Audience members saw a more thoughtful and even humorous Mike Tyson during his one-man show "Undisputed Truth" Feb. 8 in Hammond.
The former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world performed the show, which chronicles key stages in his life, at The Venue at Hammond's Horseshoe Casino. The production, directed by Spike Lee, is produced by James L. Nederlander.
As Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy," played in the background, Tyson took the stage to present his autobiographical tale.
"Thank you for coming tonight. I welcome you into my living room," he said. Tyson later told the crowd "I hope you leave here with a better understanding of me."
Throughout the show, the boxing champ stressed "things are different now" in his life. On stage, backed by a screen showing various photographs and video from his life, Tyson delved into his troubled youth, his relationship with his mentor Cus D'Amato, his disastrous marriage to Robin Givens, his ear-biting incident when fighting Evander Holyfield and other topics.
About serving three years in an Indianapolis prison on rape charges, Tyson told the audience, "I did not rape Desiree Washington and that's all I'm going to say."
The former boxer, who said he "grew up in the gutter," also offered some touching, heartfelt moments in the production.
Near the end of the show, a photograph of his late 4-year-old daughter Exodus appeared on the screen. Exodus died in a home accident after being caught in a treadmill cord in 2009.
Tyson said he dedicates his life to her now and in her honor strives to be "a better father to her brothers and sisters" everyday.
Tyson's show, clocking in at nearly two hours, provides a fascinating look at the former champ.
Eleven-year-old Briana Brooks of Northwest Indiana is rehearsing for her debut as the star of “Redemption,” directed by Mita Vain and opening at the Athenaeum Theater, 2936 N. Southport Ave. in Chicago on February 28th. According to her mother Shavonda King, she and Briana found out there was an open casting call and received a script for a monologue to learn for the scheduled audition. This is Briana’s first professional acting job but she has already been signed by a talent agent. Keep watching the GO! section and nwi.com for more details on Briana and “Redemption” coming next month.
Entertainer Ron Hawking is a famous and favorite stage attraction for his vocal stylings, all-star performance repertoire salute to great names.
Last year, he jammed-packed two exclusive New Year's Eve performances at Theatre at the Center in Munster with audiences sampling his "Copa Chicago" show to spend the night enjoying the best of Ray Charles and Lou Rawls, as well as nods to Frankie Valli, Bobby Darin, Kenny Rogers, Burt Bacharach, Billy Joel and Roy Orbison.
This year, he's returning and bringing Frank, Sammy and Dean with him to the same stage at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts on Ridge Road in Munster
"A year ago, I was in the middle of producing a new show and Theatre at the Center audiences got the first taste of what I'd come up with," said Hawking, who now has a host of specialty shows he performs at venues around the country, including the popular "His Way for the Holidays."
But as a special treat for Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana audiences, he's welcoming the new year with a return to his signature show that skyrocketed him to the top as an in-demand headliner.
"I think they are billing my show this year in Munster as 'a revival,' " Hawking said.
"But I don't know if the word 'revival' is even necessary. Frank and his voice and songs have never left. They are always around as audience favorites."
Hawking, who refers to himself as "a musical messenger," is familiar to fans because of the six year run of his successful and critically acclaimed show in Chicago called "His Way -- A Tribute to the Man and His Music," paying homage to the late and great Frank Sinatra.
In addition to the two performances on New Year's Eve, he is also presenting a string of three more concert the next weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
In 2007, Hawking unveiled a new hit stage show that began to showcase the range and variety of his musical impersonations, staged at his familiar Windy City performance home Mercury Theatre.
Called "The Men and Their Music," it included iconic numbers from many great male vocalists including Paul Anka, Barry Manilow and others.
During his New Year's Eve performances at Theatre at the Center, which also includes the option of a buffet dinner seating at the theater prior to the show start, Hawking also promises to host a vocal return for his signature Las Vegas headliners that have become his claim-to-fame.
"If I'm bringing Frank, then I have to have Sammy and Dean with me, because I can't disappoint my favorite trio," said Hawking, who has back-up singers to help create an even more dazzling stage effect.
When it comes to the business of using his voice to spread messages, Hawking is an old pro.
Long before he made his name on the Chicago stage, he earned his reputation as one of the most sought-after jingle singers and commercial voice-over artists in the country.
His is the voice behind hundreds of TV and radio commercials, including providing the distinct voice of Starkist's Charlie the Tuna, impersonating the voice of Jimmy Durante in commercials for Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats -- and recreating Louis Prima's vocal talents for Progresso Soups, Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" for Subaru and Nat King Cole's signature "Unforgettable" for Hershey's.
"There are so many people who only know me from my Frank Sinatra tribute, so I decided the time was right to share Sinatra again not only with his fans, but also with a new generation of fans," said Hawking, who spends as much as two years before unveiling his new shows.
He has performed at New York's Carnegie Hall with the Philly Pops Orchestra and has opened for such notables as Carol Channing, Sheena Easton, Robert Klein and The Temptations.
Of all the greats Hawking impersonates so precisely, Davis is one of the few he actually met.
"It was just a handshake after one of his concerts at the old Mill Run, but I did get to meet Sammy Davis," he said.
"And even though I never actually met Sinatra, I did get to see him in concert a few times."
The walls in Hawking's office also spotlight some star-studded photographs of the singer with other legends such as Shirley MacLaine and Tony Bennett.
And even though he occasionally has played famous venues in Las Vegas and Reno as part of what he calls "corporate gigs," Chicagoland remains his "main stage."
"The shows I do are intended to keep music and memories alive," Hawking said.
"No one can fill the big shoes of the big entertainers of our time."
Seasonal shows are lighting up stages across Chicagoland. And for many families, it's a tradition to attend a special show to share in the spirit of the season.
Productions of "The Nutcracker" abound every year on stages across the area and the Windy City. The casts of the favorite holiday ballet where toys, sugar plum fairies, and nutcrackers come to life, regularly include young local dancers.
"The Nutcracker" remains one of the starring productions of various dance troupes including companies such as Indiana Ballet Theatre to The Joffrey Ballet, Salt Creek Ballet, Ruth Page Civic Ballet, South Shore Dance Alliance and others.
This past week Indiana Ballet Theatre presented its elegant production at Star Plaza Theatre while Salt Creek Ballet's "The Nutcracker" was performed Saturday at The Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University. The Ruth Page Civic Ballet's production was performed this weekend and will be presented again Dec. 21 and 22.
The Joffrey Ballet's beloved production of Robert Joffrey's "The Nutcracker" opened Dec. 6 and runs through Dec. 28 at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre. In its children's cast, The Joffrey regularly features young dancers from Northwest Indiana, the South Side of Chicago and Chicago's South Suburbs.
"We have 118 kids in the show," said Katie Garwood, children's cast director for The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker."
We love to see diversity in the cast. The Joffrey embraces diversity," Garwood said, adding auditions for the children's cast took place in mid-September and dancers were chosen from a variety of areas and schools. The director added working with the acclaimed company is a great opportunity for young dancers who are "well trained and committed to being willing to learn."
In addition to working hard, the young cast members, Garwood said, have a unique and positive experience performing in the ballet.
"It's also fun for them to have a new community of friends," she said.
For families attending "The Nutcracker," Garwood said "It's become a tradition which many families look forward to celebrating together."
For Kaci King of Valparaiso, performing in The Joffrey's "The Nutcracker" is a rare and exciting experience.
"I felt shocked. I didn't know I was going to make it," Kaci said.
Her mother Julie King said she and the family were excited to learn Kaci, 9, had won a role in the production. Julie King said her daughter is an undefeated dance champion who last season, and in previous seasons, has won awards for her dancing. Kaci studies jazz dance at Eclipse Performing Arts Centre in Chesterton.
"What I like about 'The Nutcracker' is it's such an amazing show where all these dancers come together to make a beautiful production," said Kaci, who performs as a snow tree angel in the ballet.
Carol Dilts, of Gary, this year, is performing in "The Nutcracker" for the second time.
"I am so excited. It's probably one of the biggest highlights of the holiday season and my year," said Dilts. Her mother Megan Cecil said they were ecstatic she's involved in the show.
"It's an honor, and it's an opportunity to perform with professional dancers," Cecil said.
Dilts, 14, a student at Indiana Ballet Theatre and The Joffrey Academy of Dance, won the roles of a mouse in the battle scene and a Polichenelle, one of the dancers who emerge from character Mother Ginger's giant hoop skirt, in the party scene.
As part of the Ruth Page Civic Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker," Portage's Julianne Kinasiewicz will once again perform as character Clara. Her mother, Therese, also plays a part in the adult ensemble of the show.
According to The Joffrey's Garwood, the holiday ballet is overall "a beautiful story of a girl who gets to see her dreams come true."
The following is a sampling of productions of "The Nutcracker."
• "The Nutcracker," by The Joffrey Ballet, runs through Dec. 28 at The Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago. Tickets range from $31 to $132. Call (800) 982-2787 or visit ticketmaster.com
• Ruth Page Civic Ballet performs "The Nutcracker" at 1 and 5 p.m. today at Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. S. Louis Ave., Chicago and at 5 p.m. Dec. 21 and 3 p.m. Dec. 22 at College of Lake County, 19351 W. Washington St., Grayslake, Ill. Tickets for the Chicago performance are $25 for general admission, $18 for students and senior citizens and $5 for Northeastern Illinois University students. Tickets for the Grayslake performance are $12 to $30. Visit jlc.clcillinois.edu.
• "Cirque du Jazz: A Nutcracker Tale" runs Dec. 20 to 22 at Wirt Emerson Auditorium, 210 N. Grand Boulevard, Gary. The show is presented by Gary Community School Corporation and South Shore Dance Alliance. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children and senior citizens. Visit southshoredance.org
I had nobody to blame but myself. I had insisted on pursuing a degree in theatre, insisted that I was the one who could make it, and here I was, a year after graduation, desperate for work and wondering how I could get out of ever doing any. The summer before I had landed a job with a born-again Christian summer stock company in the middle of Ohio. I played Jesus in one show and God in another. It was the mid-70s and being born again was sweeping the country, especially central Ohio, a hotbed of test marketing everything from McDonald’s happy meals to fundamentalist religion. I took the job, despite the fact that my only religious experience was having a crush on one of the Young Christians on Campus my junior year. I even went to late-night testimony meetings in somebody's dorm room. I tried to think of them as pajama parties.
It was a lucky break landing a job right out of school, so I took it sight unseen, not realizing that the theatre was in a campground, where we were expected to rough it in cabins built by the earliest Ohioans. To my horror, there were no locks on the doors. To my greater horror, there no doors––that way, I supposed, nobody could do anything behind them. There were windows, but they didn’t open, and while there was running water and electricity, there was certainly no heat or air conditioning. What there was, was every form of insect life imaginable. If you were into plagues of locusts––and what self-righteous zealot isn’t?––this was the right place for you.
My parents came to see me perform in the last show. Even they had to rough it in the shabby motel down the road, the kind of place, as my mother put it, where you had to sleep with your socks on. At least they had brought alcohol. She couldn’t believe I’d survived the summer. Only once in my life had they sent me to camp, and I’d had to be hospitalized.
I knew that a life in the theatre would be hard, especially in the beginning, but this was already too much. By the time that dreadful summer was over, I knew I’d made a huge mistake, that the suffering life of an actor was not for me. I didn’t tell my parents right away that all that money they’d spent on my studying the Stanislavsky method of acting for four years had been a waste. I thought it would be more merciful if it should dawn on them slowly over time. Maybe when I was 50 I’d tell them I’d changed my mind and wanted to pursue something else.
It took about a year for the nightmare that was the Born Again Christian Playhouse to fade, during which I sat around worrying, procrastinating, failing to get on with my life. That winter I moved to Los Angeles, where it would at least appear that I was trying to become an actor. Then one morning back home, my father died at the breakfast table of a sudden heart attack. I was called home, and, before you knew it, it was already the next summer. In August of 1977, still unemployed, I headed back to central Ohio to live in the same town just north of Columbus, where I had been blissfully happy for four years of college. Maybe I thought I could recapture that happiness – or start all over again with another major. I took up residence at Votaw Manor, where I had lived my senior year.
The Votaws were country folk. Henry, now retired, had been the janitor in the college library. Martha was a short, stocky woman, as round as she was tall, who sat on the living room sofa all day with her arms folded across her chest, happily condemning her friends and neighbors. She simply glowed when she was being malicious. Her name for me was Piss Ant.
Nobody could remember exactly when my friends and I had christened the place Votaw Manor, but the name had stuck, and it pleased the lord and lady of the manor very much. It was an ordinary white frame house, built in the 1800’s, the kind of house you see all over Ohio. Inside, the floors sloped down to one side, and the stairs creaked loudly. My room was at the top.
It was from the phone in the upstairs landing of Votaw Manor that I called in response to a “Help Wanted” ad that I’d seen in the Columbus newspaper. “Magazine Publisher Seeks Public Relations Assistant” the listing read, and I figured that was something I could do. Acting is believing, we were taught in school, and this was a role I believed I could play. It was the day that Elvis died. Maybe I should have taken it as a sign.
If they had said Larry Flynt Publications when they answered the phone that day, I swear I didn’t hear them. But then I didn’t know who Larry Flynt was. It’s not like I read his magazine. The only copy of it I’d ever seen was at the Born Again Christian Playhouse, when somebody, another actor who wasn’t so very born again, passed around a magazine with pictures of Jackie O sunbathing in the nude. I had seen many pictures of the former First Lady in all her beautiful clothes and had enjoyed those infinitely more, particularly the ones where she’s wearing the chartreuse silk evening dress designed by Oleg Cassini for the November 13, 1961, Pablo Casals concert at the White House.
My appointment was set for a Friday afternoon, a day that was as hot as hell. The sun blazed overhead. Mercifully, the drive downtown was not a long one. According to the directions they’d given on the phone, the place was located on Gay Street – a shame really, I thought later, because it was just one over from Broad.
There was no sign outside, just a street number. I walked into the lobby. It was so dark, I had trouble seeing. The furniture was black. The carpet was black. The walls were black. In fact the whole place was black, except for just one thing – a huge Technicolor photograph of a nude woman, possibly twelve feet high, hanging across the room under a spotlight. She appeared to be in a yoga position, because she was lying on her back with her legs flipped over her head so that her knees were both touching either ear. She seemed to be looking directly at me and smiling, upside down.
And the main thing I noticed was that she took pride in displaying a part of her anatomy that I couldn’t remember ever seeing on a Barbie doll, not even the bendable kind. Somehow, it reminded me of the Georgia O’Keefe paintings I’d seen earlier that summer, only this was less botanical––and more gynecological.
Desperate to avoid her penetrating gaze, I made a dash for the only place in the room I didn’t have to see it, which was the sofa directly under it. Despite the fact that they kept the temperature in here like a freezer, beads of sweat were popping out all over my face. Rivers of it were running down my back. No matter how much I tried to remain cool, calm and collected, I probably looked like a clammy albino.
As I waited for the woman who was to interview me, wondering if she would have clothes on, I picked up a magazine from the coffee table and started fanning myself, only to realize that it was the same magazine I’d seen the summer before with the pictures of Jackie. They were all different issues of that magazine. What was this place, I wondered anxiously, fanning myself instead with what little there was of my resume.
Why didn’t I just get up and leave? Well, for one thing, I couldn’t. I was practically glued to my Naugahyde seat. But mainly, there was my mother, who, despite the fact that she was mourning the loss of my father, said she was going to kill me if I didn’t get a job––any job I remember she specified––and soon. Not wanting to cause her any more stress, I waited.
The woman who finally came introduced herself as Jeanette O’Brien. I peeled myself off the sofa and rose to shake her hand. She was a pretty, older woman––at least thirty––and you could tell right away that she was all business. Assuming an air of authority, she led me down a long corridor, up some stairs and then over into another whole building, where, she said, the company’s corporate offices were located. The first building, she said, was where the creative side of things happened.
In college, creative had meant sitting in a fetal position and trying to remember how it felt when your pet turtle died, then trying to use those same feelings while reciting one of Hamlet’s soliloquies. That was just one of the ridiculous exercises they had us do in acting class. Was it, I wondered, about to come in handy now?
“How do you mean creative?” I asked.
“It’s where the Hustler staff is located,” she said.
“Hustler?” I said, realizing that my worst fears were about to be confirmed.
“Well, yes. Larry wouldn’t be starting this new magazine if it wasn’t for Hustler.” She laughed. I laughed. We both laughed. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.
By now we had arrived at her office, a shabby little space, with fake wood paneling, dusty Venetian blinds and a shag carpet that had seen better days. The walls were bare without a single picture, which, at that point, was just fine with me. Jeanette offered me a seat and settled down behind her desk, lighting up a Virginia Slim. Her ashtray overflowed with cigarette butts, and ashes were scattered everywhere.
She was new to the company herself, she said, just in from New York the week before. “Larry brought me in to launch his new magazine.”
I wasn’t trying to look stupid, but I just had to ask. “Excuse me,” I said, “but who’s Larry?”
She looked at me as if I were from another planet and kept on looking until, finally, she cracked up. I laughed, too, because at least she didn’t seem quite so scary anymore.
“Oh that was a good one,” she said, taking a huge drag on her Virginia Slim. “You’re subtle––I like that.”
Being subtle, I smiled politely. She said that if she hired me, I’d be assisting her with all aspects of PR for the launch of the new magazine.
“It’s going to be called OHIO,” she said, “and it’ll be just like New York Magazine, only this will focus on lifestyles throughout the whole state of Ohio.”
Not quite sure if this was her idea of a joke, I played it safe by maintaining my expression of paralysis and waited for more. “I need somebody to help me get this thing off the ground,” she said.
As Jeanette read the writing samples she’d asked me to bring, I started thinking about places like Sandusky and Chillicothe, wondering what kind of lifestyles they had that anybody anywhere else would want to read about. But, so far, at least, she hadn’t mentioned pornography, not a word about the presentation of women in lewd and demeaning poses. This could work out, I thought.
When she was through, she said there was another person she’d already interviewed who was really more qualified than I was, a girl who had graduated from Ohio State in journalism. Anybody would have been more qualified than I was, I thought.
“But maybe,” she said, “I could get Larry to let me hire you both. There’s certainly enough work for two.”
How would I feel, she asked, about sharing an office with somebody? It was polite of her to ask, but honestly, how was I supposed to know? My only office experience had been going to the dentist twice a year. I had no objection whatsoever, I said, not being that much of a fool. She offered a salary, which sounded extravagant to me, and benefits, too, whatever that was. I just thought it would be a benefit if I got a paycheck. Whoever this Larry was, I didn’t care what kind of magazines he published. I accepted the offer. I had a job! I couldn’t wait to tell my mother.
That evening there was great jubilation at Votaw Manor. Pizza was ordered, pepperoni with double cheese, and I called home. “It’s called OHIO Magazine,” I said proudly, “a lifestyle magazine for the whole state, with features on places like Cleveland, and Toledo and Sandusky!”
There was a slight pause on the other end. “How interesting,” my mother said. “I wondered what kind of magazine could be published in Columbus, Ohio.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” I chirped. Afterwards, there was considerable silence as we spooned into the homemade icecream. I had told Henry and Martha all about the woman in the picture on the wall, and now, Martha was boring holes through me with a gimlet eye. Unable to restrain herself, she announced that she knew who I was gonna work for. Unlike Henry, Martha could read, not to mention the fact that she was just a country girl at heart. The big salary I was boasting about didn't grow on trees, she said, it was porn money. She’d read all about that Larry Flynt in the papers and said he’d done time in jail for the dirty pictures he showed of naked women.
It wasn’t that she was accusing me exactly––Martha was far from being a God-fearing woman––but she was giving me a scare. “Do you think I shouldn’t take it?” I asked, feeling like I might get locked up myself.
“Hell no!” she said. “And pass up all that money?”
“And benefits, too,” I added.
Apparently, any moral qualms about working for the likes of Mr. Flynt didn't stop a lot of people from showing up every day, myself included. I learned that there was no small number of us there, filling the two buildings that comprised the Flynt Publishing empire on Gay Street, one block over from Broad. Except for the people on the creative side, who looked a lot like the characters on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” my co-workers dressed just like all the other people going to work every day downtown. The only difference was that the place where we worked didn’t have a name out front, the corporate equivalent of a brown paper wrapper.
The person I shared an office with, the journalism major from Ohio State, was a mousy girl who slouched. She had the improbable name of Shawnee. Her parents had met at a rodeo in Oklahoma. My mother couldn’t wait for me to find out if she had a sister Sioux. I had plenty of opportunity to ask, because, despite Jeanette’s claim that there was more than enough work to go around for the both of us, there wasn’t. For the first couple of weeks, Shawnee and I spent most of our time, sitting in our wigwam, waiting for something exciting to happen.
And one day, out in the hall, something did. Returning to the office after lunch, I passed a beautiful woman with jet-black hair, whose smile struck me as somehow familiar. Jeanette said it was because I saw her every time I came in or out of the building. She was the upside down naked woman with her legs flipped over her head, only right side up and with clothes on. She was heading down the hall and going directly through the set of smoked glass doors that led to Larry Flynt’s office, where I had never been.
“She’s his wife,” Jeanette said. “Althea. She was a stripper in one of his clubs. Now she’s his CEO.”
I couldn’t believe my ears and was beginning to doubt my bowels. I didn’t even know what a CEO was. All I heard was “his wife.” His wife? What will Martha say about this, I wondered – Martha, who despite her initial response to my working for a pornographer, was having no trouble cashing my weekly rent checks.
My first actual exposure to Mr. Flynt himself didn’t come until about a month later, when we were told that the next day, instead of going to the office, we were to report to the Bexley Movie Theatre at 9 a.m. It was an odd and slightly menacing place to go at that hour, I thought. Larry and Althea lived in Bexley, an affluent suburb of Columbus, in a mansion with a heart-shaped tub. It was directly across the street from the Columbus School for Girls and not far from the Governor’s Mansion.
I really sweated it out, wondering what in God’s name, we were going to have to do there, wondering what kind of illicit acts we were going to have to watch and/or perform.
“What should I wear?” I fretted that morning, standing in front of my closet. Martha could see how worried I was when I came down and cooked up a hearty batch of hominy grits to give me strength. As I drove to Bexley, I had visions of myself being suspended from the ceiling in a black leather harness and swatted back and forth like a piñata in an X-rated movie. “How can I get out of this?” I asked myself. Was it too late to call in sick? Would anybody miss me if I didn’t go? Would there be popcorn?
Never one for punctuality, especially when imminent degradation is involved, I got there just in time before Larry’s bodyguards shut the doors. I found Shawnee cowering in the back row near one of the exits. As the lights dimmed and the curtains began to open, I just held my breath and wondered how long it would take before Shawnee would have to make a run for the bathroom.
The movie we were shown had not been shot in Larry and Althea’s bathroom. It was “Harlan County,” the documentary about Kentucky coal-miners I’d just heard about on NPR. It showed how hard the miners worked, struggling to make ends meet, how they lived in shacks along the sides of mountains with barely enough food for their families. It showed how breathing the coal dust down in the mines would make them sick and die.
Unfortunately, Shawnee missed most of the film, lying on the floor, sick in the ladies room. Now, feeling much better, she was skulking back into the theatre, wanting to find out what had happened. Just as she was, the lights came back up, and there, way down in the first row, Larry Flynt himself rose up out of his seat and began to address us.
It was like a scene out of Citizen Kane. This mysterious man who had remained unseen all these weeks was suddenly standing right there, bigger than life, with the glow from the movie screen lighting him from behind. He started off by explaining that Harlan County was where he was from, that he and his brother Jimmy, whom I’d seen around the office, had been born and raised there. As he warmed to his theme, telling us how he and his family had been poor, just like the people in the movie, it wasn’t long before he was actually railing at us for thinking that we were so special, sitting there in our fancy clothes that he had paid for.
“I could fire you all,” he boomed at one point, “this minute. It’s my business and my money. I’m the one in charge and don’t forget it.”
We sat there frozen. Nobody knew what this was really about or where it was going. There was a silence that seemed to go on forever. And then he spoke again more calmly. He talked about hucksters and charlatans, people who hustle other people by trying to get them to believe things that aren’t true. People like religious evangelists. He said that if we ever heard that he’d been converted to some kind of religion by one of these crackpots––and now his voice was growing more strident again––we shouldn’t believe it. He said that we’d better know that he was not the one who would be converted, that he was the one who would do the converting.
Not knowing what it meant, we started applauding wildly, partly because we wanted our paychecks to keep coming, partly because we admired this self-made man from the hills of Kentucky, partly because there was a strain of heart-felt truth in his message.
I didn’t know much about his history, about the way he had clashed with the moral majority, who had tried to shut down his clubs and get his magazine off the newsstands. I just thought this was maybe what bosses do, and when it was over, he suddenly disappeared. We, however, were asked to stay for a second documentary, this one about Marjoe Courtner, the evangelist who traveled from one revival meeting to another, supposedly healing people of their illnesses. The movie showed how he’d get them to speak in tongues and fall into fits of religious ecstasy, but, in the end, it was all a big act.
So it came as no small shock, driving to work the following Thursday, to hear Paul Harvey report that the President's sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, was a house guest at the Columbus, Ohio, home of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. It came as no small shock to hear that the President’s sister had apparently saved Mr. Flynt and converted him to Christianity.
At the office, all hell was breaking loose. Calls were coming in from across the country, and it fell on Jeanette, the only one of us ever to have handled the media, to serve as company spokesperson. We were taking calls from the AP, the New York Times, all the major television networks, all wanting to know if this was this some kind of hoax.
The next morning, Henry and Martha and I sat with our eyes glued to the kitchen TV, chewing intently our hominy grits, as Jeanette was interviewed on the Today Show with Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley. Martha said she didn’t believe a word of it, but she and Henry were both as happy as pigs in mud.
Larry took on a beatific glow as he strode through the building. One morning, Jeanette warned us that he was going to visit us to thank us for the job we’d done handling the press. I still had never met the man, so when he appeared in our doorway, filling it entirely, I couldn’t believe how huge he was. He asked me what I did there, a question I’d been asking myself for several weeks. I blurted out something about working for Jeanette, which was apparently not the answer he wanted.
“You don’t work for Jeanette,” he roared, “or anybody else around here. You work for me!”
“I live to grovel,” I responded, suddenly remembering a line from a play I’d been in in college. It got a laugh that concluded the visit and sent him chuckling out of the room.
Seeing the movie many years later, I was struck by how incorrectly they captured him at this period in his life. First of all, he didn’t look anything like Woody Harrelson. Secondly, he wasn’t dressed like some yahoo in a polyester leisure suit with bell-bottoms, a shirt open down to his navel and gold chains covering his chest. He was dressed in a beautiful dark pinstriped business suit. His brother Jimmy dressed that way, too. They both looked like captains of industry. It just happened to be the porn industry.
As calm and composed as he appeared to us, we heard there were fistfights breaking out in his conference room down the hall. Larry was insisting on doing the unthinkable, blending religion and porn. He began running explicit photospreads showing scenes that the Bible had only implied. If Adam had known Eve, if Samson had known Delilah, if Sodom had known Gomorra, he wanted his readers to know how well. Many of them, loyal since the days of the newsletter he created to promote his strip clubs in Cincinnati, didn’t take to the new format so well. As a form of protest, one of them nominated him for the “Asshole of the Month,” a regular feature in Hustler, and he happily allowed himself to be so named.
Others were less forgiving, though you didn’t know who hated Larry more––the readers who thought he’d screwed up his magazine or the fundamentalist Christians who thought he was a blasphemer. More than once there were bomb threats and we had to be evacuated from the building. It was announced that, after the first of the year, the creative side would move out to L.A., where kooks were more commonplace than in central Ohio and pornography could thrive in a more favorable climate.
But we weren’t really bothered by any of that. As the holiday season approached, there was excitement among our ranks about the company Christmas party. For me, it wasn’t exactly excitement I felt in the pit of my stomach but dread. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to socialize with my co-workers. It was just that I found myself having the same foreboding about this event as I had our summons to the Bexley Movie Theatre. Who knew what they’d make us do under the mistletoe?
Luckily, I was spared from having to find out first hand when I mentioned to Jeanette, just in passing, that I had tickets to see “The Nutcracker” for that very same night. “But it’s okay,” I said, “I’ll just give them to a friend.”
Jeanette thought that was a shame and asked if I’d asked anybody to go with me. Since I didn’t really own tickets in the first place, I answered honestly that I hadn’t. Although unmarried, Jeanette had come to Columbus with a baby, the result of a love affair with a much older married man, someone “well known in the industry,” as she liked to say. When Jeanette moved from New York to Columbus, she brought along a younger friend to take care of the baby while she was at work.
Jeanette thought it would be just fine if I skipped the Christmas party and took Shelley, her nanny, with me to see “The Nutcracker” instead.
“She never gets out,” Jeanette said, taking a drag on a Virginia Slim, “and I know she loves ballet. In New York, she goes all the time.”
I don’t know what I expected Shelley to look like––maybe a slightly smaller version of Jeanette, puffing on Virginia Slims and being assertive in the same way––but she wasn’t. Where Jeanette was worldly in an “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” sort of way, Shelley was cosmopolitan in a refined lady-like way. They made an interesting combination. I thought Shelley looked positively elegant that night, especially for somebody her age, which couldn’t have been more than twenty.
The ballet was downtown at the Ohio Theatre, a beautiful Beaux Arts building, just across from the statehouse. Because of its proximity and catchy theme, I had chosen to start the evening at a trendy new restaurant called the Waterworks. It occupied a building that had once served Columbus in that capacity. The theme had to do with bath tubs and plumbing, and why I thought it an appropriate choice had as much to do with the decade as my age. In my defense, it was a very popular place, and if she thought it repulsive, Shelley was too polite to say so.
We had a pleasant time getting acquainted over dinner, but the longer we were together, the more I wondered how she and Jeanette could ever have become friends. So I asked her how they had met.
“Through the industry,” Shelley said.
“Really?” I responded, thinking her far too young ever to have worked with Jeanette.
“She’s a friend of my uncle,” she said. “He’s a publisher.”
“Oh, and what does he publish?” I asked, continuing the conversation.
“Penthouse,” she said. “My uncle is Bob Guccione.”
All sound now stopped. It was like a dream, and this being the Waterworks, I guess it was a wet one––one in which I had been hopelessly miscast. Fortunately, I had just taken an overly large bite of food, and this bought me some time as I attempted to digest her revelation.
My evening of surprises continued at the theatre, where, after an enjoyable first act, the curtain had no sooner risen on the second, when a madman started screaming obscenities from somewhere in the top balcony. It went on forever, as if nobody were brave enough to stop him. I knew I wasn’t. But where were the ushers? Where was security? It just went on and on. Children both on stage and off were crying hysterically. It was a scary scene, even for grownups. Eventually, though you couldn’t see it, you could tell that somebody finally was leading him away. The far less exciting ballet ground on to its inevitable happy end, and we raced home, anxious to tell Jeanette about our experience.
But our story paled in comparison to hers. The party had been eventful, too. Larry had taken the stage once again, making yet another surprise announcement. This time, apparently filled with the holiday spirit, he said that everybody was going to be getting big raises.
“And that’s not all,” Jeanette said, lighting up a Virginia Slim. “You’re getting a thousand dollar bonus for Christmas. Everybody is.”
I was speechless. At this point, it was hard to decide which was the real highlight of the evening. But certainly, getting a thousand-dollar Christmas bonus for doing practically no work at all was right up there.
I couldn’t wait to call my mother the next day and tell her about the generosity of my wonderful employer, the exact identity of whom I had not yet revealed to her in its entirety. That is to say––at all. So, when I told her, I was a little discomforted by the silence on her end of the line.
“Isn’t it great?” I said, prompting her.
“I’m just trying to figure out,” she finally said, “how somebody who’s publishing a magazine about Ohio – not that it isn’t a very nice state – can afford to be so generous, especially when it’s not even out yet.”
Now the silence was on my end.
“Well,” I said, “he has more than one magazine.”
“Oh. Well that might explain it,” came her maternal reply. “What else does he publish?”
Again, silence on my end of the line, while I mustered up the courage to tell her.
“Hustler,” I said at last. “My boss is Larry Flynt.”
She didn’t speak now for quite a while, but I could hear her cracking open a tray of ice cubes and pouring herself a drink. I hoped it was a strong one.
Maybe she was thinking about how long it had taken me to find a job, about my failure to pursue a career in theatre, about my playing with Barbie dolls when I was a boy. Because, when she finally did speak, what she said was, “Well, that’s nice dear. Don’t spend it all in one place.”
I couldn’t believe it! Not only did I have the world’s greatest boss, but I also had a kind and understanding mother. As we rang off, she was moving on to her second cocktail and closed with a last request. “When you talk to your grandmother, for God’s sake don’t tell her who you work for.”
Christmas came and went, and, at first, we didn’t get our raises or our bonuses. A few of Larry’s top executives had thought better of his generosity and refused to pay them. When he found out, he blew his stack and fired every one of them. He wasn’t going back on his word. My salary, which had been more than adequate in my estimation, actually doubled. I got back pay and the thousand dollar bonus. Maybe he was crazy, but I loved this man.
Apparently, not everybody did. One day in February, as he was coming out of a Georgia courthouse on one of his obscenity trials, Larry was shot by an unknown assailant. Shawnee and I were at lunch when it happened, and when we got back to the office, it was just like the day he’d announced his religious conversion. Only this time it was no joke. This time he was quite possibly dead.
“I love you both,” Jeanette said to us with tears in her eyes, “but please, stay the hell out of my way.” Once again it was up to her to respond to the world press, and she did so, lighting up one Virginia Slim after another.
People were standing outside their offices crying, holding each other for comfort. Never one to have a grip on her emotions anyway, Shawnee broke down sobbing, contrary to the fact that she had never stopped being terrified of the man.
Less than twelve months had passed since my father’s death, so I no longer had to imagine how this was supposed to feel. But as we waited for word on Larry’s condition, I realized that this wasn’t quite the same. Maybe he had just given me a thousand dollars, but all I felt was numb.
In the end, Larry didn’t die of course––he was left paralyzed from the waist down. In the weeks after the shooting, as he lay in a hospital bed suffering, his business suffered, too. His advisers had been right about the weakness of his finances. It had been a nice idea, wanting to compensate his employees at the highest level possible––unlike the owners of the Kentucky coal mines––but it wasn’t wise. Unhappy with the bizarre mixture of religion and porn, his readers had been turning to alternate––no doubt less challenging––forms of entertainment. Over the past several months, they’d been canceling their subscriptions, while sales at the newsstands had plummeted. Recession came knocking on the door at Larry Flynt Publications. In fact, it knocked the door right down.
Shawnee got the axe first, shortly after the shooting, despite her degree in journalism and a highly successful beauty makeover that had pleased her boyfriend very much. I lasted another couple of months, up until the premier issue of OHIO Magazine finally hit the newsstands in May. As I left the building that last night, I stopped to bid Althea a fond farewell. In spite of everything that had happened, she was still hanging there smiling at me upside down. No longer afraid of her, I just smiled right back.
© 2001 by John Cain
Luna Gale Force: Playwright Rebecca Gilman and Director Robert Falls latest collaboration in January
If you were to assume that one of the hottest playwrights in Chicago is being interviewed in a trendy downtown coffee house or backstage at a theater, surrounded by hip sycophants…you would be very wrong. In fact, Rebecca Gilman is calling from her Wisconsin home, having moved to “higher ground” (upstairs) because of her sporadic cell service, laughing that “it’s nice, because we can’t get Internet, and often the phone doesn’t work.”
An Alabama native, Gilman moved to Chicago after earning her MFA at the University of Iowa, and quickly was embraced by the city’s theater community. “I was really lucky. I was able to become a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists, and through them I got my first production at Circle Theatre out in Forest Park.”
The Goodman Theatre noticed and responded to her work, Gilman says. “They sort of took me under their wing pretty quickly. We’ve just had an ongoing relationship since then.”
Gilman is also an associate professor of playwriting and screenwriting at Northwestern University. “I always tell my students that finding the theater that responds to your work is really key. It’s sort of a personality thing; I liken it to blind dating,” she laughs. “And the Goodman’s contributions to theater are huge. They give new plays the same import as the classics; not a lot of theaters are so invested in new work.”
But underneath the grateful, easygoing personality and warm southern accent, Gilman is a serious, no-holds-barred talent, whose works often explore dark, intense themes and can be unapologetically controversial. Among her many accolades are multiple Joseph Jefferson awards, a nomination for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and a spot on Time magazine’s 2010 list of the Top Ten Plays of the Decade.
Gilman’s upcoming world-premiere drama, Luna Gale, will be helmed by Goodman artistic director Robert Falls, which marks the fourth collaboration for the formidable pair. “I always feel like when I give a play to Bob, he knows what’s going to work really well—and, in sort of an annoying way, he can also find the faults really quickly,” Gilman says. “He’s able to hear my language or my dialogue in a way that’s really special. He knows what it should sound like. He’s so imaginative and creative on his own, he brings things to the text that I never would have imagined or seen. It’s never some weird, intrusive thing that he’s putting on top of it; it’s always organic.”
Luna Gale is the story of Caroline, a veteran social worker who takes on the case of two teenaged drug addicts accused of neglecting their baby. Her decision to place the infant daughter in the care of the baby’s grandmother exposes family secrets, forcing Caroline to make a risky decision with potentially disastrous consequences.
“The title is the name of the baby who’s being fought over,” Gilman explains. “To me, she represents all of the hope in the play.”
“This play was inspired by a lot of different things,” she continues. “I had seen this map of the world in which everything was labeled by stereotype, and the thing that jumped out at me was the giant Midwestern section of the United States. Instead of saying ‘Midwest,’ it said ‘meth’ and ‘Jesus.’ I kept thinking about the people in what they call the ‘flyover’ part of the country who maybe feel like they don’t matter to anybody at all, and what they turn to for solace, and I felt like it probably came down to drugs or religion for a lot of people. I also had wanted to write a play about a social worker for a really long time, so that sort of helped me put the two things together.”
Like much of Gilman’s work, the production promises to be gripping. “It’s definitely a drama,” she says, “but there’s always comedy in everything I write, I think. It has a lot of plot twists, cliffhangers, and some real maneuvering over the placement of this baby.”
But, most of all, “it’s definitely a Midwestern story,” Gilman says. “I think a lot of times we do get overlooked, so I want to emphasize that we have really great stories here.”
By Rebecca Gilman, directed by Robert Falls
Jan 18–Feb 23, 2014
170 N Dearborn, Chicago
Megan Gauler, 18, of Kouts remembers her first stage encounter with the witches of Broadway's record-breaking box office smash "Wicked."
"It was 2009, and I was still in middle school when I saw it the first time," said Gauler, one of the fans caught up in this week's tornado of celebrations for the musical's 10th anniversary and return to Chicago, opening Wednesday for an eight-week run through Dec. 21 at Oriental Theatre, 24 West Randolph in Chicago, the show's original Windy City home.
Gauler said she attended with her brother Jacob and their parents Matt and Sherry, and still recalls how they passed around a pair of binoculars to see the details of the stage and costumes.
"We had no problem seeing the set and scenery, because it's so spectacular," she said.
"The special effects, like the giant dragon and floating head of the Wizard are amazing."
Less than a year later, she was back in the Land of Oz again, this time to see the show as a surprise celebrating her grandmother's birthday.
"Wicked" originally premiered on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre in New York in October 2003, and starred Idina Menzel as green witch Elphaba, Kristin Chenoweth as the pink preferential Glinda and Joel Grey as the Wizard. When the original first national touring cast played a limited engagement from April 29 to June 12, 2005, at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago, it was such a run-away ticket hit, producers decided to extend it to an open-ended run, making it the first non-Broadway sit-down production of "Wicked." The new-cast production opened at the same Chicago theater the day after the touring production finished, with "Saturday Night Live" actress Ana Gasteyer stepping into the high buttoned pointed shoes and hat of Elphaba, Kate Reinders as Glinda and Rondi Reed as Madame Morrible.
Maddie Bartsch, 19, a sophomore at Valparaiso University, said she first became a fan of the musical after her father, who has worked as a professional actor in Chicagoland for 25 years, auditioned for a role in the "Wicked" cast.
"When I finally got to see it in Chicago, it was with my Girl Scouts troop, and I was already familiar with all the songs," Bartsch said.
"It was nice to see how all of the music and lyrics fit into the storyline and plot, after having spent so much time listening to the soundtrack."
Both Gauler and Bartsch agree "Wicked" not only offers fun and fantasy wrapped into a neat tale of humor, romance and excitement, but also important themes and symbolism.
"There's a wonderful message shared about acceptance," Bartsch said.
"Not only is it important to accept others who might be different from yourself, but also, it's important to accept yourself."
For this new tour that finishes playing Minneapolis this weekend and arrives in Chicago Monday to begin prep for Wednesday's opening, the run features favorite previous star headliners singer and actor John Davidson as The Wizard and "Guiding Light" soap actress Kim Zimmer as "Wicked" teacher Madame Morrible.
"John and I don't really remember it, but we have worked together in the past," Zimmer said.
"I appeared as a guest on three episodes of the game show 'Hollywood Squares' when he was hosting it in the 1980s."
Zimmer, whose family hails from Grand Rapids, Mich., has been with the tour for the past 15 months.
"It used to take me so long to get into my costume and makeup," Zimmer said.
"Now, I put myself together very quickly. I'm not as worried these days of how my arched eyebrows turn out, even when my eyeliner pencil slips."
Davidson, who also holds the distinction of having been a regular guest on the original "Hollywood Squares" hosted by Peter Marshall in the 1970s and starring Paul Lynde in the center square, said he is joined on this tour by his wife Rhonda and their large Maine coon cat Follies.
"For this tour, I talked with my wife and we decided to rent a large RV to travel the country in rather than living in hotels," Davidson said.
"But when we get to Chicago, it's going to be too cold, so we're storing it and taking an apartment for those two months."
Davidson, who last played the Chicago stage in 1996 for a stop with the national tour of "State Fair," said he's savoring his every moment playing the Wizard in "Wicked."
"He's a con man, but it's a great role," Davidson said.
"I think I'm more believable in this character, compared to when I played a hog farmer in 'State Fair.'"
The idea to create a parody stage musical comedy paying homage to the page-by-page success of the sexy, breezy read "Fifty Shades of Grey" began with the show's writer Marshall Cordell getting "roped into it."
"This project started because Marshall heard something about rope sales being on the rise after people started reading this book," said Emily Dorezas, who worked with Cordell and Albert Samuels to dream up the stage spoof last year, which was first workshoped before having a few test-out runs at Apollo Theater in Chicago.
Broadway In Chicago is now hosting a quick run of the production "50 Shades! The Musical," following sold-out audiences in New York and a hit run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It plays the Windy City at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E Chestnut, opening tonight and running through Sunday.
"Fifty Shades of Grey" book trilogy has shattered sales records around the globe with more than 32 million copies sold in the United States alone and a 2014 Universal Pictures feature film release prompting lots of media buzz.
As the stage parody, Dorezas said "50 Shades! The Musical" opens with a ladies book club deciding to read "Fifty Shades of Grey." Through their interpretation of the novel, the audience is led on what Dorezas describes as a hilarious roller coaster ride of this unlikely bestseller. The show is also filled with dance numbers, 11 original songs and a live band backing the performance of original songs.
Dorezas said like the book series, the stage musical is not for those under age 18, but "does not cross boundaries that would make general audiences squirm."
"With this show, all bets are off and there are lots of surprises," she said.
"It's most of the same cast from the Off Broadway New York run. When we were casting, we were looking for funny talent as our first priority. Now, we get audiences ranging from anyone age 18 to 80. It's a 'no judge' atmosphere."
Tickets are $29 to $49, with a select number of premium seats also available for many performances. Groups of 10 or more are available by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Kiosk at Water Tower Place (845 N. Michigan Ave.), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at BroadwayInChicago.com.
Legendary Stage Tributes: Legends in Concert returns to Blue Chip Casino for third visit of Las Vegas favorites
Entertainer Chad Collins says he never tires of sharing the spotlight with his famous entertainment alter-egos.
Collins, who now calls Las Vegas home, but is originally from Nashville, is touring with Legends in Concert, which ranks as the original and largest live celebrity tribute stage show in the world.
For this visit, when Legends returns to Blue Chip Casino, Hotel and Spa in Michigan City next week, Oct. 17-19 in the Stardust Event Center, he'll assume the hip-swiveling identity of Elvis Presley.
When he last played at the Blue Chip with Legends in 2011, he had his trademark cowboy hat firmly in place as Tim McGraw.
"I really think I could also be a great Brad Paisley," Givens said Tuesday, speaking by telephone from Sin City.
"I'm also a fan of Brad's music. I've actually had some talks with our producers about considering me for a Brad tribute as part of the show."
The live performance tribute show, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary as the longest-running family-friendly production show in the history of Las Vegas, features performers who virtually transform, in every detail, into the celebrity superstars they portray.
When the show first came to Blue Chip in October 2009, it became an instant sell-out and crowd-pleaser.
For this visit, artists performing are Chad Collins as Elvis, Kate Steele as Lady Gaga, Damian Brantley as Michael Jackson and Steve McCoy as Tom Jones.
The show has become famous for not only the precise impersonations, but also the elaborate theatrical sets, costumes and full array of incredible special effects, including three-dimensional multimedia and multimillion dollar, state-of-the-art lighting, laser and sound systems.
Talented back-up singers and dancers join a live orchestra of top musicians in the industry every night.
"Audiences around the world love the excitement of Legends in Concert and the performances by the top tribute artists in the business," said Brian Brigner, Chief Operating Officer of On Stage Entertainment, producers of Legends in Concert. "We're thrilled to return to Blue Chip with these amazing artists, backed by talented dancers and a live orchestra, direct from Las Vegas."
"Our pledge is to offer the highest quality live entertainment and production values at affordable prices and this, along with a continually rotating talent lineup, is what draws audiences to 'Legends,' and keeps them coming back."
Currently, Brigner has more than 80 "celebrities" for both the Las Vegas show and the touring acts, from Britney Spears, Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli and Liberace to Jerry Lee Lewis, David Bowie, Bobby Darin and Madonna.
As for Collins, who joined Legends in 2008 and has lived in Las Vegas since 2004, he said he's found capturing the persona for playing The King is a mix of self-confidence and attitude, with also a blend of just the right amount of "boy-ish and vulnerable" qualities.
He said he's also grateful he doesn't have to dance as much with "tricky foot moves" as some of the other performers, especially the man behind Legends' Michael Jackson.
"Damian is the best at Michael Jackson and I think Northwest Indiana and everyone from Jackson's hometown of Gary will appreciate what Legends showcases with our Michael Jackson tribute," Collins said.