Back to SPAC.
One of my first assignments at Kenyon & Eckhardt was writing and co-producing a spot for Great Western Champagne. It was an amazing assignment, because it brought me back home! I was to write a radio commercial celebrating the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, an account I had worked on twice before – once for its premiere year, and again in 1976.
The New York champagne brand was part of Coca Cola's Wine Spectrum, and was sponsoring that year's New York City Ballet Gala at Saratoga Springs.
They sent me to Saratoga to interview a principal dancer. And not just any principal dancer, but the woman who was the last “prima ballerina” to be Balanchine-trained and choreographed for – Merrill Ashley!
I picked her up at the Center, drove her to my favorite recording studio, Cathedral Sound in Rensselaer, and sat with her for an hour, asking her questions about her profession and her teacher. What I was after was a short but meaningful quote I could use in the commercial. I knew I had it when she described ballet this way: “We love to dance, to create beautiful lines and designs in space, in time to music. It's visual, musical and physical art, all together. It's like – living sculpture.”
I hired my friend with the classical and classy voice, Rich Capparela, as the announcer, and the spot ran that summer in the Albany and Syracuse markets. I was sent back to Saratoga to represent the agency at the SPAC Gala that year, which featured Merrill Ashley in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and played the spot for the client. Next day, I visited Merrill at her family picnic in the Saratoga State Park and presented her with a bottle of the bubbly for a promotional shot.
Merrill Ashley wasn't the only “summer celebrity” I was lucky enough to see back then. There were some unexpected encounters, albeit much briefer.
The Witch, the Actress & The Funnyman
She came to the beach covered from head to toe, allergic to the sun, I assumed. I later found out that witches have trouble crossing over water, and that was virtually the only way to get to Fair Harbor.
I was reminded of her watching a documentary of The Doors, when the narrator mentioned that Jim Morrison, the poetic singer of the group who died in his 20's, had “married” a woman from New York in a Wiccan ceremony.
The woman hiding from the sun on the beach that Summer weekend claimed to be that woman. She was one of the first rock music critics, then wrote what I take to be fantasy novels, and eventually wrote a book about her relationship with Morrison. She goes by the name of Patricia Kennealy Morrison. A friend of Jane, of the previous story, who is still a friend, told me that Patricia was in Oliver Stone's movie, "The Doors" as the Wiccan priestess who marries Jim Morrison to the actress who is portraying her. She was also an advisor on that film.
It was later that same summer when I was walking along the nearly deserted beach with my youngest daughter, Suzie, on a Monday morning, after most weekenders had left, when we passed by an older couple, strolling in the opposite direction. As the woman branched off from the man, looking for shells, stones or polished glass, she glanced at us and smiled. Recognizing her, I nodded and smiled back, and continued on.
When Suzie and I reached the house, I told her that we had shared the beach that morning with the beautiful and talented Anne Bancroft and the funnyman who won her heart, Mel Brooks.
Next time: Lunar Oddities