Monday, March 19, 2018


 South Carolina ETV was filming a PBS program on race relations in the South during the 1950's.  It was called "Neighbors", and I had a role as a bus rider.  This was in the fall of 1983.  There was a director, and then there was a consulting director.  His name was Laszlo Benedek.  His name might not be familiar to you, but he directed many Hollywood movies.  Probably his most famous was "The Wild One" which starred Marlon Brando in one of his early roles.  Mr. Benedek was called in for two reasons.  First, his work during the 1950's.  Second, he was a stickler for details.  I dare you to find a mistake in "Neighbors".
 They put me on a city bus, which was also from the 1950's.  I was dressed in a short-sleeve white shirt and dark pants.  My hair had to be short, too.  I was placed near the front of the bus and told how to sit.  They then took a Polaroid picture of me to see where my hands were, and where I was looking.  Each day of the shooting, they referred to the picture, and I had to sit that way again.  They also trimmed my hair each day, in case it had grown overnight.  We went all over town in the bus, but the most tedious scene was the bus going over the Gervais Street Bridge.  Either it was too fast or too slow.  Or, someone had moved out of position.  We did that one scene for the better part of one day.
 After my scenes were done, I was asked one Saturday to watch their movie equipment, while they were filming elsewhere.  I became a Production Assistant.  I was at a church on River Drive guarding their things.  It was a long wait, because they were gone for hours.  Fortunately, my brother had given me an assignment, too.  He was hired to do the five-year plan for the Columbia Urban League, but he didn't have the time to do it, so he farmed it out to me.  I did a lot of research and wrote the plan, while waiting on the film crew to come back.  Later that day, I gave my report to my brother.  He put his name on it, and gave it to the Urban League.  I don't think they liked it, as I suggested they reach out to the growing Asian population in Columbia.  But, I got paid twice that day--sitting around in a church parking lot and writing a report that I don't think was ever used.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Smyrna #2

 We had such a good time in Smyrna, TN in 1982 that they wanted us back for Vacation Bible School in 1983.  They also wanted us to bring some people to do some construction work on the church, so more people came with us.  The girl I had working with us with the puppets couldn't go this year, so I asked for a volunteer who could do puppets.
 A woman came to me and said she could do that job.  She taught Drama and Speech at a local university.  I gave her the scripts to look over and to become familiar with.  She had them a week before we left.  I added a script to the group, because we were supposed to do a show for the children's Sunday School the day before VBS started.  It was just one page, and it was to get the kids excited about VBS.  It was part of the package.
 As we were going up to TN in the van, I wanted to get some sleep.  There were some girls in the seat behind me who had a boom box.  They wanted to listen to contemporary Christian music.  They set it up on the back of my seat and played it full blast.  I told them I wanted to sleep.  They said they wanted to listen to the music.  They won, and the trip went downhill after that.
 When we got to the church, we found out that we would be sleeping there instead of the campers from the year before.  That was a good call.  No more bothering from mosquitoes or deputies.  The church had a kitchen, and we had people from our group who could cook.  Another blessing.
 On Sunday, just before going in the Sunday School class to do our show, our puppeteer woman told me that she didn't like the words she was going to say.  One thing that I don't like is criticizing my writing, especially when I put a lot of thought and research into it.  She especially objected to my use the word "lucky".  The line she was to say was about how lucky we were to be back at the church.  She said she didn't believe in "luck", so she wasn't going to say it.  So, I changed it to "fortunate", although the kids would understand "lucky" more than "fortunate".  I was pretty mad, because she had the scripts for a week and didn't bring up any complaints until right before the show.  It was obvious to me that she hadn't read them.
 When Monday came around, she brought up more issues with my scripts.  These were the same scripts we had used for two summers in Philadelphia and the year before in Smyrna.  No complaints from anyone before now.  She took every line and wanted to change it.  I tried to be nice, but I told her that she was not speaking those lines.  Her character was.  She still was uncomfortable, but she did it as written.  Tuesday was a different situation.  She had rewritten her entire part.  I was livid.  My other puppeteer and I were scrambling to keep up with her, as she was changing her part as she went on stage.  It was a disaster.  I went to our tour leader to complain about her.  She couldn't change my scripts without telling me.  The tour leader said he would talk with her.  She told him that she found my scripts not to be Biblical.  The problem was that she knew we had to have her to do the part.  No one could step in.  I was about to change the scripts to a two-person show, or I would play both parts--male and female.  I sat down with her and told her that I had to have her do it the way it was written.  She said okay.  However, when we got on stage, she would change a word which would throw the rest of us off.  It was almost like we improvised the last three days of our shows.  We never knew what would come out of her mouth.  I am a perfectionist in my work.  She didn't help.
 One nice thing about being there was the construction aspect.  I was given the job of helping our carpenter install sheet rock.  How hard could that be?  It was very hard.  I had no idea sheet rock would be so heavy.  I got my frustration out from the puppets by working on construction.
 We went into Nashville one afternoon and stayed into the evening.  We went downtown and toured the Ryman Auditorium.  We also went to Ernest Tubb's place and Music Row.  I found a cool movie poster shop, but the posters were way overpriced.  It was a good day despite all the hassles.
 On Saturday morning, we left Smyrna to go home.  Someone suggested we take I-75 back.  Anyone having gone that way will know it is quite scary.  Most of it is downhill with winding curves.  We got to Chattanooga at 11:11 that morning.  My ex-puppeteer noted that is a sign from God.   I just thought we got there at 11:11.  We had lunch at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Restaurant.  Overpriced and very touristy.  I was very glad to get back home.  I guess the kids liked it.  Not so much for me.

Saturday, March 3, 2018


 The Singles at First Baptist in Columbia had spent two summers in Philadelphia doing Vacation Bible School, and it seemed they both had been success stories, so we were asked to do the next summer in another part of the country--Smyrna, TN.
 So, in 1982, we went to Smyrna and the First Baptist Church there.  Nissan had built a plant there, and the church wanted us to come and do some outreach with the children of the workers, and thus VBS for preschoolers through six graders once again.  I took my puppets with two other puppeteers.  Our group consisted of fun-loving and committed young people.  Each morning, we did three shows for the kids.  We used the same scripts I had written for Philadelphia, but I changed some words to fit a more Southern audience.
 Some man donated some campers for us to sleep in at night.  They were parked in some woods off of the road.  The campers slept 3-4 people in each, and of course they were not co-ed.  After the first night of roughing it, a deputy showed up at our campsite.  It seems that someone was not informed about our presence in the woods, so he came out to check on us.  Even though he didn't like us camping there, as he thought we were trespassing, we convinced him that we were doing God's work, so he reluctantly let us stay there.  It was only after the man, who owned the campers, said something to the sheriff, and we could stay.  The deputy did make it clear to us that we needed to clear out by Friday, which was good for us, because we left Friday night.
 In the afternoons and evenings, we had some free time, so we explored the area around Smyrna.  For those who don't know, Smyrna is close to Nashville.  Nashville would say that Smyrna is a suburb of that city.  Smyrna would take exception to that notion.  At any rate, there was a lot to see and do.
 One place we went to was a Civil War battlefield.  That was kind of spooky, because you could almost hear the cries of soldiers on both sides.  I even thought I saw their blood on the rocks.  We also did some shopping near there.  The highlight though was our two trips to Nashville.
 The first was to Opryland and the Grand Ole Opry.  Opryland was an amusement park much like Six Flags.  Everywhere you turned, there was either country or gospel music playing.  I enjoyed Whack a Mole.  We rode most of the rides, but the best was the flying swings.  I must say for a church group, there was some profanity let out on that ride.  It got to be rather funny.  At the Opry, we saw Tom T. Hall and Jerry Clower.  Jerry had me falling on the floor laughing.  My stomach hurt from laughing so hard.
 The second trip into Nashville was to see the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I had never been to Nashville before, but it was like going to Mecca for me.  My father had been in denominational work all of my life, and my mother had written Sunday School lessons and devotionals for the Convention.  I had been to several Convention meetings, and countless numbers of conferences at Ridgecrest and Glorieta, but Nashville was where all the bigwigs worked.  We toured the Sunday School Board, where all of the music and educational work was based.  We saw where the printing of the literature was done.  I also walked across the street to the First Baptist Church and saw how huge the sanctuary was.  It was a special place for me, so I could go back home and tell my parents what I had seen.
 We left Smyrna that Friday night to return home.  We left in two vans.  One of the vans had some trouble, while we had been in TN, but we had gotten it fixed, so we thought.  The plan was to take the two vans down to Spartanburg, and meet up at one of our group's parents' house for breakfast.  Each van had a walkie-talkie to communicate with the drivers if anyone wanted to stop along the way.  So, down I-40 we went.  Some of us wanted to sleep, so the decision was made to cut off our radio.  We passed someone stopped on the side of the road, but since it was night, we didn't know who it was, so we kept going.  When we got to Spartanburg, we rolled into the driveway and found the parents frantic.  It seemed that the vehicle that we passed on the highway was the broken down van.  Someone from the van had connected with a highway patrolman, and he had phoned the parents to say they were stuck on the highway.  Our van driver went back a couple of hours to pick up the rest of our group.  The breakfast was good though.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


 As I wrote earlier, I was part of a group of actors that did stuff for SCETV.  One program I was involved with was called The Palmetto Special, which was for 8th grade History classes.  The episode I did earlier was called "The Charleston Tea Party", and now was another one called "Reconstruction".
 It was mostly filmed in the studio at ETV on Millwood.  They were experimenting with a new technique called chrome key, which allowed one to be filmed, and then they would fill in with artwork to make it appear as somewhere else.  My scene was to be at Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbia, while we were in a studio instead.
 The actual studio was made up of some folding chairs in a row, and a pulpit for the minister.  There were three of us, dressed in period costumes, sitting in the chairs.  A man, dressed as a general, walked in front of us to appear he was going down the pew to a seat.  I wore the same coat that I wore in the tea party show.  I really loved that coat.  I wish they had let me keep it.  I got the idea of moving a little on the chair, as the general was moving in front of us, to simulate him squeezing in front of us.  In actual fact, he was a few feet in front of us, but filming is all about illusion.
 The guy playing the minister could not get his lines right.  We went through several takes of laughing and frustration.  Finally, the crew wrote out his lines on cardboard and placed them in front of the pulpit for him to read.  If you see the show, you will see him look down and read fast.  He was reading the cue cards and not looking at us in the "congregation".
 When the program aired, the matte artwork was filled in and it looked like a church, sort of.  It really was a little hokey, but I guess 8th graders wouldn't have noticed as much.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Joy Comes in the Morning

 In March, 1982, First Baptist Church was going to put on a musical with drama called "Joy Comes in the Morning".  It was timed around Easter.  I worked with the drama portion, and our choirs did the music.  I also played the part of the disciple James.
 We wanted to do it in a venue that was bigger than our church's sanctuary, so we settled on  Township Auditorium, which had a seating capacity of around 3000.  It was the largest venue that I had ever worked in, so the drama had to be bigger than a normal theatre.  It was also the first time I had used a wireless microphone.  We were told that they would use the same frequency that truckers would use, and that there was a chance that a trucker's voice might bleed over our voices.  The chance of that happening was remote, since there was a distance factor.
 The auditorium's dressing rooms were pretty small.  The green room wasn't much bigger.  We had to improvise some with changing costumes.  Our entrance was in the back of the auditorium, and we entered through the audience.  I particularly liked that, because most of the Biblical monologues of mine involved the audience.
 We did it for two nights, and we had a great response both nights.  Sure enough though, we did have a trucker's voice come through on one of our wireless mics.  Thankfully, no profanity was involved.  The highlight of our show was that the author of the musical, David Danner, came to see it.  He said it was good.  So, we passed the harshest critic of all--the author.  As a writer, I know how important that is to please the author.  As an actor, I did okay.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Microphone

 My last story about my work at White Oak Baptist Conference Center involves an unfortunate event that ultimately cost me my job.  When I worked there, we had four conference rooms that were in the same building as the dining room.  There were moveable partitions that could turn one big area into four smaller ones.  The partitions were designed to be sound-proof, so that one group could meet in one, and another one "next-door" and no one would be bothered by noise.  There was one drawback to this arrangement.  If someone wanted to use sound equipment, we couldn't cut the ceiling speakers to the other rooms.  So, we never used microphones, unless it was one open room like for a youth camp assembly.
 On this particular weekend, we had two groups.  One was a choir that wanted to rehearse some special music.  The other was a conference headed by a special speaker.  The speaker was from Nashville, TN and worked for the Baptist Sunday School Board.  For those who don't know, the BSSB was the place where the big honchos in the Southern Baptist Convention  worked.  These people made the decisions involving how state Baptist Conventions were to operate.  I had grown up with many of these people, and they all seemed very nice.  To work at the BSSB in Nashville was to say you had made it in the denomination.  I do not mean to suggest that it was an ego trip for most workers.  Most workers were there to serve God and to do His work.  However, this particular special speaker had not learned the lesson on humility.
 As it was my job to set up the meeting spaces, I put the choir at one end of the meeting area, and the other meeting at the other end.  There were two empty rooms between them.  I wanted to make sure that neither one would disturb the other.  As both meetings started, I got word that the special speaker wanted a microphone.  The room they were meeting in was approx.  10'x10'.  Unless the speaker had a serious throat problem, he didn't need a microphone.  He demanded to have a microphone.  I tried to explain to him that the choir would hear his talk, and they couldn't rehearse.  He then told me he didn't care about the choir.  He wanted a microphone.  So, my boss made me hook up the microphone.
 I was monitoring the sound to try and not get it too loud.  The man noticed what I was doing and demanded that I turn it up.  Then, the choir director complained.  They could hear this man over the speakers, and they couldn't hear themselves sing.  So, I went back to the sound system and unplugged the microphone.  That speaker went ballistic.  He told me that I was deliberately trying to sabotage his meeting.  I tried to explain to him that the choir had paid money to be there, and he was there for free.  That did not sit well with this man.  He went to my boss and demanded he fire me.
 I was not fired that day, but soon thereafter I was told that my job was being phased out.  I know I was right, but my boss was more concerned about what this man might tell his buddies in Nashville, and White Oak might lose some contributions.  Despite all the fun I had at White Oak, this incident was not one of them.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Freezer

 Not everything at White Oak was fun and games.  We did some serious stuff, too.  One afternoon, we were entertaining some missionaries who had come back from their foreign assignments to spend a year back home.  One of those people was a doctor from Hong Kong who had treated Bruce Lee right before he died.
 The reception was going well.  We needed to get more ice for the punch, and I volunteered to go back to the walk-in freezer in the kitchen to get more ice.  I was wearing a short sleeve shirt and long pants.  When I got to the freezer, I swung open the steel door and went in to get the ice, which was toward the back.  The door swung back and shut with me still inside.  There is a steel rod on the inside of the door that one can press, which will open the door.  I pressed it, but nothing happened.
 I didn't know what to do.  There was a vent at the upper left of the door.  I yelled for help, but the vent had iced over.  I banged on the door with my fist, but no one heard.  I started kicking the steel rod, and I kicked so hard that the rod bent, but the door still didn't open.  I was getting pretty cold at this point.  I saw two fans at the back of the freezer, and I thought that they were blowing out cold air, so I unplugged them both.  I didn't know that they were on to circulate the air.
 The reception was no more than 50 feet away from where I was, but no one knew of what was happening to me.  The oxygen was being used up fast, so I began to slow my breathing down.  I remembered from Boy Scouts that the air at the floor is the last to breathe, so I got down on the floor trying to breathe.  By now, I had been in the freezer for about six minutes, and I thought I was going to die.  I was about to pass out from lack of oxygen.  I managed to sit on a box of produce, and I prayed.
 I asked God to deliver me from this situation, because I didn't want Mamie (our cook at White Oak) to find me the next morning dead, because she would go crazy and run out on I-77.  I mustered up enough energy to try the door one more time, and it opened.  I fell out onto the floor of the kitchen, gasping for air.  Once I could walk, I stumbled out to the reception and told them what happened.  One of our staff workers was also an EMT, and she realized I was suffering from Hypothermia.  Her name was Amelia.  She took me to the first aid room and began working on me.  When I asked her why they hadn't come to check on me, she said everyone just thought I had been in the bathroom.  They didn't think I would be too stupid to lock myself in the freezer.
 For about three months after this incident, I felt light-headed.  I also had a problem with my vocal chords from screaming so much, and I had a bruise on my hand from pounding on the door.  As time went on, most of those problems slowly went away, although my vocal chords were damaged somewhat, and remain so.  A few months later, I was talking to a building contractor about what happened to me.  He said that when a door shuts like that, it creates a vacuum seal.  No matter how hard one tries, the seal can't be broken.  Then after six minutes, the seal gradually starts to release.  He also told me that most freezers have about five minutes of oxygen in them.  Prayer works.  I am living proof.