Remembering Jac Alder

A photo I took of Jac as the Arts District went online.

I’ve known Jac Alder for many years, but not nearly as many — not by a long shot — as he has been an arts leader in Dallas. In fact, he has led Theatre 3 for longer than I have been alive … and I’m not a kid. So yeah, maybe for a decade or so I was privileged to say, “Hi, Jac,” or even set up a photo shoot with him or get an exclusive or two in a private conversation, but if you wanna know someone who knew Jac Alder best, well, hell — it wasn’t me.

In many ways, I bet it was Terry Dobson, who was the music director at T3 for nearly 35 years and worked closely with Jac. Sadly, Terry died of sepsis just a few weeks ago … just as Jac checked into the hospital in respiratory distress. Jac’s condition was serious, but he seemed to be improving last I heard. So when word spread last night that Alder had passed away at age 80 … well, it’s a lot to digest in a short period of time.

Jac was widely acknowledged as the longest-serving artistic director of any arts organization in the U.S., which he cofounded (with his late wife Norma Young) in 1961; notably, Jac died just after the final show of the company’s 54th season concluded — Jac knew how to make a timely exit.

That’s because he did it all — not only as a producer and artistic director, but also as an actor (I saw him several time trod the boards, and he was brilliant each time), an entrepreneur (he turned himself in a puppet to give the curtain speech at Avenue Q), a director and occasionally as a designer. He could be prickly, but also droll; fiercely opinionated but also flexible; charming (the first time I met him he told me, “I’ve heard many excellent things about you … but I won’t say from whom”) and defiant. As a critic, I would sometimes write negative reviews of shows he produced, and I could usually tell when he disagreed with me, but never was he rude. He was the gentleman of Dallas theater.

He was savvy, as well, in helping Theatre 3 grow. When it had a reputation for doing “safe” work, he took some risks and put on plays with nudity (Metamorphoses, The Wild Party, The Full Monty), interspersed with Agatha Christie thrillers and song-filled revues. The mission statement of Theatre 3 says it took its name from the interplay between author, actor and audience; Jac really tried to embody that in every production. No one cared more about theater that Jac.

Few cared more about his fellow man, as well. Jac nurtured the young careers of such folks as Morgan Fairchild and Doug Wright; he was well-known to employ theater professionals who needed work so that they could keep their health insurance; he was supportive of AIDS causes and a long-standing friend of the gay community. Theatre 3 embraced its Uptown neighbors.

So, I didn’t know Jac as well as many other people. But I knew him well enough: Through his largesse, his artistry, his commitment. He wasn’t a tall man; but he was a giant.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Former House Speaker Jim Wright of Fort Worth has died

Speaker_Jim_Wright_of_TexasFormer Speaker of the House Jim Wright, a Democrat from Fort Worth, died today (Wednesday, May 6). He was 92.

A former member of the Texas House and Weatherford mayor, he was later elected to Congress, having defeated an eight year incumbent. The Democrat rose in the ranks of House leadership, ultimately serving as House Speaker from 1987 to 1989 before resigning over a scandal.

He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last year he shouldn’t have retired.

Wright was perhaps most well-known for drafting the Wright Amendment, which restricted air travel to and from Love Field. It was repealed in 2014.

But he also knew how to bring home the pork. In a nod to Wright, President John F. Kennedy once called “Fort Worth the best represented city” in the country.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price told CBS 11 Wright was a leader who never forgot Texas or his district.

“He was there when Kennedy was shot. He was good friends with John Kennedy and John Connally and really witnessed an incredible amount of history,” she said.  “But he always kept Texas in his heart.”

He is survived by his wife, Betty, and four children.

—  James Russell

Openly lesbian ’60s singer/songwriter Lesley Gore has died

Lesley Gore

Lesley Gore now (top) and then

Singer-songwriter Lesley Gore — who topped the charts in 1963 with her epic song of teenage angst, “It’s My Party,” and followed it up with the hits “Judy’s Turn to Cry” and “You Don’t Own Me” — died Monday, Feb. 16, at the age of 68.

Gore died of cancer at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, according to her partner of 33 years, jewelry designer Lois Sasson.

Gore was still in high school when she was discovered by Quincy Jones and hit it big with “It’s My Party.” And although she was perhaps best known for her hit songs in the ’60s, her career spanned decades. She and her brother were nominated for an Academy Award for “Out Here On My Own,” a song they wrote for the 1980 movie Fame. In 2005, she released Ever Since, her first album of new material since 1976. The album received widespread critical acclaim and songs from it were used in several TV shows and movies.

Beginning in 2004, Gore began hosting the show In The Life, a PBS series on LGBT issues. In 2005, she came out publicly as a lesbian. She and Sasson had already been a couple for 23 years at the time. In 2010, Gore sang with The Women’s Chorus of Dallas. She told Dallas Voice at the time, “”My life has always been backwards from everyone else’s. If you told me at 16 that I’d be saying this at 63, I’d have said you’re crazy. There’s always a flurry of what people find titillating.”

Gore played Catwoman’s sidekick in the 1960s TV show Batman, and in the 1990s, she appeared on Broadway in Smokey Joe’s Cafe. She was working on a stage version of her life when she died.

—  Tammye Nash

Dallas actor Nye Cooper has died

stage-1UPDATE: Funeral arrangements announced; click or see below.

Nye Cooper — for many years, a talented actor who stepped away from the spotlight several years ago after his health deteriorated — passed away last night from complications following a long illness. He was 41.

A Louisiana native, Cooper —  the fourth recipient of Dallas Voice’s Actor of the Year honors — had been in Hospice care in North Texas since last week, surrounded by his family.

“I’m devastated,” said Angela Wilson, a playwright, actress and director who worked with Cooper many times over the years, upon learning the news. “Over these past years, Nye would sometimes call me and say ‘I need a pretend mom right now — will you be my mom right now?’ He would be scared and sad because of his illness, but he loved his own mother so much that he didn’t want to bother her with his fears.”

Cooper grew up in DeQuincy, La., and graduated from McNeese State University in Lake Charles. After graduation, he performed in the long-running outdoor musical Texas in Palo Duro County. In the mid-1990s, he moved to Dallas, and quickly became known for his dry humor and acting talents.

As well known for his scathing wit in person as for his gifts onstage, Cooper was an early adopter of Facebook, and for years offering withering observations. Dallas Voice approached him about doing a story on his hilarious posts, but he demurred, and soon withdrew from Facebook altogether.

“He never drew attention to himself,” said Sue Loncar, a local actress and producer who was one of Cooper’s closest friends. “I was always convinced with his razor sharp humor he could have made it big, but he had no desire for such things.”

He stopped performing as well, though his friends in the theater will long recall his legacy.

“Nye did shows with Jeff [Rane] and me when we were both actors — before we formed Uptown Players,” says Craig Lynch, who co-produced Sordid Lives with Cooper during the company’s inaugural season. One of his co-stars was Wilson.

“The first time I saw him was when we were both auditioning for Sordid Lives — he was so gorgeous and so talented,” she said. She was so impressed, she cast Cooper to portray John Wilkes Booth in her play Perchance. Later, Wilson rewrote her play The Ladies Room, renaming it Dim All the Lights, with Cooper in mind. It was one of his singular achievements. “Nye’s friends and family came to see him and cried because the material was so close to home — a young man dying too soon, who still believed in falling in love.”

Cooper will long be remembered for performing the role of Crumpet in David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries at several theaters across North Texas, including WaterTower and Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. He was nominated for a Leon Rabin Award for his performance.

“His range, both dramatic and comic, was beyond anything I had seen in Dallas,” Wilson said. “His humanity and professionalism and devastating sense of humor gave me joy.”

Services are pending. We will advice when we learn anything. Until then, please post your reflections, memories and thoughts about Nye.

UPDATE: Funeral arrangement have been set for Nye Cooper, who died earlier this week after a prolonged illness.

Services will take place at Celebration Worship Center, 3231 Highway 27 South in Sulphur, La., on Friday, Feb. 13 at 10 a.m. Memorials in Nye’s honor can be made to the church or to the American Cancer Society.

Sue Loncar, one of Nye’s longtime friends and founder of the Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, will hold a memorial locally for his friends later this month. The details for that service will be decided on Monday. 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Remembering Brandon James Singleton

Brandon James Singleton

Brandon James Singleton

NOTE: Newly announced memorial arrangements listed at bottom (revised).

Over the years, I’ve worked with dozens of writers and freelancers. The best ones, you remember. And it was easy to remember Brandon Singleton.

Brandon and I were already Facebook friends when he messaged me in the summer of 2012. He was soon to turn 30, he told me, and wanted to write a series for our InstanTea blog: A kind of bucket list of things he wanted to accomplish before this milestone had passed. We worked out the style of the series together, picked a name — Tex’n the City, as he was a native of the Metroplex but living then in Los Angeles — and about every week for 13 weeks, we ran one of Brandon’s stories online.

They were marvelous. Brandon was introspective but not afraid to be upfront about his failings and superficialities. The series was as much an exploration for him working out his own preconceptions as it was a recitation of desires. He discovered, as we all eventually do, that what we think we want isn’t always what we need.

The series culminated with Brandon actually turning 30, on Dec. 15, 2012, and reflecting on what that meant. The series was full of promise and hope and honesty and good writing. I always wanted Brandon to write more for me, but he was busy and we never found the time. The last installment ran on Dec. 28, 2012.

Then yesterday, I learned that over the weekend Brandon died in Los Angeles. That’s all the information I have at this moment. He would have been 32 in just a few weeks.

I have to say, I find it almost painful to read Tex’n the City now: He speculates about turning 40 one day, and what his new set of hopes are. Knowing those will never happen is a lot to comprehend and cope with. But I do read them — and I want you to as well; I’ll put up a link at the bottom — because they also demonstrate what a sad loss the passing of this young, funny, smart, ambitious and friendly man is to all of us.

Brandon’s family is in the process of having his body transported back to Dallas for burial. They have told me they will share the details when they have been finalized, so that I can pass it along here. But until that day, let us all reflect not only on our own lives and dreams, but those on a fine young career-oriented man who had so many friends, and how he raised up those who knew him, and left a legacy that’s too brief but also too valuable to forget.

Here’s a link to one of Brandon’s last posts; there are hypertext links throughout so you can start at the beginning and read them all. Take your time. Savor them. And think of Brandon.

Wake: Golden Gate Funeral Home, 5701 Loop 820 South, Fort Worth. Dec. 5 from 7:15–8:15 p.m.

Funeral: Golden Gate Funeral Home, 5701 Loop 820 South, Fort Worth. Dec. 6 from 1–3 p.m.

Flower arrangements may be sent to the home.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Memorial set for man found in Turtle Creek

Screen shot 2014-11-10 at 3.16.11 PM

Robert Letbetter

An obituary was posted and memorial service planned for the man found dead in Turtle Creek on Nov. 3.

While cause of death was not listed for Robert Letbetter, the obituary notes, “Although his struggles were long and difficult, his death came unexpectedly.” Dallas police only said they were waiting for toxicology test results before listing cause of death.

More than 50 pictures are posted along with the obituary.

The memorial service will be held on Nov. 14 in Conroe, where he was born.

 

—  David Taffet

Jeff Kinman memorial set

The memorial service for Jeff Kinman — the actor, singer and voice teacher who died last week after a long illness — has been set by his partner, Adam C. Wright. The event will take place on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 11 a.m. at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., where Kinman last appeared in Uptown Players’ Broadway Our Way fundraiser last spring.

Anyone with questions or needing directions can contact Beth Albright at Broadwayelmo@gmail.com.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Former Dallas Drag Racer Sahara Davenport reported dead

The Twitterverse is abuzz with reports that Sahara Davenport, the dancer and female impersonator who was a favorite on Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, has died.

Reports are non-specific; one blogger, in a piece calling the reports “erroneous,” offered as his sole “proof” that is sounded like a hoax to him — and that Sahara’s death was not reported on her Wikipedia page (a crowd source site anyone can edit — yeah, strong evidence). Another commenter noted that now her death is on the Wiki page, so it must be true.

So far, though, despite hard facts, it appears to be true. Jujubee, a fellow Drag Racer, posted an “RIP” notice on her own Facebook page late last night, and, in response to questions of “what happened” said merely, “It’s not important what happened. Just send prayers.” Avoidance of the cause of death, of course, only fuels suspicions of a hoax, although it is not uncommon not to announce a cause of death immediately, especially if the reason was something considered “shameful” (suicide, a drug overdose), though at this point there is no evidence of that.

Jujubee isn’t the only colleague of Sahara’s to note the passing; the official RuPaul Facebook page also offers condolences for her passing. (Oddly, there is no mention of it yet on any official Logo channel websites.) It has also not been refuted on the many offers of sadness of Sahara’s own page and that of her partner, fellow contestant Manila Luzon. Within the past few minutes, People magazine online and the gay blog Towleroad have also reported the death.

When we know more, we’ll report it.

On a personal note, Sahara and I were friendly. She got her start in Dallas, and she would often message me when she was coming to town; I also interviewed her on a few occasions (most recently here). It’s very sad in any event.

Davenport was born Antoine Ashley. He was 27.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The Economist’s Obituary of David Kato

The Britsh news magazine, The Economist, devotes an obituary page each week to a significant person. This week, David Kato was featured:

In Mr Kato’s mind there were only two ways to deal with being gay in Uganda. The first was to hide, to seek the dark. This was how he had first encountered the gay scene in Kampala in the late 1990s, after hearing rumours of a night party in some gardens outside the city and deciding he had to gatecrash. The party hosts, suspicious of his eagerness, gave him the wrong address; they did not want him to find this secret, illegal gathering among the trees. When he gave interviews to Western media it was often in dark alleys or deserted bars, face shadowy and close to the camera, or on some red-dirt road out of town, while he kept nervously walking.

The second way of being gay, however, was to be out and proud. This was what he preferred, despite the risks. In 1998, just back from a few years of teaching in South Africa—where he had seen apartheid fall, and the old anti-sodomy laws with it, and had decided at last to admit his homosexuality—he held a televised press conference to start the push for gay rights in his own country. The police beat him up afterwards, the first of several beatings (he would show the scars on his head, where bottles had been broken on him), and arrested him, the first of three arrests. Not deterred, in 2004 he co-founded Sexual Minorities Uganda to campaign against the anti-homosexuality bill and general prejudice. He was the group’s litigation officer, partly because he knew his way round the mazes of the law, but mostly because he was loud, impatient, demanding, angry (too much so, when the beer got to him), and didn’t care that his face was now “Gay Uganda” for the tabloids. . . .

Police assumed that when Mr Kato was bludgeoned to death with a hammer, on the afternoon of January 26th, he was just another victim in a series [of attacks in a rough part of town]. Gay groups blamed the tabloids for incitement. Neighbours, hanging about, noticed with surprise that his blood on the walls looked much the same as theirs.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  David Taffet

Yet another gay teen suicide?

Alec Henriksen

Another teen who may have been gay has taken his own life — and this time he was from Utah, where a Mormon apostle just a few days ago called same-sex attraction “unnatural” and “impure” and said it can be changed.

We’ve long been saying on this blog that those in positions of power who spew homophobia have the blood of gay teen suicide victims on their hands — and we can only hope the reality of this will finally take hold in the mainstream.

PrideInUtah.com reports that 18-year-old Alec Henriksen, a Utah native who was a student at Earlham College in Indiana, was found dead on Sept. 30:

Alec Henriksen was a brilliant young computer programmer. And while suicide is always a terrible idea, I want to use his death as a call-to-action for anyone who cares for these young people. Please, help them. Love them for who they are. Put them in touch with the Trevor Project if possible.

PrideInUtah.com adds that the website from which it obtained the information about Henriksen’s suicide — and presumably about his sexual orientation — has since been taken down.

However, Instant Tea found this statement on the Earlham College website confirming Henriksen’s death. The statement says his body was found on property belonging to Earlham Cemetery, and that no foul play is suspected. We also found Henriksen’s obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune.

If it turns out that Henriksen was not gay, our point remains. And if he was gay but someone is trying to cover it up, it would be typical of how Mormon culture deals with gay teen suicide — which is a big problem in Utah.

If Henriksen was gay, his death would bring to at least six the number of gay teen suicides that have been reported nationwide in recent weeks. Of course, it’s safe to say the real number is considerably higher.

—  John Wright