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Wednesday, May 30, 2012


When collaborating with someone else on a project, obviously it is key to understanding their basic sensibilities and outlook on life in general.  As complicated a person Jonathan was, I got to know him well enough to feel comfortable in the role of collaborator.  I knew this much about him by this point: he had a gallows sense of humor, loved a sense of irreverence, enjoyed practical jokes, loved "The Carol Burnett Show,"  "Cheers," watched political satire comedians on PBS, could laugh at himself, and took whatever came at him and made it work for him.  I shared similar tastes.

Jonathan asked me if I would work with him on developing a second show.  He had a long-standing fascination for The London Bridge and the Titanic and wanted to see about developing a show based on these subjects.  I was pleased that he wanted to work with me to develop a second show but horrified that he thought two hours of stories about the London Bridge and the Titanic would make interesting reader's theater.  In my mind, it would not.  Remember, reader's theater isn't visual except for the acting standing on a stage.

But we talked about it.  He gave me a folder full of material and asked me to think about it.  As I had already learned, when you say you will work with Jonathan on a project, that also means you will be willing to make him a priority if you have other commitments to juggle.  Creating a whole new show from the ground up would be time consuming.  It wouldn't just be discovering material, molding a concept, and endless rehearsals at the libraries and Jonathan's apartment; it would require me at the typewriter writing and working on the narrative.  It would easily be a 25 hour a week commitment at the very least for me, probably more.

I would be nuts to turn down this opportunity especially when there were already customers waiting for whatever the finished product would be.  The theaters, universities and public library programs who had booked "Fools and Fiends" wanted another new show from Jonathan.  As long as I was going to have creative input into the show, I was willing to put in the time.  There was no question of getting paid, I would be from the start, but committing to this kind of project it always meant kissing my personal life goodbye for awhile.

This is how Jonathan worked.  His personal life would go out the window as well.  He would say that once committed to a project, then you should be 110% engaged in that project.  Between 1988-1990 working on "Fridiculousness" was all-consuming for him.  He was offered movie roles in big budget films such as "Bob Roberts" and even more stage work such as playing Captain Hook in a major touring production of "Peter Pan."  There were television offers as well.  But Jonathan wasn't interested.  All he wanted to do with the rest of his life was work in reader's theater until he couldn't do it anymore.  It gave him such joy.  It was the driving creative passion of his life from the early 1980s to his death.

He often said that many thought he had made a "mess" of his career but the reality was Jonathan was a lazy actor by his own admission; he did what he wanted to do because he could.  He would not starve.  He was lazy in the sense of not wanting to pursue all the work he could but not at all lazy when it came to developing three full one-man shows that would ultimately tour around the country between 1986-1994.  "Fools and Fiends" housed stories that Jonathan knew would cater to the crowd who wanted to see him in spooky and unsettling roles, and I say roles because Jonathan played as many as a dozen in a single show.  This "Fridiculousness" used as its centerpiece items I found out about the origin of the Frid name and a chance discovery in a book on fairies and hobgoblins that boasted a creature called A Fridean.  The way with Jonathan was to write something, he would take it apart, I'd write something else based on what he wrote/edited and so on.  It was a never ending process.  We collaborated on three original stories for this show, and he wanted to give me some credit but still keep me as a ghostwriter.  So in one of the stories about the Frid family tree, I was given a mention as part of the story.  That suited me fine.  The stories were very popular with the audience.

As we spent so much time together, it was natural to take breaks and since Jonathan had other things to attend to with daily life, my role as a ghostwriter evolved into that of a personal assistant.  When I wasn't doing one job, I was doing the other.  I would not have ever sought to be anyone's personal assistant but as I liked Jonathan - shared the same sense of humor and view on life - spending time with him wasn't a chore. Sure, I longed to do some of my own things (we decided that weekends would be free for the most part) but Jonathan was someone who managed to get his own errands done when someone was with him.  This kind of work included helping him clean out and organize his closets and drawers and going with him to buy new clothes.  None of this is exciting stuff but sometimes there was some cool things such as going with him to a social function and meeting some of his Yale friends or helping to plan a luncheon for relatives arriving from Canada.  I learned a lot about entertaining - what cheeses to serve with which cracker, what wine went best with what dish, and while doing all this, Jonathan would perform one of the stories we were working on for the crowd since they asked what he was up to.

Jonathan's cocktail parties were informal yet just right: he made the best sangria yet years later didn't remember ever having made any.   It was interesting to meet people from the different phases of Jonathan's life.  He told me that he tended to go through "groups" of people in five or even ten year periods; he had intense periods doing a particular thing and then moved on.  When four years of "Dark Shadows" was over, it was natural and traditional for him to move on and even leave people he knew behind.  That was that.  However, usually at least one or two people carried over into whatever the next phase of his life would be.

So much of "Fridiculousness" captured Jonathan's personality and life perfectly.   It was to be his favorite show.

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