Saturday, June 25, 2011

Remembering Saundra

Little Dougie has some words to say today, so I'll defer to him and go get drunk, the only sane thing to do on such a depresssing day.

It was 30 years ago today that my dear, dear friend, Saundra Mathews-Deacon died of surgical complications following a gratuitous and unneeded (in my humble and always abject medical opinion) gastric bypass operation, at the obscenely young age of 39.

Saundra was a magnificent actress, an incredible singer, a wonderful writer, and a great human being. She was a pillar of South Coast Repertory's early years. She wrote three "Magic Theater" children's shows that are now published by Dramatic Publishing of Chicago, and the plays are still performed worldwide. (The songs in the first Magic Theater were by Jim Diederich.) She co-wrote and starred in a feminist musical called YOU REMIND ME OF A FRIEND.

And she had a loud, raucous, Texas laugh which you couldn't hear without feeling happy. (Don't take my word for it. Click on this and hit "Play" and see if you can avoid feeling good.)

The first time I heard her sing, she knocked me out. Also the second time, also the 40th time, etc. In the original produciton of MOTHER EARTH, she sang Toni Tennielle's (Toni wrote the music for the show) song XANADU (Not to be confused with the XANADU of Olivia Newton-John, totally different song), and it gave me chills every night.

Three years later, Saundra's husband, Warren Deacon, directed me in a revival of MOTHER EARTH in San Climente, with Saundra as the musical director, and I got assigned to sing XANADU. Now, it was the best song in the show, so I was happy to have it, but it wasn't working in rehearsal. Oh I hit all the pitches and sang it clearly, on-key, intelligablily, and I knew the lyrics, but the emotional content was not there. Warren put his finger on the problem: I had been so blown away by Saundra's original renditions of it that singing it, especially with Saudra herself drecting me in it, I was too intimidated. I felt like I could never do it as magnificently as she had. The three of us worked through it together until I had a performance of it that worked, though I felt it was never more than a pale reflection of what Saundra did with it. I'm a good singer. Saundra was a great singer.

The three of us worked through something else together also. By 1971, I was aware I was sexually attracted to men, and freaked out by it. Saundra saw that something was amiss with me emotionally, and she reached out. I had a long nght in the Deacon living room, coming out to them (I'd never come out to anyone before, not even to me), and talking through it until dawn, as they got through to me that I wasn't changing into someone I didn't know, but was merely finding out who I was. I think they saved my life that night.

Unfortunately, 10 years later, I had no opportunity to save hers.

I'd say "Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest," but Saundra sang so much better than angels that they would be too intimidated to sing before her too. Maybe she could coach them.

I miss you so much, darling.

Warren & Saundra at their 1967 wedding.


madguy said...

Wow. Got here through the Huffington Post link after reading your hysterical commentary on The Tonys and, while perusing the blog came across this post about Saundra. It was a Twilight Zone moment for me - shooting me immediately back some 40 odd years ago. I had done "Merry Wives of Windsor" with Warren Deacon during the 1965 Chapman College Shakespeare Festival and then, around 1968 (I think), worked with both Warren and Saundra in "A Christmas Carol" where they played the Cratchits. My fondest memories of that particular play was watching just how in love they were and what fun they had playing little pranks on each other to try and make the other one break character on stage. I was barely on the cusp of adolescence at the time, but they both made an indelible impression upon me. Over the years I've occasionally thought about them and wondered where they ended up. Thanks for your post, and what a sad story regarding Saundra. She sure brought a lot of joy in her short time on this planet! --Mark Deimel

Tallulah Morehead said...

Small world. So did you know Jayne Hamil or Thor Nielson? I've forwarded your comment on to Warren.


Tallulah Morehead said...

I forgot to add that Warren, a big Tallulah fan, also read that Tony Awards commentary, and sent me a comment on it:

"Warren Deacon said...
As always, Tallu nails it: the incessant, endless windbag speeches about the nobility of acting that increasing­ly infest the Tonys. Acting is a great profession­. A perfectly genuine, even admirable career choice. It makes us laugh and cry. It frees our repressed spirits, if only for a moment. But it is not noble. It does not feed starving children, stop wars or search for the cure for cancer. So, Broadway actors in general, and Tony winners in particular­, give it a rest. It's only slightly less pretentiou­s than a film actor talking about how dangerous and courageous he is because he does his own stunts."

Anonymous said...

My comments to Douglas after I read the book: "Douglas:

Finished your book and what an absolutely wonderful journey it was. Hilarious and touching and clever and all the superlatives but what strikes me most is the fact that, a quarter of the way through, I somehow found myself believing this woman was real! That is either very, very scarey or a testament to your skill as a writer. (Knowing you, it is undoubtedly both.) I think it is really tricky to be able to make such an outrageous character seem plausible. There is a constant tension in the work -- my God, she's SO theatrical, SO Hollywood, SO lewd and licentious, but wait a second! Why are you taking her so seriously? She's not real....or is she?

What strikes me is the two levels you have going on. Very charming and amusing on the surface and yet, just below, an almost existential, rather dark subtext. Certainly not an original observation on my part, but humor often comes from a very subconcious, sort of frightening place. Very Pirandello, often Sartre-like. What a trip.

And puns, what can one say about puns: you write like a chicken crossing the road -- poultry in motion. (forgive me father for I couldn't resist.) You have them in all 31 flavors, from the moaning jaw drop "I can't believe he thinks he can get away with this" to the "what did he just say?" my God, this guy's a clever SOB.

The Gone with the Wind screenplay takeoff is hilarious -- I hope you take reasonable security precautions: there are GWTW fans out there still who could easily become your stalkers after they read your sendup. Miss Mitchell's barbell-disguised-as-a-book! Wonderful satire, perfectly puncturing the bloated, obsequious nonsense that seems to have grown, like mildew, around that piece of crap (movie and book IMO.)

Love the Vlad chapter, her appearance before the McCarthy committee and of course her encounter with Tennessee in the Laguna bar.

The last chapter is very touching and bittersweet -- not an easy feat for a book of humor. The filmography is a complete delight. I shall pay you the ultimate compliment and steal some of those titles.

All in all, Douglas K., an impressive achievement. I am reminded of what a funny guy you are, a magnificient humorist and a really good writer. Satire is clearly NOT something that closes on Saturday night. That Tallullah lives on in the cyberspace of Huffington gives us all hope.


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I've read something about Saundra. She was perfect in everything that she do.

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