Tag Archives: Chuck Tannen

Bloody Marys And The Mill Pond

Terry Brannigan is a native Westporter.  He still lives here — and, with his wife, is raising a young family.  Last week he went to the library to see “The End of an Era” — Chuck Tannen’s film about our town in the before-Terry-was-born 1950s. Here’s his report:

When I got to the library I should have known I’d be in trouble.  Drivers circling the lot for parking spaces were as aggressive as the shoppers at Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

When I got inside, the place was packed.  The movie was already under way, and a semi-angry mob waited in the lobby for a 2nd showing.   I distracted the bouncer at the door long enough to peer inside.

Since I already had a “hall pass” from my wife, I debated staying for the next show, going home or finding a Bloody Mary somewhere.  I settled on #3.

I pulled into the parking lot of the River House Tavern and met the same aggressive drivers looking for parking spaces, only this time we all shared the conviction of someone looking for Bloody Marys.  I found a spot and headed inside alone (a therapist would call this a cry for help).

As I approached the door I was flooded with my own Westport memories.  Owner Scott Rochlin and I went to Staples together, and I count him as a friend.

This is all that remains of Allen's Clam House. (Photo courtesy of Westportct.gov)

We both did our internships at Allen’s Clam House behind the broiler working for Wayne Uccellini, and now Scott owns his own place.  Back then I worked as hard as I ever have in my life, and I can’t tell you how proud I was to sport a chef’s jacket next to Wayne.

Back then everyone seemed to work.  Allen’s was as good a place to be on a Friday night as anywhere else, because Wayne employed half the football and soccer teams.  Being on the broiler (as opposed to the dish washing line) did more for my social status than being elected Homecoming King would have.

Walking up to Scott’s restaurant on a night when I had planned to revisit Westport memories at the library triggered all kinds of my own memories — 99% of them great.  My folks’ 1st house in Westport 50-plus years ago was on Old Mill Beach.  I take my 3 boys to the bridges at Old Mill all the time.  It is as familiar to me as it when I was 10.  However, now as a parent I cringe at the thought of them jumping off the bridge into the current and being swept under the “gates,” only to pop out the other side — as we did for fun and honor back then.

Generations of Westporters have jumped off the Sherwood Mill Pond bridge.

If I squint, the beautiful Newport shingle cottages behind the “No Trespassing” sign on the island look like the bungalows of my youth.  I wonder if I would be grandfathered visitation rights along the sidewalk if I told them my father donated to the state the spit of land out there he was willed by “Loretta” of Loretta Court fame, or if I would be turned away as a trespasser?

Just as importantly, Steve Gargiulo caught a bluefish with his bare hands in the shallows of Old Mill.  I was there to witness it.

I walked up to the River House feeling a bit weird because at 49, I’d never gone into a bar by myself.  But I recognized someone standing outside, and got a big smile.  Stepping inside, I felt a bit like Norm walking into Cheers.  Sometimes I lament that I’m so provincial and live in the same town I grew up in, but guess what?  That town is Westport, and there really is something to be said about growing old(er) in your own home.  I live 2 1/2 miles away from my parents, and my boys see them every week.

At the River House we covered all the topics Wednesday night:  friendships, funny stories, institutions (Allen’s, the Playhouse, my favorite — The Penguin — and more).  We talked about all the famous and infamous local characters and personalities.

In the end, even though I did not see the documentary — it did what it intended.  It made me think about growing up here.

I’m sure similar reminiscences took place all over town.  No matter how old we were — or are now — Westport has that effect.

“The End Of An Era” At The Library

The barber shop as community gathering place — a spot where men swap stories, debate issues and tell tales, all under the wise, welcoming eye of the beloved barber — may be a thing of the past.

We’ve still got a few barbers in Westport — though many have morphed into “stylists” — but who has the time to sit around for an hour and yak?

Hold your horses.  A few months ago, 6 long-time Westporters did just that.  They gathered in Tommy Ghianuly’s Compo Barber Shop.  For several hours they talked about this town in the 1950s.

Normally such a gabfest would have less staying power than clipped hair on the floor.  But the oldtimers’ session was recorded for posterity — and arranged by — filmmaker Chuck Tannen.  Now it — and those memories of long-ago Westport — will live forever.

“The End of an Era — Westport in the 1950s” was Chuck’s idea.  He solidified it, appropriately enough, while Tommy was cutting his hair.

Chuck spent his career in journalism.  A year and a half ago he got interested in film.  He took courses at NYU and in San Francisco.  When he heard the Westport Historical Society needed help converting a series of interviews onto DVDs, he swung into action.

One of those DVDs included 3 very interesting residents — Ed See, Leo Nevas and Allen Raymond — talking about our town back in the day.  By the time Chuck delivered his work to the WHS, Ed and Leo had died.

Not longer after, Chuck was telling Tommy — his barber forever, whose walls are plastered with photos of old Westport — that the town’s collective memory was fading fast.  An idea took hold:  invite people to Compo Barbers, to talk about town life in the ’50s.

Which is how First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, former Staples sports star Vince De Pierro, artists Tracy Sugarman and Howard Munce, former disc jockey Ed Baer, and George Marks — who joined the police force in 1947 — came to Tommy’s one Sunday.

They talked.  A 6-man crew recorded them.  Now — 5 months later — the finished product is ready to be shown.

“It’s a reminiscence,” Chuck says.  “Anecdotes about a small town that was friendly and tight.”

The men discuss everything from why artists were attracted to Westport, to the Y’s role as a town center, to the joys of hanging out on Main Street.

“It was the end of an era — a time of innocence,” Chuck explains.  “The war was over.  People wanted to get on with their lives.  It was a quiet period, before all the upheavals of the ’60s.”

Life was not always as pleasant as it seemed.  There was anti-Semitism — particularly in housing.  That came up during the filming — along with the story of how the “Gentleman’s Agreement” was broken.

The 40-minute film premieres at the Westport Library on Tuesday, April 6 (2 p.m.) and Wednesday, April 7 (7 p.m.).  Discussions will follow.  Some of the “stars” will be at both showings.

And after those 2 screenings?  Chuck hopes his film will be shown at the Senior Center; in schools — and to any other audience that remembers, or wishes they knew, what life here was like back then.