Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My “Clutter Angel”

Ever heard of a “Clutter Angel”?  Well neither have I, but I’m inclined to believe that there is such a being.   We all have clutter to some extent … some more than others.  Unlike our “Guardian Angel” who protects us from harm, the Clutter Angel prevents us from disposing of stuff that may be of value at some far distant future time … in my case nearly 50 years.  Of course the Clutter Angel may also be our Guardian Angel.

I’ll take you back to 1994.  As many of you may know I’ve been involved with motion picture production since 1960 and have garnered a substantial volumn of checks for Ads and film roles I’ve had the good fortune of contracting.  Besides session fees, I routinely get residuals in the mail for reruns and foreign distributions.   My Clutter Angel “insisted” that I keep all my check stubs.  I did and I still do.  My wife, Gloria, once challenged my logic, asking “Do you really think you’ll ever need all this old stuff?”  I would simply respond with “You never can tell.”  My Clutter Angel was probably pulling my “puppet strings” or maybe it was just intuition, but who can say that our “Clutter Angel” is NOT what we call intuition?.  Now don’t misunderstand.  Gloria also has a Clutter Angel but not for business records.  She keeps every greeting card, letter, McDonald Happy Meal toy,  report card, etc, etc.  But I dare not challenge her rationale.  Very often when she runs across one of these treasures, she swells with emotion.  Why would I throw cold water on such moments?

OK, getting back to the 1994 story….. I failed to mention that I had set up a Lotus 1.2.3 spreadsheet back in the early 80s to log all of my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) earnings.  I had learned in 1994 that with 10 years of qualifying earnings credits I would be able to take SAG retirement.  Wow!

So I decided to make a call to SAG.  I was connected to a Ms Lynn Hamm, a very nice and helpful lady, who confirmed that 10 years of qualifying earnings does indeed allow an actor to take a SAG retirement.    Also SAG sends an earnings statement annually indicating whether or not that particular year was a qualifying year.  Having gone through all of my earnings statements I had found that I had 9 years of credit.  Lynn checked her records and agreed.  She did admit, however, that often the SAG office makes mistakes.   Realizing the likelihood that I had not kept all of my check stubs since 1960,  she nonetheless asked if I might just happen to have my old check stubs just in case I might have failed to make Lotus entries on any.   When I said “Yes, I do have them”, she responded “I mean ALL going back to 1960.”  I again said “Yes.”  There was a slight pause, then she said “REALLY?  ALL OF THEM?”  I said “Yes, all of them.”  She said I was the first actor she had ever dealt with having kept nearly 40 years of film earnings records.

She asked if I would mind bundling them and sending them to her so she could check them against her records.   She suggested that I first copy them since she would need the originals.  I agreed and within the week I had sent them to her via UPS. 

It was about a month after that that I received a call back from her.  She said “Jerry, you actually have 11 credit years, not 9.”  I was elated and asked “Then does this mean I can take retirement now?”  She said “Very definitely.  It makes no sense NOT taking it since there are no penalties.  And your earnings credits will continue to grow as long as you continue to work in union films.”  Thank you,  Clutter Angel.

My Angel was on a roll now.  A year after my SAG retirement commenced I attended a voluntary meeting at the Catholic Life Center where I was working at the time.  The subject of the meeting was “Social Security Retirement”.   In this session a very nice lady named Betty from the Baton Rouge Social Security office that was then located on Donmore Ave  introduced herself and proceeded to enlighten all of us about the latest provisions offered to prospective SS retirees.  She also provided forms we could complete to receive information about our own SS status.   About a week after this meeting I received a call from Betty (did I mention that she was also drop-dead gorgeous?).  Anyhow, she asked if I could visit her in her office on Donmore Ave.  Hmmm.  What was this all about?   I agreed and at the appointed date and time I kept the appointment.

I was not pleased with what she revealed.  She had processed my request form and said there was a problem.  Jeez!  What kind of problem?   Having succeeded a year prior in getting my SAG retirement, was my Clutter Angel now letting me down?  What could be the problem with my Social Security? 

She said “Mr. Leggio our records show that your earnings go back to 1951.  Is this true?”  It was true.  And she continued “Have you ever worked in Michigan or with an employer whose home office was in Michigan?”  I responded “I’m not sure.  Can you give me a company name?”  She gave a name which I had never heard of and told her so.  So she decided to get to the crux of the problem.  She said “Your SS number was apparently assigned (erroneously) to a gentleman back in 1967 who came under the care of the U.S. Marshall Service.”  SAY WHAT!!??   From my casual knowledge of the Marshall Service, I had to ask:  “Am I to presume that this gentleman’s identity was changed and he and his family was secretly relocated because he may have been a mob informant, turning state’s evidence against a mod boss or something to that effect?”  She said “I don’t have any information other than what I’ve told you.”  To which I responded:  “Then having my same SS number,  wouldn’t that put me at risk?”  She reminded me that this assignment happened nearly 20 years earlier.  She said that, based on his birth record, if he is still living today, he’d be about 96 years old.  She continued:  “Mr Leggio, in order for us to reconcile this issue is to review your tax records going back to 1951 and since that is not possible ….. “, but I interrupted with “I’ve got them.”  Almost identical to my SAG experience she said: “We would need ALL your W2s going back to 1951.”  Again I said “I have them.”  A pause, then from her: “ALL?  You have ALL your tax records going back to 1951?”  I said "ALL".  Her jaw dropped.

Anyway I agreed to bring them into her office.  The following evening I went to our warehouse and pulled out 4 banker boxes filled with all of my tax records going back to 1951.  I loaded them into my car along with my 2-wheel dolly and carted them over to the Donmore SS office.  I asked the receptionist if she would mind summoning Betty (her last name eludes me).   Betty came out to the lobby, saw me and said “And these are really ALL your tax records?”  I said yes and she immediately asked the receptionist to tell the staff to come look.  About 10 staffers appeared and she said to them “Mr Leggio has kept all of his taxes records going back to 1951.”  In unison the entire group expressed their amazement.

Betty said she would take good care of them.  She would have to go through them to reconcile against my “mob twin.”  She would get back to me within 2 or 3 weeks.

True to her word she got back to me within the 3 week period and asked if I would come to her office.  I did and she said that Mr mob twin had actually worked about a year since his Marshal relocation back in 1967.   She said that those earnings would be credited to my account.  I asked if his earnings during that year were substantial.  She said “Afraid not, but you will still get the credit.” 

Well, so far I am still upright and above ground, so I’ll refrain from looking over my shoulder ….. unless of course someone reads this blog piece and gets some ideas.  Hmmm.

Oh, I almost forgot.  Betty asked that I please retrieve my tax records.  I told her I probably would not ever need them again, but she politely said that her office could neither keep them nor dispose of them.   So, back to our warehouse they went and where they rest today.

Clutter Angel, you done good! 

Monday, October 13, 2014

My BRLT – 1980 to 2010

My appearance on the BATON ROUGE LITTLE THEATRE stage over these four decades (80s, 90s, 00s and 10s) was limited to just 12 productions which is why I have packaged them all into one post.

In 1981 THE AUBIN LANE DINNER THEATRE launched THE KING AND I.  John Wilson cast me as the King of Siam and once again Constance Navratil was cast as Anna.   Her previous appearance as Anna was at BRLT in 1963 when Aubrey Moore was the king.   Our 1981 AUBIN LANE production was most rewarding with full houses every night.   Because this production required about a dozen or more “children” ranging in ages 5 to 17,  Baton Rouge’s theatre community would benefit from this new crop of future thespians.   Some of these very same children had previously appeared in ALDT’s production of SOUND OF MUSIC in which I portrayed Captain Von Trapp in 1979, directed by Henry Avery.  SOUND OF MUSIC at ALDT would be revived again in 1984 with me as Von Trapp once again and yet an even newer crop of future thespians.   And then, believe it or not, I would be asked by the then Baker Little Theatre director Tom Jones to perform Von Trapp once again in 1986, thus cultivating again a new crop of thespians.  Wheew!



I was now DONE with SOUND OF MUSIC. 


My friend, Becky Horne, observed that I was the most prolific stage dad in Baton Rouge.  Not only had I appeared 3 times in SOUND OF MUSIC, but had gobs of kids in the KING AND I and would appear as the father in BRLT’s CLOSE TIES in 1988 where I would be the father of then theatre favorites Nick Cardona, Terry Serio, Julie Miller, Jamie Wax and Flossie Barker not to mention having been a father in CAMELOT, I OUGHT TO BE IN PICTURES,  CAROUSEL, KISMET and SHOW BOAT and a soon-to-be father Stanley Kowalsky in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1959).

Thought I would give the reader an opportunity to read this David Foil piece from 1981.  I've had several bio-write-ups, but this one is by far my favorite.

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(Click to enlarge)

In 1981 Henry Avery cast me as Don Quixote in Baton Rouge’s First Baptist Church production of MAN OF LA MANCHA. Besides myself the cast consisted of Jean Koprowsky as Aldonza,  John  Fichtel as Sancho, Louis Herthem as Pedro, Terry Byars as the Barber and Victoria Edwards as a gypsy dancer/prostitute.  This was another  among many very gratifying productions.

In 1982 BRLT’s newest director, Henry Avery, cast me as the father in Neil Simon’s I OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES.   I almost dropped out of the cast.  One night during rehearsal my wife Gloria called at the theater and said that our oldest son, Jerry III, had been seriously injured in a pyrotechnic  accident.   Because Gloria’s car was in the shop, I had to excuse myself and rush home so she and I could go to the OLOL emergency room. 

Both of Jerry’s legs and ankles were shattered.  The vigil would begin.

With considerable reluctance I agreed, as a favor to Henry, to take small roles in 2 productions over the first half of the 80s.  The productions were BUS STOP and WESTSIDE STORY.  In 1985 I agreed to do Sheriff Dodd in BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS.  This role of Sheriff Dodd was anything but a small role.   Performing in WHOREHOUSE was one of many very fulfilling roles among my many BRLT stage appearances.

One afternoon during the run of WHOREHOUSE I was taking a walk in my neighborhood when I heard a voice calling “Jerry”.  I looked behind me to see a neighbor catching up to me.  She was Shirley Bartett, a very nice lady who lived in the neighborhood and  who was a member of Jimmy Swaggert’s Ministry.  She said to me “I’ve got a bone to pick with you, Jerry”.  I suspected her apprehensions, but I nonetheless  asked that she explain her “bone”.  She said “Last Sunday at church Reverend Swaggart told the congregation that he hoped none in his congregation will go see the Little Theater’s production of ‘Best Little hm hm in Texas’.  He dared not say that word“.  I said “Shirley, he really said that?”  She said “Yes he did and he said he was especially shocked that Jerry Leggio and Victoria Edwards would be performing in such a show.”  From that date through the end of our run we had full houses.   Lesson here:  if you doth protest too much, you may become victim of your own protests.

Before the close of the 1980s I managed to perform in several more  AUBIN LANE productions…. In particular was the role of Julian Winston in CACTUS  FLOWER, another meaty role I was privileged to enjoy portraying.   Also appearing in that cast were 2 very talented ladies:  Laura Hudman and Pat Monrad.
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Displaying Cactus Flower.jpg

The following year (1986) Henry again prevailed on me to take a role.  In this case it was that of Cap’m Andy in SHOWBOAT.  I really did not want to do this part because I felt completely unfit for it.  But Henry insisted and I managed to develop into it though I would have preferred NOT having done it. 

In 1989 I would again be drafted into a BRLT revival of FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.   This was my 3rd appearance in FORUM.  I first appeared in the BRLT 1966 production as Miles Gloriosus, then again as Miles in the 1981 AUBIN LANE version.    In 1989 now at the age of 54 I was too old  to revive the role of Miles and was cast instead as Senex, who along with Nonie Banks as my wife comprised the parents of Hero, the “hero” of FORUM.  Miles was now awarded to a younger actor.

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In the 90s I did only 2 shows:  A FEW GOOD MEN and HOMESPIN.  In FGM I was cast as Colonel Nathan Jessup, a
splendid role and one of my very favorites.  HOMESPIN was a Jamie Wax creation.  I was cast as Senator Malbeaux with Stephanie Levert in the role of my wife.   George Jones and Jean Maier portrayed my parents.   Jean was at least 10 years younger than me and justifiably felt strange playing my mom, but what the hell … I was OK with it.

Of particular note was an opening night late entrance.  My parents in the script, George and Jean, were seated in their living room indulging in a brief conversation.   I was to enter amidst their conversation.  Well on opening night I realized, while sipping coffee in the green room, that there was no dialog happening on stage, THEN I realized I had missed that entrance.   I charged to the entrance door and just before charging in I heard a deafening roar of laughter from the audience.  What the hell?!  Realizing I am late, I wait for the laughs to begin subsiding and then I enter.   We managed to get through the rest of that scene.  At intermission I apologized to George and Jean for the late entrance and George said  “Don’t apologize.  We got a huge laugh.”  George said “Since it was obvious you weren’t making your entrance I realized that Jean and I were simply occupying dead space.  So I pointed at her and said ‘Pull my finger.’  Obviously this bought us more time until you FINALLY made it in.”

Even though I only performed in 2 productions at BRLT during the 90s, I must admit that another  theater venue enthralled me during the 90s :  Dee Cothern’s CABARET  THEATER  ….  Dee mounted some terrific productions at CABARET and I was delighted to have been a part of some.  Her very first show, DRIVING MISS DAISY starred, besides myself as Boolie,  Pat Snow as Daisy and Leslie Rainey as Hoke.

A year or 2 later she cast me as Ben Chambers in NORMAN, IS THAT YOU.   What a gem of a role!  I so delighted in portraying this concerned father role that I was saddened when the show ended.

The 2000s saw me in fewer still.  My dear friend, Hollywood’s Louis Herthem, agreed to guest direct SLY FOX at BRLT.  Leading the cast were the immensely talented Ray Gaspard and Walter Brody plus local notables John Noland and Hal Dyess.  I loved my small role as “the Judge”.  This was a raucous comedy and was truly well received by grateful Baton Rouge audiences.

As a favor to guest director, Dee Cothern, I agreed to take a supporting role in the BRLT’s 2002 revival of WESTSIDE STORY.

Then, after badgering the theater board to revive INHERIT THE WIND I managed to win the choice role of this production ... Henry Drummond.  Directed by Dee Cothern, this was perhaps the meatiest and most fulfilling dramatic  role I ever had the privilege of performing.  The review headline here says it all.

Sorry for not posting the entire review.  As you can see from the first paragraph I somehow managed to stain this clipping.  The rest of the clipping is even worse.

Let me not forget another Jamie Wax creation, PASSAGES, which opened and ran shortly after we closed INHERIT THE WIND.  I agreed to play Thomas Jefferson.   Not a BRLT production,  this historic musical dramatization of Lewis and Clark’s epic homeland explorations and adventures was immensely ambitious  directed by Page Parsons with music composed and directed by Paul Taranto.  We opened in Lake Charles, then ran at LSU’s Union Theater and was video-recorded for broadcast on WRKF.

My next appearance on the BRLT stage was in 2010 when I agreed, as a favor to my dear friend Jack Wilson, to be a part of the theatre’s revival of CAMELOT, a production with which I was quite familiar having performed in BRLT's 1971 production as Lancelot and then again in 1980 at ALDT as King Arthur.   Jack Wilson, who at this time in 2010, was a recent throat cancer survivor,  turned in a sterling King Arthur portrayal.   After declining the role of Pellinore I agreed to do Merlin.   How very relieved I was when I turned down Pellinore.  John Salinger  turned in a stand-out Pellinore performance.  And Jennifer Ellis delivered a wonderful portrayal of Guinevere.

In the 1978-79 season BRLT launched Neil Simon's SUNSHINE BOYS starring B.J. Hopper and Bob Earle (now both deceased).  These 2 gentlemen, with whom I had had the privilege of sharing the stage with on many occasions, led the pack among BRLT's most popular standout performers.  And no I was not in that SUNSHINE BOYS  production.  But if THEATRE BATON ROUGE does not soon choose to produce a revival, I will be too old for either of the 2 leading  “old codger” roles.  OMG!

While I was not able to boast a prolific theater experience during the 1980 through 2010 period, I did manage to hook many substantial supporting, cameo and lead film roles during this era including ERNEST GREEN STORY,  HOT PURSUIT,  THE MISSISSIPPI,  DANGEROUS CURVES,  DOUBLECROSSED,  HIDE,  LA-308,  JAKE LASSITER,  MALPRACTICE,  ORLEANS,  OLD MAN,  QUANTUM APOCALPSE,  AMERICAN HORROR STORY,  TERROR EXPERIMENT and MOTHMAN.   This last one,  MOTHMAN, continues to re-appear on the SciFi network and generated great reviews for my role including a most recent appearance in the UK's Horror Cult Film website:

There is also a blind man who pretty much steals every scene, and provides some of the films highlights. Played by Jerry Leggio, Frank Waverly has had a run in with The Mothman before, and while he brings some menace and terrific acting, he also asks the question which is on all our minds: why the Hell do we celebrate a creature that kills people in Point Pleasant?

And then there was my biggest honor (2nd only to Gloria's "yes" when I proposed in 1959).  This past May the Louisiana International Film Festival chose me to be the first recipient of the ANNE PRICE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD in recognition of my Louisiana motion picture pioneering efforts.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Plymouth Belvedere

“There once was a Plymouth named Belvedere, a car that many thought very queer.”  OK, no more limerick.  Remember the Belvedere?  No?  Then you must be younger than 50.  Here’s my story of the Belvedere.

In 1964 my 1958 Nash Rambler finally croaked.  After first getting the engine rebuilt in 1962, then the transmission rebuilt in 1963,  my patience was finally severed when in 1964 the transmission once again chose to refrain from transmitting.  That was it.  NO MORE RAMBLER.  Less than 90,000 miles and when I once again heard some clanking and clunking, I swore it sounded as if it was saying “Adios, Jerry; adios, Jerry”.  I was actually relieved.  I had vowed to get rid of it if another major failure developed.  So I returned the greeting “Ciao, AMC; Ciao, AMC” meaning I would NOT be buying another product from American Motors Corporation.

But what now?

My late friend, Jay Washauer, had a brother who owned a used car lot.  I forgot the brother’s name, so I will just refer to him as Jim.  Jay introduced me to Jim who graciously interviewed me as though I were seeking a job.  “No, Jim, I need a car, a good, cheap, dependable used car.  Jay says you can help me.”

So Jim said “Oh, a cheap car?”  I said “Yes, a cheap, DEPENDABLE car.”  Jim said “…then you won’t want anything I have on my lot, but I can get you a great little Plymouth Belvedere.” 
Jim had a car dealer’s “pipeline” to the Michoud Corporation, a major NASA contractor located on the coast.  He said that Michoud contracted with the Chrysler Corporation for their fleet cars and turned them over every 2 years.  He said when cars were being retired from the fleet after their 2 year tours, Chrysler re-conditioned them and sold them  to used car dealers with full 2 year warrantees. 

Jim acquired a 2 year old, fully reconditioned 2-yr warranted Plymouth Belvedere for me at his cost of $700….. a hell of a good deal.  Gloria and I were thrilled.  The only feature in that car we had a little trouble getting used to was the push-button transmission.  Until we became conditioned to that change we kept reaching for a gear-shift lever that  wasn’t there.  But that was the only draw-back …. at first.

Dependable?  You bet!  Mechanically this car was perfect, never a moments trouble, very sound.  We put many miles on it,  going on many Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee vacations … never encountering any problems.  We felt blessed.

We used to frequent Bogue Falaya wayside park just east of Covington.   This park was on the Tchefuncte River and was a favorite picnic spot, offering clean river swimming, playgrounds and ample picnic tables.  We loved it.

One Sunday Gloria said “Why don’t we go to Bogue Falaya today.”  All four kids in unison belted out “YEAH!”.  I observed that the weather seemed somewhat threatening, but that didn’t dampen any spirits.  We put our ice chest in the trunk, headed to Krogers for food and drinks, then headed down Florida Blvd east toward our Bogue Falaya destination (there was not yet an Interstate system). 

When we got just past Hammond, the sky opened up and rain pelted us unmercifully.   All the food was in the trunk and everyone was getting hungry.   Gloria said “Be patient.  We’ll soon be there.  We’ll get a picnic shelter, then we can eat.” 

After a few more miles, 4 year old son Mike said “Hey!  Not fair!”  Gloria looked in the back seat and 5 year old Felicia echoed the same sentiment.  Then Gloria exclaimed “Jerry, how did you get that chicken leg?”  Our oldest child, 7 yr old Jerry III, while gnawing on a fried chicken leg, said “I just reached through this hole and got it from the box in the trunk.” 

It was still raining, so I pulled the car into a small roadside rest area.  I turned around and said “Jerry, show me how you did that.”  He simply reached through a hole in the rear deck (just under the rear window) and pulled out another piece of chicken.  In spite of the rain, I got out of the car and climbed in the back seat, and with a few pushes of my hand, tested the integrity of the rear deck.  In doing so my hand went through it adding another hole next to the one Jerry III had been using.  Gloria asked “What’s the problem?”  I announced that the rear deck was rotten.  SHIT!

Then as I was backing my body out of the back seat, my foot went through the floor board.  SHIT!  I could see the ground below.  Because son Mike was sitting at that part of the rear seat I told him NOT to stand or put his feet over that hole.   I then tested the floor board on Jerry’s side and SHIT! my foot went through there as well…. more exposed ground.  I told all 4 kids “Do not stand or put your feet through these holesIf you fall through while the car is moving, you’d be killed.”

Rather than continue on to Bogue Falaya we decided to return home to Baton Rouge.  After all it was still raining and I wanted to minimize any chances of kids slipping through the floor board.

In the days that followed I found myself having to contend with other car body rotting incidents.  The spare tire well in the trunk was so rusted away (SHIT!) that I had to use one of our garbage can lids to fashion a large patch to support the spare in the tire well.  The bracket that supported the battery under the hood was completely rusted away and the battery just hung there (SHIT!).  I used a wire magazine rack to support the battery.

Fearing we may wind up with just a motor, 4 wheels and maybe a seat or 2, it was decided that the car MUST go.  I sold it to an insurance agent for $300 …. as is.   Other than for the body, it was still  mechanically very sound and ran perfectly.

I never thought I’d have to give up a car because of body failures.  I would find out later that the fleet cars from Michoud that were re-sold all had body corrosion problems because of the salt air they had to endure during their 2 year “enlistments” there.  Hmmm! No wonder Chrysler Corporation was willing to practically give them away after their 2 year fleet tours at Michoud Corporation.

"There once was a Clifton whose last name was Webb; "Mr Belvedere" he was which made him a celeb"  OK, I'll admit I'm no Ogden Nash.  No more limerick attempts.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

MY BRLT – The 70s

Then came CAMELOT in 1971.  The late, great Susan Straley was immediately cast as Guinevere.  I told Director Lee Edwards that I wanted the role of Arthur.  I was 36 and Aubrey Moore, who also wanted Arthur, was 46 and Lee told me that Aubrey would only accept the role of Arthur if Jerry Leggio accepted the role of Lancelot.  I told Gloria about this quandary and she said I should accept the role of Lance especially if Susan and Aubrey were going to be cast.   As badly as I wanted the role of Arthur I realized that Lee’s casting certainly made more sense.  So I accepted the character of Lancelot.  Lee reminded me that Arthur was closer to Aubrey’s age and Lance was closer to my age. 

Late in the rehearsal schedule Tech director Bill Ernst started teching the
lighting for the show.  Lance’s entrance was to be splashed with brilliance … full lighting and spots were to overpower the stage and bedazzle Lance.  The scene just before my entrance was with Arthur and Guinevere in Arthur’s dimly lit study.   When that scene ends, I am positioned down center stage, poised and ready to burst into my “CAMELOT” introductory lyric.   But when the lights came up on this very first lighting tech,  I was blinded.  I put my hands up to shield my eyes and Lee yelled “CUT!  Jerry, what are you doing?” “Lee, I can’t see.  The lights blind me.”  Lee said “Jerry, you are Lancelot.  We want Lance to really shine.”  OKaaay! 

The following night I was prepared.  When the lights came up on Lance, I was able to start my number with no difficulty.  Lee yelled “CUT.  Jerry, what are you doing?” In my Foster Grant Polaroid Sunshades I said “Lee, I need these to be able to withstand the lighting brilliance.”  Of course I knew I couldn’t do that, but I had to make a point.  Then Bill Ernst saved the day.  He said “Jer, I can help you with that problem.”  Bill, as most local theatre fans no doubt are aware, was one of the Theater’s great (if not greatest) technical geniuses.  Anyhow he mounted a small light fixture in the left stage wing area enclosed behind a black curtain.  This fixture held a 150 watt bulb.  Bill said “You time it.  At about a minute before your entrance, get inside this curtain, turn on this bulb, and gaze at it until a couple of seconds before your entrance.”  It worked like a charm.  Did it every night of the production.

In 1972 we did Samuel Taylor’s THE HAPPY TIME.  I was cast as Desmond Bonnard, Ray Spruel was my father, Grandpere Bonnard and a brilliant newcomer to BRLT, Janice Mayeux, who was cast in the role of Mignonette.  We had a great run.

In 1973 Lee begged me to play the role of Evy’s worthless ex-boy friend in Neil Simon’s THE GINGERBREAD LADY.   Jean Koprowsky had the title role and, per her usual theatrical acumen, delivered an outstanding performance.  My character, whose name I’ve forgotten, was a mechanic.  I had only one scene and Lee wanted me coming in with grease all over my costume.  So our costumer decided to scrub her garage floor using the sweater my character was to wear.  Then at our first dress parade I slipped on my jeans, t-shirt and this greased up sweater.  Lee yelled for the costumer to come on stage and then said to her (can’t remember her name) “Why would you just grease up his sweater?  Do you really think a mechanic would work in his sweater?”  She said, jokingly, “Well yes if the shop were cold.”  Then Lee said “Then for God’s sake make sure his jeans and  T-shirt are also greased up.”

In the summer of 1973 Bill Ernst’s genius would come through again.  I played the triple characters of the Duke, Dr. Carrasco and the Knight of the
Mirrors in MAN OF LA MANCHA.  My appearance as the Knight was to be another brilliant entrance reminiscent of Lancelot in CAMELOT.  I was to appear from up stage center, stepping onto the stage from atop a parapet.  This was a raked stage, so the up stage section was about 7 ft high including the parapet.  At this point up stage was a ladder to enable entrances from this up stage center area of the rake.  I didn’t like the idea of the Knight of the Mirrors having to climb up a ladder.  I wanted to just suddenly appear.  Lee said “Jerry, we can’t do miracles.”  But then Bill said “Lee, I think I can help Jer here.”  Bill always called me ‘Jer’.   He mounted some grips on the 4 corners of a forklift pallet.  Then four hefty cast members would be positioned one on each corner and when ready, with me crouched down on the pallet, they would all lift in unison and I would step off onto the parapet giving the appearance of “suddenly materializing.”   Well that was how it was supposed to work.

Our first effort at trying the pallet lift was, thank heavens, on a Saturday matinee when Bill developed this idea.   That attempt was an absolute disaster.  We couldn’t test it because the show was on.  So I, against Bill’s wiser counsel, wanted to just do it for that performance (without ever having tried it before).  On cue the 4 hefties lifted me, but each of the 4 lifted at a different rate thus causing me to lose my balance.  They did get me up and above the parapet, which meant that the audience had a quick glimpse of my attempt.  But, because of the unevenness of the lift, I fell back against the stage back wall.  I said “Bring me down. Bring me down”.  They did and I, with considerable embarrassment, trudged around the rake to make my entrance down stage….completely out of character for the knight of the mirrors . When Aubrey Moore (in the role of Quixote) and Jess Hair (as Sancho) saw me coming I could read their shocked expressions.  Aubrey dared not make eye-contact with me for fear of breaking up; Jess turned up stage, his body heaving in nearly audible giggles.  Jess simply could not control himself.  The audience came to realize what was happening (or rather NOT happening) then joined in the misplaced mirth.  We managed with great difficulty to get through the scene. 

Bill corrected the problem by mounting a wood lip at the point of my step-off.  The pallet would be lifted, then its front would come to rest at that lip offering stability for my step-off.  Worked great.  No more pallet wobble.  Thereafter, the Knight of the Mirrors did indeed just suddenly appear.

In 1974 the theatre mounted FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.  Perhaps the name Jo Paul Steiner rings a bell to many of BRLT’s devotees.  Jo Paul wanted the role of Tevya.  He spent months studying music, taking dance and singing lessons, memorizing Tevya’s lines.  Jo Paul was obsessed with that role. 

But Lee cast himself.  Well, one can just imagine what hit the fan.  WOW! Did this cause a helluva brouhaha.  Jo vowed to get even.  His loss of Tevya to Lee resulted in the creation of THE DINNER THEATER on Aubin Lane.  

Opening in mid-1974, the first THE DINNER THEATER production was

BORN YESTERDAY directed by Aubrey Moore and starring, besides Aubrey and myself, BJ Hopper, Bob Love and Janice Mayeux who delivered a perfect Billy Dawn character   This production was met with great public acceptance and rave reviews and marked the beginning of a dinner theater odyssey that would endure over 10 years.

In 1975 BRLT mounted The Sound of Murder,  another Mayeux/Leggio duo.  Wasn’t much fun for me since I had to perform wearing a back brace, which was not a part of my character.  I had wrenched my back chopping wood on the day of our opening.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, there was a scene where I had to fire a pistol.  I know, I know, you’re way ahead of me.  More often than not the pistol didn’t fire and of course I would simply substitute my own oral “BANG” for the misfire.   This was not one of my more pleasant stage experiences even though the audience always enjoyed the misfire.

The Man Who came to Dinner was in 1976.   The theater’s board of governors allowed Lee to selectively cast this show without benefit of auditions.   He asked people of his choosing if they would play certain roles.  Besides myself, Pat Snow, Bob Earle, BJ Hopper, Bob Rosenthall, Gladys Blieden and some 6-8 other personally selected cast members, we went into rehearsal and enjoyed a phenomenal run.

In 1977 one of BRLT’s great non-musical offerings was the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, That Championship Season.  Besides myself the cast consisted of B.J. Hopper, Jerry Brent, Hal Phillips and Michael del Rio.  This production was so well received that It was extended for several performances. 

Of particular note was an opening night unintended incident.  B.J., who at the time was around age 50, was playing the role of a retired H.S. basketball coach.  Because his natural hair was black, Lee wanted to age him.   So B.J.’s hair was “whitened”.  Whatever the substance was that was used to whiten his hair it proved disastrous.  Early in the opening night’s performance B.J.’s character, in response to a scripted inquiry, shook his head  thus causing a dense white cloud to envelop him.  Once the audience and cast had re-composed themselves, we managed to complete the act.  During intermission, B.J.’s hair was cleaned and re-whitened.  No more white clouds formed after that.

The next 4 summer musical seasons were without me … HELLO DOLLY, BRIGADOON, MUSIC MAN and OKLAHOUMA.   In 1977 I was 42 years old and tried out for the role of Curly in OKLAHOUMA.   Surely I could pass for a 22 year old Curly …. ya THINK?   Must have been about 20 Curly-wannabes that tried out including myself.   In true Lee Edwards style, when all the reading, singing and dancing tryouts were concluded, all the “Curlys” were asked to form a line in front of Lee.  I was in the middle of that line.  When I looked to my left I saw 8 to 10 kids who could have been my sons.   Then looking to my right and seeing essentially the same thing,  I stepped out of line, walked up to Lee, who was sitting at his work table, and said “Lee, I think I’ll withdraw” to which Lee said “I think that would be a good idea, Jerry”  Lesson here:  never audition outside of your character range.

Then in the spring of 1978 Lee took ill and died.  He had been working feverishly on his staging plans for the 1978 musical KISMET.  I loved KISMET.  Henry Avery, who at the time was managing a Theater in NY, was brought in to direct.  I tried out for anything in that show.  I just wanted to be a part of it.  The Borodin music from which it is scored is, to me, the most gorgeous music … bar none … of any in any of the great classical operettas and stage musicals.  I just wanted to be a part of it.

Among the many who tried out was BJ Hopper.  Everyone just knew that BJ was going to be cast as Hajj, the beggar.  Hajj is the pivotal character in KISMET.
  I too assumed BJ would be Hajj.  But lo and behold Henry asked me to do Hajj.  I was floored.  And scared.  Hajj had 9 production numbers and would also dance.  Yeah, ME dancing.  I spent 24/7 working on this show.  I took leave from my job.   I took voice lessons from Terry Patrick (or was it Catherine O’Neill?)…  I worked tirelessly and feverishly on that role … more than any role I had ever done.  I am proud to say it came off without a hitch and was a big success.   I was saddened when it closed.

Then the newly renamed AUBIN LANE DINNER THEATER (now being directed and managed by John Wilson from Nebraska) announced its launching of THE SOUND OF MUSIC directed by Henry Avery.  I was cast as Captain von Trapp and Nancy Miller was Maria.  We had a great run. 

Then John announced auditions for CAMELOT.  He asked if I would do Arthur.  It was now 1979 and, having previously performed Lancelot at BRLT in 1971, I agreed to fulfill my “bucket list” role of King Arthur.  John, being new to Baton Rouge, was at a loss as to who could do Guinevere.  I told him that he need not worry.  I would introduce him to the perfect Quin (Susan Straley) who had been my Guin in 1971.   When she auditioned for the role,  John looked over at me and said “Jerry, I’ll be coming to you from now on when casting a show.”  Besides Susan and myself, John cast himself as Merlin.  This production was also a resounding success.

Also on my bucket list was the role of South Pacific’s Emile De Becque.  John announced auditions for SP and asked if I would do De Becque.  Upon learning the dates of the run, I was forced to turn him down.  The Motion Picture Producer’s Association had invited me (all expenses paid) to their annual meeting in San Francisco to speak before their membership.  This was my second such speaking engagement before the MPPA.  The week of that engagement was right in the middle of the SP run.  John wanted so bad for me to do the role that he offered to go dark during that week.  Wow!  What an offer!  But I told him I couldn’t do that to him.  So he cast a gentleman from New Orleans who delivered a very powerful and convincing De Becque.  My loss, but I couldn’t say “no” to the MPPA.

Aubin Lane was now becoming a second home for me … and for Gloria as well.  John was doing some great work and I worked a total of 9 productions with John Wilson at the helm.   What a great 5 years!

I did several non-musicals at Aubin Lane including HARVEY which starred the late great Ray Spruell in the role of Elwood P Dowd.  I was Dr. Chumley.   Ray’s Dowd portrayal was impeccable.  Many of us dared to place Ray’s performance above that of Jimmy Stewart’s beautiful 1950 Universal film portrayal of Dowd.  This was another Aubin Lane huge success.

Then there was Aubin Lane’s KING AND I, starring the inimitable Constance Navritil as Anna and myself as the KingThis production along with SOUND OF MUSIC pretty well established me as the most “prolific stage dad” in Baton Rouge theater.

The 3rd installment of my BRLT ventures will comprise 3 decades (80s, 90s and 2000s)

Also check out 

..... and

blog archive October 2014


Saturday, July 26, 2014

HOLLYWOOD SOUTH ... What's it all about????

This was my interview with 
WVLA's Jeanne Burns in May 2014

Jerry Leggio was working for the state back in 1960, when he got the chance of a lifetime. “I was with the Department of Labor,” he explained. “And my boss said to me ‘Jerry, because of your theater background, I'd like you to be in charge of casting films when they come.’"
Leggio said yes. The very first movie he worked on was “Desire in the Dust”, which led him to do a little research. “I found out that up until that time only 37 films had been made in Louisiana since talk films had started in the late 20's.” Leggio decided then and there that Louisiana could do much better than that. So, he set out to get a film commission formed in Louisiana. The Louisiana Science Foundation was, at the time, charged with the task of bringing economic development opportunities to the state, so that is where he started.
Friend Jason Furrate says Leggio was very persistent. “You know, he was involved in government, but he was not a politician," Furrate stated. "So he’d bring the thing up about forming the Louisiana Film Commission. And they’d shoot it down. So he’d wait twelve months and do it again."
And when he did, Leggio was armed with even more information. In true Jerry Leggio fashion, he managed to get a meeting with legendary movie producer Otto Preminger. “He said, 'so if you really want to entrench the industry in Louisiana, you have to give them something,'" Leggio recalled. "'You have to provide them something that you can supply. Don't promise them anything you can't deliver.'”
And with that, Leggio made a second run at the decision-makers. And they shot it down again. So, when Jerry met John Wayne on the set of a film, he asked The Duke to take a look at his proposal.
Wayne was so impressed, he made a phone call to then-Governor John McKeithen. But the governor was out of town. “McKeithen was just broken hearted that he hadn't had an opportunity to talk to The Duke,” Leggio recalls. “But he called Dr. Galianno who was the executive director of the Science Foundation and said ‘fund that project.’"
That is when the Louisiana Film Commission finally came into being. Leggio went to work wooing Hollywood, doing something that is almost unheard of in the movie industry. “Jerry put the state of Louisiana ahead of his own career,” Furrate said. “He wasn't angling to get a part. He may or may not get a part. He was angling for the state of Louisiana to be the place that they make movies.
Over the years, that came to be. Leggio remained active in bringing movies to Louisiana. He was and still is a big advocate for creating and keeping those tax credits that have helped make Louisiana the number one movie-making place in the country. And to hear Leggio tell it, it was all a labor of love. “So this isn't all my doing,” he explained. “I mean, I got it going, but I knew at what point I could step out of it. And I just wanted to see it happen".
Leggio has appeared in 56 films and television series over the years. In May, he was awarded the first-ever Anne Price Lifetime Achievement Award by the Louisiana International Film Festival for his work and contribution to the Louisiana film industry.


Monday, July 21, 2014


When Jason Furrate, Director of Programming and Production for Cox Communications,  invited me in late April 2014 to join him and Andre Chappoy, Co-Founder of CFX Entertainment, for lunch at Coffee Call, my natural instinct told me that another film production was in the offing.  This expectation was quite exciting.   

I had worked on a previous production, LA-308, that was produced and directed by Jason with cinematography by Andre.  The LA-308 experience had been extremely full-filling  and rewarding and I couldn’t wait to be brought in on another Furrate/Chappoy project.

At the appointed date and time we met at Coffee Call on College Dr. in Baton Rouge.  The three of us (myself, Jason and Andre) small-talked while waiting for Charlene Robert’s arrival.  Charlene was the Advocate’s marketing director.  When she joined us, Jason then asked me “Do you have any idea why we are here?”  I confessed that I really had no idea.  I didn’t want to express my hope that another film production was being cast for fear that I would be wrong.

As it turned out I was wrong.  A film project was not in the offing.  Jason said that the LOUISIANA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, which was now entering its second year, had instituted a lifetime achievement award named in
honor of the late Anne Price who had been the Advocate’s premiere Arts columnist for nearly 70 years.   Jason  asked “Would you want to take a guess as to who will be its inaugural recipient this year?”  I had no idea and certainly didn’t want to venture a guess.  I said “Tell me, Jason.  I dare NOT venture a guess.”  He said “You”. 


It took a few seconds to process his answer.   I said “You? As in‘me’?”  He said “Yes, YOU, Jerry Leggio” while grinning and pointing at me.  With my non-plussed and speechless expression, I looked quickly over at Andre who grinned and nodded, then at Charlene, who did the same. 

My initial response was “WOW!  Lifetime Achievement? WOW!”  Then Jason said that the LIFF board had met and all agreed that I was the obvious choice.  “WOW!”  The word “obvious” made it more special and even more special was the fact that this award bore the name of Anne Price.  Another WOW!

I was feeling like George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s character, in Frank Capra’s enduring 1946 classic film IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  All I could say was “IT’S A WONDERFUL FEELING.”  And I could think of no greater honor than being the recipient of an award bearing the name of Anne Price.  This lady was the personification of the Arts not only in Baton Rouge but throughout the state.  Anne’s journalistic contributions to the arts in Baton Rouge and throughout Louisiana greatly enriched our culture.  She epitomized the very essence of theater, music, ballet, film and the graphic arts.

I was quite aware that film production in Louisiana had finally taken hold and that this industry now appeared to be here to stay. Some 5-7 sound stage parks had been developed and were up and running throughout the state.  As of this
writing Louisiana was enjoying FIRST place in film production among all the states including California and New York, a ranking that I had never believed would come this soon though I had envisioned this possibility as Louisiana production activity began to mushroom in the 80s.  I swelled with pride knowing that my pioneering efforts, which I began in the early 1960s, had exploded into a colossal Louisiana economic engine, resulting in an annual billion dollars of economic activity.

At the conclusion of the Coffee Call meeting I was told that the award presentation would follow the showing of Jason’s film, LA-308,  at this years LIFF (La Int’l Film Festival).   LA-308 was a film that I was proud to have been a part of.   Jason and Andre ingeniously crafted this quality production for under $120,000, a true feat in economy and efficiency.

Before leaving the parking lot that served Coffee Call, I decided to text Gloria and let her know the good news.  She had asked that I do this.  I use voice command on my cell phone and vocalized “I am going to be the recipient of a life achievement award at this year’s film fest.” Before pressing the SEND button I reviewed my message for accuracy.  Instead of seeing the intended message, it read instead “I am going to be the recipient of a lice treatment award at this year’s film nest.”  Hmmm!  Was my Android trying to tell me something?  I hoped this was not an omen.  I corrected the message and sent it on to Gloria.

As elated and thrilled as I was, I nonetheless harbored some anxiety.  Gloria asked “What’s bothering you about this honor?”  I said “My great fear is that attendance at this film and this presentation may be very sparse.  I would hate having to accept such an honor before a ‘crowd’ of  only 10 or 15 people or, worse yet, even fewer than that.  How embarrassing that would be.”  She merely said “You worry too much.”

At 11 AM on Saturday morning, May 11 Gloria and I walked into the Cinemark Theater that would be exhibiting LA-308.  Within minutes the theater filled to capacity.  I would learn later that people had to be
turned away due to the sell-out.  My heart filled with both pride and humility.  I could not have been happier.  I was overwhelmed with well-wishers and showered with congratulatory comments.   What a day!  It was a WONDERFUL DAY!  It was a WONDERFUL FEELING!

It never occurred to me that I would ever gain any recognition for my film development pioneering work.  Nor had I ever expected any such recognition. My greatest gratification was witnessing its fruition.  In the late 80s I was all too happy to step back and let younger, smarter folks continue the process …..

….. except when on 2 separate occasions in the late 1990s and then again some 7 years after that when Jay Dardenne’s shrewd and innovative tax credits program was in jeopardy of being repealed, I emailed all the state’s legislators
to persuade them NOT to reduce or eliminate this program.  I explained the sensitive nature of the film industry.  Once an asset is provided to them, like spoiled children, producers expect no less.  If credits are reduced or eliminated, we would quickly see the end of location filming in Louisiana….thus resulting in a devastating loss for Louisiana’s employment numbers and tax base.

Today, thank heavens, the tax credits are still in play and film production in Louisiana has never been more plentiful.  God bless the movie industry.  God bless Louisiana.