Bobbie's Beat: Bittersweet evening

Newport may be a small town by big-city standards, but it’s a town whose citizens complain (tongue in cheek) that too many things happen on the same day/night, which forces folks to make decisions. 

Last weekend is an example. It was the highly promoted 30th anniversary celebration of Newport’s Performing Arts Center, and it was also the evening chosen by the gourmet dinner group I got involved with last December at the Festival of Trees.

I struggled with the decision until considering what my husband, Burt, would want me to do — he would want me at the PAC. Fortunately the dinner group understood. Burt would want me remembering our involvement with helping make that place happen and all the great times we had together before and after the PAC was up and running. 

The truth is, we didn’t move here to get involved in the community.  We moved here to escape the Los Angeles fast lane. Burt’s fantasy was to live a quieter life and read all the books he never had time for. Mine was to pursue being a professional writer, have unlimited animals, and walk the beach five times a day.

But certain people in Newport quickly pegged my husband as that “big friendly guy who never said no.” They were right, of course, and I followed Burt’s lead. Frankly, we didn’t know what hit us after meeting Alice Silverman and Pat Grimstad.    

Beach towns have a way of attracting creative people — other than artists and writers. There are actors, dancers, singers and musicians who need somewhere to do their thing. When we arrived in the early ’80s, the only place in town was the old Naterlin Center, which had originally been a school. It had a musty basement where various plays and productions were held, and it had an auditorium/gym. 

I think we were still unpacking when Pat Grimstad recruited Burt to emcee a variety show. Pat had written and designed this comedy production for a charity event featuring a few dozen local people dressed (by Pat) as celebrities who walked across the stage and delivered a few lines. Burt’s job was to wear a tux, read Pat’s script and introduce people as they entered stage right. 

Pat declared me a perfect Joan Crawford in the 1981 movie “Mommy Dearest” — a film known for the terrible mother who screamed “No wire hangers” at her poor quivering daughter. Pat was very persuasive, and we were not about to let her down, although we were both nervous wrecks. 

I only vaguely remember some of the other cast members (many of whom are gone now), but I clearly recall “the sheriff scene.” He had to dress like an Old West sheriff, stomp across the stage and accuse Burt of some illegal infraction. To make his point, the sheriff aimed a pistol (a real one because he was a real sheriff) at Burt’s feet, ordering my husband to dance — or else! However, on the big night, the pistol started smoking when the sheriff shot blank bullets at Burt’s feet. Much to everyone’s shock, all the smoke alarms went off, and the show came to an abrupt halt. If Pat was distressed, she didn’t show it, but waited for the smoke to clear and the alarms to stop ringing — then, as they say in Hollywood, “The show must go on!”

Last Saturday evening at the PAC (which was packed), I was seated in the Alice Silverman Theatre in the seat with the brass label on the arm that reads “Alice Silverman.” Having your name on a seat was someone’s idea for fundraising, and Burt bought two seats for us in fifth-row center. The lobby walls are full of inscribed tiles, also a fundraiser, and there was no stopping my generous husband, who just kept buying tiles. If you ever linger long enough in the lobby to read the names on the wall, you will see most of our relatives and also our dogs, cats and goats. As mentioned, Burt could never say no to a good cause.

Kudos to all the people who put on the amazing 30th anniversary evening last Saturday night. There was a catered dinner followed by the show, a retrospective of various performances from the past 30 years. Yes, I choked up seeing photos of Burt at the groundbreaking in 1988, and our old friend Alice using a golden shovel during the well-attended ceremony.

It was the right decision to attend the PAC celebration, and I’m fortunate to have Janet Anton, friend and neighbor, always happy to be my nighttime driver and game to have a good time. 

One of the best moments of the evening was seeing Don Davis, who was the city manager of Newport for 29 years. As Don gave me a hug during intermission, he said, “I sure do miss Burt.”

“Me too, Don,” I said, “me too!”


Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock with her cat, Purrfect. She is the author of “Good Grief: A Collection of Stories As One Woman Journeys From Heartbreak To Healing Through Honesty and Humor” (Dancing Moon Press). The book, with all proceeds going to Rotary International Foundation, is available on Amazon, at JC Market in Newport and directly from Bobbie, who can be contacted at [email protected]

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