And Much More

A few weeks ago I wrote about Birchwood Country Club. I called the hidden-in-plain sight 80-acre property — just inches from the Norwalk border — “the only private country club in Westport.”

Oops!

At the opposite end of town — just inches from the Fairfield border — lies the Fairfield County Hunt Club. It’s a country club too.

And though their emphasis is on horses, not golf, the Hunt Club shares several similarities with Birchwood. Both clubs have beautiful dining rooms. They offer tennis and swimming. They’re reaching out to younger families, and welcoming kids.

Fairfield County Hunt Club’s inviting dining room.

And they’re both trying to overcome low profiles and outdated stereotypes about who they are, and what they do.

The Hunt Club traces its history back to 1923. Averill Harriman commissioned Laura Gardin Fraser — a famous sculptor living on North Avenue — to design and execute a polo medal.

As part of her research she borrowed mallets, mounted a horse and began knocking a ball around on her estate. Intrigued, other Westporters joined her.

Games grew into the idea of a club — with, in addition to polo, horse shows and hunting.

Polo was played first on the a field on Hulls Farm Road, in Fairfield. Horse shows were held on the Bedford family estate.

The historic logo hangs on a barn door.

The Long Lots Road property was purchased in 1924 by Henry Rudkin, whose family founded Pepperidge Farm.

Interest in horses flourished. But the Depression a few years later made riding seem frivolous.

Smith Richardson, Fred Bedford and Fred Sturges helped reorganize the club. They introduced sound financial controls, and things were looking up.

A fire on New Year’s Eve in 1937  gutted the clubhouse. With insurance money, the club could have paid all its obligations and closed up shop. Instead, leaders vowed to rebuild.

Then came World War II, and gas rationing. Though membership dropped to 70, the club emerged in good shape.

A swimming pool was added in 1952. Then came 6 tennis courts, a paddle court, and in 1965 an indoor ring for year-round riding.

Through the 1970s the Hunt Club built more tennis and paddle courts, another indoor ring, and other amenities.

In the 1990s a capital improvement program renovated the clubhouse, improved barns, refurbished the baby pool, and added a snack bar and irrigation.

The 40 acres now include 8 tennis courts, 4 paddle courts, 6 barns, 2 outdoor and 2 indoor rings, a casual grill room in addition to the formal dining room — and a 60 foot-by-120 foot skating rink.

Paddle courts (foreground). In the rear is the skating rink.

Notable members over the years have included Martha Stewart, Lucie McKinney, Paul Newman, Ruth Bedford, Frank Deford, Robert Ludlum, and Harry Reasoner — who lived directly across Long Lots Road from the club.

Though not as famous as some members, Emerson Burr was well known in riding circles. He was Fairfield County Hunt Club’s stable manager for over 50 years. A ring is named for him. Burr died in 2001. His portrait hangs in the dining room.

There are now approximately 200 members. One-third are not interested in riding — they join for the pool, tennis and paddle courts, dining, family fun, summer camp, whatever. They come primarily from Westport and Fairfield, with a smattering from other nearby towns.

Things have changed over the years, of course — and not just the facilities. Members used to ride horses on the roads near the club. They no longer do — except occasionally on Godfrey Lane, off nearby Bulkley.

Riding lessons, in the indoor ring.

But key events remain the same. Several horse shows are held each year. The big one is in June. This year’s — the 95th annual — benefits the Equus Foundation. The US Equestrian Federation has designated it a “heritage competition” — one of only 16, out of 2,000 shows a year in the country.

The polo field, as seen from the dining room.

The Hunt Club hosts other fundraisers, along with dances, Halloween and holiday parties, and more.

The riding program is robust. Youngsters start as young as 5 — and members continue to ride through their 70s. A summer academy (ages 6 to 11) teaches riding, as well as horse care.

A young Fairfield County Hunt Club member, and her horse.

The club owns 9 horses; some members own their own.

Polo begins as young as 10 years old.

Monthly horse shows are open to the public. The big one, in June, draws international riders.

Like its counterpart Birchwood, the Fairfield County Hunt Club honors its history — and is moving into the future. New, young members have energized both clubs.

Ride on!

BONUS HUNT CLUB FUN FACTThe Polo Ralph Lauren logo is based on a photograph of Benny Gutierrez — a Polo Hall of Fame inductee — taken on the Fairfield County Hunt Club polo field.

A whimsical part of the Fairfield County Hunt Club parking lot.

Westport’s Neat New Restaurant: OKO

First it was a fire station.

Then it was De Rosa’s Brick Oven Pizza. Eventually the tall, slender building on Wilton Road became Neat: a coffee shop by day, wine bar at night.

Now the former Vigilant Firehouse — tucked between Bartaco and The ‘Port — will become OKO.

Chef Brian Lewis

The Japanese restaurant has great promise. It’s the latest project for chef Brian Lewis, who draws raves for his innovative cuisine at The Cottage in Colonial Green.

Lewis has studied Japanese cooking techniques for many years. He’s layered Japanese influences into his cooking. But when he introduced the Okonomiyaki — a savory Japanese pancake filled with seasonally inspired ingredients — to the Cottage menu, he realized he was on to something special.

Guests loved the dish — “Japanese street food with some rarefied touches,” he calls the immediately popular dish.

But it’s not easy to say “Okonomiyaki” (unless you’re from Japan). So, in a non-tongue-twisting tribute, Lewis is calling his new venture OKO.

Lewis will of course include local ingredients on the OKO menu. An opening date has not yet been announced.

But the sign went up this afternoon.

Happy 90th, George Weigle!

In his long and storied career as a Staples High School choral teacher, George Weigle influenced thousands of students. 

Barbara Sherburne was one. Today — as her beloved former teacher turns 90 years old — she offers this tribute.

George grew up in Parkersburg, West Virginia. At West Virginia Wesleyan College he spotted a woman from Norwalk, Connecticut named Eleanor, singing in a talent show. He told a friend, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.” It was love at first sight.

George graduated in 1950, 2 years before Eleanor. They married on August 21, 1954. After 63 years, their marriage is still going strong.

George studied for a year at Boston University after college. He taught school in West Virginia, then returned and earned his master’s in 1954 from BU. In 1980, West Virginia Wesleyan presented him with an honorary doctorate.

In 1954, George heard about an opening at Bedford Junior High. He got the job, and after 5 years moved on to Staples High School. He taught there until 1988. Eleanor taught at Bedford Elementary School from 1954 until 1961. Some years later, she began private tutoring.

George Weigle in a classic pose. (Photo courtesy of Ken Lahn)

George started the Orphenians in 1960. He named the group after his Orphenian quartet, led by his college music professor. Of course, Orpheus was a legendary Greek musician.

George continued the Candlelight Concert tradition, begun in 1940 by John Ohanian.

George and Eleanor bought a house on Robin Hill Road. They’ve lived there ever since. George told a fellow Westport music teacher — John Hanulik — about a vacant plot next door. The Hanuliks moved there in 1960, and John lived there until he died. Marie, his wife, still lives there. Having 2 incredible music teachers live next door to each other for so long is amazing.

I was a student at Long Lots Junior High, in a music class taught by Mr. Hanulik. One day, Mr. Weigle came to speak to us about Staples. He seemed very stern, and scared me. Mr. Hanulik had an incredible sense of humor. I thought, “Uh oh.” I needn’t have worried.

George Weigle took the Orphenians around the world — to Austria, Romania, Poland, Spain and many other countries. His first trip was to the Virgin Islands (above) in 1966. (Photo courtesy of Jon Gailmor)

When I was applying to colleges, Mr. Weigle suggested West Virginia Wesleyan. That’s where I went. He wrote me freshman year, “Don’t burn the candle at both ends.” I wound up getting mononucleosis. I guess he saw something coming that I didn’t.

George was also choral director at the United Methodist Church, for 43 years (1954 to 1997). I sang at the Saugatuck Congregational Church, just up the hill from the Methodist Church. George invited me to join his adult choir, when I was still in high school. I’d do both, running down the hill to get to the Methodist Church in time. I sang whenever I could under George’s direction. When my mom passed away in 1978, he was part of the quartet that sang at her service.

I’ve known George for a very long time. We communicated regularly all these years. He frequently sent me cassette tapes of Sunday services at the Methodist Church. He always sent a Christmas card, as did John Hanulik. They often arrived on the same day — and occasionally they chose the same card.

George was like a father figure to me. I have a hard time believing he is 90. You can send cards to him at 10 Robin Hill Road. I’m sure he would appreciate hearing from you. He touched so many lives in so many ways.

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Bonus George Weigle feature! In 2004, I interviewed the retired choral director for my book Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education. Here are some excerpts:

In 1954 John Ohanian brought me in for an interview. He took me to meet [principal] Norm Flint about an opening at Bedford Junior High. No one told me the kids had driven 3 choral teachers away the previous year, so I took the job.

It was tough. Every morning Eleanor had to push me out the door. Every student had to take general music. My first 9th grade chorus had 50 girls. Gradually it got better. By my 3rd year we had boys singing in the chorus too.

I went to Staples the second year it was open. The only electives the kids were offered were art, music and home ec – not the zillions of courses they have today. John had established the choral program, and I was in the right place at the right time. It was a popular group, and I had the junior highs feeding me. Looking back, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was.

The Candlelight Concert is timeless. George Weigle directed these choir members in 1981 — as he did for 39 years.

We gave 4 Candlelight Concerts each year. I’d get called in between performances, and reamed out – maybe I didn’t interpret a piece of music as I should have. Looking back, I realize John was right.

He put me on a path, and guided me. I in turn demanded excellence from my students. I realize now that students understood what excellence was.

The program grew, and so did its reputation. The harder the music, the better they performed – and the more they wanted. I gave them stuff I didn’t think high school kids could do, like John Corigliano’s “L’Invitation au Voyage.” It’s an extended piece, very contemporary, a cappella with duos and solos. Paul McKibbins’ “Psalm 67,” which he wrote and dedicated to me and the Orphenians, was the second most difficult piece.

At the time I did not realize what we were doing, level-wise. Now I wonder how I taught it, and how they memorized it – extended stuff like Handel’s “Coronation Anthems.”

In 1960-61 I started a small group: Orphenians. We had auditions, and selected 24 to 28 singers. We met once a week after school at first, then twice a week. We did lose some of the guys to sports.

From its small beginning, George Weigle’s Orphenians grew enormously. In 2010, the elite group celebrated its 50th anniversary.

In 1966 we went to St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands, and in 1972 to France, Austria and Italy. We came in second in a choral festival in Italy. If I knew then what I know now, we would have been first. I didn’t recognize shadings of dynamics. From then on, I paid attention to it. We lost to a group from Oklahoma that met five days a week.

In 1975 we went to Romania. That was an adventure! A very poor country, with very friendly people. We had to be careful what we sang.

In 1978 we went to Poland. That was our first outdoor program. We sang the Polish national anthem. Afterward they told us that might have been too nationalistic.

In 1981 we went to Belgium, France, Germany, Holland and Switzerland. On July 4th we sang at Notre Dame – it was filled with Americans. They asked us to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which we’d never prepared. It went off okay.

In 1983 we went to Spain. We sang concerts to packed halls at 10 p.m. – it was still light. And in 1985 we went to England, Wales and Scotland.

In 2010 — the 50th anniversary of Orphenians — George Weigle guest conducted the current elite group in the finale, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Westport was growing, building schools, becoming more affluent. Parents wanted their kids to be in touch with the arts — not just academics. The quality of teachers was so high, because of who John hired – and fired. He made sure the right teachers were at the right levels. As a result kids attracted other kids, and it all just blossomed. Quality led to more quality. It was all because of John’s dream and perseverance.

I think students – particularly at the high school – need the arts, in order to be enhanced and broadened. Here in Westport we’ve got doctors and lawyers who have been exposed to the arts. Westport people perform, and they’re concertgoers, and they see plays. The arts are so important to a rounded personality. Singing and playing with other people is so important. You don’t always realize when you’re in high school how meaningful it is. Sometimes it takes decades to sink in. But it does. It does.

A lot of high schools have music. But not many have music at the level of Westport.

Everyone who ever sang for George Weigle remembers the experience. Jon Gailmor, who still writes, performs and teaches, offered these thoughts.

I was in the Class of 1966 at Staples. I was immersed in the performing arts, and they shaped my every waking moment in high school.

Jon Gailmor (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

With the Orphenians, I got my first taste of the power of music. I’ll never forget watching the faces of school kids in the Virgin Islands as we wailed away. And I remember watching senior citizens in Norwalk and Bridgeport being moved both to tears and guffaws by our songs. In the Staples a cappella choir and boys’ glee club, I experienced the indescribable joy of making a large, harmonious sound and filling auditoriums with its beauty.

I loved a lot of things about Staples, but it was music where I really found out who I was and where my passion lay.

I know quite a few fellow high school performers whose lives have been similarly sparked by our unforgettable musical experiences at Staples.

Today I make and perform my own music, while helping other folks discover their creativity through songwriting residencies. I can honestly thank those three amazing years with George Weigle and my Staples brothers and sisters for the enormous role they played in helping me find my passionate life’s work.

Needed: African American Artifacts

In May, the Westport Historical Society will sponsor an exhibit about African American heritage in history here, and the surrounding region.

It should be educational, inspirational and fascinating.

It won’t happen, though, without actual stuff to show.

There is good material in the archives. But the WHS is seeking more documents and objects. They’re especially interested in original artifacts, from the earliest settlement of town to the present.

If you’ve got anything — letters, artwork, photos, property information, newspaper clippings, video or tape recordings, or anything else — please send an image and brief description to executivedirector@westporthistory.org.

And if you have any contact information for anyone who would know anything about Westport’s African American past, please send that along too.

A photo of the maids at the Laurence family home, around 1880. Part of the Laurence estate later became Longshore. The back of the photo identifies 5 white people who could possibly be in the photo — but does not even attempt to identify the black woman.

Remembering Ed Vebell

Andra Vebell writes:

My father, Ed Vebell, passed away peacefully at home last night. He was 96.

He had had congestive heart failure for some time now, but was bound and determined to make it to the opening of his show at the Westport Historical Society less than 2 weeks ago.

It was uncanny how he made it to that and then allowed himself to go. The show was the perfect sendoff for him, being surrounded by family and friends who were there to honor his lifetime of work.

In addition to Andra, Ed is survived by his daughters Renee Vebell and Victoria Vebell, and 3 grandsons: Jason Cohen, Dylan Hoy and Colin Hoy. 

In June of 2016, I posted this story on Ed. It too serves as a fitting reminder of his life:


At 95 years old, Ed Vebell could be ready to slow down.

The Westport artist has had quite a life. Here’s a quick summary:

During World War II he was an illustrator/reporter for Stars and Stripes newspaper. He’d be dropped off at a battle scene, told to find a story, then picked up 3 days later.

Ed Vebell, in Norman Rockwell-esque style, illustrates his own illustration.

Ed Vebell, in Norman Rockwell-esque style, illustrates his own illustration. The print sits atop many others in Ed’s studio.

After the war, he worked for French magazines (and covered the Nuremberg war trials). When she was 18, Grace Kelly posed for Ed. His first girlfriend was a star of the the Folies Bergère.

Two of Ed's sketches from the Nuremberg trials.

Two of Ed’s sketches from the Nuremberg trials.

Back in the States, he contributed to Time, Reader’s Digest and other publications. Specializing in military art, he drew uniforms from around the world for encyclopedias and paperback publishers. He worked for MBI too, illustrating the history of America from Leif Erikson through the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, and every war up to Vietnam.

Ed designed US stamps — some with military themes, some not.

One of Ed's US postage stamps.

One of Ed’s US postage stamps.

Oh yeah: He reached the semifinals of the 1952 Olympics, representing our country in fencing.

As I said, 95-year-old Ed Vebell could be slowing down.

He’s not. His latest project is selling his vast collection of uniforms.

They sprawl throughout the wonderful studio in his Compo Beach home, and in several other rooms. There are Revolutionary and Civil War uniforms, German helmets and Franco-Prussian gear. Buffalo Bill Cody’s hat is there too, in a bathtub surrounded by tons of other stuff.

He would have even more. But Hurricane Sandy wiped out his basement.

Two of Ed's many uniforms hang on a file cabinet.

Two of Ed’s many uniforms hang on a file cabinet.

Ed’s collection began years ago. He could rent a uniform for $15. But for just $10 more, he could buy it. That made sense; he had so much work, he needed plenty of uniforms.

So why is he selling?

“I’m 95,” he says simply. “I can’t keep them forever.”

Two auctions have already been held. He’s talking to more auction houses, and individual buyers too.

He knows each item. He points with pride to his Native American collection of bonnets, saddles and war shirts. He knows the differences between every tribe.

For years, he was hired for illustrations by editors out West. Why not use an artist closer by? he asked.

“We trust you,” they said.

Ed Vebell, in his Compo Beach studio.

Ed Vebell, in his Compo Beach studio.

The Civil War holds a special place in Ed’s heart. Years ago, he staged entire battle scenes in a Weston field. Models wore Yankee and rebel uniforms. Ed took photos, and worked from them.

He did the same with cowboys and Indians. “Those were great shows,” he recalls. “We had horses, riders, muskets and tomahawks. We entertained the whole neighborhood.”

It may be time to sell all those uniforms. But that’s not Ed’s only project.

At 95, he’s just finished two more picture books.

So now he’s looking around for his next one.

Ed drew this in 1944.

Ed Vebell drew this in 1944, in Italy.

 

The Day Patty Hearst Gave Rodney Dangerfield No Respect

Patty Hearst has been in and out of the media spotlight for decades.

The granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst was kidnapped in 1974 by the very ’70s-ish Symbionese Liberation Army. Within weeks she had joined the SLA, was photographed in front of the SLA flag — and helped rob a bank.

The iconic photo of Patty Hearst, as an SLA member.

After nearly 2 years, Hearst was captured. She served 22 months in prison before her sentence was commuted by President Carter. On President Clinton’s last day in office — acting on her statements that she had been brainwashed, raped and tortured by her captors — he pardoned her.

This Sunday, CNN premieres a 6-part series: “The Radical Story of Patty Hearst.” A weekly podcast — “Patty Has a Gun: The Life and Crimes of Patricia Hearst” — has already begun.

Meanwhile, pressure from Hearst convinced Twentieth Century Fox to cancel a film about her ordeal. She invoked the #MeToo movement, saying the project would re-victimize her.

With the heiress/bank robber/victim back in the news, Westporters of a certain age remember her as a neighbor. She and husband Bernard Shaw — a former member of her security detail, when she was out on bail — lived off Clapboard Hill, in the 1980s. They had 2 children together, along with Shaw’s son from a previous marriage.

Not far away — on Hedley Farms Road — lived another famous Westporter: comedian Rodney Dangerfield.

You’d figure that — besides being a mile apart — their paths would never cross.

You’d figure wrong.

In 1985, artist Miggs Burroughs designed a special flag for the 150th anniversary of Westport’s founding. Dangerfield donated funds to produce 60 full-sized flags. To celebrate — and show some respect for the guy who said he never got any — a celebration was set for Barbara Roth’s Greens Farms home.

Miggs Burroughs, his Westport flag and Rodney Dangerfield, at the 1985 celebration.

A crowd of 100 gathered. Miggs and 1st Selectman Bill Seiden were seated in front.

Dangerfield stood up to speak.

“Obviously impaired, and sweaty and nervous, he was fumbling his way through a short talk while 2 women in the back of the crowd loudly chatted,” Miggs recalls.

The stand-up comic did not use his wit to embarrass them. Instead, Miggs says, he scolded them “without any humor or restraint.” He called them “rude,” shocking the crowd.

Miggs looked at the women — and was mortified to see that one was his wife, Mimi.

She was talking with Patty Hearst.

Mimi — who also remembers the incident well — thinks they were talking about their kids, who were in pre-school at Greens Farms Congregational Church together.

She says that after the presentation, Dangerfield walked over to them. He sputtered more scolding words.

Rodney Dangerfield

Paul McGuirk — a Norwalk Hour photographer who had known Mimi in high school — was there too. He recalls that day too. In fact, he says, Dangerfield was in such a “fuming rage” that Mimi left in tears.

Hearst — having been through much worse — told him to “go f— himself,” McGuirk says.

Miggs — who was giving interviews and “missed the fun” — adds, “My impression of Patty was how petite and very attractive she was in person — especially compared to the larger-than-life and dangerous image portrayed in the media.”

But there’s more to the Patty Hearst/Miggs Burroughs connection. Years earlier, he had been asked to paint “Tania” — her SLA alias — for a New Times magazine cover.

Patty Hearst - New Times cover by Miggs Burroughs

He worked from the photo shown at the top of this story. But Miggs’ editors asked him to “sex it up,” with her hair blowing in the wind and her shirt unbuttoned to the waist as she wielded a machine gun during the bank robbery.

Miggs ran into Hearst and her husband a few times after the Westport 150th-anniversary flag event.

“They were always very friendly and down to earth,” he notes.

“To this day I don’t know if she was aware that I was the one who did that cover of her.

“And I was always reluctant to bring it up.”

BONUS MIGGS BURROUGHS AND PATTY HEARST FEATURE: During one of those casual conversations, Miggs asked Patty to tape a brief endorsement for his “Miggs B on TV” Cablevision show.

She quickly agreed. Here’s the result — filmed in her front yard: