Category Archives: Looking back

Roundup: Homeless, Speed, The Brook …

=======================================================

A Westporter who asked for anonymity writes:

“Yesterday I saw 2 people that I believe are homeless.

“One was asking for money in front of Fresh Market. After I gave him some, he showed me his injuries from overseas military assignments. I then stayed in my car watching, as many Westporters passed him by.

“The second individual I saw yesterday morning walking in Southport towards Westport (see photo).

“I wonder: What is Westport doing to help these people?”

Walking toward Westport.

=====================================================

“06880” readers know Caryl Beatus for her insightful comments, on a broad range of subjects.

The Longshore Ladies Golf Association know her as a friend.

On August 31, they’ll celebrate 60 years of existence with a luncheon. (A year late, because of COVID. Good things come to those who wait.)

Caryl — an original member, when the organization was formed in 1960 — is an important part of those 60 years.

In 2017, the LWGA recognized her service by naming its annual member/member tournament after her.

Caryl has served the LWGA in many capacities. She oversaw the creation and revision of its by-laws, was tournament chair, and for many years organized biannual luncheons.

She has put in countless hours, and always made herself available to help move the organization forward.

Patty Kondub, a past president and coach of the Staples girls golf team, says that a decade ago, when she and Caryl were both injured, Caryl convinced her to serve with her as a “co-hostess.” Every week early in the morning they greeted members, explained the tournament, and introduced players to each other to build camaraderie.

Patty notes that Caryl is a “good luck charm.” Many LWGA members have shot their best rounds while playing with Caryl in their Tuesday tournaments.

Congrats to the LWGA for 60 (61) years — and to Caryl Beatus for all she has one, during those 6 decades.

Caryl Beatus (right) and Anne Krygier, enjoying another day on the links.

=====================================================

Longtime Westporter — and North Avenue-area resident — Carl Addison Swanson shares an email he sent to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe:

“Last year, over 100 children died and another 25,000 were injured on their way to school.

“In Westport, where I grew up and have been associated with this town since 1952, North Avenue is used as a commuter route for those living in Easton, Weston, Wilton, Fairfield and Southport. Drivers drive too fast. A recent study, using a radar gun, clocked 72% of drivers exceeding 45 m.p.h. on the road.

“What makes this issue more critical is that 4 schools are situated on North Avenue: Coleytown Middle, Coleytown Elementary, Bedford Middle and Staples High School. And while a traffic guard is used to direct traffic, they are not there when, many times, children cross before and/or after school hours due to sports or extracurricular activities. Further, many adults use these crossways to take a walk or bike ride at odd hours.

“I have written to the Westport Police Chief with return comments such as we do not use traffic lights to control traffic,’ and the placement of little green men cones (as seen on Riverside and downtown) are too expensive. Really?

“In every other jurisdiction I have lived in, from Texas to Vermont, the state and town protects their children by blinking lights, a speed limit of 5 mph during peak times, and strict enforcement by the local police on each and every school.

“For a town that bases its importance on the education of their youth, you seem to yield to the flow of traffic rather than the safety of our residents?  A grassroots effort by concerned Westporters to change this is now being organized.”

Carl Addison Swanson would like to see — at the minimum — signs like these near our schools.

=======================================================

Speaking of school:

Tracy Porosoff spotted this near Shake Shack.

“Am I the only one confused?” she asks.

No.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

=======================================================

A limited number of complimentary tickets are available for first responders, frontline workers, teachers, and community groups to attend “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse.”

The 3 nights of concerts by Broadway artists Shoshana Bean (Wicked, Waitress), Gavin Creel (Hello, Dolly!, The Book of Mormon) and Brandon Victor Dixon (NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar, Hamilton) will be taped August 31 through September 2, for a future national television broadcast. There are 2 shows each night: 7 and 9 p.m.

For complimentary tickets, Jennifer Carroll: jcarroll@westportplayhouse.org.

The public can buy tickets, starting at $20. Click here for more information.

Gavin Creel

======================================================

A former Westporter used to frequent the Brook Café with a friend. For his birthday, she wants to give him some memorabilia — perhaps a box of matches, glass or napkin with the bar’s name on it.

If anyone has any souvenirs from “the Brook,” please email me directly: dwoog@optonline.net. I’ll connect you with our reader.

====================================================

The transfer station will be closed to residents next Wednesday (August 25) for repairs. It will be open though for private residential and commercial haulers.

Transfer station will be closed Wednesday. (Photos/Ernie Lorimer)

=======================================================

Upcoming Westport Library events  of note:

Food and travel writer Alexander Lobrano — a Weston High graduate, and former Westporter — sits for a conversation with Kelle Ruden on August 31 (7 p.m.),

Lobrano’s memoir, My Place At the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris is a moving coming-of-age story. Through a series of encounters with culinary figures like Paul Bocuse, Julia Child and Ruth Reichl, Lobrano hones his palate and finds his voice.

Click here to join via livestream or in person. Copies of My Place At the Table are available for ordering and pickup at the Library, or shipping if further away.

Author/essayinst/memoir writer Mary-Lou Weisman hosts :Introductory Memoir Writing Workshops” this fall. They are on Mondays, from September 20 through October 25 (12:30 to 2:30 pm). Click here for more information, and to register.

Alexander Lobrano (Photo/Steven Rothfeld)

=======================================================

Ken Yormark boasts, “I got 2 eagles at Longshore.”

Congratulations! But he’s not referring to his golf game. He means — with a smile — this “Westport … Naturally” at the town club.

At any rate, it’s a nice “shot” of a couple of “birdies.”

(Photo/Ken Yormark)

=======================================================

And finally … following up on the eagles above, and the feeling it evokes:

Phillip Addario: Legendary Hairdresser Hangs Up His Comb

Paul Newman. Joanne Woodward. Bette Davis. Christopher Plummer. Martha Stewart. Phillip Addario.

Which name does not belong on that list?

None! All are current or former Westporters. All share the spotlight.

If you don’t recognize the last name, you must not be a real resident. As countless devoted clients and friends can tell you, Phillip — he goes by only one name, like Madonna or Pele — is the real deal.

Phillip Addario (Photo/Lynsey Addario)

For nearly 60 years Phillip’s Coiffure, Phillip’s of Westport and — since 1988, Phillip Bruce Salon — have been the go-to studios for Westporters as famous as movie stars, and as normal as my mother.

Phillip treated them all the same. He made them all look beautiful (or handsome).

On August 28, Phillip hangs up his scissors. He’ll turn off his blow dryer.

His birthday is the next day. Phillip turns 80. He’s ready to not stand for 8 hours a day.

It’s time to be with his family, travel, and tend to his beloved orchid collection and epic gardens.

His dedicated and fiercely loyal clients are as devastated to see him go as his husband Bruce, daughters Lauren, Lisa, Lesley and Lynsey, and 6 grandchildren are to have him for the next chapter in their lives.

Hairdressing has been Phillip’s life since his teenage years. At 17 — immediately after graduating from Hamden High School — he headed to Elm City Beauty Academy in New Haven.

In 1958 he was hired by Charles of the Ritz on Westport’s Main Street.

Five years later he partnered with his then-wife (and fellow beauty school graduate) Camille to open Phillip’s Coiffure.

Phillip and Camille Addario in 1973, celebrating the 10th anniversary of their salon.

The Post Road spot, across from Playhouse Square, was ahead of its time. It was among the first high-end salons to feature a “star hairdresser” — Phillip — who charged top dollar for styles that were customized “works of art,” rather than traditional cuts. He was often booked 6 months in advance, with customers from all over the area.

With a staff of 40, he spent 20 years tending to the locks of many A-list names. Christopher Atkins’ famously permed blond look was born at Phillip’s.

Generations of movie-goers remember Christopher Atkins in “Blue Lagoon.” Few know that Phillip Addario created his look.

In 1988 Phillip opened Phillip Bruce Salon near the old Pier 1, with Bruce Chapman, his longtime partner (they are now married). Today, the salon is located behind the Fire Department headquarters.

Bruce is not retiring. He will continue to work as a colorist.

Bruce Chapman and Phillip Addario.

As for Phillip: His many clients will lose a gifted hairdresser.

“He approaches his work the same way a fashion designer might create a new piece of clothing — matching fabric shape with body type,” his website says. “In Phillip’s case though, body type is replaced by face shape.

“The basis for his success is his ability to look at each client, and get an intuitive sense of who the person is — what defines him or her — and capture that essence with a distinctive style.

“He won’t stop until he’s achieved absolute perfection. In Phillip’s eyes, every head is a potential canvas for not only a work of art, but an accentuation of life.”

Life continues for Phillip Addario. But, untold numbers of Westporters know, it won’t be the same without him standing behind them, creating art one head at a time.

Phillip Addario and his employees, rocking the early ’80s look.

Roundup: Commuters’ Coffee, Brook Cafe, Cold Fusion …

======================================================

The variety store at curve, where Riverside Avenue becomes Railroad Place — once known as Desi’s Corner — will soon become “Uncle Leo’s.” A small sign says simply “Steam Coffee Tea.”

There’s no indication when the renovation will be done.

It’s good news for train riders, who have been without a coffee shop on that side of the tracks since Commuter Coffee closed in 2018.

Let’s hope — for Uncle Leo’s sake — that there are soon actual rail commuters for his “Steam Coffee Tea.”

(Photo/Dinkin Fotografix)

======================================================

First,  Cold Fusion hung the Remarkable Guy — a remnant of the long-ago book store across Main Street from the new gelato shop — on its wall.

Now it’s paying homage to another iconic ancestral neighbor.

The original Ice Cream Parlor was a few doors down — where Brandy Melville is now.

It moved twice, eventually ending up on the Post Road diagonally across from the Westport Country Playhouse. That’s where it was in 1966, when this ad appeared in a Playhouse playbill. Longtime Westporter (and, no doubt, longtime Ice Cream Parlor fan) Paula Schooler gave it to Cold Fusion.

In addition to the Ice Cream Parlor’s brunch, lunch and dinner offerings, and penny candies (“the largest assortment under the sun”), the ad touted Terpsichore. That was the restaurant’s discotheque — “Westport’s first” — with “Go-Go Girls in their Bird Cages.”

From ice cream to gelato — and go-go girls to #MeToo — we’ve come a long way, baby.

=======================================================

One of the few good things to come out of the pandemic is that the New York Times wedding announcements are a lot more interesting.

When fewer couples got married last year, the paper began writing actual stories out of how they meet, and how their relationships developed.

Here’s the lead in one “Vows” story in the Styles section yesterday:

On a summer evening in a previous century, Garrett Foster, then 27, summoned up his courage and entered a gay bar for the first time. At the Brook in Westport, Conn., which, until it closed, was the oldest continually operating gay bar in the country, he laid eyes on Brian Murray, then 31. Mr. Murray had once been a regular, but that was his first night there in a while. Their connection was immediate.

“I knew I was going to spend my life with this man,” Mr. Foster said. What he couldn’t have guessed, was that he would legally marry him someday.

That marriage was July 13, 2021 — 31 years to the day after they first met. Click here for all the details.

Brian Murray (left) and Garrett Foster. (Photo courtesy of New York Times)

=======================================================

Haslea is the name of  Jeff Northrop’s new aquaculture company operating on Sherwood Mill Pond. After testing the concept a few years ago with Hummock Island Shellfish, he began developing a more streamlined approach to growing bivalves on the oyster grounds that have been in his family since the 1700s.

Haslea plans to use the Mill Pond not to maximize production, but as an R&D pond for selective breeding oysters for disease resistance. It’s part of a larger natural oyster restoration along the coast they’re working on.

The company — including chief technology officer Luke Gray of MIT — has provisional patents for a new fully robotic growing system that could produce oysters for 1/10th the cost. It’s for offshore sites, and will not be used in the Mill Pond.

Co-founder Jonathan Goldstein moved to Westport recently, to help Jeff. He was previously with Compass in New York.

Chief operating officer Roberto Aguaya Diaz moved from Texas, where he postponed his MBA to help build Haslea. His family has an aquaculture background, with shrimp farms.

Aquaculture in the SherwoodoMill Pond.

=======================================================

“Native species do attract monarchs,” says Morgan Mermagen of today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo.

She hopes this photo — and others like it — to plant with those ideas in mind.

(Photo/Morgan Mermagen)

=======================================================

And finally … I don’t know how, but I missed a big anniversary. It was 40 years ago yesterday that MTV began broadcasting. The first video was, as everyone knows …

 

[OPINION] The Cape Cods Of Westport

From time to time, Scott Smith turns his eye on the Westport that most of us see every day, but seldom think about.

Recently, he’s written about culverts and concrete. Today, it’s Cape Cods. Scott says:

Having lived in Westport for 25 years, I’ve heard plenty about teardowns, and the McMansions that relentlessly rise in their place.

I prize the sheer variety of architectural styles still found throughout 06880, from the Revolutionary-era Colonials, the gingerbread Victorians and Frazier Peters stone homes, to the ’60s-era contemporaries and more uniquely modern one-offs.

What I haven’t heard much about is the history of Westport’s more modest houses.

I’m familiar with the ubiquitous Cape style (having lived in one), and know there are several neighborhoods in town filled with Capes — Washington Avenue near downtown and Fairport Road on the other end of town, to name two.

The streetscape of Washington Avenue, a relatively unscathed neighborhood near downtown.

I’m curious about not just these suburban standbys but, to be frank, the tract houses built a la Levittown, by a developer who used the same basic template to fill a street — even whole neighborhoods — with similar houses.

Most of these developments likely date from the 1950s. That is probably the case with Guyer Road, a nearby street I jog along, marveling at the vintage style of the homes.

Homes on Guyer Road, off Valley Road near Hillspoint. (

They look like a variation of a California ranch, with canted rooflines to handle the New England snow. Many have been remodeled of course, but with some you can still see the stamp of the founding design. Do the homeowners swap tales, tips and gripes, or know the history of the original builder?

I’m sure there are other such enclaves. I recall Saugatuck Shores having more cookie-cutter homes, before floods and the real estate market transformed the area into something else.

I imagine there are even older developments, from the pre-war era. I figure that one of the later “planned communities” — the Gault neighborhood off Imperial — doesn’t quite qualify, as they seem to be a related mix of custom homes. Same with the recently built Hales Court development, which is a different matter altogether.

I’d be intrigued to hear from residents of some of these old-school neighborhoods. I’d like to get the back story of who built them, perhaps what these homes first sold for, and if any untouched versions still exist. I bet not. Just the same, they are a part of 06880’s continuing history.

Fairport Drive, in the neighborhood once called Westfair Village. (Photos courtesy of Google Street View)

Beatles For Sale

This “06880” blog is “where Westport meets the world.”

That includes Liverpool. I’ve written before about local connections to the Beatles: Tim Jackson in the Ed Sullivan audience (right behind Nixon’s daughters). The Remains playing on the final ’66 tour (and Paul Ferrante’s book about it). Al Brodax’s role in “Yellow Submarine.” Prudence Farrow, the inspiration for their “White Album” song.

Remains Barry Tashian (left), Vern Miller and drummer ND Smart, on the Beatles 1966 tour. Keyboardist Bill Briggs — who, like Tashian, was a Staples High School graduate — is not in the shot.

I’m still searching for proof of the (sub)urban myth that the Beatles once hung out at Compo Beach, on a (supposed) visit to disc jockey Murray the K’s Bluewater Hill rental.

It’s been more than 50 years since the band broke up. They were together for only 10 — and mega-stars, really, for just 7.

But those early years were special. The Beatles were young, fresh, innocent. They smiled a lot.

Some of those smiles now hang on Michael Catarevas’ wall.

The Westport writer has been a Beatles fan nearly his entire 66-year life. Growing up near New Haven, he listened to their 45s at the legendary Cutler’s record store.

The older he gets, the more he appreciates them. The Beatles, he says, are “the soundtrack of my life.”

Catarevas never collected Beatles memorabilia. But in early 2020, he saw an online auction of the estate of Paul Goresh. The amateur photographer had taken the only photograph of John Lennon signing his “Double Fantasy” album for Mark David Chapman, a few hours before he murdered the singer.

Paul Goresh’s photo of John Lennon signing an autograph for Mark David Chapman, hours before being killed.

Many of Goresh’s photos fetched high prices (the Chapman image went for $40,000). But Catarevas bid $180 for — and won — a 1965 photo of the 4 Beatles, smiling and holding their MBE medals from Queen Elizabeth.

“They were so happy,” Catarevas says. “They were 21, 22 years old. It was such a fun time for them.”

The first Beatles picture Michael and Ben Catarevas bought.

The writer’s son Ben is 22 right now — and a big Beatles fan too. Working remotely from his parents’ house during the pandemic, he started watching the Goresh auction with his dad.

There was a lot to bid on. So Catarevas picked a theme: the Beatles and their girlfriends (“Beatles and Birds,” to use a ’60s phrase).

“It was a fun project,” Catarevas says. “Every day there was something new.”

They learned when and how to bid. One guy stymied them often. They thought he might represent a museum. Instead, he was just a fan with unlimited funds.

The “girlfriends” turned into wives: Cynthia Lennon, Jane McCartney, Maureen Starr, Pattie Harrison. Later, all became ex-wives. [CORRECTION: Paul McCartney never married Jane Asher.]

One wall n the Catarevases’ guest bedroom.

Catarevas and his son bought most of what they wanted (including shots of second wives). They have 33 original photos, plus magazines, posters (one in Czech), signed pictures by Albert Maysles from his documentary, newspaper front pages, and a signed print of a Cynthia Lennon drawing of the Beatles at the Cavern Club.

When Catarevas’ previous company moved from Stamford, employees could take anything they wanted. He picked the “boring corporate art” paintings — hoping the frames would one day come in handy. They just did.

The $180 for that first photo was the highest price the duo paid — except for one. They spent $220 on a shot of John, Paul and George singing at one mic. That’s extremely rare, Catarevas says.

A rare photo of 3 Beatles at one mic.

The framed images — along with album and EP covers — now line the walls of a guest bedroom in Catarevas’ home. He and Ben wander in from time to time, just to admire their work.

Long after the pandemic is over, Catarevas says, Ben will remember all those months bidding on photos with his dad. They appreciate the time spent together.

Of course, the value of their collection will appreciate too.

Cue “Taxman.”

BONUS TRACK: Catarevas has an oversized postcard of the Beatles with Murray the K. When he got it (for $35), he did not know about their (alleged) connection with Westport, through him.

Murray the K (center) with the Beatles.

New Plaques: Honest Insights Into Local History

Across America, towns and cities grapple with difficult elements of history by removing statues, and changing names.

In Westport, we’re putting up plaques.

Without fanfare, a pair of historic markers have been installed downtown. One adds important information about the founding of our community. The other honors a long-forgotten group of Black residents.

The first plaque stands behind Town Hall, on a door near the parking lot.

The plaque behind Town Hall.

 

It notes that indigenous people lived in this area for thousands of years, before Europeans arrived. It says that the Paugussets were driven away in the Great Swamp Fight of 1637, and acknowledges that Westport’s founding fathers built a prosperous agriculture community using “forced labor of enslaved Africans and Natives.”

The plaque describes events like the Revolutionary War; the importance of the river and railroad, and our growth as an arts colony and New York suburb.

The Town Hall plaque.

But it mentions too that Westport became more diverse “with an influx of international residents and a thriving Jewish community. These residents worked to remove restrictive deed covenants in the housing and commercial real estate markets.”

The plaque includes the image of an enslaved woman. A QR code brings up more information about Westport’s history.

A marker commemorating 22 1/2 Main Street (now 28 Main Street) has been placed on Elm Street, opposite Serena & Lily. That’s near the rear of what was once a thriving Black community.

The Elm Street plaque.

A similar brass plaque will be placed soon on the Main Street entrance to the Bedford Square courtyard.

Both explain that residents of the neighborhood made up the majority of Westport’s African-American population. Many were descended from people enslaved by European settlers.

Residents of 22 1/2 Main Street were “maids, cooks, gardeners, drivers and groomsmen to affluent Westporters.” The area included a grocery store, barber shop and Baptist church.

The plaque commemorating 22 Main Street.

In December 1949, the plaque says, residents petitioned the Representative Town Meeting to be considered for planned affordable housing. They were rebuffed.

The next month, a local paper predicted “great loss of life” if a fire broke out in the “slum.”

Eight days later, a blaze did occur.

There were no fatalities. But most buildings were destroyed, and nearly every resident moved from Westport.

Though arson was suspected, there was never an investigation.

The 22 1/2 Main Street plaque includes photographs, an illustration and a QR code.

Both plaques are highlighted on the official town website. The “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion” page says:

Westport is a town with a future that is bright and full of promise. We respect the richness of our past, and commit to addressing future challenges with particular focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion for all who live, visit, and work in our town. As an engaged community, we are bound by a passion for the arts, education, the preservation of natural resources, and our beautiful shoreline. We are uniquely positioned to thrive in the years to come.

The Town of Westport, in consultation with TEAM Westport is committed to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our community. The plaque project works to correct prior versions of Westport’s written history.

The plaque project was undertaken by TEAM Westport, with help from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, town operations director Sara Harris, Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich, and Westport Museum of History & Culture director Ramin Ganeshram.

A 2018 exhibit at the Westport Museum of History & Culture included photos and text about 22 1/2 Main Street.

 

Cary Pierce’s Summer Of Love

Cary Pierce missed 1967 — the Summer of Love.

He was born 2 years later. That’s the year Bryan Adams sang about in “Summer of ’69” — his summer of ’85 hit.

Cary Pierce, in the Staples HIgh School 1987 yearbook.

In that same summer of ’85, Cary was a rising Staples High School junior. He made Westport musical history when Hall & Oates failed to appear at Longshore for Westport’s 150th birthday celebration. (They had a good reason: It was a hoax. They’d never been booked. Read the back story here.)

Cary’s band, Pseudo Bleu, stepped in to save the day.

He had 2 years of Westport fun left. A talented guitarist and soccer goalkeeper, popular and active in after-school clubs, he made the most of that time.

The summer of ’87 — right after graduation — was magical for Cary. Riding around town with friends; hanging out at Arnie’s Place and Dairy Queen; taking his boat to Cockenoe, just being a free-and-loose Westport teenager in the weeks before college was a time he’ll never forget.

Now he’s immortalized the summer of ’87 in song.

For more than 30 years, Cary and his Southern Methodist University classmate Jack O’Neill have fronted Jackopierce. The band shared stages with Dave Matthews, Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, Matchbox Twenty and Widespread Panic. They’ve performed in clubs and at colleges across America — and before 500,000 people at the Texas Motor Speedway.

“87” was released as a single a few days ago. It’s part of Jackopierce’s next album. With the right promotion, it could do for the summer of 1987 what Bryan Adams did for ’69.

Nearly 35 years later, key images are seared in Cary’s memory. He took a bit of artistic (and chronological) license. But it all works.

He remembers his friend’s mother’s car: a red Trans Am. The parties with Fairfield girls who went to Greens Farms Academy. Video games: Tron, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Asteroids, Tetris and Robotron.

Our Summer of Love before we shipped off
It was just like heaven — ’87.

Some of the best times involved the water. He had a Boston Whaler knockoff. To him, it was a yacht.

With friends Cree Crawford, Sean Fitzpatrick, Wyman Chu and Doug Dryburgh, Cary would head to Peter’s Bridge for sandwiches. Then it was off to the marina, and onto the Sound. “What a way to grow up!” he says. “We never stood still.”

Of course, neither does time. With each day, the end of summer drew closer.

Jamie left for England, never to see her again
Dana moved in to the City, with her City fancy friends
Davey bounced around some before landing in LA
William went to Williams where I think he is today.

As for Cary:

I set out for Dallas with a guitar on my back
Said goodbye now to the East Coast, met a Kangaroo named Jack.

That’s Jack, his musical partner. Kangaroos were the mascot of his Killeen High School sports teams. Cary does not miss a trick.

Jack O’Neill (left) and Cary Pierce.

Our Summer of Love before we shipped off
It was just like heaven
Our Summer of Love was never enough
We were young and driven ’87.

He says “87” was “super easy to write.” He went down several rabbit holes, including long-ago video games and long-lost friends.

Musically, it started out “country and bluegrass-y.” His bass player “straightened it out,” lending a Tom Petty vibe.

After recording the track with their band the Mustangs, Jackopierce began playing it live. Fans love it.

It doesn’t matter when they —  or you — were born. 1969, 1987 — if you were ever a teenager, you can probably relate to a summer you loved.

(To listen to “87” on your favorite platform, click here.)

Cold Fusion: The Remarkable Back Story

Cold Fusion opened Thursday. From the moment the new gelato place served its first scoop, it was packed.

It’s on Main Street near Avery Place, in the former Papyrus space next to Chase Bank.

Or, to put it another way: opposite the old Remarkable Book Shop.

The Remarkable Book Shop.

Relative newcomers know it as the long-shuttered Talbots (soon to be, remarkably, Local to Market, selling fresh produce, food and artisan craft items, all produced around here).

Cold Fusion owners (and longtime Westporters) Eric and Kelly Emmert know their history. As they planned their store, they knew they wanted to honor their long-ago neighbor.

For 34 years, an Edward Gorey-inspired dancing figure hung on the side of the Remarkable Book Shop.

Now — after all these years — he’s back.

With a different point of view. He’s inside Cold Fusion — occupying the spot he gazed out upon, for all those years.

The Remarkable Guy was stored at the former Westport Historical Society. More recently, Pam Barkentin has taken care of him. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The Remarkable Book Shop was owned by Sidney and Esther Kramer. (The store’s perfect name includes “Kramer,” spelled backward.) Their children, Mark and Wendy, have loaned the iconic work of art to the Emmerts.

Esther made her store a Westport landmark. Shelves were filled with books on every topic imaginable. Cozy, overstuffed chairs (and a house cat named Heathcliffe) invited browsers to sit, read, linger and talk to each other long before “store experiences” were a thing.

Esther knew every customer’s name, from Paul Newman and writers to young children. She and her team of loyal, learned employees remembered everyone’s interests and tastes, and happily recommended the next good read.

Warm, friendly and funky, the pink store was a community gathering place from 1960 until 1994.

That’s the kind of feeling the Emmerts hope to recreate at Cold Fusion. Bringing the Remarkable Guy back is a great way to start.

Celebrating 90 Years Of Westport Playhouse: Lawrence Langner Remembers

On June 29, Westport Country Playhouse opens its virtual season with the regional premiere of “Tiny House.”  (Some in-person seats are available too.)

It’s very 2021-ish: a new comedy about downsizing, going green, escaping urban life, and fresh starts.

Which makes it a far cry from “The Streets of New York.” That was the first Playhouse production ever. But it too was right for its time: Set in the Depression of 1837, it was extremely topical during the Great Depression.

The Playhouse curtain rose for the first time on June 29, 1931. Ninety years to the day — and over 800 plays — later, a new season begins. 

Twenty years after founding the Westport Country Playhouse, Lawrence Langner published a memoir: “The Magic Curtain.” Here is an excerpt, about that very first year.

While the Theatre Guild was undergoing periods of varying fortune during the depression of the thirties, Armina [Langner’s wife] and I were carrying on parallel activities during the summers at the Westport Country Playhouse. We built the Playhouse in the year 1931, in order to establish a Repertory Company of our own, and to carry out our own ideas as regards plays and production.

The Westport Country Playhouse is situated in a 100-year-old orchard just off the Boston Post Road. A more attractive spot for a country theatre could hardly be imagined. This red barn nestling amid old, gnarled apple trees was a haven of peace and tranquility compared with Broadway, and some of the happiest days of my life have been spent driving to and from our farm [in Weston] to the Playhouse and rehearsing in the open air under the old trees.

The original barn — later a tannery — in an orchard.

There we were free to try out our creative ideas without interference, and without facing financial disaster if they failed. New plays and the classics could be essayed without reference to the tastes of Broadway. Actors could attempt new roles without facing the terrors of the New York opening nights, and new directors and scenic artists could be given a first chance to show their talents.  And furthermore, the younger generation could have an opportunity to gain experience in the theatre.

The dramatic critics of the local papers welcomed us as a relief from the tedium of movie going and transmitted their pleasurable experiences to our audiences, who enjoyed us as a gay addition to the life of the community. Even the stagehands, the traditional enemies of the managers in the large cities decided, after a few preliminary skirmishes, to make their peace with us, and became our personal friends and collaborators in our happy undertaking.  And the spirit which animated the beginnings of the Country Playhouse continues right down to today, as each new season brings fresh talents into the theatre and offers new opportunities in untried fields to the older actors and stage directors.

Early days at the Westport Country Playhouse. (Photo/Wells Studio)

Some of this spirit of pleasurable accomplishment undoubtedly springs from the atmosphere of the Playhouse itself. Remembering the toy theatre of my youth, and especially the “tuppence-colored” theatre with its gay proscenium of bright red and gold, its bright red curtain and red-and-gold-curtained side boxes, I asked Cleon Throckmorton, noted scenic designer of the Provincetown Players, to carry out this idea in a barn theatre.  Throckmorton, who had designed the famous Cape Playhouse at Dennis, Massachusetts, responded with enthusiasm and made the stage the same size as that of the Times Square Theatre in New York and elsewhere.  This gave our Playhouse a distinction over most summer theatres, and made it possible to use it as an incubator for plays for the theatres in other cities.

The first experiment in Westport was to be Repertory with an Acting Company which was to compensate me for the loss I felt with the disbanding of the Theatre Guild Acting Company. Armina and I threw ourselves with enthusiasm into forming this company, which we christened the New York Repertory Company.

The interior, 1933.

I asked Rollo Peters, who had done such invaluable work in the early days of the Theatre Guild, to become a member of the Company and to put his varied talents as a scenic artist, actor and stage director at our disposal. He did so, and also helped find the large red barn and unearthed the script of [Dion] Boucicault’s old Victorian melodrama, The Streets of New York, which was to form our first offering.

Other actors who joined the Acting Company were Romney Brent, Dorothy Gish, Winifred Lenihan, Moffat Johnston, Fania Marinoff, Armina Marshall, Jessie Busley and Tony Bundsman. As I wished to open the Repertory Company in a great hurry, for sixteen hours a day the carpenters and electricians were busy at work transforming the red barn (which had formerly been used as a tannery for leather hatbands) into our theatre.

Another view of the Westport country Playhouse, 1930s.

Our opening play, “The Streets of New York,” which had been played all over the world, and which appropriately dealt with the depression of 1837 and was hence topical in the depression of 1931, was produced with incidental music selected by Sigmund Spaeth, and colorful Victorian painted scenery and drops by Rollo Peters, who also played the leading role opposite Dorothy Gish.

On Monday night, June 29, 1931, the theatre was opened by old Daniel Frohman, then in his 80s and Dean of American producers, who made a charming speech with a crackling thunderstorm as an obligato accompaniment. But the storm subsided, and soon the audience fell under the spell of the delightful acting and singing, and the colorful costumes and scenery.

“The Streets of New York”: the very first Playhouse production.

Both our play and our Playhouse were instantaneous successes, and the play itself was performed twenty-one times in our repertory. It was followed by “The Comic Artist” by Susan Glaspell and Norman Matson.  Then came “As You Like It,” with Rollo playing the part of Orlando and Armina as Rosalind, followed by Ibsen’s “Pillars of Society” and Will Cotton’s “The Bride the Sun Shines On.”

At the end of the season we had a repertory of these five plays running in Westport and ready to bring to New York, and I conceived the daring plan of opening them one right after another in the same week, just to show New York what an Acting Company could actually do.

(“Tiny House” streams on demand from June 29 through July 18. Some tickets are available for an in-person viewing of the virtual production, on a big screen, on Tuesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 each. For more information and ticket purchases, both in-person and virtual, click here. or email boxoffice@westportplayhouse.org.)

The original program.

Friday Flashback #249

It’s one of Westport’s lost, mostly forgotten mysteries: Pearl Bailey’s early-1950s recording of “I Caught Her in the Kitchen Playing Westport.”

It was even the subject of a previous Friday Flashback. But all I had were the lyrics. Even YouTube — where you can find anything — came up blank.

Today — thanks to the magic of Ellen and Mark Naftalin, and Miggs Burroughs — all of “06880” (and the world) can hear the sultry tune.

Ellen and Mark — longtime Westporters and musicians; she’s also a historian, he’s a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band — found the song.

In an album in their very own collection. It’s called — appropriately — “More Songs for Adults Only.”

Miggs turned the vinyl into an Mp3.

Click below to listen.

And if you want to sing along with Pearl, the lyrics are below.

There’s a little ranch house in the vale,
Pretty little ranch house up for sale;
All the shutters drawn,
Tenants all gone
And thereby hangs a long, unhappy tale.

‘Cause he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport,
A game indigenous to suburban life,
Where you take a wife of whom you’re not the husband,
While someone else’s husband takes your wife.

Some people may claim that the name of the game is Scarsdale,
Or Beverly Hills, or even Shaker Heights,
But commuters from Manhattan call it Westport.
And it’s the game that some of our local leading lights play
To while away those cold Connecticut nights.

Now in that little ranch house used to dwell
An advertising feller and his Nell.
Two kids and a pup, living it up,
And everything was sounder than a bell —
‘Til he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport
Between the washing machine and thermostat.

The husband thought it really was an outrage.
Said he, “You might at least remove your hat!”
Well, they may play it that way in Great Neck,
While in Levittown they’d never think it odd.
But there is not an architect in Westport
Who’ll ever forgive the cad that said, “My God! Sir.
I must have got the wrong cape cod!”

Since they are no longer groom and bride,
Quoting from the Sunday classified:
“Are there any takers
For three lovely acres
Of peaceful old New England countryside?”
‘Cause he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport
Which would ordinarily be a cause for gloom;
But though the sanctity of wedlock’s on the downgrade,
Currently housing is enjoying quite a boom!

And while they defame the name of the game in Boston,
Where naturally they think it’s a dirty shame,
In the green and fertile pastures of suburbia
The local dealers in real estate acclaim
It the best thing since the FHA, hey,

Westport is a grand old …
‘Midst pleasures and palaces …
Westport is a grand old game.