Category Archives: Staples HS

Mike Kulich Funeral Service Set

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

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

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

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

Condolences can be emailed to sophia@sophiastravel.com.

Mike Kulich

Mike Kulich

Next Attraction: A Drive-In Theater!

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

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

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

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

Kids: This was how America used to roll.

Kids: This was how America used to roll.

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

Bingo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Mike Kulich

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

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

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

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

Today, Levine is Mike’s distributor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Flashback #8

Back in the day — 1914, to be exact — Birchwood Country Club looked a bit different than today.

So, in fact, does the view from there — off South Sylvan — of Riverside Avenue.

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

(Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

This photo — labeled simply “Bird’s Eye View From Country Club” — is best viewed much bigger. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

In the center, we see the back of what was then Staples High School. (Today, it’s the site of Saugatuck Elementary School). To its left is Assumption Church, built in 1900. In the far, far distance we see the white spire of Saugatuck Congregational Church (in its original location, further east on the Post Road).

But what’s that church on the far left?

Enjoy the view. And think about what passed for a “country club” 102 years ago.

Remembering Gene Bayliss

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

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

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

Gene Bayliss

Gene Bayliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Small Step For Mental Health Awareness

A few days after the Sandy Hook massacre, Max Eigen was in Florida with his family.

Walking the beach on vacation, he and his brothers thought of a small way to help. They collected shells, threaded them with string and beads, then brought them home to sell.

That tiny gesture raised more than $5,000 for Sandy Hook families.

A few months ago, Max was in Florida again. This time, it was the aftermath of 3 suicides: a Staples High School student, Staples teacher and Westport police officer.

Once again, Max wanted to make a difference.

He collected more shells. Once again, he raised $5,000 for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

From left: Max, Sam and Jack Eigen.

From left: Max, Sam and Jack Eigen.

“It’s hard to sit in Westport and watch all of this,” the Staples sophomore, lacrosse and basketball player, and Service League of Boys (SLOBs) member, says.

“At first I thought there was nothing I could do. But there is.”

He’s talking to the school’s outreach counselor Ed Milton, and Department of Human Services’ Elaine Daignault. He wants them to help organize a club, to keep the issues of mental health and suicide in the forefront of students’ minds.

It’s still in the planning stages. But twice already, Max Eigen has proven he gets to work.

And gets things done.

High School Tutors Expand Scope, Services

Top Hat Tutors could rest on its reputation.

The after-school service — conceived of and created by Staples High student Charlie Jersey, then sold for $1 to Nick Massoud and, after him, Vig Namasavayam — is thriving. Nearly 40 Stapleites help a few dozen clients. The tutors are sharp, and relate well with their tutees.

But this year’s senior owners — president Jay Mudholkar and vice president Evan Feder, who purchased Top Hat for the now-traditional $1 from Vig — are doing more. They’re expanding their business: reaching out to students as young as elementary school; offering more areas (like computer science and music), and moving beyond Westport (to Fairfield, Norwalk, even Greenwich).

Jay and Evan — friends since 6th grade, who spent most of the summer fine-tuning Top Hat — point with pride to a 4th grader who loves sports. He’s now working with a tutor who shares that interest — and is a great role model, for both books and balls.

“It’s not only about getting an A on a test,” Jay says. “We also want younger kids to connect with older ones.”

Eric Feder and Jay Mudholkar take a break from organizing tutors.

Evan Feder and Jay Mudholkar take a break from organizing tutors.

Two elementary school brothers love chess. Top Hat found a chess-playing tutor — and another excellent role model.

“Anything we do at Staples, we can provide a tutor for,” Evan says.

Not everyone can be a Top Hat tutor. Sixty students applied for positions this summer. Only 38 were chosen.

Some clients are tutored weekly. Others call for one session — when, for example, there’s a big test ahead.

Tophat Tutors logoWhatever they need, Top Hat can help — with a special Staples touch.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable,” Jay says. “We don’t want a stressful environment. We think we’re pretty chill.”

Though Top Hat is headed in new directions, one thing has not changed. The standard rate of $40 is the same as when Charlie began several years ago.

And when Jay and Evan sell their expanded company next spring, the price will once again be just $1.

(For more information, click on www.tophattutors.com, or email tophattutors@gmail.com)

“Lost Film” Resurfaces

In the 3 days since it was posted on YouTube, a “Lost Film” has rocketed around the internet.

Well, at least on Facebook groups filled with folks who grew up in Westport in the 1960s and ’70s.

The 4:30 color video — grainy and jerky, with scenes of teenagers, Weston center, downtown (including the old YMCA and Mobil station, now Vineyard Vines), a 1-light cop car and the 9-building, 1-story Staples High School — is made much more compelling by dream-like music. For those who lived here then, it’s almost like stepping into a time warp.

A scene from "Lost Film." The Main Street building on the left -- now the Gap -- was then a furniture store.

A scene from “Lost Film.” The Main Street building on the left — now the Gap — was then a furniture store.

It’s safe to assume that “Lost Film” — the YouTube title — means that whoever shot it finally found it, decades later.

The story is stranger than that.

It turns out that in 1970 or so, Staples Class of ’72 member John S. Johnson and 2 friends — Wayne Vosburgh and John Fisher — found the 16mm film on campus.

Because home projectors then were 8mm, they asked the librarian for help. She set them up in a room. They did not think much of what they saw.

For the past 46 years, the spool remained in Johnson’s dresser drawer. He sometimes thought about transferring the film to video.

Walking downtown, by Westport Taxi. It was located a few doors down from what is now Tiffany.

Walking downtown, by Westport Taxi. It was located a few doors down from what is now Tiffany.

Last week — before leaving on a trip to Westport — he dropped it off at a local shop to get it done.

After viewing the digitized version, his perspective changed. Johnson realized each scene went by too quickly to dissect and reminisce.

He slowed it down about 50%. Then he added the ethereal music.

The video says “circa 1967.” Johnson now believes it was made around 1969.

It shows teenagers in Westport in a very specific point in time.

But it’s also timeless.

(Hat tips: Bill Scheffler and Mary Gai)


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Birth, Life And Death: Westport’s 9/11 Babies

Nearly 3,000 people were killed on September 11, 2001.

Another 13,328 Americans were born that day.

Hillary O’Neill was one of them.

Her parents — Coleytown Middle School teacher Glenn, and Heather, a landscape designer — spent that awful morning at Norwalk Hospital. They watched on TV as the Twin Towers fell, the Pentagon burned, and the world wondered what would happen next.

Hillary arrived at 2:55 p.m. Outside the delivery room hospital staff rushed around, preparing for an overflow onslaught of victims from Manhattan who never came.

Hillary O'Neill (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Hillary O’Neill (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Today, Hillary turns 15. Her birthday feels like none of the other 364 days of the year. This month, Esquire.com published her insights.

Hillary says that her parents never tried to hide her unique birthday from her. They showed her videos and news stories about 9/11. She heard “the panic in people’s voices.”

When she was 9 days old, President Bush declared a war on terror. It’s been going on ever since. “It’s the norm for me,” she told Esquire.  “And I feel like it’s only going to get worse.”

Like her friends, the Staples High School sophomore thinks — and worries about — the high cost of education. Conflicts in the Middle East. Terror attacks.

But in the tales she’s heard about the day she was born, Hillary also finds hope. She says:

When I heard the stories about how 9/11 was in the days afterwards, I heard how everyone came together, and everyone was nicer to each other. To me, it’s important to be able to be that sense of hope. I know some of our family friends lost their spouses or parents, and on my birthday, they always make sure to send me a card or text. I think it’s such a hard day for them that thinking about it as my birthday is a lot easier—something happy on a day that would otherwise have no joy.

For me, my birthday is big because it’s happy and marks me getting older, but for the rest of the world, my birthday means one of the worst days they can remember. On my birthday—I don’t know how to put it into words. Conflicting, is what I’m trying to say.

It’s conflicting emotions, because I feel like it’s really important to have a day to remember the victims of 9/11, but I also want to celebrate. I’ve come to the point now where I can find a way to do both. Now, honoring victims has become the celebration of my birthday—like volunteering, which I did last year. That’s just as good as any celebration to me.

Heather and Hillary O'Neill. (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Heather and Hillary O’Neill. (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

I’m proud to be an American. I’m glad I live in a country where change can happen, even though it might be difficult. My dad for example, he’s from Ireland, and when he moved here, his whole family wanted to be in America because it represented this hope and future you could have. It’s represented hope for so many people from other countries. I feel like we need to get that feeling back.

Being born on 9/11 is a part of who I am. It’s a responsibility to bring hope to the world that I try to carry with me every day.

(Click here to read the full Esquire interview with Hillary O’Neill.)


Another Staples High School student — Gabriel Dick — was born 6 days after Hillary.

His birth was tinged with even more sorrow: His father was killed when the North Tower collapsed.

He never knew his dad, Ariel Jacobs. But Gabi imagines him on the top floor, he told People.com.

“I think he knows he’s gonna die, but he’s at peace and he’s just hoping my mom and I are gonna be okay.”

Gabi believes his father is “out there — somewhere, guiding me along my path in life.” He and his mother release red balloons on 9/11, with notes to Ari.

Gabriel Dick (Photo/Abbie Townsend Venture Photography Greenwich)

Gabriel Dick (Photo/Abbie Townsend Venture Photography Greenwich)

Fifteen years later, Gabi says, “I know that I missed out, but I don’t need people to feel sorry for me because there’s nothing for me to remember. I just need them to understand that I lost something.”

(Click here to read the full People magazine interview with Gabriel Dick.)

(Hat tip: Kerry Long)


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Arts Lovers: You May Not Want Wells Fargo As Your Bank

Wells Fargo thought they were being cute. A new series of ads — promoting “teen financial education day” — showed (of course) happy young people.

One headline read: “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.”

Another: “An actor yesterday. A botanist today.”

The idea — that to become successful one should jettison the arts, and focus on something much more STEM-related — was not cute. It was idiotic.

Josh Groban, Anthony Rapp, and tons more folks — famous and not — pounced, on social media.

Almost as quickly, Wells Fargo apologized. The company said they were “deeply committed to the arts,” admitting that ads intended to “celebrate all the aspirations of young people…fell short of that goal.”

No word on whether the Post Road branch plans to make a nice contribution to the Westport Arts Center.

The Wells Fargo Westport branch.

The Wells Fargo Westport branch.

FUN FACT: There’s another area connection to this story. Remember the “Wells Fargo Wagon” song in “The Music Man”? That show is Staples Players’ fall production. Enjoy!

(Hat tip: Lee Scharfstein)