RSSOffBeat With Phil Potempa
A photo that appeared in one of my columns last week featured movie stars Esther Williams and Marilyn Monroe with gossip columnist Earl Wilson at a Hollywood party in 1952.
This fun reference to the stars of yesteryear got readers buzzing with some fun stories to share. My favorite letter came from a reader David Ellis, who recalls how in later years, Williams used to market and sell her line of swimming pools. Here's what David had to say:
"Phil - Thank you so much for your wonderful columns each and every day. I grew up in the Region, and I look forward to your Offbeat column every morning with my cup of coffee. When I went to college in Washington D.C., I was so glad that you were published online so I could continue my tradition reading you every day. I wanted to pass along a photo from my mother about famed Hollywood legend Esther Williams. As a frequent reader of your columns, I know that you and your readership enjoy reminiscing about Hollywood legends. There is a tie to one of the most famous Hollywood legends to our region. Yep, Esther Williams! My mother grew up in Gary, and my grandmother was in the home building business. Esther Williams was retired from movies, but used her fame to launch a pool company. Pools in the 1950s were considered more of a luxury then they are now. For years, my grandmother and Esther Williams formed a partnership as they brought swimming pools into the homes of Gary and other towns and cities across Northwest Indiana. My mother, who was 5-years-old at the time, described Esther to be a warm and generous person. Esther was even kind enough to give my mother her very first swimming lesson in their pool! How amazing to have your very first swimming lesson from such a Hollywood pool legend! I've attached a photo of promotional material that was used in the 1950s. I even have a picture of Esther with my mother in the pool if you would like to see it or would be interested in running this story in a future column. Thanks so much for your reporting, and I hope that this story would be something you and the readership would find interesting. Please keep up the good work and continue reporting! I so much enjoy both your From the Farm columns on Wednesdays and your daily Offbeat entertainment column, each and every week. Warmly, David Ellis, now of Chicago"
Thomas Earl Spackman, former longtime owner of Indiana Beach amusement park in Monticello, Ind. died Nov. 11 at age 100 at White Oak Health Campus in Monticello.
According to the Associated Press wire obituary, Spackman was born in Highland Park, Mich., and graduated from Shortridge High School in Indianapolis. He earned a business degree in 1937 from Indiana University.
It was his father, Earl W. Spackman, who founded the amusement park and boardwalk attractions in Monticello, calling the space Ideal Beach in 1926. He had the remarkable vision to dream of creating a stretch of beach space after a dam project on the Tippecanoe River created "man-made" Lake Shafer in the 1920s.
Reader Jennifer K. Bugajski contacted me with some great news this month.
During the final week of November, her daughter Rachel Major, a senior at Portage High School who also holds the teen division title of Miss Indiana, competed at the national competition in California and was crowned National American Miss Teen.
"This has only been the third time since the pageant's beginning in 2003 that an Indiana girl has won any of the titles," Bugaiski explained.
Whether it's a first time experience or an annual holiday tradition, attending a performance of Joffrey Ballet's annual visit of Robert Joffrey's "The Nutcracker" is a ticket to a land where beauty and fantasy rule supreme.
Now in its 26th annual run at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, it continues until Dec. 28.
During the opening weekend, I attended Saturday night's performance and brought my good friend and former Times editor Melinda Mitchell Moore as my guest, since she told me she had never attended the Joffrey production. During her 20 years a community editor at The Times, she had published many stories during her two decades in her newspaper section about the array of young talent from our Region who have performed in beloved stage story with the Joffrey.
Ask male actors their opinion of the "plum" (pudding?) roles in the stage adaption of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," especially when it comes to playing someone mean and misunderstood, and their answer is likely to be: If they can't play Ebenezer Scrooge, then playing his equally greedy partner, Jacob Marley, comes in as close second choice.
Over the decades, some pretty famous faces have stepped into this character, who is the first of a ghostly trio to visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve and foretells of the other two spirits who will arrive. His trademark costume includes rattling chains attached to financial ledgers and metal cash boxes, all clanking, noisy symbols of the greed and misguided priorities that unknowingly held him prisoner (of his own soul) during his life on earth.
Everyone from actor Jamie Farr of "M*A*S*H" fame, who put on the chains opposite Bill Murray in "Scrooged" in 1988, to Disney's floppy-eared Goofy as the ghostly apparition in "Mickey's Christmas Carol" in 1983, has taken his turn.
Stage farce is a tricky maneuver for actors, all faced with the same feat to deliver a success that results with laughter and engaging entertainment for the audience.
And before any such cast steps on stage, it's also a matter of what material they've been given to bring to life and what guidance and advice comes from the director.
This month welcomes the world premiere of "Tell Me When it Hurts," the new comedy stage farce by Lisa Scott presented by Three Cat Productions at the charming and intimate Berger Park Coach House Theater of the Chicago Park District's Berger Park along Lake Michigan on Sheridan Road in Chicago's north neighborhood of Edgewater. It is directed by Jason Smith.
News of actress Jane Kean's death last week comes during the month of December, a time when her familiar voice was heard this season on what was the once so very popular animated Christmas TV special favorite, "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." It first aired Dec. 18, 1962, on NBC, as a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' famous short story and became a part of television history, since it was the first animated holiday special ever produced specifically for television. (Charles Schulz's "A Charlie Brown Christmas" came along in 1965). Kean provided the voice of the beauty Belle, who is forsaken, because of greed, by grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge, as portrayed by Mr. Magoo as voiced by legendary Jim Backus.
Kean, 90, lived in Toluca Lake, Calif. and died last Tuesday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank where she was taken after a fall that led to a hemorrhagic stroke, her niece, Deirdre Wolpert told the Associated Press for her wire obituary. Wolpert is the daughter of Kean's equally famous sister Betty, who was the other half of their popular comedy and song sister act The Kean Sisters.
In writing my headline for her tribute today, I opted to highlight that she was best known playing next door neighbor wife Trixie alongside, Jackie Gleason when he did his later TV revival of the popular series "The Honeymooners," lasting five years. While Gleason and Art Carney returned for their original roles of Ralph and Norton, Gleason opted to recast their TV wives, with Kean taking over the role created by Joyce Randolph and Hollywood movie star wife Sheila MacRae (real-life wife of the late Gordon MacRae) stepped in as Ralph's wife Alice, played in the original series by wonderful Audrey Meadows. (Both Randolph and MacRae are still alive and well, both age 89!)
It's a tough challenge to improve on something perfect.
The 1964 stop-animation television special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" has been capturing the holiday spirit, imagination and love of three generations of old and young.
So when Broadway In Chicago announced a stage tribute called "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical" was coming to the Windy City for a holiday flight, I was as skeptical as the marooned castaways of the Island of Misfit Toys and their woeful pleas to be rescued.
Reader Irma Cunningham of Merrillville called and left a message for me over the holiday weekend telling me about an interesting window display along the courthouse square in Crown Point.
"I read one of your columns from a couple weeks ago about the 75th birthday of Bishop Dale Melczek of the Gary Catholic Diocese and his mention of the religious icons in his office," Cunningham said.
"On the subject of religious icons, the store Antiques on Main in Crown Point, just across from the courthouse, has a holiday window display that includes two church statues. Stop and take a look while driving through that area."
My column Friday about Chicago newspaper columnist Irv "Kup" Kupcinet prompted Hammond reader Jim Pratt to contact me about one of the bold-face names referenced.
"You mentioned in your column that after Kup's daughter died, he received messages of condolences from his newspaper columnist colleagues, including Earl WISON," Pratt recounted.
"It might just be a typo, but this columnist's last name was WILSON and he was quite well known, especially for us here in the Midwest since The Hammond Times used to run his syndicated column."
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