Category Archives: People

George Weigle Memorial Service Set For Saturday

A memorial service for George Weigle — the longtime and beloved Staples High School choral director who died last month at 90 — is set for this Saturday (September 22, 2 p.m.) at the United Methodist Church on Weston Road. In addition to his Staples tenure, he served as choral director there for 43 years.

Dr. Weigle’s many friends — and countless former singers — are warmly encouraged to attend. A reception follows the service in the Fellowship Hall.

George Weigle (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

“Man Of La Mancha” Comes “Home”

Audiences — and the Westport Country Playhouse itself — are excited about the coming production of “Man of La Mancha.”

Since its debut in 1965, the Don Quixote-inspired play-within-a-play has become a theatrical icon. It won 5 Tony Awards, has been revived 4 times on Broadway, and was staged twice previously at the Playhouse.

Two Westporters are particularly excited about the Playhouse’s September 25-October 13 run: Melody James and Clay Singer.

James is the daughter of Hal James. The actor, and radio/TV producer, was between projects nearly 50 years ago when he and his wife Florence saw the then-fledgling musical at Goodspeed Opera House.

Inspired, they went backstage and asked how to get involved.

At the University of Chicago, James had taken a class on Cervantes and Don Quixote with professor Thornton Wilder. With his life experiences, and then seeing “La Mancha” in development, James thought the time was right to help bring it to Broadway.

In 1965 he had 3 children in college: Michael (involved in the Free Speech Movement at the University of California), Beau (at the New School) and Melody (at Carnegie Institute of Technology).

Producing a Broadway show is always risky. But James’ bet paid off.

With his wife’s help, he enlisted fellow Westporters as angels. One was Mal Beinfield.

An orthopedic surgeon by trade, and Staples High School’s football doctor by hobby, he had never been involved in theater. But he invested, loved the challenge, and said later it was one of the best things he’d ever done.

For years, an original Al Hirschfeld drawing of “Man of La Mancha” hung on Beinfield’s wall.

Despite his New York ties, James — who moved to Westport with Florence in 1949 — was deeply involved in Westport too.

Hal and Florence James

He produced Coleytown Capers, a mid-1950s elementary school fundraiser involving talented Westporters as skit and song writers, performers, even can-can dancers.

He also helped start the first Westport-Weston Arts Council, brought Odetta to Staples, organized teen dances at Longshore — and worked with Craig Matheson to found Staples Players.

Clay Singer

Which brings us to the second Westporter who is particularly excited about “Man of La Mancha” at the Playhouse: Clay Singer.

The 2013 Staples graduate — a former Player himself, and a graduate of Melody’s alma mater, now called Carnegie Mellon University — is part of the upcoming cast. He made his Playhouse debut last year, in “Romeo and Juliet.”

Melody James loves “Man of La Mancha” for its “profound inspiration.” She says her father loved the show because it “points the way to how we all survive and sustain.”

For her — and for Clay Singer too — the Westport Country Playhouse production is not an impossible dream.

(For tickets and more information, click here. The 3 p.m. Saturday, October 13 performance will be open-caption in Spanish, a nod to the many Hispanic cast and creative team members.)

Alan Abel Is Finally Dead

It was inevitable: Alan Abel’s obituary would mention that this was not his first.

The “professional hoaxer” — who first got his death notice into the New York Times in 1980 — is now actually dead.

The Times reports that the former Westporter died Friday, in Southbury. He was 94.

Alan Abel

Abel was a jazz drummer, stand-up comic, writer, campus lecturer and filmmaker, the Times said. The paper also called him “a master psychologist, keen strategist and possessor of an enviable deadpan and a string of handy aliases.”

Among his hoaxes: creating the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, which purported to want to put clothes on horses, cows, dogs and cats. He also created the fictitious Yetta Bronstein, a Jewish grandmother from the Bronx, who “ran for president” in 1964 advocating fluoridation, national bingo tournaments and truth serum for congressional water fountains.

Following the Watergate scandal, he hired an actor to pose as Deep Throat. The press conference drew 150 reporters.

Alan Abel is — finally, irrevocably — dead. But his website lives on.

(Click here for the full New York Times obituary. Hat tip: John Karrel)

As part of Alan Abel’s actual obituary, the New York Times ran its previous one — and subsequent correction.

Trevor Noah Headlines “Show Of Unity” Event

An evening with Trevor Noah sounds special.

But the Anti-Defamation League Connecticut offers a lot more than just watching “The Daily Show.”

On November 11, the comedian/political commentator headlines ADL’s 2nd annual “Voices: A Show of Unity” event. Noah will talk intimately with the audience about his life and the world — tying it all in with ADL’s ongoing fight against bigotry, extremism and hate crimes, and for civil rights, interfaith and inter-group understanding.

Trevor Noah (Photo/Gavin Bond)

Noah knows. Born in South Africa to a black mother who converted to Judaism and a white father, his youth under apartheid was difficult. His parents could not be seen in public together.

Since replacing Jon Stewart as “Daily Show” host 3 years ago, Noah has been a leading voice for unity. Last year, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

“He’s funny. But he won’t be doing stand-up,” says Steve Ginsburg, a Westporter and ADL’s statewide director. “This will be a chance to hear his take on the world.”

The “Voices” event is both a fundraiser and a community-builder. The ADL gives free tickets to many local organizations, including Project Return, Bridgeport’s Neighborhood Studio, the Triangle Community Center, and churches, mosques and synagogues.

Westporters will have a strong presence at Noah’s show. Sarah Green — co-founder of Kool To Be Kind — serves as artistic director. Claudia Cohen is event chair; Jill Nadel is vice chair.

Westporters will also sing in the choir, joining musicians from Bridgeport and other towns.

“There will be diverse voices on stage — and in the audience,” Ginsburg notes.

“We’ve seen a large spike in incidents of bigotry and bias,” he adds. “The ADL has worked hard to respond. And we’re doing education programs to try to prevent them.”

They’ve been active at Staples High School and with local police. This summer, Police Chief Foti Koskinas attended ADL training for law enforcement in Washington, DC.

The ADL event also features a civil rights award, in memory of Irwin Hausman. It goes to Lorella Praeli, who as a Dreamer child was taunted for her Hispanic heritage, and the loss of a leg.

The ADL provided support. She’s now head of immigration efforts for the American Civil Liberties Union, and works closely with the ADL on anti-bullying efforts.

“Voices: A Show of Unity” is set for November 11 — Veterans Day. Tickets are provided to vets’ groups, and service members will be honored at the event.

(“Voices: A Show of Unity” is November 11, 5 p.m. at the Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport. Tickets go on sale September 27. For more information, click here or call 203-530-7456. )

 

Sam’s Mobil Self-Serve Closes Soon

A couple of years ago, a big snowstorm closed local roads.

Concerned that Samer “Sam” Hiba — owner of the Mobil Self-Serve next to Barnes & Noble — might not make it home to Trumbull, a nearby customer called and invited him to sleep at her house.

Not many gas station owners develop those kinds of bonds with their customers.

As of Thursday, there will be one less in Westport.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, September 18) is the last day for Sam’s station.

He explains:

The gas company informed me that they decided to withdraw from this location only after carefully analyzing the numbers and determining that, unfortunately, the station’s projected long term revenues are not sufficient to justify investing the additional resources necessary to do the mandatory upgrade to the tanks, along with the corresponding improvements to the canopy, pumps and store.

Sam will shut off the pumps at 10 p.m., then spend Wednesday and Thursday cleaning out the station he loves.

He is devastated. So are his many customers — many of whom prefer the word “friend.”

Sam Hiba, in his Mobil Self-Serve gas station.

From the day Sam bought the business 5 years ago, his life has been intertwined with the men and women who come in for gas, coffee, snacks and conversation.

He has brightened their days. They’ve supported his major community work: caring for Syrian refugees.

Sam left his native country 25 years ago. He’s now a proud American citizen — as are his 5 children, all of whom were born here. But he’s never forgotten that war-torn nation.

His long list of friends include Westport residents, local businesses, even St. Luke Church. Sister Maureen and the entire staff has been particularly strong supporters of Sam’s Syrian relief efforts.

“From the first day, I loved my customers,” Sam says. “They are part of my family now. They know about my life, and I know about theirs. We chat all the time. I will miss them, big time.”

As customers hear that Sam’s Mobil Self-Serve is closing, they’re shattered. Today and tomorrow they’ll fill his small but well-stocked mini-mart, and say thanks.

“I see their tears and concern for me,” Sam says. “That’s very special.”

He promises to keep in touch with his customers — er, friends. He knows they’ll do the same.

Yet life on that stretch of the Post Road will never be quite the same.

 

Remembering John Leimseider

John Leimseider — a 1970 Staples High School graduate, who went on to play with Iron Butterfly, then became one of the world’s leading electronic instrument and equipment technicians — has died. He was 66.

At Staples, Leimseider was a member of the legendary band Smoke. They still get together, and play at class reunions.

This story was posted on the CBC website. Leimseider worked in Calgary as the National Music Centre’s electronics technician since 2002. The CBC story quotes the NMC: 

He was an incredibly kind, talented and gifted person. He was one of the world’s most sought-after electronic instrument and equipment technicians who had serviced instruments for many of the most celebrated musicians of our time. Throughout his 40-year career, he was a mentor to countless technicians, engineers and musicians. 

John Leimseider (Photo/Allison Dempster for CBC)

According to the CBC, in 2015, Leimseider restored a legendary mobile recording studio that was owned by The Rolling Stones.

Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie, and many other artists, made music with the recording equipment.

Leimseider spent decades as a musician in Los Angeles. In the late ’70s and early ’80s he was a keyboard player for the psychedelic rock band Iron Butterfly.

He also recently restored The Original New Timbral Orchestra — one of the world’s largest analog synthesizers — for the NMC.

Leimseider is survived by his wife Laura, his son Noah and daughter Zoë.

(For the full CBC story, click here. Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Lisa Brummel Storms To WNBA Title

The Seattle Storm — one of the classiest Women’s National Basketball Association franchises, on the court and off — just won its 3rd championship in 17 years. The team topped the Washington Mystics, 4 games to 1.

Congratulations to Lisa Brummel! The Storm’s co-owner is a big name in the Pacific Northwest — and in Westport.

Lisa’s story is legendary. The daughter of former Westport superintendent of school Ken Brummel, she was the first Staples High School basketball player to score 1,000 points.

The 1977 graduate also starred in softball, track and field hockey, earning All- FCIAC or All-State in all 4 sports.

She continued her success at Yale University, starring in 4 sports (adding volleyball to the list).

Lisa Brummel

Lisa was a 4-year All-Ivy basketball playing, adding Ivy League MVP when the Elis won the title in 1979. She was an Academic All-American 1981.

In addition, she earned Yale’s George H.W. Bush Lifetime of Leadership Award.

She also played three seasons as a catcher with the Raybestos Brakettes (1976-78), winning national titles each year. Lisa was elected to the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

For 3 years — beginning in high school — she was a catcher for the Raybestos Brakettes. All they did was win ASA national and WSA world championships.

In 1989 Lisa joined Microsoft. She retired in 2014, as Chief People Officer. EWeek named her 1 of the 25 Most Influential People there.

Brummel’s team’s title is a great one. Now let’s see what Westport’s other pro basketball co-owner — Marc Lasry of the Milwaukee Bucks — can do this year.

(Hat tip: Andre Lambros)

The Naan Fills A Niche

In just 2 months since opening, The Naan has developed a loyal and substantial following.

The new place — which follows Kibberia and, before that, John’s Best, on Post Road West just before Whole Foods and the Norwalk line — calls itself a different kind of Indian restaurant.

For one thing, there’s a substantial bar, overseen by experienced cocktail master Steve Barone (most recently of Luxe). Many Indian restaurant bars, he says, are “postage stamps.” His drink list changes seasonally.

Steve Barone, behind the bar.

For another, the menu pays homage to the entire, sprawling country. From Goa (the Portuguese-influenced state whose cuisine celebrates seafood) to the north (breads, rotis, samosas, curries), The Naan offers authentic food — some of it seldom seen in the US — with a modern take.

The restaurant is the dream of Pratiba Anand — an engineer by trade, with a strong sense of style — and her husband Raman Bindra. They moved to Connecticut from Queens, where the Indian population is far more substantial than here.

Anand, Bindra and Barone believe Westport is ready for a fine-dining Indian restaurant, with another twist. “Most Indian places are strait-laced,” Barone says. “Our servers really engage our guests. The atmosphere is not stuffy at all.”

Diners have responded enthusiastically. Lunch draws workers from nearby offices and stores; dinner attracts folks from all over the area.

Including yours truly. The other night, I had a very intriguing mixed grill dish. Lamb, chicken, minced meat, shrimp and salmon were seasoned with herbs and spices, all in a tandoor oven.

Mixed grill at The Naan.

The ginger beer and rose petal ice cream were excellent.

And of course, I loved the naan.

Westport: A Town Of “Darkness And Pain”

Last week, I posted a story about “Land of Steady Habits.”

The movie — based on 2001 Staples High School graduate Ted Thompson’s debut novel about a Westporter seeking something beyond his soul-crushing marriage and job — has just been released by Netflix.

The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott gave it a strong review yesterday, calling it “unpredictable and fresh.”

He begins:

The American suburb is zoned for ambivalence. Neither city nor country, suburbia — at least in the imagination of too many novelists, filmmakers and songwriters to count — yokes affluence to alienation. Beyond the well-kept lawns and hedges are seething hives of adultery, anomie and addiction. These pathologies may not actually be more common along the commuter rail lines than anywhere else, but there is an imposing body of literature that insists otherwise.

He adds of director Nicole Holofcener: “The darkness and pain haunting Westport are more pronounced …than the melancholy and quiet rage that figure in Ms. Holofcener’s other movies.”

Fortunately, that “darkness and pain” refers to the film, not life in our actual town.

I think.

(For the full New York Times review, click here. Hat tips: John Karrel and Fran White)

 

Westport’s FDA Head Hopes To Snuff Out Juuls

Westporter Dr. Scott Gottlieb was in the news on Wednesday.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb

The commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration took aim at e-cigarettes. Targeting both manufacturers and sellers, he gave Juul and 4 other major makers 60 days to prove they can keep their wildly popular devices away from minors.

The FDA also warned 1,100 retailers and issued 131 fines for major corporations — including 7-Eleven and Walgreens — that sell e-cigarettes to people under 18.

The New York Times said Gottlieb’s “aggressive approach against private industry is unusual for an official in the business-friendly Trump administration which has sought to roll back numerous environmental and health regulations.”

But, it added, “critics said that his decision last summer to extend a deadline for e-cigarette manufacturers to demonstrate that their products comply with public health concerns helped perpetuate the the current problem.”

Gottlieb told the Times that “the immense popularity of vaping among teens and the growing addiction among young people was not something he foresaw last summer.”

Juul pods: empty (left) and full.

Regarding actions taken by Juul and other companies since then, he said, if they’d had the impact he intended, “I wouldn’t be viewing the statistics I’m now seeing.”

The Times quoted legal experts, who predicted a “protracted legal fight” over the FDA’s threats.

(To read the entire New York Times story, click here. For one Westport teenager’s story about his e-cigarette addiction, click here.)