Tuesday, April 07, 2009

April 7, 1959

A half century ago this week, Americans were listening to "Come Softly to Me" by The Fleetwoods, "Pink Shoe Laces" by Dodie Stevens, Brook Benton's "It's Just A Matter of Time," and "It's Late" and "Never Be Anyone Else But You" by Ricky Nelson.

On Monday evening, April 6, NBC broadcast the 31st Annual Academy Awards show from the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Gigi won the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year, David Niven was named Best Actor for Separate Tables, and Susan Hayward was named Best Actress for I Want to Live! Burl Ives and Wendy Hiller won the awards in the supporting categories for, respectively, The Big Country and Separate Tables.

On Tuesday, April 7, film director Francis Ford Coppola and talk-show host David Frost were celebrating their 20th birthdays. James Garner, then starring on TV's Maverick, blew out 31 candles on his cake. Oscar winner Russell Crowe was five years from being born.

And then, at 12:43 p.m., it was my turn.

The fact of my birth must be true, because it was reported days later in The Milwaukee Journal (look at the top of the middle column):

There is also photographic proof:

But I grew up quickly. Pretty soon I was sitting without assistance:

I eventually met taller people than myself:

And I went to school. I am sure that several of my classmates from St. Agnes in Butler are celebrating milestone birthdays this year:

Then there was my first time in a newspaper (aside from my birth announcement); I'm the one carrying a processional crucifix, and it was heavy:

High school was not far away. I started off as a bedraggled freshman at Marquette University High School:

But joining the debate team was an affirmatively transformational experience:

Participating in the Class of '77's Senior Follies ("Blazing Seniors) was transformative in its own way. Performing live on stage before an audience was a real revelation. It led to a long run of college and community productions:

Eventually, of course, I graduated:

My sister, Cathy, did the same thing (different high school), eleven years later:

Meanwhile, after getting a degree at Georgetown University, I was hanging out with a different crowd than I ever would have expected during my childhood. For instance, Nobel laureate physicist Eugene Wigner...

... and the father of the hydrogen bomb, Edward Teller:

I did some traveling:

Along the way I held several jobs (Ethics and Public Policy Center, Center for Strategic and International Studies, International Freedom Foundation, and my current gig as a consultant) and became a theatre critic.

My theatre life has been rich. I have seen Carol Channing as Dolly Levi at least three times, and on stage twice more in the infamous Legends! (with Mary Martin) and on a panel discussing the 1940s at the Kennedy Center with Dick Cavett, Debbie Reynolds, and the late Kitty Carlisle Hart. I saw Yul Brynner in the title role of The King and I, Rock Hudson and Imogene Coca in On the Twentieth Century, Angela Lansbury and George Hearn in Sweeney Todd, Tony Randall as Harold Hill in The Music Man, Paul Scofield in I'm Not Rappaport, Maggie Smith in Coming in to Land, Frankie Howerd in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Richard Kiley in Man of La Mancha, and Jason Robards in several O'Neill plays, including The Iceman Cometh. (And that was just the 1970s and 1980s.) I met Barbara Cook outside the stage door of the Albery Theatre in London and asked for her autograph; both she and Wally Harper signed my program.

More recently, I have seen all three of Eric Schaeffer's stagings of Sunday in the Park with George (Arlington Players, Arena Stage/Signature, and Kennedy Center) and both his London and Arlington productions of The Witches of Eastwick. Since 1995, the number of plays and musicals I have attended is impossible to count. Whether in Charlottesville, Washington, London, or New York, there is nothing better than sitting in a dark room with strangers to watch a live performance.

I have also seen Paul McCartney, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Jackson Browne, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones in concert, not to mention Joshua Bell (when he was still a wunderkind, as well as on later occasions), Andrés Segovia in his prime (he was about 84 years old), Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra MacDonald, and -- courtesy of the Kennedy Center's spring galas -- Julie Andrews and Elaine Stritch. Twice (once in Washington, once in Richmond) I sat in the audience and listened as Frank Rich interviewed Stephen Sondheim about his life and career. I saw both Quentin Crisp and Leo Ford perform at the Hippodrome in London -- two very different acts.

In the parallel universe of politics and policy, I wrote two books, edited two others, and I have debated congressmen about U.S. policy toward Africa, appeared on television to discuss nuclear weapons policy, testified before House and Senate committees, and served as the foreign policy advisor to the 1992 Libertarian presidential candidate, Andre Marrou.

I have met presidents, prime ministers, and at least one king. I have attended an inaugural ball, celebrated New Year's Eve in Trafalgar Square, and marked my birthday by dining in an Alsatian restaurant in Paris. I have thrice run for public office but am now satisfied with my role as a member of the Charlottesville Electoral Board. Plus I get to blog.

The first fifty years have been filled with surprises. (These are just highlights.) Who knows what follows?

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