Sunday, September 21, 2008


This is my 366th journal posting, so now since June of 2006, I have written the equivalent of a "Leap Year's" worth of journal entries. Last night was a very special night. I have told you that my beginnings in songwriting came from an association from the Gallery Theatre in Ontario. I wrote two musicals, played the Scarecrow on one and took a lot of pictures over the years. Last night was a reunion. Mark Shipley and his ex-wife, Jeannie were there. I had not seen either of them in just about twenty-five years. Mark looks absolutely wonderful: as witty as ever and ever so relaxed as he now lives in Hillo, Hawaii helping Down Syndromed kids communicate and do dramatics. I saw Howard and Pam Wilson. Howard in those days played some wonderful parts, most notably "The Modern Major General" from Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance". Pam played a lot of great parts. I saw David Poole, Laurel Shipley (who had played Dorothy in my very first musical "Wizard of Oz" and of course the Shipley kids, Josh, Eric and Tannie. All grown up. Ron Vandermolen now owns a antique shop in Pasadena at 60 North Lake Street. There were so many memories. There were quite a few who couldn't make it, but I had made contact with Larry Newman and Mike Tosha before and of course Tim Corvin. All in all it was a wonderful evening. I'll post some pictures soon. The gentleman you see in the picture is the last Steinway. He has just passed over the weekend . His name was Henry Steinway Ziegler — and this gentleman was the great-grandson of Heinrich Engelhard Steinway, the illiterate German immigrant before the ampersand in the company Steinway & Sons. Henry was born on Aug. 23, 1915, in his parents’ apartment on Park Avenue, between East 52nd and 53rd Streets. The location was important to his tradition-minded father, Theodore E. Steinway. The Steinways’ factory, the largest piano plant in New York City when it opened, had occupied that site from just before the Civil War until about 1910. Theodore rented an apartment in the building that took the factory’s place. (The apartment house was demolished in the 1950s to make way for Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building.)By the time Henry was a boy, the name Steinway had become almost synonymous with pianos, famous on concert stages as well as in Tin Pan Alley. Irving Berlin paid homage in “I Love a Piano” with the lyric “I know a fine way to treat a Steinway.”After shuttering its Manhattan factory, Steinway & Sons moved its manufacturing operations to Queens, and as a child Henry wandered through a labyrinth of sawdust-strewn workrooms. He joined the company after graduating from Harvard in 1937 and began his career by building pianos, just as his father and uncles had. “I learned a respect for work that is actually done,” Mr. Steinway said years later.He also discovered that making instruments that have thousands of tiny parts under the lid is not easy. He said it took him a day and a half to do what the workers at the factory did in four hours. In the 1940s, following the death of a cousin who had been the company’s general manager, Mr. Steinway began overseeing operations at the company’s three factories in Queens. Poor eyesight kept him away from the front lines during World War II; the Army stationed him on Governors Island in New York Harbor. He became the factory manager after the war and president of the company in 1955, when his father made a surprise announcement that he was stepping down, immediately.By then the piano business was struggling against changing technologies and tastes. Phonographs and radios had displaced pianos as home entertainment choices, and television was on the rise. As Mr. Steinway recalled in 2003: “People would say: ‘You’re in the piano business? That doesn’t exist anymore.’ ”So, being a very smart businessman, he decided to downsize the company — though he preferred the term “right-sized” — closing two of the plants in Queens. He decided that concert artists to whom the company had lent pianos would have to return them, unless they bought them.He also arranged to sell Steinway Hall, the company’s building on West 57th Street, to Manhattan Life Insurance Company. He moved most of the company’s offices, including his own, to Queens. But the showroom, with its big front window and arched ceilings, remained. In 1972 he sold the company itself. “It was the hippie time,” he recalled in 2003. “Nobody in the next generation —”
He left the rest of the sentence unsaid. He said he did not believe that any of his younger relatives could take over, so he proposed a $20.1 million stock swap with the CBS Corporation. The deliberations split the family, with his mother, Ruth, calling the sale “a betrayal,” although she ultimately voted for it. CBS replaced him as president in 1977, naming him chairman. He gave up that title when he retired at 65, but he never really left. Until a few months ago, he went to Steinway Hall most days. He also went to the factory to autograph just-finished pianos, signing the cast-iron plates with felt-tip pens. At times he served as a goodwill ambassador, visiting piano dealers and attending music-industry conventions. Last year President Bush presented him with the National Medal of Arts, the Federal government’s highest award in the arts. Mr. Steinway was also the founding president of the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, Calif. And today is another anniversary of sorts, because on this day in 1948, Milton Berle became the permanent host on the Texaco Star Theatre becoming officially "Mr. Television". Does anybody know that Milton Berle had a lifetime contract with NBC? How about that? I have now been completing a play with music (as opposed to a musical) about my memories of Danny Simon, the brother of Neil Simon and Milton figures into the last scene. Today in 1958 saw the premiere of the television series "Perry Mason"-- the lawyer who never lost a case. Yeah, wouldn't that be something if it were real? Of course, I think Andy Griffith as "Mattlock" never lost a case as I remember it. My 61st birthday approaches on Wednesday the 24th : I have now met the full age of both of my parents (my dad fifty-eight) (my mom sixty-one) before they passed. That's a very scary thought. Well, it's a beautiful Sunday, and I'm still looking for work. Hold good thoughts for me.

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