Wednesday, July 31, 2013


1973, and trauma: I had to change schools. I forget exactly why, but due to some sort of rezoning, or enforced zoning, I had to switch from Moore School to Smith School. This was highly traumatic, but I ended up adapting very well, and made a whole new set of friends.

I regret to say that I do not remember my 5th grade teacher's name. Mrs. Harris? I vaguely remember her, but can't recall her name. But I probably started 5th grade just a couple of weeks before my 10th birthday. That's the way it always happened.

It's interesting that this is the first year when I have actual memories of many of the top news stories: Watergate, the World Trade Center and Sears Tower, Secretariat, Skylab, and Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs. My social and political consciousness were awakening. Or something like that.

We took a trip to Atlanta that summer, which I remember because we saw Hank Aaron hit his 700th home run.

Also, in vaguely-Georgia-related news, Walt Kelly died. I don't remember this happening, but I sure did love Pogo.

Anyway, that's what I've got for 1973.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


On August 25, 1972, Jim Henson wrote me a letter. Now, it is true that I wrote him first. But I did receive a signed letter back, along with an enclosed, personalized postcard: "Hello Galen — Jim Henson & the Muppets". I have but to turn my head a few degrees to look at it, framed on my desk.

In the summer of '72, my parents took a trip to England. My brother and I were left with the Russos in Washington D.C., which wasn't so bad. I was taken to see my first professional theatrical production, which was Godspell at Ford's Theatre. Jesus was played by Dean Pitchford, who has gone on to be a very successful lyricist. This show made an enormous impression on me, and made me aware of the importance and power of live theatre.

I also remember being freaked out and nervous about being in the place where Lincoln got shot.

In 1972, I entered 4th grade, where my teacher was Mrs. McGregor.  It was in her class that I met Terry Fluker, who I have to count as my "oldest friend" that I still keep in touch with.

I turned 9. My parents brought me back from England the Pelham Puppets ventriloquial figure "Fido", who I guess was supposed to be a dog but looked more like a lion. He starred in a puppet show that I believe I put on in 4th grade. I met Nashville puppeteer Tom Tichenor twice, right around 1972. He autographed my copy of Tom Tichenor's Puppets: "To Galen, May your strings never tangle!"

So: Puppets and live theatre. 1972.

Monday, July 29, 2013


1971. The year I turned 8. That summer, we went to Washington D.C. to visit the Russos. I remember the Smithsonian Institution, and the exhibit on Rube Goldberg they had. I found this fascinating.

I entered the third grade, where my teacher was Alice Atkins. (Or was it Adkins?) I remember her fondly. She NEVER made mistakes on the blackboard that needed correcting.

Culturally, 1971 was a big year for Disney. Disney World opened on October 1st. Oh, how I desperately wanted to go there as a child. Desperately. But we never did. I definitely made up for this deficiency, though, in later years.

July was a brutal month for Disney deaths. Ub Iwerks on the 7th, voice actor Bill Thompson on the 15th, and Cliff "Ukulele Ike" "Jiminy Cricket" Edwards on the 17th. Then we lost voice actor Billy Gilbert on September 23rd, and Roy Disney on December 20th. I remember my mother showing me the article on Edwards' death, which probably helped me realize there were actual people behind these beloved characters.

I'm guessing that it was in 1971 that our cat Smokey had kittens. There were four in all. I wanted to name them after the Aristocats, but it was felt I was monopolizing the naming process. We did at least have a "Toulouse", although we ended up giving him away to the Ross/Russo farm. We kept Gray and Calico, two very imaginative names indeed. Gray was my buddy. He was solid gray, except for one white tuft on his chest, exactly like his father "Gray Boy", who lived next door. (For the record, we also had a collie named Sean, but I don't remember any birth/death details on Sean.)

For my 8th birthday, I got a copy of the book Tom Tichenor's Puppets.

Henson's special The Frog Prince was broadcast. I loved that special, and especially the accompanying album. And oh, what did I get for Christmas? The entire first-run set of Sesame Street puppets, that's what. Ernie, Bert, Oscar, Cookie, and Big Bird.

That's 1971.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


And so we enter a new decade: the 1970s. It was in this year that I made my stage debut in our first grade play, "May Day for Mother". I may have been the narrator. I was usually the narrator. But I'm sure that, standing under a big umbrella with a friend, I sang "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head". (The song, from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, was released the year before.) As I have been told, apparently my friend and I got a false start on the song, and things ground to a halt. I then turned to our music teacher and accompanist, and said "Let's take it from the top, Mrs. Miller." Hilarity reportedly ensued, although I meant nothing funny by it. That's what they said on TV! Clearly performing was in my blood.

At some point, the Russos moved to the Washington D.C. area, perhaps in this year. I was very sad.

I began 2nd grade, with Mrs. Walden my teacher. She and I didn't get along especially well. I remember correcting something she had written on the blackboard. It was wrong, but she resented it. Perhaps I wasn't especially polite about it, but I was seven. I guess she would rather be wrong than be corrected, and would rather scold a student for impudence than praise him for catching an error. I suppose I was a cocky kid. I remember us having a spelling bee, and I lost on the word "chief", because I tried to mentally apply the "i before e except after c" rule (which is bogus even when the vowels are directly after the c). When I lost, I remember detecting unmistakable glee in Mrs. Walden's tone.

There was a summer trip to Chicago at some point...perhaps it was this year?

And in World News, the Beatles released Let It Be, their last album, and broke up. I was, as usual, totally unaware. Disney released The Aristocats, the first Disney feature that I really felt was "mine". And Stephen Sondheim found his voice on Broadway with Company, a show I'm looking forward to doing at Tennessee Rep in 2014!

Saturday, July 27, 2013


1969: Wow, what a big year. I began first grade at Moore Elementary School. The principal was Mrs. Cunningham, and my teacher was Mrs. Hunt. (I am Facebook Friends with two of her children.)

But the reason 1969 was such an important year for me essentially boils down to this: Sesame Street began. Now, at six years old, and an early reader at that, I was just a bit beyond Sesame Street's target audience. But the Muppets were more than sufficient reason for me to watch. I actually remember watching "This Way to Sesame Street", a half-hour preview special that was shown on NBC on November 8th, two days before the show itself debuted. Perhaps I had seen the Muppets on the Ed Sullivan Show prior to this, I don't remember. But I was transfixed.

I eventually figured out how to get to Sesame Street — literally — myself.

In December, in Woman's Day magazine, the Henson "Purple-Necked, Black-Bearded Blatch" story appeared, with a script and instructions for making the puppets. My mother made me every one of them.

1969 was a big year in many other ways:

On June 22, Judy Garland died. I believe I remember this, and my mother telling me that Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz had died. But she wasn't a little girl anymore. I vaguely remember my mother telling me she had "had some problems", or something like that.

On July 20, we landed on the moon. I have absolutely no recollection of this event. I was almost six years old. If something this noteworthy had happened when Burton was almost six, Laura and I would have brought him in front of the TV, and said "Watch this! This is history! Remember this moment for the rest of your life! You are watching history being made!" But I don't believe my mother did anything like this for us. I wish I could say I remembered it.

On September 6, H.R. Pufnstuf debuted. I loved this show.

On September 20, the last Looney Tune was released. I loved watching Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings, definitely a leading contributor to my interest in animation.

On September 26, the Beatles released Abbey Road.

On October 5, Monty Python's Flying Circus was first broadcast.

1969. I feel like this is the year I really started being — for better or for worse — whoever it is that I am.

Friday, July 26, 2013


1968, and for the first time in my life, I had "somewhere to be": Kindergarten. I attended the First Presbyterian Church Kindergarten, taught by Ann Berry. Mrs. Berry died only this year, and I remember her very fondly. Somewhere in the house in Clarksville, there is a stack of round, construction paper "Good Helper Awards" that she handed out, one per week. (Am I a hoarder? Well, it was probably my mother who made sure they got saved, not me.)

I remember the unspeakable shock of running into Mrs. Berry in the grocery store with my mother. This was WRONG. She was NOT where she belonged!

I remember I painted a jack o'lantern in kindergarten, and it was deemed impressive by Mrs. Berry.

I remember hiding under a table, jumping out, and kissing a girl on the cheek. Okay, I certainly remember who it was, but this brings me to a question that could grow to be significant as I continue this public journal: Do I name names? Am I writing an autobiography, of sorts? Should I just use initials? Does absolutely anyone care at all? I guess I'll just "wing it" as I go. Perhaps I'll change the names to protect the innocent.

In the summer of '68, we took a trip to San Antonio to see the HemisFair, so that must have been just before I started kindergarten. We went in our enormous blue Buick. (Before the Buick, I remember a black VW Beetle that we had.) At the Hemisfair, I saw Kaleidoscope, the live puppet show by Sid and Marty Krofft that was the progenitor of H.R. Pufnstuf, a TV show I loved dearly.

NET started carrying Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in 1968, and I have pre-Sesame Street memories of watching it, so I feel pretty sure WDCN carried it right away.

Wikipedia tells me that in 1968, NBC started broadcasting The Wizard of Oz. This is probably where I first saw it. I remember being terrified of the Witch, and not being able to watch that part.

The White Album, my favorite Beatles album, was released. Also, I have a Yellow Submarine book from my childhood, and this is the year the movie came out. Would we have gone to see it? Seems unlikely. Maybe I got the book later.

1968: And so, my education had begun.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Surely by 1967, the year I turned four, I was starting to develop personality traits that were identifiably "Galen". I don't know what those traits were, but I'm quite sure I still have them.

So what was my life like? How did I spend my days? Other than my immediate family, I know the Russos were an important part of my childhood. Dorothy Ann Russo, my "adopted grandmother", remained a friend and confidant until she died a few years ago. Her husband Remo was also a delight to my brother and me, dropping trails of uninflated balloons around the house, while swearing that he wasn't doing it.

I am named after the Russo's son Galen, who died at the age of 19 the year before I was born. My parents asked Remo, an artist, to build a retaining wall behind our house. He made it quite an elaborate affair, with lights, stereo speakers, and a birdbath, all molded from concrete. He built the wall almost entirely single-handedly. I'm not sure when it was completed. But many years afterwards, when I was around 12, I discovered that Remo, unbeknownst to anyone, had scratched "Galen 1962" into the concrete on one end. So for him, the wall was a memorial for his son.

By 1967 my brother David and I had probably already discovered the Batman TV series, and dressed up in Batman and Robin costumes my mother made for us.

For holidays, we would visit my father's parents in Chattanooga, and my mother's mother in Lebanon.

These are the main influences and events I can remember!

Looking at the cultural scene, the Beatles had a huge year in 1967, with the release of Sgt. Pepper, the "All You Need is Love" single, and Magical Mystery Tour. It's also notable that Disney's The Jungle Book premiered. I have vague memories of seeing it in a movie if I'm right about seeing the re-release of Mary Poppins in 1966, then Jungle Book might be the second movie I ever saw.

And Bert Lahr died. For a while there, he was my chief performing inspiration. I used to practice making faces like his in the mirror.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


1966 is mostly lost in the haze of memory. It is the year that my maternal grandfather, Samuel Burnham Gilreath, died on September 24th, but I don't remember this event. As I said in 1965, I have the vaguest of memories of him, and those may be more inspired by photographs than real memory.

So, let's look at a few things that happened in 1966, culturally:

The Beatles released Revolver on August 5th. Eleanor Rigby is a song I remember hearing on the radio in my youth, notable because it sounded so different from anything else played on WJZM in Clarksville.

Jim Henson's short film Time Piece was nominated for an Academy Award, but didn't win.

Disney released Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. I have had a lifelong affection for Pooh, especially for the original A.A. Milne stories, but for the Disney version as well. They coexisted easily in my youthful consciousness. I associate the Milne stories with Dorothy Ann Russo, since we used to read them together.

On October 15, Robert Goulet starred in a TV adaptation of Brigadoon. 24 years later, I would work with Goulet in a production of Camelot in Houston, where I would also meet my wife.

On November 16, Stephen Sondheim's Evening Primrose aired on TV. It was directed by Paul Bogart, who 14 years later would direct us in Enter Laughing at Memphis State.

And on December 15th, one day after my wife's fourth birthday, Walt Disney died. When I went to animation school in 2002, it dawned on me in animation history class that I was the only one in the room — including the teacher — who had been alive at the same time as Walt Disney. I am, for absolutely no good reason, a little proud of those 3+ years we were on earth together.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


1965 was a big year for Charles Schulz's comic strip Peanuts. On April 9th the Peanuts gang appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Then on December 9th, A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted on TV. I'd have to say that Peanuts was my favorite comic strip growing up, although Pogo was a close second.

On December 3rd, the Beatles' Rubber Soul was released. But at the age of 2, I was probably still totally unaware of the Beatles' existence.

I'm going to ascribe my earliest memory to 1965. I would have been just over two years old. We always spent Christmases in Lebanon TN with my mom's parents. I have the very vaguest of memories of my maternal grandfather...just some sort of awareness of his presence. But is this based more on an old photograph than any actual memory? It's impossible to say.

But I remember his hunting dog Zeb. My grandmother loved to play Parcheesi, and I'm thinking that for Christmas in 1965, someone got a new Parcheesi game. But Zeb chewed one of the little cups that you're supposed to put the dice in, in order to roll them. That's my earliest memory: That Zeb had chewed one of the Parcheesi cups. That and, as I say, the vaguest of memories of the presence of my grandfather.

Monday, July 22, 2013


I'm afraid my personal memories of 1964 are no more concrete than those of 1963. So let's look at three things that happened that would interest me in the future:

Hello, Dolly! opened on January 16th. This is very far from my favorite musical, but it's one I've been in three times, and one I've even helped parody in Forbidden Broadway. It swept the Tony Awards that year. I would have voted for She Loves Me instead, but nobody thought to ask.

On February 9th, the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. I was around for all but the very beginning of the Beatles' lifespan as a group, although I can't say I was very much aware of them for most of it.

Disney's Mary Poppins movie premiered on August 27th. I have very vague memories of seeing Mary Poppins in a movie theater, but apparently it was re-released in 1966, so it must have been then. I hope my mother didn't take me, as a one-year-old, into the theater. If so, my deepest apologies to all attending. My crying was in no way a response to the film. Except, maybe, for Dick Van Dyke's Cockney accent. Yeah, that probably did it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


My friend Shawn Churchman did a very nice thing on Facebook, leading up to his 50th birthday. He wrote a "50 days of grateful" post every day, each one covering a year in his life. I just realized that if I am going to do anything similar, I need to begin it...within the next 1 hour and 15 minutes. I am queasy about posting personal stuff on the Internets, so I may continue this in private, or not finish it at all, or something like that. But at least I'm doing it here on my blog, where no one will ever see it. So, here goes...

I was born on September 9, 1963. The ninth day of the ninth month, and in the year '63 (6+3=9). Numerologists, take note.

I was born in Memorial Hospital in Clarksville Tennessee, which I understand is now a Publix. I wonder which aisle I was born in.

I was born to Mary Ready Gilreath Fott and Solie Isaac Fott. My brother David Samuel Fott preceded me by a couple of years. My first home was in the "Southern Hills" area of Clarksville, and my father still resides in the same house.

I remember very little about 1963. I'm sure that Markus Wasmeier, the great German alpine skier who was born on the same day as me, feels the same way.

Just 10 days after I was born, The Jimmy Dean Show premiered, on which Jim Henson's Muppet Rowlf the Dog appeared.

It was just a couple of months after I was born that Kennedy was assassinated. (I have an airtight alibi.) And on the same day, "With the Beatles" was released in the UK, which triggered the worldwide onslaught of Beatlemania.

On Christmas Day, Disney released "The Sword in the Stone" in theaters. Like the Muppets and the Beatles, Disney films were something I would come to care greatly about.

1963 was a year of much turmoil, with Vietnam, civil rights protests, and Kennedy's assassination. I slept through most of it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Love's Labour's Lost

Love's Labour's Lost is not an exciting play. Given that fact, I found the BBC Shakespeare's version to be reasonably enjoyable. If the staging was at times a bit static, Elijah Moshinsky seems to have mastered directing for the camera during his tenure with the series. He's come miles since All's Well That Ends Well.

Interestingly, I found the Berowne of Mike Gwilym and the Rosaline of Jenny Agutter to be more compelling than the King of Jonathan Kent and the Princess of Maureen Lipman. Gwilym was a late arrival to the series, but has acquitted himself nobly in all three of his roles. Paul Jesson was an amusing Costard, finishing his string of performances in eight of the series' entries. John Wells was hilariously affected as Holofernes.

Perhaps my favorite scene was Boyet reading aloud the letter from Don Armado to Jaquenetta. The Princess and her three ladies managed to sustain rolling gales of laughter throughout the letter, and this was quite delightful to watch. But overall, I felt the play needed stronger stakes to have greater impact.