WRITINGS

Hey!

I just realized that... in a few days, I will be having my 35th anniversary of creating stories in sound. It was in June of 1972 that I first spoke into a microphone and recorded my voice. In honor of that, I wrote the essay that follows:

 

ESSAYS

“A Tale of Two Willoughbys: 35-years Apart”

Joe Bevilacqua, 05/29/07

One of my first "Willaby and the Professor" audio stories was recorded in TV/family room of my now infamous friend "Steve" (not his real name) in 1972, when I was 13, 35 years ago this summer. "Steve" had just come back from seeing "The Godfather" and we ad-libbed this entire half-hour
story, with "Steve" hilarious as Marlon Brando.

I picked up most of the other parts, including Willaby, the Professor, Mr. Big, Super Jerk and almost all the walk-on characters. "Steve" was Boy Blunder, the airport announcements and some of the mafia henchman.
He was also the narrator.

Now, remember, this was completely AD-LIBBED by a 13- and a 14-year old, without writing down one word. We decidedly did not even talk about
what we were going to say to each other beforehand. It is one reason,
you'll hear me almost break up laughing in one scene, when the Godfather calls Mr. Big, Mr. Pig. We really liked making each other laugh and had been doing so off mic since we made in second grade in 1967.

We did stop the tape a few times when we got stuck. You can hear some
of those edits because the mic recorded a blip sound when I turned it
off and on. Most of the sound effects were done by me live to tape, as
we ad-libbed, as well as some of the music which I got from old records
I found in my parent's attic.

I recently sweetened this childhood recording a bit for broadcast on XM
Radio, but I have decided to not to broadcast this rare tape.

It was recorded on an early model Panasonic home cassette tape recorder my father bought me when I was 12 the previous summer. I used the hand-held external microphone that came with it and pointed it back and forth quickly between us, with my right hand and made the sound effects and played records on my portable lime green plastic children's record player with my left hand, as we ran around "Steve's" parent's TV room shouting like lunatics in a cacophony of different voices while his mom and dad hid from us in the kitchen.

In one scene, the Godfather and Mr. Big are watching TV, so we just
turned on the real TV that was there in the room. You can actually hear
what was being broadcast on the now defunct WNEW-TV, Channel 5 in New York--a Sunday afternoon movie rerun, as we were ad-libbing a take-off on Stan Freberg's classic "John and Marsha" record.

Early in the story, we parody Alan Sherman's classic record, "Camp
Granada." ("Hello, Godmother. Hello, Godfather. Here we are at Hotel
Granada.") Luckily, I had on a LP the correct piece of classical music,
"Dance of the Hours" by Ponchielli, which we sang over and which is the
very music Sherman was parodying in the first place.

Late in the story, "Steve" imitates Terry Jones as one of the Monty
Python "the penguin on the tele blew up" ladies. Remember, this was 1972 and the Pythons had just been introduced to United States audiences, thanks to our local PBS station, WNET.

Somewhere in there, I do a take-off on the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the
guru under whom The Beatles had studied a few years earlier. He's the
one John Lennon wrote "Sexy Sadie" about for The White Album. I had
just seen the Maharishi on "The Merv Griffin Show" a few days earlier.
I'm actually quoting him in the scene, as he talks about the benefits
transcendental meditation, even though I had no idea what I was saying
at the time. I have since learned the art of mediation, which I highly
recommend.

At one point we forced "Steve's" mom to GO OUT and call home so we could record the ring for "our big scene"! To this day I cannot remember how I got my Mel Blanc-esque Mexican Hotel Clerk's and the Professor's
voices filtered LIVE to tape when we had no way of filtering our voices
to sound like it was coming over a phone, but when Willaby is being held
captive by Mr. Big and tricks him into letting him call the Professor.,
Willably and Mr. Big are fully present in the room while the Clerk and
the Professor are in Mexico City distinctly over the phone. I am all
four voices.

You will also hear in that scene, Mr. Big and Willaby overlapped. Since
I only had one tape recorder, I could not overdub myself, so that is
"Steve" doubling (quit well) as Mr. Big.

We created some changes in the ambient space simply by talking into
various objects, such as coffee cans and metal garbage pales. The
panning I did later.

Remember our tender age as you listen to the first one from 1972. Then,
compare it to the one I just completed in 2007 at age 48.

The latter piece URLed in two parts above is my newest official
"Willoughby and the Professor" audio adventure.

It has a very interesting history.

In 1990, David Garland, the wonderfully inventive singer-songwriter and
WNYC Radio host, asked me to contribute to a new spoken word block he
was developing for Wednesday nights at 9:00pm, on WNYC-FM in New York City. He had heard some of my childhood ramblings and wondered if I
could do something with them for him.

Somehow, what I did at 13 did not seem that appealing to revisit,
especially since "Steve" and I had a falling out in 1979. I was working
as the assistant to the then-Director of Kean College's "Writing and
Math Lab": Robert J. Cirasa. I had started in the Lab as a tutor while
attending Kean (now a University).

Bob and I had a meeting of the creative minds from the beginning.

The first time I had the pleasure of co-writing a script with Bob Cirasa
was in 1985, by accident. I was writing episode eight of "The
Mis-Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," my ten-pat series that first aired
on WBAI in New York. It was a very hot and muggy afternoon and was at
home typing the script on a manual Underwood, which was on my lap as I
lay on my bed, sweating. I had no air conditioning and I was HATING
every word I wrote, to the point that I smashed the typewriter on the
floor and fled my very dingy attic apartment in Plainfield, NJ.

The show was being recorded THAT night and I was frantic. I found
myself driving north on the New Jersey Garden State Parkway at 2 O'clock in the afternoon. I eventually landed in Union, New Jersey, in Bob's office at Kean. His office had once been a darkroom and had one of
those weird looking Star Trek-looking "keeps the light out" doors. To
enter Bob's office, I had to step inside an ominous looking black metal
tube, spin the revolving "door" around (during which time I was in
complete darkness) and I'd "arrive" on the other side of the wall, and
step out into his hidden office, as if beamed up by Scotty. I always
felt like I had left the planet. In some ways, Bob IS the second
version of the Professor.

After Bob calmed me down, I explained I was having writer's block for
the first in my life and we were recording the show THAT night at WBAI.
Well, Bob & I wrote it together and by six o'clock I was on a train to
Manhattan, and the show was the most fun of the series, a sort of a
sideways parody of the 1976 Nicholas Meyer "Sherlock Holmes" pastiche
film, "The Seven Percent Solution," in which a drugged out, raving mad
Sherlock Holmes finds himself in the loony bin being cared for by an
even loonier Sigmund Freud, played by me as if he was Mel Brooks.
England native Vernon Morris was an amazing Holmes, playing him more
like Stan Laurel than Basil Rathbone. Henry J. Quinn, though not
English, played his Watson as a pompous, lying egotist, the opposite of
the Nigel Bruce booby interpretation of the character from the 1940s
movies. Henry was a retired FBI agent, who took up acting late and was
often seen in sketches on David Letterman. The late Jan Meredith of
North Carolina was the nutty but jovial Mrs. Hudson, played as an Irish
woman. English actress Gwendolyn Lewis played Holmes's secret love,
Irene Adler, as a sexy tone-deaf tart who dreamed of being an opera singer.

When I decided to resurrect "Willaby and the Professor" for David
Garland, I went to Bob Cirasa for help again. Bob brought to the series
a more sophisticated literary style, a distinct poetry to the language.
Instead of ad-libbing my way through a story, we carefully craft
every word, every stage direction, every sound effect cue. We made
extensive notes about the meaning, the audio landscape and the timing,
and I spent months in the studio interpreting the scripts in sound form,
sometimes staying in the WNYC studios overnight, producing right up
until I had to go to work at my real job as WNYC's Senior Radio
publicist. Ah, to be that young and energetic today!

The characters quickly began to take on more complex, mythic dimensions. In fact, the second Willoughby series (note the spelling change) really IS poetry not prose, thanks to Bob. The arc of all 17 installments amounts to an epic poem of sorts. In episode seven, Bob had one character, A. Bysshe Sisyphus (which I voice in a Hans Conried-like
false Shakespearean bravado) speak only in iambic pentameter.

More recently, Bob has retro-added a layer of Greek mythology references to Bysshe's poems that now start each installment. It was only natural that Willoughby would end up being a god himself in this latest story.

All together, Bob and I have written 18 "Willoughby and the Professor"
Bizzaro world adventures, including a short story in the book: "It's
That Time Again: New Stories of Old Time Radio," published by Bear Manor Media.

In my favorite, episode six, "Now It's Time To Sing!" or "Unwanted Noises in the Air," Bob even set his poetry to music, forcing all the characters (and me since I played them all) to sing their thoughts whenever Dances-With-Sven Erikson, the half-Norse, half-Native American shaman, rings a bell. Pianist-composer Paul Salomone orchestrated the musical score performed by his delicious Bill Evans-style jazz trio, with Ed Fuqua on bass and Jim Mason on drums.

Episode 17 of Willoughby began as script in 1994. The voice tracks were
recorded at WNYC in 1995, and it features me as both Willoughby and the Professor, as well as cameos as Trapper Carl, DHC, Chippy the digital parrot, and A. Bysshe Sisyphus.

The great Margaret Juntwait (former WNYC host and now the voice of The
Met Opera radio broadcasts) portrays Willougby's Greek goddess Mermaid of a mother. Lorie Kellogg (my wife) and Carla Rozman provided the Marti Gras-style march between scenes sung by the zoological chorus of Greek gods dancing around the boat and across the sky.

That's me as Elvis and Wolfman Jack at the end. I also created all the
sound effects myself and wrote and performed most of the underscore
music. David Garland is the series announcer.

I must mention David Garland's wonderfully cartoony jazz "Willoughby"
theme music, used during the opening and closing credits of every story,
and which perfect captures the tone of my quirky style.

These stories are in serial form so it might take you a few minutes to
get into the story if you have not heard the previous installments.
Just know that by episode 17, Willoughby and the Professor have been
shanghaied aboard a ship of Greek gods and would-be pirates at the
world's "navel" where all the cork of the world collects. We wrote this
years before Disney's "Pirates of The Caribbean, At World's End," which
takes on similar themes and just to in $401 million dollars at the box
office worldwide in its first six days of release – - the biggest
opening in movie history.

Alas, WNYC canceled the spoken word block in mid-1995, in favor of
strictly classical music, just as I was beginning to post-produce
episodes 13 to 17, so the stories were never completed. Oddly, this was
after critic-at-large David Hinckley wrote a very positive full two-page
spread (with photos) about "Willoughby and the Professor" in the Sunday
New York Daily News, and we were getting stacks of letters, many
handwritten, some from children. One child sent me a drawing he made of
big and small Willoughby, since the character magically shrunk and
grew in several installments. We even had a small fan club in New
Jersey called "The Willoughby and the Professor Space Puckering
Society." Listeners of all ages often called the station during its
broadcast asking how they could buy a copy of the show.

The shows were also honored by the Museum of Television and Radio in
1992, as part of their first "Contemporary Radio Humor Exhibit," along
side the likes of radio legends Stan Freberg, Bob and Ray, Jean Shepard
and Firesign Theatre, all heroes of mine.

I finally completed episode 17 of "The Whithering of Willoughby and the
Professor" this year, 2007, and it aired on XM a few weeks ago, unfortunately with no promotion or fanfare, 35 years after I first
ad-libbed the characters into that Panasonic.

I consider episode 17 my best audio work to date--a surreal and
psychedelic sea journal for the ears. As Trapper Carl says in the opening, "Don't forget your sea legs!"

I played it for my broadcasting students at Marist College last
semester, with the lights out. They found themselves so engulfed in a
sound palette that many of the students said they felt like they were
"in" the story with the characters on a boat lost at sea. Too me, this
is the ultimate compliment. It is not easy to get anyone to sit for
nearly an hour and listen to a story in sound in this rapid-paced age of
blind worshiping addiction to television and all things visual. These
kids actually forgot where they even were. Several students said they
found themselves rocking back and force as if they were on a boat. one
student was convinced I had devised some mysterious way of making the
classroom floor move in time with the action. (No seasickness reported,
though.)

I achieved this quality by slowly moving the stereo pan of the ocean
waves and the boat creak back and forth from right to left, throughout
the story, in effect "rocking" the audio boat. I also panned characters
to created a more full illusion of movement and altered the size and shape of the ambient space as the characters moved about the boat.

After this "Willoughby," I made a flawed attempt at adapting the short
story for radio, which is also up on my web server, as episode 18, along
with all of the "Willoughby and Professor" audio in existence.

You can hear them all at:
http://www.comedyorama.com/joe/audio-joe/

Sadly, many of the early cassettes I made as a child, some 20 or so
"Willaby" stories, are lost forever. I did find two other cassettes in
a box, "Willaby and the Professor Go to Hollywood," and "Willoughby
Finds Bartizan the Genie," both of which I ad-libbed doing all the
voices myself in my bedroom also in 1972.

These "Willabys" were the first cassettes I sent Daws Butler (the voice
of Yogi Bear) in 1975, that led to Daws becoming my longtime friend and
mentor. You can hear the NPR "Weekend Edition" story about it at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1299115

The editor was Tom Cole.

You can hear an NPR "All Things Considered" story about me and "Steve" at:http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1891570

The editor was Art Silverman.

COMPANION AUDIO

JOE BEV, AGE 13 -
WILLABY AND THE PROFESSOR MEET THE GODFATHER (1972)

JOE BEV, AGE 48 -
WILLOUGHBY IS A GOD (2007)
PART A

JOE BEV, AGE 48 -
WILLOUGHBY IS A GOD (2007)
PART A

 

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Joe Bevilacqua


email: joebevNOSPAM@joebev.com

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