Volume 2 Book 6 Part 4 of Living In The Bonus Round
The Online Diary of Steve Schalchlin

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March 2001. El Lay.

March 1-9, 2001.
Celebs, Plays & Burns.
Down at the theatre Jimmy has been working overtime getting his play "The Lucky O'Learys" ready for opening next week. Our friend Rue McClanahan is in town doing "The Vagina Monologues" so she called and wanted to go down to Jimmy's theatre and just hang out.

In fact, when she got there she was like a little kid. "Okay," she said, sweeping in, "Give me a paintbrush."

Rue McClanahan and Jim Brochu clown around on the set of
The Lucky O'Learys at El Portal Center for the Arts in North Hollywood
It's fun watching Jimmy put a show together, especially when they have no money for production. In fact, they took the set of "Shooting Craps" from the mainstage, changed it here and there, a new coat of paint and wallpaper -- and voila! A house in the country becomes a Brooklyn apartment.

L: Set Designer Dan Reeder "making" wood floors. R: Jimmy drilling.
We also have half our apartment on that stage. In fact, in the little hallway nook we posted pictures of my parents and Jimmy's mom.

My mom and dad. Jimmy's mom. Unfinished set.

Jim poses by his prize plate with the Pope & the Kennedys.
Rue, Steve And El Portal Exec. Dir. Pegge Forrest.
Meanwhile, I caught even more celeb action when we went to see Charles Nelson Reilly starring in "Strike Up The Band" on the UCLA campus. Our party consisted of Piper Laurie and Penny Singleton. Remember Penny? She played "Blondie" in the old two-reeler movies which get played on TV from time to time.

Jim, Steve, Piper Laurie, Penny Singleton and her daughter

Jimmy told me later, "What few people realize is that Penny Singleton was responsible for creating and establishing the concept of "residuals" -- the method of paying actors for repeat broadcasts of a show or movie they've been in. When she signed her Blondie contract in 1939, television was barely on the horizon and she had it written into her contract that she would be paid her salary again if it played. The studio snickered but signed. Penny even coined the term 'residuals.'"

Friday night, I was making pasta. I picked up the boiling water to pour it into the collander and it  splashed out of the sink scalding my left upper thigh and -- as the Pythons would put it -- my "dangly bits."

At the time I was only wearing undershorts but I couldn't get them off fast enough and, sure enough, I was scalded. So I spent the evening cringing on the couch and rubbing ice onto the wounds. I've discovered that it's not easy to hold ice "down there."

(We won't be supplying pics for this one). This morning when I woke up, I was still red and tender with one one-inch square blister (on my thigh).

My travails are nothing, though, compared to what my my family is going through right now. My beloved grandmother, matriarch of my mom's family, is in the hospital and, according to my dad, Aunt Freida and everyone else, she's ready to go. She's in her 90s, God bless her, and for a woman of great independence and strength this must be hell for her because she's lost most of her hearing and seeing. Right now my mom, dad and Aunt Ruthie are trading shifts at the hospital. Reader, if you're the praying type, throw a few prayers our way.

Me and Grandma Olsen a couple of years ago.

March 10-15, 2001.
Scenes From Life With Jimmy.
(Shortly after posting my last diary, my grandmother did indeed quietly pass away just as she wanted to. I plan to write a small memoriam to her as soon as I can gather my thoughts. I called my mom and offered to come home but she basically asked me not to because she was dealing with kids and family and so much going on.. Well, I could tell the stress of these past months were just too much. So, in deference to her I chose to stay here. I loved you grandma and always will.)

On a lighter note, I offer a couple of real life scenes from the Land of El Lay, aka Hollywood. Enjoy.

Life In Hollywood I:
Imagine you're Jim Brochu and your office in North Hollywood is a ground floor office right on the corner. You have a big plate glass window near your desk so you can see the whole world as it runs, drives and walks by.

Suddenly you hear a scream.

Then a man's voice, "YOU BITCH!" And out of the corner of your eye you see a woman's head come into view and it's being shaken. You realize some female is getting the bejezus knocked out of her.

Now, you're no hero but you have a door right there so, without even thinking, you run to your door, pull yourself up to your full 6' 5" height, throw open the door and yell in the most menacing voice possible, "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING??!!???"

Then suddenly from across the street you hear, "CUT!"

Puzzled, you look across the street and there is a whole film crew and director looking at you like you're some kind of nut. You slink back into your office and think to yourself, "What if it had been real? You'd probably be ground meat by now."

Imagine you're Jim Brochu and in your whole life the only references to pop culture you're even remotely familiar with are theatre references. But lately you've paid a LITTLE bit of attention to what's out there in the media.

So you go to a fundraiser for your favorite candidate for mayor, Joel Wachs, in a fashionable home in Hancock Park and you're meeting a gorgeous young man who informs you that he just arrived from New York and works for a management firm that handles pop artists.

"Like who?" you ask.

The young man says, "Oh, like Jennifer Lopez..."

Thinking to impress the young man, you throw your head back and proudly, knowingly say, "Oh! You mean Jo Lo?"

At which point your husband of 16 years spews his Diet Coke back into his glass and guffaws, "Are you trying to say J. Lo?"

Red-faced, you exit the conversation and run looking for someone who remembers who Ethel Merman (The Merm!) was.

March 16-17, 2001.
A Visit From Beyond.
A few days ago I laid down on the couch for my usual afternoon sleep and instead of just napping, I fell into a really deep sleep, suddenly finding myself in a lucid dream featuring Dickie, my friend who died last year. (A lucid dream is one in which you suddenly become conscious of being inside the dream. It's all still real and vivid but you know it's a dream.)

The thing is Dickie has been gone, now, for over year. The memory of him -- his physical presence, anyway -- has faded as the months have passed. But suddenly there I was. The dream went like this:

I was standing outside on my sidewalk when suddenly Jimmy pulled up in a white car. He got out and said, "I'll let you two talk." Then he went into the apartment. I looked around and there was Dickie standing right in front of me. What was so vivid in the dream was his face.

I began cry, telling him how much I missed him -- and I reached out to touch his face. It was so real. (This gets a big maudlin, but anyway...) He said to me, "We're watching you from up here and we support what you're doing. You have got to keep on. Keep singing. Keep writing songs."

It was at this point in the dream that I began to wake up but suddenly I couldn't hear him. All I could hear was Robert Novak, a right wing TV  commentator. I looked over and Novak was standing on the street yelling -- YELLING -- into a car. It seems they were taping "Crossfire" (an argument-based TV show) out on the street.

I tried to yell at him to shut up but I couldn't speak. Then as I came to more consciousness I realized (in the dream) that I was on the couch asleep and that "Crossfire" was on the TV. I knew if I could reach across and turn it off without opening my eyes I could sink back into the dream and talk with Dickie more.

But I couldn't reach the remote -- and when I opened my eyes to find it and shut off the sound -- the dream started to fade and as Dickie started to retreat into the mists of dreamland, I was cursing Robert Novak and sobbing like baby. Dickie was THERE. He was SO THERE.

March 18-19, 2001.
Grandma's Memorial.
This week my brother Moose wrote about my grandmother's memorial service. True to form, she had it planned out to the nth degree:
"...We pulled into the drive and I could remember so many things about that house.  Most prominent was grandma standing in the driveway as we would leave, waving until our car was out of site at the bottom of the steep hill.

"The next morning, the minister came and met with the family.   Grandma had called him a few weeks ago, let him know she was ready to go, leaving instructions for how her funeral was to be conducted.  She told him what songs she wanted, what bible verses, and what to preach on.  As you probably remember, Grandma loves to be in charge and she loves to put on events.  He said you can't really tell "Ms. Alma" no and that he had tried before and he knew better.

"Aunt Ruthie, Aunt Freida, Aunt Ginny and the minister shared stories about Grandma and it was really something to listen to everyone talk.  One of her requests (demands?) was that he not preach a sermon about her, but that he preach about faith.  She also wanted the 23rd Psalm and the Easter story read.  She said it didn’t matter to her which gospel he read it from, they all turn out the same way anyway."

Note from Steve: That made me laugh. That "any Gospel story will do since they all turn out the same."

"Grandma also told him that this was a good time of year to die because there would be lots of pretty Spring flowers in bloom.  I always remember how Grandma liked things to be nice!
"We went to the funeral home that afternoon.  The family was all arriving and I suddenly remembered why I never consider myself tall at "only" six feet.  It was great to see everyone and amazing to see the large family that has grown up under Grandma and everyone felt they knew her.  I don’t think anyone felt they were forgotten or left out.  I remember once she sent me $100 for my birthday when I was in college.  Being a college student, I didn’t quite get a “thank you” card back to her.  Guess what I got in the mail?  Another $100 check!  She just assumed that I had not gotten it.

"She didn’t forget anyone.  People were pouring in, including many friends of hers from church and other organizations.  It was hard to believe how many people she had had such an impact on.  Jill and the kids also got an appreciation for how large a family we have.  Grandma looked beautiful.  The casket was a gray color with a copper trim that had roses engraved in it.  The inside of the casket was a pale pink.  I heard someone mention that she was concerned about the color of the casket because she wanted to look nice.  Well, she did!

"After the wake, we all went to Aunt Ruthie’s house for food and more talk.  Of course, we had the traditional northern Louisiana meal.  Johnny’s Pizza, gumbo and bread pudding!  Everyone caught up with each other and strange kids I had never seen ran around, while I tried to put each with their parents.  There were many laughs, occasional tears and lots of hugs.  I didn’t remember our family being such a hugging family, but then again, when you are young, you always avoid having people grab and hug you!

"The day of the funeral turned out to be chilly and rainy.  The minister came in and told us it was raining, but not to worry - “it wouldn’t rain on the memory of Ms. Alma.”  As we entered the church, there were flowers everywhere and it was really beautiful.  There were quite a few people from her church and also some little old ladies in red jackets -- members of an auxiliary she was with.

"After introductions, we sang “Amazing Grace” - she had us sing all six verses - apparently, it bothered Grandma that people skip some of the verses, so we sang them all for her.  We then recited the Apostles Creed - again, something she specifically directed the minister to include.  He read the 23rd Psalm and the Easter story from the Book of Luke.  The message was about many of the things she had done for the Lord and for the church.  He said that she wanted him to preach on love and faith, not about her but that a message that was about her *was* a message of love and faith.  He told us about her many acts of kindness and charity.  He told us how she explained that she was ready to die and that she would stop taking her blood transfusions because they could be used on younger people who had not yet lived a full life like her.  She would rather young mothers or young fathers get the blood instead of her.

"He also read a wonderful letter that she wrote in 1968 to a friend that talked about how we should share our love with others before we die and to show our love to others.  Interestingly enough, in the letter she stated her time was short - she only lived 33 years longer!  I lack the eloquence of those that spoke from their hearts and can't repeat them in a way that would give justice to them.  We sang “When We All Get to Heaven” - another of her favorites (plus, she said to sing it!) and then sang a dismissal song that is sang every Sunday in their church.  She wanted it sang as they took her out.  It’s entitled “Shalom to You.”

And shalom to you, dear grandma. I'll miss you every single day.
March 20-23, 2001.
Two Openings & A Closing.
Aside from hearing about grandma's memorial, this past week we went to two openings and then held our memorial for Stan Freeman. So I guess our theme this week, kiddies, is the cycle of life.

First we find ourselves down in the South Bay where the South Bay Civic Light Opera is producing a big ol' massive production of the musical TITANIC which I saw (and loathed) on Broadway. I still loathe the musical, but at least producer James Blackman and company created a worthy and amazing set which was accompanied by an incredibly talented cast, so I enjoyed myself.

James Blackman, unidentified woman,
Fritz Coleman (local weatherman/comic) & Jim Brochu
Then it was time for Jimmy's "The Lucky O'Learys" to open here in North Hollywood at El Portal. We invited friends and family -- and I was there with my camera, of course.

Bill Chapman as Monsignor Rafferty; Jason Squires as Brian

TLS fans Roberta, Barefoot Ron & Michael pose with Jimmy

Sarah visited from Columbus

Jason with Piper Laurie; Jimmy with Carol DeLouise ("Blazing Saddles")

Taking their bows

It was a great opening night and the show got rave reviews from Backstage West critic Les Spindle.

The next day we held our memorial service for Stan Freeman. Needless to say it wasn't the easiest thing we've ever done. Jimmy sponsored it at the El Portal and they let me open the show with "Save Me A Seat." I told them I wrote the score for TLS on Stanley's piano in his apartment.

The stories which followed were wonderful and the one thing that was mentioned over and over again was the fact that Stanley was so amazingly talented in so many areas it was the only reason he didn't become a household name. In show biz people usually only get famous when they do just one thing really well.

He was a world class classical pianist, he played jazz with Charlie Parker topping the Downbeat poll of jazz pianists, he was a Gershwin interpreter who played with orchestras all over the world, he won an Emmy writing for Carol Burnett, he composed the music for two Broadway musicals, starred as an actor in the Oscar Levant play -- and on and on and on. His vast reservior of talent literally knew no end.

Jimmy told funny stories of Stan, the "ultimate slob"
and the "potholder in the stew" story. (Stan said it was a "bouquet garni.")

Director John Bowab spoke movingly
of his love for Stan. John was a primary caregiver
in Stanley's last days.

Choral maestro Ray Charles admired Stan's talents

A home made video of Stanley playing "Rhapsody in Blue"

Charles Nelson Reilly demonstrating how Stanley once got up from his piano when he was first featured as an actor in a play.

Michael Feinstein spoke of his admiration for Stan's musical genius,
then sang a piece of special material Stanley had written for him.

Steve, Michael & Jimmy.
(Michael and Jimmy are old friends. It was our first time to meet).

Overall, it was a beautiful afternoon full of loving and hilarious stories about a man who was dearly loved and greatly admired. I knew all this, of course, but to me Stanley was just my friend. A friend who believed in me -- and who finally expressed that belief by willing me his piano, a gesture I will treasure for the rest of my life.

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© 2000 by Steve Schalchlin.
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