The following was a speech I presented at the memorial service for Robert A. (Bob) Wyman, in the Jean Runyon Little Theatre, Memorial Auditorium, the same theatre where JayRob performed its third, fourth and fifth seasons.
I have a long and varied history of involvement with Bob Wyman, which stretches back to the mid-fifties. As a young high school drama student, my earliest memories of Bob were looking at him in front of the classroom and trying to determine whether he was a student or the teacher. Bob was young-looking and shorter than everybody in the class except for me. I had been a runt all through my school years, and Bob was an inspiration to me, the person whom I aspired to outgrow. By the time I graduated, I had achieved my objective, barely topping him in physical height.
I participated actively in his class and in the drama club at Sac Hi, which Bob sponsored, and I received my first taste of his directorial expertise in “Leap for Joy,” a musical co-written and directed by Bob and, of course, in several other productions.
My first big professional break, however, came when my brother received his first big break (a broken nose suffered on a trampoline). Dave had a role in a play at the JayRob Theatre called ‘Anniversary Waltz,’ starring Mercer and Jean Runyon (the same Jean Runyon whose name now adorns this former JayRob theatre.
Bob asked me to learn Dave’s lines and take his place. I did so with one days notice and no rehearsal time, and my career with JayRob had begun. Bob’s father, Justus, sent me a letter acknowledging my efforts and included a check for $4. I was elated. I was a professional actor!
My next experience with Bob was as a college student. Bob was conducting a six-week summer drama class for Sacramento State College up at Kings Beach, at Lake Tahoe. For six weeks, I parked cars at Cal-Neva Lodge for spending money, slept in my car in the school parking lot and built sets and rehearsed four plays for production throughout the summer. Bob was one of the few people who could take a group of non-professional theatre folks and mount such a demanding schedule, successfully.
I continued working with JayRob alongside Bob, Phil Bettens, and the Wyman family, sometimes as a stage hand, some times as an actor/singer/dancer. Those occasional $4 checks both for my work and my wife’s as house manager helped pay for our lavish lifestyle during the early years of our marriage (I remember I was making $283 per month in my full-time day job and paying $75 per month rent for our one-bedroom apartment).
I went on to receive my B.A. degree and teaching credential and was hired to teach at the new Kennedy High School, a position which lasted only two years, because of district financial problems. After returning to Sac State and receiving my M.A., I resumed my search for employment.
During this time, Bob had left Sac Hi and worked with the Los Rios Community College District, first at Sacramento City College as the drama instructor and later, at the new Cosumnes River College campus, this time as an administrator. This became my fourth level of involvement with Bob. As the opening of the campus dawned, the new drama instructor for the campus, Joe Kinzley, suffered the first of several heart attacks. Bob was instrumental in hiring me as a temporary replacement for Joe and I had my first experience teaching in the college community.
I went on to teach for a year at Fresno City College and when I learned of a half-time opening at Cosumnes, I applied for the position. Bob was on the interview committee. He and the other interviewers made me feel very comfortable. Without knowing the results of the interview, but feeling quite confident, I tendered my resignation from Fresno City College (a dangerous practice in today’s job market) and awaited the results of the interview. Fortunately, my decision was rewarded by my being hired and by a later expansion of my position to full-time, a position which I held for 30+ years. Most of those years were as Bob’s colleague.
To say that Bob was an influence on my life would be an understatement. Virtually every theatrical and professional move I have made has had the imprint of Bob Wyman’s hand on it, and I thank him profusely for that hand which, despite his short stature, was so much larger than mine.
One of my most memorable experiences was co-acting with Bob in front of the staff and students in Bud Gardner’s “Staff Spectacle.” Bob and I recreated a scene from the JayRob Theatre production of ‘Stan Freberg Modestly Presents, The United States of America.’ Bob played the role of Benjamin Franklin and I was Thomas Jefferson as we discussed the signing of the Declaration of Independence and sang “A Man Can’t Be Too Careful What He Signs These Days.”
In tribute to Bob, I’d like to re-create that scene for you, as I play Bob’s role of Benjamin Franklin, John Scordakis recreates the role of Thomas Jefferson, which he played in the original JayRob production 40 years ago, and Phil Bettens plays the music, creates the sound effects and speaks the roles of the Narrator and Sylvia.
The scene takes place just after the Boston Tea Party. Below is the script for the presentation:
Stan Freberg presents “The United States of America”
Scene 7 – Signing of the Declaration of Independence
NARR: The trouble continued to brew. It was a time for action, and a time for words. On a hot July night in 1776, Benjamin Franklin was aroused from his work by the call of destiny.
SFX: Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock.
JEFF: Hey, ya in there, Ben?
FRNK: Who’s that, Sylvia?
SYLV: It’s the call of Destiny.
FRNK: Come on, take a look through the curtain, there.
SYLV: It’s Tom Jefferson
FRNK: What, again?
SFX: Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock.
FRNK: (Over last knocks) Well, it’s no good; I’ll have to let him in.
SFX: Footsteps to door.
FRNK: I’m coming, I’m coming.
JEFF: Hi, Ben.
JEFF: You got a minute?
FRNK: Well, I’ll tell you the truth, I was just going out of town for the weekend.
JEFF: But it’s only Wednesday.
FRNK: Yeah. Well, you know, a penny saved is a penny earned.
JEFF: What has that got to do with anything, Franklin?
FRNK: I don’t know. It’s the first thing that came into my head. I was just making conversation. An idle brain is the devil’s playground, you know.
JEFF: Say, you’re pretty good at that, aren’t you?
FRNK: Yeah, they’re new wise sayings I just made up.
JEFF: Wise sayings?
FRNK: Yeah, I call them wise sayings.
JEFF: Mmm Hmm
FRNK: What can I do for you?
JEFF: Well, I’ve got this petition here I’ve been circulating around the neighborhood, and I thought you’d like to sign it. It’s called the Declaration of Independence.
FRNK: Yeah, I heard about that, sounds a little suspect, if you ask me.
JEFF: What do you mean, ‘Suspect?’
FRNK: Well, you’re advocating the overthrow of the British government, by force and violence, aren’t you?
JEFF: Well, yeah, yeah, but. . . we’ve had it with that royal jazz.
FRNK: Who’s We?
JEFF: Well, all the guys.
FRNK: Who’s ‘All the Guys?’
JEFF: Well, George, Jim Madison, Alex Hamilton, Johnny Adams, you know. All the guys.
FRNK: Heh! The lunatic fringe.
JEFF: No, they are not.
FRNK: Bunch of wild-eyed radicals, professional liberals, don’t kid me.
JEFF: What? You call George Washington a wild-eyed radical?
FRNK: Washington? I don’t see his name on there.
JEFF: No, but he promised to sign it.
FRNK: Oh, yeah! That’s George for you. Talks up a storm with them wooden teeth. Can’t shut him off. When it comes time to put the name on the old parchmentarooni, try and find him.
JEFF: What are you so surly about, today?
FRNK: Surly to bed, and surly to rise, makes a man . . . . .
JEFF: all right, all right. Let’s knock off the one-line jokes and sign the petition, Whaddaya say, huh, fella?
FRNK: Well, let me skim down here. .When in the course of human events . . . so ‘n so ‘n so ‘n so . . . so ‘n so ‘n so ‘n so. . . that among these are life, liberty and the purfuit of happineff?
JEFF: That’s pursuit of happiness.
FRNK: Well, all your S’s look like F’s, here.
JEFF: Well, it’s stylish.
FRNK: Oh, I see.
JEFF: It’s in, it’s very in.
FRNK: Oh. Well, if it’s in. . . . We therefore, the representatives of the United States of America. . . so ‘n so ‘n so ‘n so. . . solemnly publish and declare. . . so ‘n so ‘n so ‘n so. . . that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British (uh) crown, and so on. Little overboard, isn’t it?
JEFF: Well, uh.
FRNK: You write this?
JEFF: Yeah, I knocked it out. It’s just a first draft.
FRNK: Well, I tell you, why don’t you leave it with me and I’ll mail it in.
JEFF: Oh, come on.
FRNK: I’ll tell you, Tom, let me say this. I’m with you in spirit, I’m sure you understand that, but you know, I’ve got to play it conservative, I’m a businessman.
FRNK: I’ve got the printing business going pretty good. Almanac made ‘Book of the month,’ and then I’ve got the inventions, you know, pretty good distribution on the stoves, now. And, of course, every Saturday evening, I bring out the mag.
JEFF: The what?
JEFF: Getting back to the signing the petition, how about it, huh?
FRNK: Well, . . .
JEFF: It’s a harmless paper.
FRNK: Oh, sure, harmless. I know how these things happen. You go to a couple of harmless parties, sign a harmless petition and forget all about it. Ten years later, you get hauled up before a committee. No, thank you. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life writing in Europe.
JEFF: Oh, come on.
FRNK: Come on, what?
MUS: Opening Note
JEFF: Come on and put your name on the dotted line.
FRNK: I’ve got to be particular what I sign.
JEFF: It’s just a piece of paper.
FRNK: Just a piece of paper, that’s what you say.
JEFF: Come on and put your signature on the list.
FRNK: It looks to have a very subversive twist.
JEFF: How silly to assume it, won’t you nom de plume it, today? You’re so skittish, who possibly could care if you do?
FRNK: The Un-British Activities Committee, that’s who.
JEFF: Let’s have a little drink-o and fill the quill.
FRNK: It’s sounds a little pink-o, to me, but still .
JEFF: Knock off the timid manner, if you want a banner to raise.
FRNK: Banner to raise.
JEFF: You must take.
FRNK: I must take .
JEFF: . . . a stand.
FRNK: . . . a stand.
JEFF: For this brave .
FRNK: For this brave.
JEFF: . . new land.
FRNK: … new land.
JEFF: For who wants.
FRNK: Who wants.
JEFF: . . . to live.
FRNK: … to live.
JEFF: So conserve-. .
FRNK: So conserve-…
JEFF: . . . -ative.
FRNK: . . . -ative. I don’t dis- . .
JEFF: He don’t dis-. .
FRNK: . . agree.
JEFF: . . agree.
BOTH: But a man can’t be too careful what he signs these days.
FRNK: You’re sure it’s not going to start a revolution, or anything?
JEFF: Trust me.
MUSIC: Stab, up and out.