Category Archives: Looking back

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:

Remembering February 5, 1978

If you were alive in New England in 1978, you remember today.

We’ve had big blizzards since. But nothing compares to the storm that struck 40 years ago today.

Snow, snow and more snow smothered the region. High winds and high tides caused flooding. It was a chaotic mess.

People abandoned their cars on I-95 — or stayed in them, hoping for rescue that never came. Governor Ella Grasso shut down the state. My friends who were still at Brown University took sled runs — out of 2nd floor dorm windows.

I was just starting my journalism career. My neighbor — Greens Farms Elementary School principal Jack Ready — was in charge of the town’s emergency shelter, located in the gym.

Around midnight, he called me to help. A police car picked me up. I spent the night fixing cots, preparing supplies, doing whatever I could.

The next morning, I walked — down the center of the barely plowed Post Road, because cars were not moving — to my new job in Brooks Corner: sports editor of the Westport News.

There was a paper to put out, and hardly anyone around to do it.

We did it.

If you’ve got memories of the ’78 blizzard, click “Comments” below.

And if you were around even earlier — for the 1930s-era blizzard, shown in the photos below — we’d really like to hear your story.

(Hat tip: Westport Historical Society)

12 Angry Men; 1 Westport Writer

Everyone knows “Twelve Angry Men.” The classic drama about jury deliberations at a murder trial has been performed all over the world, since its 1954 “Studio One” CBS debut. A few years ago Staples Players produced a compelling version, in their Black Box Theater.

“Twelve Angry Men,” on CBS.

“Twelve Angry Men” will be featured at 3 staged readings next month, at Theatre Artists Workshop. The venue is on Gregory Boulevard in Norwalk — but it was founded in Westport in 1983 by Keir Dullea and his wife. Its first home was Pymander Books, on the Westport/Norwalk border. Early participants brought folding chairs, and $5.

The Workshop soon moved to the then-closed Greens Farms Elementary School. In 1997 the town reclaimed the school. But — now in Norwalk — it continues, in a venue with lights, curtains, and risers with 99 chairs. Many Westport professional theater artists are members.

But that’s not why this story is “06880” blog-worthy.

It turns out that writer Reginald Rose — who won an Emmy for his teleplay, and an Oscar nomination for his 1957 screen adaptation — was a Westport resident.

Who knew?! (Well, you may have. I sure didn’t.)

Reginald Rose

Rose lived here in the 1950s and ’60s — so he probably wrote “Twelve Angry Men” in Westport. (The drama was based on his own personal experience on a manslaughter jury.) He died in 2002, age 81, in Norwalk.

Between 1950 and 1980, Rose wrote for all 3 networks. He also created, wrote and won 2 Emmys for “The Defenders,” the 1961 weekly courtroon drama.

And — in another local twist — his teleplay “The Incredible World of Horace Ford” was the basis for a 1963 “Twilight Zone” episode. That show was hosted by former Westporter Rod Serling.

Theatre Artists Workshop’s staged reading features Mike Boland, who performed “Twelve Angry Men” on its national tour, and 2-time Emmy winner John Wesley Shipp.

The Workshop is “a theatrical gymnasium where theater professionals hone their craft, stretch creative muscles, experiment, develop new plays, and get peer review from fellow actors, writers and directors away from the harsh glare of the public spotlight.”

Members have included Anne Baxter, Theodore Bikel, Christopher Durang, Ring Lardner Jr. and Jane Powell — and Westporters Sandy Dennis, Kevin Gray, David Rogers and Brett Somers.

Most meetings are critiques of scenes, monologues and new writing. But several times a year, Theatre Artists Workshop opens their doors to the larger community.

“Twelve Angry Men” is one such weekend. The fact that it has such a strong Westport pedigree adds just a bit more drama to it.

(The Theatre Artists Workshop’s staged readings are Friday and Saturday, February 9 and 10 [8 p.m.], and Sunday, February 11 [3 p.m.]. The suggested donation is $20.)

 

 

(Hat tip: Melody James)

Birchwood Country Club: Local Jewel, Hidden In Plain Sight

I’ve spent most of my life in Westport. Yet until a few years ago — when I went to an awards dinner there — I had never set foot in Birchwood Country Club.

Nor had I even thought about it.

I’ve been inside 3 times since then: for 2 A Better Chance “Dream Events,” and last November’s Catch a Lift fundraiser.

For me — as with many Westporters — the 80-acre club that lies, barely noticed, on prime land between Riverside Avenue and the Post Road — might have been in another galaxy. It was out of sight, out of mind.

Birchwood’s current board of directors want to change that. They’d like everyone  to know about the only private country club in Westport.

And they want everyone to feel welcome there.

The Birchwood Country Club main building.

Before World War II, the “Westport Country Club” boasted an 18-hole golf course. It was private or semi-private — details are hazy.

During the war, it lay fallow. Weeds replaced well-trimmed grass.

In 1946, returning veterans bought the land, and opened their own club — renamed Birchwood. The reason they didn’t join any existing club in the area: They couldn’t.

They were Jewish.

A redesigned 9-hole golf course became the #6 of its kind in the US, according to Golf Digest. The club added tennis and paddle courts, and a pool.

The Birchwood golf course.

But — beyond the fact that it was located in Westport, and many members lived here — it had nothing to do with the community.

Over the past decade, directors say, Birchwood has grown much more inclusive. Club members still gather to break the fast on Yom Kippur — but there’s a gingerbread house at Christmas.

Children — once supposed to be neither heard nor seen — are now welcome in the restaurant.

Marco Spadacenta — the first non-Jewish president in the club’s 72 years — exemplifies those changes.

He moved to Westport 20 years ago. For 14 years, he played golf at Longshore. He’d never heard of Birchwood. But he wanted more flexibility in tee times, and found the club.

Since joining, he says, “I’ve met the most wonderful people. This is such a great place.”

Birchwood Country Club president Marco Spadacenta and board member Thomas Freydl, in the dining room.

Board member Thomas Freydl echoes Spadacenta. “I grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Country clubs there were” — he searches for the right words — “less approachable.”

At  Birchwood, Freydl says, “kids can run around. Everyone is relaxed, and has fun.”

As part of their community outreach, Birchwood is figuring out how to serve Westport’s police officers and firefighters. The club welcomes local businesses for corporate meetings and golf outings.

They also plan Memorial Day fireworks. They’ll be shot off on club grounds — yet visible all over town.

Which is exactly the point. “We’re 10 minutes from any place in Westport,” Freydl says. “But when I get here, I feel like I’m out of town. There’s great views off the balcony — green grass, nature and beauty. I spend every summer weekend here.”

New chef Quint Smith has re-energized the restaurant. He’s introduced cooking lessons for kids and adults, and organized tasting sessions. The dining room is a warm, welcoming place.

Birchwood is a hidden wonder. Now, the club hopes more Westporters will find it.

Remembering Jim McManus

In the 1970s and ’80s, Westport was known as “the marketing capital of the world.” An inordinate number of marketing companies was headquartered here.

Perhaps the best known was Marketing Corporation of America. Founded by Jim McManus in 1971, it was a behemoth. It also served as an incubator for other creative marketers, who went on to create their own companies, right here in town.

McManus died last week at his home in Fairfield. He was 84.

Jim McManus

Like many Westport marketers, McManus began his career with Procter & Gamble. He went on to build the first integrated marketing services firm to serve Fortune 50 consumer companies. Between 1971 and 1997 — when it was sold to the Interpublic Group — MCA grew into a $500 million enterprise. Clients included Frito-Lay, IBM, Quaker Oats, Lipton, Procter & Gamble, Lorillard, FedEx, Saab and Dunkin’ Donuts.

McManus’ firm provided strategic consulting, market research, advertising, sales promotion programs and venture capital. It was the model for many marketing companies that followed — in Westport, and around the world.

In 1985, MCA gave the town a gift for our 150th anniversary: a 30-minute video. “Westport’s Got it All” includes cameos by famous local residents: Harry Reasoner. Joanne Woodward. Rodney Dangerfield.

And “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” host Jim McKay — whose real name was also James McManus.

(Services for MCA’s McManus were private. Donations in his name can be made by clicking here. Specify “McManus Center, Kellogg Student Programs.”)

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

9 Stone Bridges

Alert  — and history-minded — “06880” reader Wendy Crowther writes:

It’s hard for us to imagine today the difficult problem that rivers, streams and brooks posed for Westport’s early settlers and travelers.

At first, traversing even small tributaries required getting wet. Later, rudimentary crossings were built so that carriages and wagons could manage the steep approaches, rocky bottoms, and wetland mud without tipping over, snapping axles, or becoming mired.

These overpasses became more problematic in the early 20th century, when the automobile came into fashion. Smoother transitions across Westport’s many brooks — most notably Willow, Muddy and Deadman’s — were needed.

Which brings us to Westport’s early stone bridges.

Around 1920, a series of 19 Craftsman-style stone bridges were built throughout town. Nearly a century later, 9 remain.

That’s a remarkable number considering they’ve seen nearly 100 years of use. They’ve survived hurricanes and “100-year storms,” and endured the collisions of decades of distracted drivers.

One of Westport’s 9 stone bridges, this carries Greens Farms Road traffic over Muddy Brook (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Today we pass over these bridges daily. Yet few of us notice their rustic presence. Their stone walls (“parapets,” in bridge lingo) were designed to convey the sense of a park-like setting — an aesthetic popular at the time.

Most blend seamlessly into the roadside landscape, often appearing to be mere continuations of Westport’s many fieldstone walls. They are simple, folkloric, and historically important.

And they are at risk.

The Cross Highway bridge. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

One of them in particular — on Kings Highway North — has a target on its back.  The town has hired a firm to design its replacement.

This concerns me and my fellow Westport Preservation Alliance colleagues Morley Boyd and Helen Garten. We are pushing back against the replacement plan favored by the town’s Public Works Department.

We’ve also made a pitch to the town to collectively nominate all 9 bridges for listing on the National Register.

While we would love to see all 9 bridges thematically nominated, we’re especially worried about the Kings Highway North Bridge over Willow Brook.

It matches the style of the other 8 bridges. More importantly, we believe it may have been built atop even older stone abutments. It’s possible that its enormous foundation stones may date back to the original King’s Highway, built in 1673 to carry mail from New York to Boston. Losing this bridge to a modern replacement would be tragic, especially if portions date back to pre-Revolutionary times.

Large stones in the abutments beneath the Kings Highway North Bridge may be remnants of a much earlier bridge. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

We’re also concerned that the other 8 bridges will confront a similar replacement plan “down the road.” That’s why we’ve suggested the town pursue a National Register designation.  This will help protect the bridges — and may also make them eligible for rehabilitation grants.

To become eligible for a National Register listing, the history of these structures would be fully researched. State Historic Preservation Grants are available to conduct this work.

We feel that these very special bridges possess the integrity of location, design, setting, materials and workmanship to qualify for this distinguished honor.

On a more visceral level, the preservation of these bridges will allow us to appreciate the human craftsmanship that went into building them.  By picturing the crew of local men who lifted each stone by hand and mortared them in place, we’ll not just notice these bridges — we will feel them.

Evergreen Avenue (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The locations of 4 of the 9 bridges have been identified above.  Do “06880” readers know where the other 5 are? See if you can find them as you drive around town (or, for the expats, as you travel down Memory Lane).

Tomorrow (Tuesday, January 9, 7 p.m., Town Hall Room 309), our request that the Town pursue a National Register listing for these nine early 20th Century bridges will be heard by Westport’s Historic District Commission at its public hearing.

We hope they are willing to cross that bridge when they come to it.

Tributes Pour In For Sally White

Sally White was not an internet person. She much preferred interacting with people, face to face.

But when the longtime, much-loved owner of Sally’s Place — and before that, manager of Klein’s record department, and Melody House worker — died of cancer yesterday at 88, every online platform was filled with memories.

Generations of Fairfield County men and women (and teenagers) were Sally’s customers — and friends. She influenced literally tens of thousands of us. She opened our ears — and our minds and souls — to all kinds of music.

And she opened her heart to us.

Everyone has a Sally White story. Here are 2 of  my favorites. The first is from Drew McKeon. A Staples High School class of 2000 graduate, he’s spent the past several years touring the world with fellow Westporter Michael Bolton. Sally is a big reason why.

So sad to say goodbye to my old friend, Sally White. I’ll never forget the hours spent sitting one on one, listening to her stories of seeing the greats live (Sinatra, Hendrix, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Coltrane, Dylan, Buddy Rich, Miles), and how much our town had changed since she came to Main Street in 1954.

The wonderful Sally White

She sold me the first jazz albums I ever bought (“Kind of Blue”, “Speak No Evil,” “The Real McCoy,” Jarrett Trio “Live at the Blue Note”), and shook her head every time I came in for the latest Zorn Tzadik release.

I bought my first copy of “Purple Rain” there, and Tom Waits’ “Mule Variations,” and “Bright Size Life,” as well as every album Bill Frisell, Alison Krauss and Belá Fleck released from 1995-2014. I got Nirvana “Unplugged” there too.

She told me the same story about the guy offering to buy her Sinatra poster for $1000 (even though she had 2!) every time I came in, and regaled me with childhood tales about a shy and gentle Horace Silver.

She felt so guilty about declining invites to my high school shows that she gave me a gig playing standards with a quartet outside the shop during the Memorial Day parade.

I cringed every time she cut open a CD so haphazardly, the X-acto knife lunging in towards her abdomen. I’d tell her not to rip the cellophane just so I could obsess over the Winter&Winter packaging. “Hey, they don’t call it Sally’s for nothing — my store, my rules!”

Sally doing what she loves most: interacting with one customer. Another browses behind her.

She sold me “Innervisions” and Maceo’s “Life on Planet Groove” and “Babylon By Bus,” and gave me “Appalachia Waltz” for my 15th birthday. She stuffed 2 copies of Downbeat in my bag with every purchase, and tuned in to every episode of the WWPT radio show I hosted with Ted Thompson. My obsessive love for Joni and Edgar Meyer was born and fostered at 190 Main Street.

I, like so many other local musicians, am so thankful to have had Sally recognize and encourage my unquenchable thirst for music of all styles at a young age. I always thought it was so cool that I got my first Miles record from the same badass lady that a young Scofield did, a couple decades before. (I got a shitload of Sco records from her, too.)

Perhaps more than anything, I’ll always remember skimming through her prized postcard collection from the great Adam Nussbaum. He, years prior, was one of “Sally’s Kids” too.

At the time, I couldn’t fathom ever actually going to places like Malta, Cairo or Shanghai — let alone, getting paid to play drums there. But I knew I wanted to more than anything, and she assured me I would “be out there soon enough.”

I hope Blue Eyes is singing one for my gal Sal tonight!

——————————————

And this, from Jim Motavalli. He graduated from Staples in 1970 — 30 years before Drew McKeon — but he too will remember Sally White forever.

With 2partners, I started a record store in Fairfield, circa 1975. It was called Trident, because there were 3 partners — one of whom was my twin brother. The 2 of us had just graduated from the University of Connecticut, where we took not one business course.

We had a plan — we would pioneer the sale of used records in Connecticut — but beyond that we didn’t have a clue how to set up and stock a store. Fortunately, we had a friend, Sally White, then running the record haven at the downtown Westport department store Klein’s. Far from stocking just the hits, Sally made sure that the store was bulging with jazz — including albums from players who lived in the area: Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan (and, later, McCoy Tyner and Max Roach).

We called her, and she came over to talk business. Despite the fact we were planning to compete with her, Sally held forth all evening on all aspects of dealing with suppliers, getting credit, buying a cash register, handling returns, and was endlessly helpful.

I was thought of this episode on learning that Sally White died this week. She had closed her store, Sally’s Place (which succeeded her long stint at Klein’s) in 2013 — a victim of the digital revolution. I’m sure not being able to greet her many friends took something out of her — she’d sold records for 57 years!

After describing the recent revival of vinyl, Jim concludes:

Goodbye Sam Goody’s, Goodbye Tower Records. It’s not likely I’ll mourn the passing of these corporate superstores.

But I will shed a tear not so much for Sally’s Place, but for Sally herself. A real mensch.

(Click here to read Jim Motavalli’s full story, on his music blog Territorial Imperatives.)

Remembering Sally White

Sally White — who influenced, inspired, amazed and befriended generations of local musicians, music lovers and music wannabes — died this morning at Autumn Lake Healthcare in Norwalk.

For 57 years — first at Melody House on Main Street; then running the music department at Klein’s, a few doors away, and finally as the owner of Sally’s Place — she was one of Westport’s most beloved figures. 

In July of 2013, I posted the story below. It drew 57 glowing comments. Her passing will elicit many more.

There is no word yet on services. Whenever and wherever Sally White is laid to rest, I’m sure there will be plenty of great music.

————————————————————————-

Sally White has been selling music on Main Street since 1956.

Sometime this summer, her song will finally end.

The beloved owner of Sally’s Place — the record/CD store where Keith Richards and Mary Travers shopped (and schmoozed) with Sally, and any other music lovers who wandered up the steps at 190 Main Street — is closing down.

She’s not sure when (probably later this summer). And she has no idea what she’ll do with the hundreds of posters, autographed photos and musical tchotchkes that line the way (maybe sell them?).

Sally White, standing underneath a photo of one of her all-time favorites: Frank Sinatra.

Sally White, standing underneath a photo of one of her all-time favorites: Frank Sinatra.

She does know, though, that she’ll leave a business she’s loved from her 1st day at Melody House, a few doors away, 57 years ago.

She also knows why she’s closing. The internet dragged too many customers away. The stagnant economy dragged business down further.

Sally’s Place has a niche in Westport that will never be replaced. I walked in this afternoon at the same time as another customer. She wanted a vinyl copy of “Rubber Soul.” Sally promised it would be in by Saturday.

When Melody House closed in the late ’50s, Stanley Klein offered her a job in his department store’s record section. Raising 2 sons alone, she said she could work only 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. She also told him how much she needed to be paid. He hired her on the spot.

She worked there for more than 20 years. Her gentle nature, loving presence and encyclopedic knowledge of music influenced generations of Westporters — myself included.

Sally's Place is at 190 Main Street -- on the right, just past Avery Place.

Sally’s Place is at 190 Main Street — on the right, just past Avery Place.

When Klein’s record department closed in 1985, she decided to open her own store. Her brother-in-law wrote a business plan. She showed it to the president of Westport Bank & Trust.

He gave it right back. “We don’t need it,” he said. He trusted her word.

She offered her house as collateral. He refused. He was happy to back Sally’s Place without it.

It’s been an “amazing” 27 years, Sally says. “The bank, the record companies, my landlord — everyone has been fantastic.”

Especially her customers. “They make me feel special,” says Sally. “But I’m just doing what I love.”

Another customer this afternoon asked Sally for a turntable needle. She handed him a phone number. “This is the Needle Doctor,” she said. “He has everything.”

Sally’s musical roots run deep. She’s seen Frank Sinatra on stage. Also Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.

Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan were close friends. So are many customers who never played a note. All are bound by a love of music — and the treasure that is Sally.

Sally doing what she loves most: interacting with one customer. Another one browses in back.

Sally doing what she loves: interacting with a customer. Another browses in back.

“I’ve been working since I was 14,” Sally says. “I’ve been a part of this town for a long time. This is my heart and soul. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”

She’s survived as long as she has on special orders. Bluegrass compilations, rap, the “Roar of the Greasepaint” soundtrack — all are hand-written, in old-school logbooks. People find her from around the country.

She does not charge for mailing. “It’s my way of saying thanks,” she says.

As if on cue, a customer requested “old Polish-American polka music” for a wedding. She mentioned a composer. “S-t-u-r-r,” Sally spelled. “Right!” the woman said.

There is plenty of new vinyl -- and CDs, and random stuff, and musical knowledge -- at Sally's Place.

There is plenty of new vinyl — and CDs, random stuff, and musical knowledge — at Sally’s Place.

She does not stock Lady Gaga. “You can get that at Walmart for 10 bucks,” she says.

You can get it online, too — along with virtually everything Sally sells. Which is why she has written this message (by hand):

After 27 years of business I have decided to retire. The economy and internet sales have made it impossible for me to continue.

I thank you for your support, and hope you wish me well in retirement. I’ll miss you.

“Quick and easy,” she says. “I don’t need the schmaltz.”

But we need to say “thank you” to Sally White. Please hit “Comments” to share  your memories, or offer praise.

And then — whether you’re a longtime admirer, a former customer who faded away, or someone who always meant to stop by but never did — go see Sally.

She’ll be glad to see you.

And her broad, loving smile will make your day.

(Click here to read a previous post about Sally’s Westport Arts Center award.)

Back to the Basics: A Portrait of Sally White from Claire Bangser.