Speech Charles Nolte Memorial Celebration

Delivered at Rarig Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota April 26, 2010

I came to the U of M because my ancestors settled in Minnesota and I like cold weather.  I also heard they had a pretty good theater program that I figured would help me be the best high school drama teacher ever.

The reason I stayed at the U of M was Dr. Nolte.

I took his Intro to Theater class where I found it difficult to focus.  His looks were very distracting.

Then out of the blue he asked me to attend a play with him.  I was confused, baffled and intrigued. No undergrad prof has ever asked me to coffee, let alone meet for an evening.

When I arrived at Theater in the Round I joined Dr. Nolte and 3 other students.  Aaaahhh. The classroom has extended hours.

From that evening on I knew I had been chosen, invited, to join a very special club. That night my world began to expand.

Dr. Nolte directed me in three plays during grad school. Most people remember that his friend Tennessee Williams came to see our production of  A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE . But what I remember most, was an evening of rehearsal. My Dad has recently died, I was absolutely exhausted, and my mind wasn’t in the room.  Dr. Nolte came over to me and said “If you could be anywhere but here, where would you be?” “Doing laundry.” I said.   “Go, do your laundry.”  I actually burst into tears as I was so grateful and so touched and so relieved.

Dr. Nolte sat on my board. He subtlety paved the way for me to wrap up my studies a bit early so I could accept a generous contract at Meadow Brook Theater.  I worried about being 6 hours short and he found Dr. Leyasmeyer to do a Pass/Fail independent study with me.

He encouraged me to accept a part in THE GOOD SOLDIER SCHWIEK with the Minnesota Opera Company even though my dance professor said if I dropped his course I could not return.  I needed that course to graduate.  Dr. Nolte said he’d handle it. And he did.

Off to Meadow Brook I went. It took three years and many more plays under his direction  before I could finally call him by his first name.  Leaving behind the Dr Nolte was a very hard habit to break.  But Charles was always a contemporary, no mater what the age difference.

During my six years at Meadow Brook, our friendship took root and grew.  So many wonderful evenings of trailer talk and laughter. I especially remember the probing conversations about What could be done with his hair?  We solved that riddle temporarily when I presented him with my hand made Newsboy hat, so fashionable in the 70s.

I did seven plays with Charles.  He was the kind of director who made you feel like you had all the answers already in you.  That he was there just to coax them out.  He celebrated every idea, enjoyed every moment, supported every choice.  There was always excitement and energy in the rehearsal hall when Charles was directing.

Charles continued to expand my world by including me in so many adventures.  He showed me the Amalfi Coast in Italy where I saw my first bougainvillea.  We hunted for Edgar Allan Poe’s tombstone in a cemetery in Baltimore. We sat at an outside café in Rome surrounded by the cats of the Colosseum.  In Berlin, it was the Pergammon Museum and the best drag show I’ve ever seen.

He came to my wedding, wearing a violet bow tie, a nod to our 1950s Sweetheart Dance reception. We joined him in DC for the opening of his VALENTINO at the Kennedy Center.

In remembering  Charles I realized that the majority of my closest friends today, including my husband, Tom, are people I met because of him. He was most generous in sharing his friends and turning those friends into family.

I last saw Charles just 2 months before he was diagnosed.  Tom and I came for a winter visit.  Charles told me to bring my Oscar screeners as he had allot of movie going to catch up on.  We got through 14 flicks in 5 days!  Tearing them apart artistically and indulgently. He was also busy in talks with Bill Siemens about his EXIT STRATEGY.  I admired that he got back on the boards in his 80s’s.  Would someone want me for a play when I’m in my 80s?  Charles has set the bar very high in so many ways.

Being  “chosen” by Charles to be in his group changed my life forever.  And although there are many of us, I think we each feel that we are his closest one, his special one, the one he valued the most.  Charles made us, made me, feel that way.  He always appreciated and celebrated the individual. He was fully engaged in life. He didn’t criticize or nudge, he led by example.

Although his gifts were many and unending, his greatest gift to me was Terry.  In giving me Terry he doubled his gift of compassion, loyalty, wisdom, knowledge, support, joie de vivre, adventure, humor, sophistication and love.

Charles has been a part of my life for 40 years.  I have been molded and remolded by his love. I am to a large extent, part of his work, his legacy.  And I will always strive to honor his name.

To finish I would like to read something which you may well have heard, derived from a sermon of Canon Henry Scott Holland delivered in St Paul’s (London) on 15 May 1910 when the body of King Edward VII was lying in state at Westminster.

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.Everything remains as it was.
The old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that, we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no sorrow in your tone.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting, when we meet again.

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Ed Owens on June 4, 2010
Cousin Marianne: I met you at the Long Island Keaney reunion in the '90s. I love to point you out to people as my "cousin" when you show up on the screen. Just last week I was watching Zeke and Luther with my three grandaughters here in Farmington, CT and there you were! Hope things are going well with you.
Liz Jamieson (neighbor of Charles & Terry) on May 13, 2010
I so enjoyed reading your contribution at the celebration for Charles. And, I've enjoyed reading your blog, and just looking at your website. It was a delight to talk to you across the lawn in Minneapolis.
Letter to Mom, Mother's Day

Excerpt used in MOTHER'S DAY TRIBUTE by Jo Nelson performed at the Lyric Theater. LA,  May 8, 2010

Dear Mom,

Your words to my old friend Rick, that you  ”Didn’t raise any of your daughters to push coffee cups around a table for some man” reminded me at age 27 of your other adage “a woman can always get married.”

Never feeling any pressure to tie the knot was one of your many gifts to me. So when I walked down the aisle at age 39, I knew deeply, that it was my choice and Tom was my perfect match.

Then your greatest gift, became my life line. We never imagined Tom would become disabled just 18 months after our wedding.

“Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief.”  You’d say over and over. “If He cares about the sparrow, he cares about you.” “He may not be there when you want Him, but He’s always on time.”  These became my mantras.

Through every new doctor, every new treatment, every new drug, every dead end ...from cane, to crutches, to chair, to bed...I prayed, I believed, because you gave me the gift of faith.

Even in your own mental health abyss, you endured, you believed.

I know it is your prayers, your whispering my intentions in His ear, that has brought us out of years of suffering. Now Tom is engaged in life more fully, despite his debilitating chronic pain.  I know it is all that sanctifying grace you keep pouring down on us.
Today, May 7, 2010, we celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary.

Thanks, Mom, for everything but especially for your gifts.  I love and miss you. I’ll write again from London.

Marianne
 

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National Day of Prayer Speech

Giiven at the Friendly Friendship Baptist Church on May 6, 2010

I grew up in a Catholic family, attended a parochial school, a Catholic high school and a Catholic University.  In that environment my faith was nurtured, supported, discussed.  Expressing Christian ethics and morals was commonplace and expected.  I never gave that “freedom” a second thought.

Eventually that cocoon evaporated and I entered the secular world.  This new “real world” was for me, the Entertainment Industry.  Here my faith, beliefs, practices and point of view was challenged, like never before.

The first “challenge” to my faith came when I was doing resident theater in Michigan, just north of Detroit.  An actor complained that the director was setting the Sunday rehearsal schedule based on my having to go to Mass.  He said it was ridiculous that my schedule should take precedence over the entire cast. Fortunately the Actor’s Equity Association union rules provide for the actor’s right to attend religious services.  There was no discussion.  But you can be sure I felt the resentment and tension from the cast for the next seven weeks.  My going to Church meant they had to come to work 2 hours later and stay two hours longer.  I had effectively “taken” their day away from them because of my beliefs, my faith.

I also had to take a stand just a year earlier when I was doing my last year of graduate studies at the University of Minnesota.  It wasn’t a very visible stand, but God saw it.

My roommate and I lived in a rooming house in St. Paul.  We were there because rent was $100 between us.  We were dead broke and definitely on our own.  Another girl in the house was “Sally”, sweet, 19 years old, and a stripper.  She too was broke and looking for ways to cut corners.  Sally knew I sewed as she’d heard the hum of my machine in the wee hours.  One day she asked me if I’d start making her “G” strings and pasties.  She’d pay me $25 a set, saving herself another 25 as they cost her $50 commercially.  I knew the cost to me was about $1.00 in materials and 30 minutes on the machine.  But I turned down the offer.  How could I contribute to the degradation of the human spirit?

That same year my Dad died, just 8 months after he’d driven me up to my new life in Minnesota.  A few years later, my first boyfriend,  committed suicide.  I swathed myself in prayer and faith. I let it be my comfort and support instead of thrashing against the reality of life.

I believe nurturing your faith is the single most important thing you can do in your life.  When you live in the secular world this takes a great deal more effort than living in a Christian world. As a single woman living in New York City, then Los Angeles I could count on my one hand the number of friends I had who were Catholic, or for that matter, Christian, and none of those 5, were close friends.  I belonged to a Catholic Church where there was no outreach for singles so I had to generate my own spiritual growth. I went on retreats to places I’d never been and with people I’d never see again. I joined  a corporate women’s prayer group that was also a 90- minute drive each week. All the women were in management and I was an actor but we were all their about prayer and growing spiritually. I attended lectures & seminars, joined professional Catholic Entertainment Fellowship, immersed myself in volunteerism and made frequent calls to my spiritual advisor, a  Jesuit priest in New York City.

I believe that my paying attention to my spiritual life is what has made my life so fulfilling and joyful.  It is also what has made it relatively easy to deal with life’s sorrows and sufferings.

I remember when I first hit LA the summer of 1981.  I was 33 years old, excited, scared and very, very eager.  After a few good parts, right off the bat, I hit a slump.  I was beginning to feel uncertain, worried, doing market research to make ends meet. Bingo-- I was offered a Voice Over job for a German film.  Great money, one days work, using only my voice.  Then I saw the script...it was a Porno Film.  I would supply the moans and pants, never have my name attached to the project, never see my face, make $3500 for 4 hours work.  It wasn’t even tempting. It's so clear that when your relationship to God centers your values, you don't even have to ponder the question when the question is obviously leading to a non virtuous act.

But would I have been tempted if I hadn’t been working on my inner life? It is so easy to become distracted from what is truly important, especially when you are young.  There is so much to learn and experience, so much to see and do that it’s easy to let your conscience lay dormant.  But a dormant conscience is what leads to true tragedy and regret.

Make prayer the cornerstone of your life.  If you have trouble remembering to pray, make your only prayer that you Remember to pray.  That’s what I did.  Then I attached prayer to the many things I already do by habit...brush my teeth, bring in the groceries, wait on line, boot up my computer, turn on the radio while driving, working out, etc.  I just pray before or during all these activities.  Prayer has become the constant in my life, the bedrock, the safety net.  And with prayer comes security.  You will always have the strength and understanding to deal with life’s hurdles.  You will also be able to truly enjoy life’s rewards without fear of it fleeting or questioning your own deservedness.

Before closing I want to give you one last example of the power of prayer and faith in my life. For 10 years my three prayers were (1) that I get a TV series, (2) that I lose weight, and (3) that I meet the right man. At age 36 ½ I changed.  All I wanted was to meet the right man. I started a prayer and faith marathon that involved reading, conversations, getting in better physical shape, prayer groups, private prayer, asking each friend and family member to make MY prayer petition their spiritual priority AND I started a novena, an pre Vatican II Catholic practice and a favorite tradition of my parents...I promised to pray for 30 minutes inside  a Catholic Church the first Friday of every month for 9 months.  Besides My petition I would also pray for an increase in vocations.

The day after that First Friday of the novena I met Tom Norris.  He is everything I wanted in a spouse and life partner.  A person of deep religious conviction, high intelligence and integrity, wit, loyalty and kindness. The bonus is that he is fabulously good looking.

We married 16 months later.  A year and a half into our wedded bliss, Tom began to develop hip pain.  Over the following year his pain exacerbated, making it impossible for him to continue his work as a Lt. Col. in the Air Force.  Eventually he was confined to bed and diagnosed with chronic pain due to having been over radiated for testicular cancer years earlier.

We have lived with this ever worsening pain for more than twenty years.  I won’t detail the horrors of this journey but suffice to say that  faith and prayer are the reasons we are more in love today that the day we married.

When you choose your spouse you see them in heroic terms, strong, gallant, steadfast. I have had the extraordinary privilege of actually seeing my husband put to a heroic test. Life has dealt him, and us, a terrible blow, but our faith has made meeting the challenge possible.  In your darkest hours, God will always comfort you, giving you the strength and courage to carry on.  And he will also give you joy and happiness in the midst of an unending struggle.

Thank you for listening.
 

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