This is so Janis Joplin/The Rose. My east Texas hometown newspaper, the Buna Beacon, did a front page article on me in celebration of New World Waking.
by Juliee Beaver.
It has been almost 40 years since lyricist and composer Steve Schalchlin graduated from Buna High School in 1971. A lot has changed since then, but much has remained the same.
Roden Theatre closed its doors and the old elementary school has been torn down, but the infamous Polka Dot House still stands.
Born in Arkansas, Steve Schalchlin, his brothers and parents moved here in 1968. Mother Carolyn worked as a nurse at the Buna Medical Center and his father, Bro. Neil, pastored at Northside Missionary Baptist for 14 years.
His brother, David, enjoyed playing basketball while Steve worked at the local Buna newspaper,East Texas News.In addition to taking photos and writing stories for the paper, he also had a cartoon called"Leafy."
Steve's early musical development was in the church when his piano lessons began at the age of seven. He wasn't a particularly good student. He hated practicing his lessons and he couldn’t join a dance band since Baptists don’t dance. But he did love rocking out the little church on Sundays until his mother scolded him, "The church is not a rock group!"
On a full-ride scholarship to Jacksonville College near Tyler, he earned his AA degree in Music Education and was chosen for vocal leads in the school's gospel quartet, choir and mixed ensemble. He also wrote and sang with a gospel band
called "The Damascus Road" which released three albums.
Relocating to Dallas and moving on to lounge bookings and cabaret gigs, his music career was taking off while he was slowly coming to terms with his attraction to the same sex. Landing a job at a high class dinner theatre, he found his love of storytelling was a perfect match and began writing for the stage shows.
A cruise ship performance led him to meet his now life partner, Jim Brochu. A job offer for Jim from Hollywood brought the couple to Los Angeles. Steve dove head first into his first love of writing songs by first volunteering and then quickly becoming the managing director of the National Academy of Songwriters.
His job allowed him to lead workshops, seminars and fundraisers with some of the biggest names in entertainment, including Stevie Wonder, Bacharach and David. Whomever Schalchlin wanted to meet, he would just call and ask them to do a seminar.
With Steve’s guidance, the Academy grew and pulled itself out of debt, adding hundreds of hit songwriters to its membership. The year 1994 was bittersweet. Though hugely successful, Steve was diagnosed with HIV and his progression to full blown AIDS took about a year.
Given 12 months left to live, he began an online diary to keep his friends and family appraised of his failing health. Miraculously responding to a last treatment option, he found his ground-breaking "AIDS blog" had gained quite a following. Cited by Wikipedia, Steve is regarded as one of the first HIV/AIDS bloggers. Impressive, considering that very few people even had an email address back in 1996.
Regaining his strength, Schalchlin and his partner, Brochu, focused on their talents and composed"The Last Session."The musical production was critically acclaimed and was the first of many honors awarded to the couple for their cult smash off- Broadway hit. Unbeknownst to Steve, he had also created the first website for an off-Broadway show.
Citations of "Best L.A. Theatre Production," "Best Concert of a Musical," "Best Original Writing," "Best Lead Actor," "Best Musical Director," "Best Musical," and "Best Score" are just a few of the many accolades achieved by this dynamic duo for"The Last Session," "Zero Hour"and"The Big Voice: God or Merman?"
Opening Dec. 1 at Davies Symphony Hall by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is Schalchlin’s next production,"New World Waking!"featuring special guest Piper Laurie and special guest soloist Jennifer Holliday.
Today Schalchlin is alive and strong, but must strictly adhere to a regimen of pills to maintain his health.
Looking back on his East Texas memories, Steve warmly acknowledges the differences and similarities of days past. "I know people in Buna probably don’t understand, or may have difficulty with the fact that I’m gay, but I’ve always felt like people there are smart and compassionate."
He further elaborated, "In my time, no one had a lot of money, but they taught me
generosity of heart, and what it means to truly love your neighbor."
Steve still resides in Los Angeles and his parents now live in West Monroe, LA. Go to www.bonusroundblog.blogspot.com to view Schalchlin’s video footage of early 1990s Buna.
I keep meaning to bring up another little history lesson that came from watching the B&W games shows on the Game Show Network.
When you watch the beginning episodes, you can tell they're still proving themselves to sponors. But along about 1953, just before the panel finalized, the set suddenly got slicked up and transformed with its permanent new motif:
Splashed across the panel table is a huge white, round, tipped squeeze bottle with lines of simulated spray streaked across the words "Stopette."
Also, on the flip cards, the dollar amounts are now adorned with a squeeze bottle and action spray of "Stopette."
After seeing this week after week last year, Jim and I decided to do a little web search and see if we could find out anything about Stopette.
Hal Block, the increasingly irritating panelist on "What's My Line?" was fired last night after the show. Well, back in 1953.
The first player was a female minister from Georgia who came on wearing a mink. Hal made several comments about her good looks.
Then, he makes his big mistake. We can't see it because the cameras never pick it up, but as the next contestant is signing in, an older woman, you hear a bunch of laughter from the audience.
No reference is made, but what happened is that Hal Block chased the lady minister around the studio like the Marx Brothers. He was always making lewd comments to all the pretty girls, which might have been acceptable had he not been so creepy looking.
Supposedly, Gil Fates, the producer, took Hal to a bar, told him that they had decided not to pick up his option. He went through a long list of reasons, though it all had to do with the fact that he just didn't fit in with the other panelists. He was crude. They were classy.
When the history of "The Big Voice: God or Merman? is written, there will be one moment that will shine, for us, above all. And it happened this weekend. The weekend we met and then received a loving, gracious and rare (for him) plaudit from the one person on this planet we most dreamed would give us his blessings for our show: Bob Levitt, Ethel Merman's son.
We knew that Bob was a very shy man, rarely, if ever, interviewed -- and never one to run around seeking attention for himself. So when friends of his, who saw the show in New York, told him about us, we were put in contact and he said he'd like to see the show, but that he would come on his own, without fanfare. We wouldn't know he was out there when he did come and, frankly, weren't even sure IF he would come. Still, we had great hopes and he did say he really did want to come.
So, this past Saturday night, as we were standing in the lobby greeting the audience members, as we usually do, this one man was hang…