When I was 10 years old, it was a momentous year. My life in East Ann Arbor was coming to an end and big changes for the entire family were imminent. It didn’t affect Van as much as it consumed Bonnie and I.
By this time even at an early age, Van was pretty much on his own.
Of course Van’s early fame was as an extra on the popular TV series “77 Sunset Strip”. He had a continuing role as ‘young hoodlum number 3’. I think he enjoyed his time on the tube, but he didn’t talk about it often…but then he didn’t talk to me much at all.
Back in East A2: Mom was able to talk Dad into all kinds of things. Somehow when I was 10 she talked Dad into moving. So, Mom; Dad; Bonnie and I packed up the car and moved to New York City.
Mom was always the ambitious one when it came to performing. Once in NYC she immediately changed her name to Marie Montane. Dad, always the dutiful partner, at Mom’s insistence, became William Flambeau. For the time being Bonnie and I remained, Bonnie and Gary. (That would change soon enough.) Back in those days, NYC was intoxicating.
Mom hit the big time right away. She started singing in background choirs for Broadway shows. It didn’t take audiences long to demand to have her out front singing and playing in major roles. Before you knew it, Marie Montane and William Flambeau were the toast of Broadway. As for Bonnie and I, we stayed at home and would roam Central Park in the evenings while Mom and Dad were having dinner at Sardes and being interviewed on the radio. It wasn’t exactly an idyllic Michigan life, but it was all we knew.
Bonnie caught her break one day when we were playing in the park and a nice young negro (remember, this was a long time ago,) heard Bonnie counting to 500 by fives as her and I were playing hide and seek. He talked to Mom and then signed Bonnie to a contract to play his daughter on his radio show. She was a huge hit.
It was within 6 months that my thespian career came to fruition. It all came about when the Broadway show “The Suspicious Sunday School Teacher” staring Marie Montane and William Falmbeau opened at the Roxy Theater.
This three act musical comedy farce was the long awaited work from renowned playwright Frederico Benzini. The theater was packed and buzzing when the curtain opened. Mom/Marie and Dad/William were in rare form. Each line was baffo and the audience was loving it. Then something unexpected happened.
As was my custom, when Marie/Mom and William/Dad were in a show at a new theater, I would be allowed to roam around backstage while the show was going on. This particular night, I decided to climb up into the ropes and riggings above the stage.
All of a sudden, in the early part of act one, I slipped and fell, about 30 feet, onto the stage. Fortunately I fell directly onto a couch that was part of the set. Mom/Marie was startled but stayed in character. Dad/William, always the fixer, fed me a line that was meant to be for the nefarious butler character, since I had been there for all rehearsals, I knew all of his lines and took right off. Mom joined in within a couple of beats, and well…a star was born.
The show became the hottest ticket on Broadway for two solid years. I have often felt bad for the butler actor, but hey, that’s showbiz. It was at this time that I received my pseudonym: Garrison Keillor. Years later I had to give up this name when a fellow from Public Radio threatened to sue me.
Our family was very successful while living in New York. We hired a new PR firm who decided the franchise could use some spicing up. He leaked a false story about William Flambeau being involved with several dancers from the Zigfield Follies.
The story did not go over well. It was a bad PR move and all of our careers came to a crashing end. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted and we all leaned a lot about the music and showbiz business. All of this would come in handy in a few short years.
Don’t you think every good story needs a dream sequence?
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