My Acting Buddies

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

An old friend, Jim Barnett, died back in October, a man I have known for at least 70 years. This isn’t exactly an obituary; it is a little bit, but it’s more a tribute to dozens of old friends and to a generation that is for the most part long gone.

Jim was one of the key performers of the Orillia Legion Show Group for want of a better title, a happy band of Second World War veterans and war brides who entertained six or seven times a year for probably thirty years and maybe a bit longer. There were a few sons and daughters of vets who also joined in the 60s and 70s and I was one of them. I really can’t begin to name all the cast. There were far too many and I can’t remember half of them, but I will mention some of the stars and Jim was certainly one of them.

Anyone who saw the shows will remember him singing The Spaniard with the great line “I’ll raise a bunion on his Spanish Onion, he shall die, he shall die, he shall die, he shall die tiddly I tie.” The tiddly I ties ran on forever, but the audience knew all the words and sang along with him.

Later we found out he could act too as Mariposa Arts Theatre folks remember so well. Jim played Emile de Becque in South Pacific, Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha and several other roles I have long forgotten, not because they were not excellent but because there were so many they all run together in what passes for a mind in the empty corridors of my head. I don’t know if you ever had a major role in an amateur play or musical, but anyone who has will know that it takes over your life. For weeks during rehearsals you try to learn your lines, the blocking (what you are supposed to be doing and where when you say them) and then remember it all when the show is actually in front of a live audience. (I have been in a play or two when I wondered if there was an audience out there at all. Once the cast came out to take their bows and there was nobody out there (Noel Coward’s Nude with Violin.)

I used to have coffee with Jim quite often when we were in rehearsals for Man of La Mancha and noticed his manner of speaking was gradually changing from normal English to a sort of archaic version of the language written by Cervantes for Don Quixote. It took a few days after the show closed before he was back to normal.

Once a show is over, a part of your life is over also. You are that person for six or eight weeks and suddenly you don’t need to remember the words but they are still there and what are you supposed to do with them?

This is true; I played Lord Fancourt Babberly in Charley’s Aunt way back in the 70s. One night a few years ago I was watching the same movie late at night and I remembered the words, which was remarkable since I couldn’t remember them when we put on the play.

But back to the Legion Show Group, I remember so many people from those shows and loved them all (not physically, although it may have crossed my mind, after all I was only in my thirties). The driving force at that time had to be the Craig family, Stan, Joan, and Stan’s brother Ken. Joan should have been a British Music Hall performer; she was good enough. Most of us remember her I have a very large curve round my sciatic nerve. Stan of course was Jake the Peg with an extra leg.

Marg McFarland played the piano (by ear as a matter of fact, she never used music.) Once when I was singing something or other, the music stopped and Marg stomped across the front of the stage, stomped up the stairs and shook some sheet music in front of me (I have no idea where she got it) and said, “I’m here where the hell are you?” It brought down the house and probably destroyed any hope I had for the lead in a Broadway musical.

Stan was the director and tried so hard to bring the show in before the bar closed, but it rarely happened because the soloists had a very strange habit of thinking a polite hand at the end of a number was a thundering demand for an encore. I’m sure some were but not all the time for Pete’s sake, come on!

One night it was getting close to midnight and Stan said, “No more encores and that’s final.” Unfortunately, it was then that Billy Reid was to sing something Scottish which was enthusiastically joined by a few Scots in the audience, so Billy invited them up on the stage. Don’t tell the OPP but I believe the bar was open an hour or so after the midnight witching hour that night.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about what I always thought was one of the funniest lines I ever heard in any show anywhere. Before I joined, the cast put on a show about the dirty thirties and Billy was the Reverend Holy Moley and ran a soup kitchen for the poor. The cast, seedily dressed in rags, were all lined up with their little bowls in hand in front of a huge cauldron. Someone offered the good Reverend a bowl of his own soup and Billy said (and I quote) “I’ll nay eat that crap.”

I’m lost in the past; I will tell you about some other stuff next week

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