Louis Hensel: My Life in America

Details of mid-19th-century life come alive in the letters of a German immigrant, translated by Sigrid Wilshinsky and recently published as My Life in America Before, During and After the Civil War.

Louis Hensel was born in 1817 and lived a life of travel and adventure, as colorfully described in letters to his granddaughter back in Germany. Wilshinsky translated them from Suderlein German into modern English. Read more

Bryan O’Byrne: From Plattsburgh to Hollywood

In late July, 1941, a young Plattsburgh boy received permission from his parents to visit the movie house just a few blocks away. Hours later, he had not returned home, and Mom and Dad hit the streets in search of their missing son. Soon they were at the Plattsburgh Police Station, anxiously seeking help. Two patrolmen were immediately put on the case, which, unlike so many stories today, had a happy ending.

The two policemen obtained keys to the theater building and began searching the interior. There, curled up in his seat near the front row, little Bryan Jay O’Byrne was fast asleep. He later explained that he enjoyed the movie so much, he decided to stay for the second showing and must have drifted off into dreamland. When the theater closed for the night, no one had seen the young boy lying low in his seat.

Perhaps no one knew it then, but that amusing incident was a harbinger of things to come. Bryan O’Byrne was born to Elmer and Bessie (Ducatte) O’Byrne of Plattsburgh on February 6, 1931. Life in the O’Byrne home may have been difficult at times. Six years earlier, Bryan’s older sister was born at the very moment Elmer was being arraigned in Plattsburgh City Court on burglary and larceny charges.

Still, the family managed to stay together, and after attending St. Peter’s Elementary School and Plattsburgh High, Bryan went on to graduate from the State University Teacher’s College at Plattsburgh. After stints in the army and as an elementary school teacher, he pursued acting, studying at the Stella Adler Studio.

He appeared on Broadway with Vivian Leigh in “Duel of Angels” (the run was cut short after five weeks due to the first actors’ strike in forty years). Other jobs followed, but he soon surfaced in a new, increasingly popular medium: television.

In the early 1960s, Bryan began appearing in television series, becoming one of the best-known character actors in show business. Most people recognized his face from numerous bit parts he played in television and in movies, but few knew his name. That is true of many character actors, but ironically, in O’Byrne’s case, it was that very anonymity which brought him fame.

It all took place in the 1966–67 television season with the launch of a show called Occasional Wife. The plot line followed the story of an unmarried junior executive employed by a baby food company. The junior executive’s boss felt that, since they were selling baby food, it would be wise to favor married men for promotions within the company.

So, the junior executive concocted a plan with a female who agreed to serve as his “occasional wife.” He put her on salary and got her an apartment two floors above his own. Hilarity ensued as a variety of situations in each episode had them running up and down the fire escape to act as husband and wife. This all happened to the obvious surprise and bemusement of a man residing on the floor between the two main players. That man was played by Bryan O’Byrne.


O’Byrne’s character had no name and no speaking lines, but he became the hit of the show. Usually he was engaged in some type of activity that ended up in shambles as he watched the shenanigans. The audience loved it. The show’s writers had such fun with the schtick that O’Byrne became somewhat of a sensation. His expert acting skills made the small part into something much bigger.

Eventually, in early 1967, a nationwide contest was held to give the “Man in the Middle” an actual name. Much attention was heaped on O’Byrne, but the high didn’t last for long. Occasional Wife went the way of many other promising comedies that were built on a certain premise, but were not allowed to develop. It survived only one season.

O’Byrne’s career continued to flourish. Among his repeating roles was that of CONTROL Agent Hodgkins in the hit comedy series Get Smart, starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Over the years, O’Byrne remained one of Plattsburgh’s best-kept secrets, appearing in 45 television series, 22 movies, and several Disney productions.

Among those television series were some high-profile shows and many of the all-time greats: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Batman, Ben Casey, Get Smart, Gunsmoke, I Dream of Jeannie, Maude, Happy Days, Maverick, Murder She Wrote, My Three Sons, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Sanford and Son, The Big Valley, The Bill Cosby Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Lucy Show, The Munsters, The Partridge Family, The Untouchables, and Welcome Back Kotter.

Advertisers discovered the appeal of Bryan’s friendly face, and he was cast in more than two hundred television commercials. His experience in multiple fields and his love and understanding of the intricacies of performing led to further opportunities. He became an excellent acting coach. Among those he worked with, guided, or mentored were Bonnie Bedelia, Pam Dawber, Nick Nolte, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jimmy Smits, and Forest Whittaker.

Writer Janet Walsh, a friend of O’Byrne’s since the early 1980s, noted that, early on, he recognized the talent of young Nick Nolte. According to Walsh, “Nick slept on Bryan’s couch for a year. Bryan cast him in his production of The Last Pad, and that launched Nick’s career.”

Besides working as an acting coach for the prestigious Stella Adler Academy, O’Byrne also served on the Emmy Nominating Committee in Los Angeles. He spent nearly forty years in the entertainment business, working with many legendary stars, including Lucille Ball, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Wayne. His television resume covers many of the best-known, most-watched series ever. And through it all, he remained a nice, unpretentious man.

Quite the journey for a ten-year-old movie fan from Plattsburgh.

Photos: Bryan Jay O’Byrne- Bryan O’Byrne and Vivian Leigh- Michael Callan, Bryan O’Byrne, and Patricia Hart from Occasional Wife.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

The Civil War: A Musical Journey

Four Seasons, Four Years is a new Old Songs production featuring eleven singers and musicians from the Adirondacks performing a selection of songs extant in America between 1850 and 1865. This performance takes place at View (the former Old Forge Arts Center) this Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 7:30pm.

The show includes both popular songs of the period as well as songs composed in response to the Civil War itself and events leading up to it. The songs are interspersed with historical narrative specific to New York State and the New York Volunteer Regiments.

Old Songs’ presentation of Four Seasons, Four Years – The Civil War: A Musical Journey brings the songs and sounds of the Civil War back to life without stinting on the truth, the tragedy and the horror. Selections from letters, historical papers and soldier’s diaries are read between the musical passages, creating a seamless flow of narration and song.

The cast of singers and musicians include Greg Artzner, Dan Berggren, Betsy Fry, Steve Fry, Reggie Harris, Terry Leonino, John Roberts, Bill Spence, Toby Stover, Susan Trump and George Wilson. All known in their own right as fine working musicians, they have joined forces to present this unique show in observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The songs of this period include Negro spirituals, shape-note hymns, marching songs, sentimental songs and songs and parodies written by 19th century writers such as Stephen Foster, George F. Root, the Hutchinson Family and Henry C. Work. The cast performs in individual and ensemble performances bringing these songs alive with great gusto, emotional impact and exceptional musicianship.

The production has been produced, compiled and directed by Old Songs, Inc. Executive Director Andy Spence in collaboration with the musicians. View their website at www.oldsongs.org  to learn more.

You may purchase tickets by calling View at 315-369-6411 or via email [email protected]

Tickets are $25/$20 members, and can be purchased by calling View at 315.369.6411. To learn more about View programming, visit www.ViewArts.org.

Saranac Lakes Hobofest Set For Sunday

The Fourth Annual Hobofest, an all-day music festival “at-the-tracks” in Saranac Lake NY celebrating railroad culture and the “hobo spirit,” is happening on Sunday, September 2nd. This year’s Hobofest will take place under the “big top,” to assure against the variables of weather, from noon until 11pm. Eat and Meet Grill & Larder will serve local fare, also a children’s activities booth and festival & artist merchandise tables.

This year’s special guest is Washington State legend, Baby Gramps. A former street musician and train buff, Gramps plays antique resonator National Steel guitars, and sings his own unique arrangements of rags, jazz, & blues songs from the 20&#8242-s & 30&#8242-s, and many originals with wordplay, humor, and throat singing. His appeal is to a wide range of audiences from “jam-band” – having toured with Phish and the Flecktones- to punk to old timey traditional and to kids of all ages. He has performed across the States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.

Several unsigned, fully-realized ensembles, all “invested” in Hobofest, offer distinct takes on roots music: The intricate groove-grass pulse of Big Slyde, this year with the smoky vocals of Hanna Doan. The Adirondack-Brooklyn hybrid, Frankenpine, craft a modern take on bluegrass, with a colorful palette and original voicing. Crackin’ Foxy distinguish themselves with a post-vaudeville vintage of styled song, elegant female three-part harmony, and swinging arrangements. This year’s appearance of the young and grizzled Blind Owl Band, follows their recent romp through the Northeast, diving headlong into the mosh-pit of old-time as dance music.

The day traditionally kicks off with bluesman Steve Langdon hollerin’ and pickin’ ala John Henry against the din of the first arriving train. New to this stage this year are Eddy and Kim Lawrence, with their wry sense of humor, and deft fretwork from the Canadian border, Keene resident Stan Oliva, and Quinn Sands from Cleveland, OH.

31st Annual Iroquois Indian Festival This Weekend

The 31st Annual Iroquois Indian Festival takes place on Saturday, Sept. 1 and Sunday, Sept 2, at the Iroquois Indian Museum, 324 Caverns Road. For two days, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the Festival features traditional Iroquois music, dance, Native foods and much more. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.

This year, Dr. Darryl Tonemah, an award-winning singer/songwriter, will be the featured performer on both days. Tonemah, Kiowa/Comanche/Tuscarora, is a doctor by day and a musician every chance he gets. His music combines the energy of rock, the intelligence of folk, and the heart of country &#8212- creating a musical niche he calls, “Native Americana”. His work, Welcome to Your Rainy Day, won the best Folk Recording in 2007 from the Native American Music Awards.

In addition to Tonemah, the festival also will feature:

· The Sky Dancers of Six Nations. The Sky Dancers are from the Six Nations Reserve in Southern Ontario, along the Grand River. Many of the dancers are members of the Cayuga Nation. The troupe will present traditional Iroquois social dances, the increasingly popular &#8220smoke dance,&#8221 and will be inviting audience members to join them on the dance floor.

· Iroquois Social Dances. Social Dances are different from ceremonial or sacred dances. Socials are group dances performed on various occasions, and are meant for everyone. These are the dance traditions of this land, with ties that connect to a dynamic heritage going back more than 10,000 years. Such dances are always performed to music. The musicians create the melodies and rhythms with voice and traditional Iroquois instruments. The dancers perform in stunning hand-made traditional clothing.

· Iroquois Stories. Perry Ground is a Turtle Clan member of the Onondaga Nation who understands the importance of transmitting local knowledge and oral traditions to the next generations. Educating all people on the history, culture and beliefs of the Iroquois is his life’s work. Perry is a teacher and professional storyteller, who has learned many stories as well as storytelling styles

· All-Iroquois Native Art Market. Meet with the Iroquois artists and learn firsthand about their creations. The Market features both contemporary and traditional works. Your purchase of Iroquois art directly supports the efforts of Iroquois artists.

· Archeology and Flint Knapping Station. The Archeology Table will be set up on the on the main floor of the Museum, and staffed by volunteers and members of the Museum’s archeology department. They will help visitors to identify objects they have collected. A flint-knapping demonstration area will be located on the rear deck. Flint knapping is a skill in which a raw piece of flint is chipped to form an arrow point.

· Wildlife Rehabilitation. Local wildlife rehabilitator Kelly Martin cares for injured and orphaned birds of prey and other creatures that are unable to return to the wild. Wildlife rehabilitators are volunteers licensed by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Ms. Martin will display a variety of birds and animals and is available to answer questions and share her experiences.

· Self-Guided Nature Park Tours. Take a self-guided tour through the Museum’s 45-acre Nature Park. Using our informative trail maps and plant signs, learn about native plants and trees and how Iroquois peoples have made use of them for food, utility, and medicine.

Currently on display at the Museum is the exhibition, &#8220Birds and Beasts in Beads: 150 Years of Iroquois Beadwork.&#8221 The exhibit features more than 200 beaded objects, largely from the collection of retired archeologist and Museum trustee, Dolores Elliott.

The Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 12 Noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed Monday. Regular admission is $8 for adults, $6.50 for seniors/students and $5 for children ages 5-12. Children under five are free when accompanied by an adult. Special group rates are available by calling the Museum at 518-296-8949.

For more information: contact the Iroquois Indian Museum at (518) 296-8949, [email protected] or visitwww.iroquoismuseum.org.

Sir William Johnsons Bookshelf: Millenium Hall

Sir William Johnson’s 1774 inventory of his New York western frontier estate, Johnson Hall, revealed a superb collection of books and other reading material.

Books were a bit more difficult to acquire in 18th century Johnstown than at present, so one could presume that selecting titles was considered, even more precisely than today, by recommended taste, by familiarity with an author, or perhaps from curiosity after having read a report of the book in the newspapers that arrived from New York City or from England via a New York City agent.
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Archival Exhibition Celebrates Brooklyn Academy of Music

When it comes to the performing arts, New York City may forever be synonymous with the Broadway musical, at least in the popular imagination.

However, while there’s a lot to be said for Broadway, New Yorkers and performing arts aficionados alike know that if you want to see the work of the most daring and innovative artists working in music, dance, and theatre today, you need to venture far away from the lights of the Great White Way. Read more

New Drama to Bring Roebling, Brooklyn Bridge to Stage

A new drama Roebling: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge is in development for a New York City Equity Showcase Production to be produced by special arrangement between the author Mark  Violi and Theater to Go. Plans are underway to present this show in March 2013.

Based on the true story of the Roebling family who helped conceive, design and finally build the New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, the play has been endorsed by the Roebling Museum and by descendants of John Roebling. &#8220Roebling: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge&#8221 brings to the stage the human drama surrounding the construction effort to complete one of the most enduring engineering icons in the world. The play examines the beginnings of the project to build the Brooklyn Bridge in1869, through its completion in 1883. It is a play about a forward thinking family on the cutting edge of the Industrial Revolution. The play shows how this project foreshadowed the 20th century in its huge ambition, the revolutionary construction techniques developed by John Roebling and implemented by his son Washington, and in the recognition of the invaluable role that a woman, Emily Roebling, played in the completion of this enormous project. &#8220Roebling: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge&#8221 has had two widely acclaimed non-equity productions in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey. The New Jersey premier was produced in 2010 by invitation of the Roebling Museum to open the restored Roebling Auditorium and it was because of the overwhelming response to this play that plans were implemented to bring it to NYC. Fundraising has begun through IndieGoGo. Through a special arrangement with Fractured Atlas, Theater to Go is able to accept tax deductible contributions and has arranged to offer some incentives donated by the Roebling Museum including artifacts from the Roebling factories. With the success of the fundraising, this showcase production is seen as a first step toward a larger New York production. Theater to Go is well known throughout the Mid-Atlantic region for their  unique interactive theater events. At the helm is Ruth Markoe who has produced, directed and performed throughout the region for many years and who brought the NJ premier to the stage. Photo: Mark Violi and Ruth Markoe holding original cable from the Brooklyn Bridge (provided).  

Roxy Rothafel: Legendary American Showman

American Showman chronicles the life of Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel (1882–1936), the prolific movie palace showman and radio star who helped transform the moviegoing experience, radio broadcasting, and American popular culture to become an international celebrity.

Ross Melnick’s American Showman: Samuel &#8216-Roxy’ Rothafel and the Birth of the Entertainment Industry (2012, Columbia University Press) is the first book devoted to Rothafel’s multifaceted entertainment career. Among Roxy’s notable popular culture contributions include the first showings of Robert Flaherty’s documentary “Nanook of the North” and the German film that reinvigorated the a genre, &#8220The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari&#8221 &#8211 oh, and there was also those Rockettes, and that mention in Cole Porter’s &#8220You’re On Top.&#8221

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Cayuga Museum Opens Newly-Renovated Theater Mack

The Cayuga Museum has announced that Theater Mack, the carriage house undergoing renovation for the past several years, has reopened. A massive brick building originally constructed around 1850 on the foundation of an earlier wooden barn, the carriage house was turned into a theater in 1941 through a collaboration between the Cayuga Museum and the Auburn Community Players.

Once known as the Museum Playhouse, the building became the cultural hub of Auburn from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. The building gradually fell into disuse after the Auburn Children’s Theater, the company that became the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, outgrew the space in the 1970’s.

The in mid-1990’s, the Board of Trustees of the Cayuga Museum set an ambitious goal of restoring each of the three buildings on the Museum property. The Museum has been steadily working on that goal ever since. Before beginning on the carriage house, the Museum completed more than $1.2 million in capital improvements on the other buildings. The Case Research Laboratory, birthplace of talking films, was restored and re-opened, and the Willard-Case Mansion in which the Museum is housed was renovated. The first phase of the carriage house project was finished in May 2010, at a cost of more than $248,000.

In 2011, the Museum named the carriage house Theater Mack in honor of long-time supporters the Maciulewicz family and their company, Mack Studios. Now, the Museum brings the project to fruition and the building returns to use as a multi-purpose space equipped for everything from a musical production to a wedding reception.

Theater Mack is a perfect little “jewel box” of a theater, retaining much of the charm of its 19th century beginnings and adding modern amenities. There is now heat, air-conditioning, restrooms, dressing rooms, and a catering kitchen, as well as a first-class sound system, and theater lights and draperies. The lower level and the main floor have been completely renovated but the second floor, where Theodore Case created a sound studio to make his test films in the 1920’s, remains intact. The Museum now turns its attention to plans for a new Case exhibit including both the laboratory and the sound studio.

It’s taken the same kind of collaboration that originally put the theater in the building during WWII to bring the project to fruition today. New York State, local foundations and many individuals and families donated more than $600,000 to the project. Several local contractors contributed their work at or below cost. The completion and re-opening of Theater Mack is a triumph for everyone involved. This totally unique building will become an asset to the Museum and the community for decades to come.

The new Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival has rented Theater Mack for ten weeks this summer for their concept show, The Pitch. The Cayuga Museum is already programming film screenings, lectures and shows for Theater Mack for the rest of the year and it is available for rent to organizations and individuals.