Today in My History
2001:A Broken Heart Still Beats
2002: Eyes on the Prize
2003: Oh What a Beautiful Morning
2004: Love is in the Air
2005: All Sorts of Memory Lanes
2006: Health, Food, Sleep, Videos
2007: Is a Puzzlement
2008: Moon Madness
IN MY OPINION
The Winters Tale
Books Read in 2009
Recipes for Cousins Day Drinks
VIDEO OF THE DAY / WEEK / WHATEVER
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By the time we arrived in Davis in 1973, Cap'n Mitch was an established local television celebrity for the younger set. Mitch Agruss hosted a show on Channel 40 where he talked to the kids in a nice calm voice, much like Mister Rogers, and he introduced cartoons. I don't actually remember what else he did. But our kids watched the show for years.
In December 2007, I was invited to review a play called Starry Messenger, which starred Agruss as Galileo, revisiting the earth 400 years after his death. I had no idea Agruss lived in Davis, or that the then 84-year old was even still alive. I hoped to do a feature article on him, but time got away from me and that never happened.
Now Agruss is doing Treasure of the Sierra Madre at Sacramento's California Stage, and I was contacted by its producer, Ray Tatar, who asked if I'd like to do a story on this production. It was the perfect excuse to finally interview Agruss. All I knew of him was that he'd hosted the local kids' TV program.
I started doing research on him (there is precious little to be had) and learned that he was a trained Shakespearean actor, who had appeared with the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Alfred Drake and Nina Foche at a Shakespeare festival. I learned he had done a couple of U.S. Steel Hour productions and I realized that there was more to this guy than simply a cartoon host.
I remembered how frail he'd seemed during Starry Messenger and I wondered how the interview would go. I figured it would either be terrific or it would be a bomb. Fortunately, when you interview theatre folk, things rarely bomb.
Agruss lives in a retired persons complex, ironically the one where two of the women from my writing group live. His immaculately kept apartment is tiny, but the walls are lined with memories of his past -- an autographed portrait of Moss Hart, copies of programs from all the productions he's been in, a big painting of himself as Cap'n Mitch, many photos of him in theatrical productions, and a floor to ceiling poster from the American Shakespeare Festival, for which he worked for three years with all the big names.
It was a lot like sitting and talking with Steve's partner, Jimmy, who seems to have known just about everybody in Hollywood and on Broadway. Once we got into the interview, the stories just came rolling out. He loved talking about all the good memories of his days in theatre on the East Coast and I loved hearing about them.
There was his experience with both Bella Lugosi and Boris Karloff. He would drive Karloff from the theatre to his hotel after his performance in Peter Pan and Lugosi performed at a summer theatre where the stage hands (of whom Agruss was one) decided to wear wooden crosses around their necks to protect them from "Dracula." ("Lugosi didn't have much of a sense of humor," he remembered) At that theatre, they had to go into the basement to shut off a waterfall each night so the sound of it didn't interfere with the play. The area was filled with bats and cobwebs and some of the crew were afraid to go down there alone when "Dracula" was upstairs.
Then there was the loving cup, inscribed to Agruss from Katharine Hepburn. He remembers being in her apartment once when the maid came in and whispered "Ms. Hepburn--Spence is on the phone." He also remembers Hepburn teaching his 3-4 year old son how to shoot a gun in a shooting gallery in a train station when they were snowed in for several hours while on tour.
He remembers being in the army with Jack Klugman's brother, who asked Agruss for suggestions of what his brother should do if he wanted to be an actor. Agruss suggested he attend Carnegie School of Dramatic Art...and the rest is history. He said that several times when Klugman, in later life, would be on a talk show he would mention how "this guy Agruss" got him involved in theatre.
At some point during the interview, he talked about his feeling, when he left home for the first time and took off for college and entered the world of theatre for the first time. He likened it to Dorothy leaving the monochrome world of Kansas and entering the mulit-colored world of Oz.
It is evident from talking with this delightful man that he has had a glorious ride and enjoyed every minute of it!
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Mitch Agruss (Cap'n Mitch)
MILES TO NOWHERE: 96.5 miles