In 1965 Jerry Leggio designed the motion picture casting system for the Louisiana State Employment Service (today's Louisiana Workforce Commission). In 1969 he was awarded a State Science Foundation contract to Develop the Motion Picture Industry in Louisiana and In 1975 he led a multi-state committee to form the National Cineposium .
Jerry is the recipient of the 2014 ANNE PRICE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD in recognition of his pioneering efforts to grow the film industry in Louisiana.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 holes! If you
fall through while the car is moving, you’d be killed.”
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
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.
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. Back to HOME page and TABLE OF CONTENTS
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
Opening in mid-1974, the first THE DINNER THEATER production was
BORN YESTERDAY directed byAubrey
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.
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
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
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.
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 inimitableConstance Navritil as Anna and myselfas theKing. This
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)