from my sketchbook: savannah

Shannon Wilsey on the Starry Stairs

Despite a stint on the high school cheerleading squad, Shannon Wilsey was not happy. Her parents divorced when she was only two and she was shipped off from her Texas home to live with her grandparents in southern California.

While still in high school, the willowy blond began dating rock star Gregg Allman, who was 23 years her senior. She toured with Allman and his band for several years. Soon, Shannon joined Vivid Entertainment and entered the world of adult films. In a career that spanned a mere four years, Shannon starred in over one hundred pornographic movies. She used the single stage name “Savannah,” taking the moniker from the 1992 film Savannah Smiles, a personal childhood favorite.

After Allman, Shannon was involved with a long line of rockers including Billy Idol, bassist Billy Sheehan, Slash and Vince Neil. She also had relationships with actor Marc Wahlberg and comedian Pauly Shore, as well as an on-again, off-again relationship with with fellow porn actress Jeanna Fine.

On July 11, 1994, Shannon crashed her Corvette on her way to her Los Angeles apartment. She sustained a number of serious facial lacerations and a broken nose, but managed to get back to her Hollywood home on her own. She called her manager Nancy Pera. Pera arrived at Shannon’s home a short time later and discovered Shannon on the floor of the garage. Convinced that her disfiguring injuries had ruined her career, Shannon had shot herself. An ambulance rushed her to a nearby hospital. When it was determined that she would not survive the injuries from the accident and the gunshot, her father made the decision to remove life support. Shannon was 23 years old.

Texas indie rockers Okkervil River paid tribute to Shannon with their songs “Savannah Smiles” and “Shannon Wilsey on the Starry Stairs.”

IF: theatre

Shelley: Also known as Shirley

I think on-stage nudity is disgusting, shameful and damaging to all things American. But if I were 22 with a great body, it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic and a progressive religious experience.

When 22-year old Shelley Winters made her motion picture debut in What a Woman!, she was just one of many Hollywood “blonde bombshells.”

Shelley Winters? A bombshell? The whiny grandmother who courageously gave her life so a handful of her fellow Poseidon passengers could live? Sure, she was endearing and memorable, but a bombshell?

The campy guest villain “Ma Parker” on two episodes of Batman? A bombshell?

The frumpy “Nana Mary” on several episodes of the sitcom Roseanne? A bombshell?

Despite being introduced as nothing more than a piece of eye candy, Shelley shook off superficial roles for meatier, more substantial ones. Critics and audiences alike sat up and took notice of her turn in as the hapless mistress in the Ronald Colman thriller A Double Life. That led to her Oscar-nominated role in A Place in the Sun.

Shelly’s acting talent earned her two Academy Awards and a subsequent nomination for her supporting role in the aforementioned The Poseidon Adventure.

But in her early days, she was quite a looker.

Shelley passed away in 2006 at age 85. Her illustrious career spanned seven decades.

from my sketchbook: keith wayne

Well... the television said that's the right thing to do.

In 1967, a 28 year-old aspiring  film maker named George Romero wrote the screenplay to what would be his first film, Night of the Living Dead. He gained technical experience working as a cameraman/producer for a local Pittsburgh television station where he created segments for the children’s show MisterRogers’ Neighborhood. Romero and his collaborator John Russo pitched the idea — a ragtag group of people fending off an onslaught of reanimated flesh-eating corpses — to a small  Pittsburgh-based industrial film company. Their minimal crew of ten each kicked in $600 to get production started. They eventually needed to raise more funds as the shoot progressed.  Romero rounded up a troupe of actors with scant experience. (Despite having no acting experience, Karl Hardman, president of the film company, and his wife were given roles.) He filmed in black & white under bare-bones conditions with homemade special effects, including chocolate syrup for blood and roasted ham supplied by a friend’s butcher shop as a stand-in for human flesh. In the end, the film came in at a budget of just over $110, 000. It grossed $12 million domestically.

Ronald Keith Hartman, an ambitious young actor from the Pittsburgh area, landed the part of “Tom” in Romero’s film. He and his girlfriend (played by pretty, but talentless, Judith Ridley — real life girlfriend of the film’s producer/co-star Russell Steiner, who played “Johnny”) were part of the group under siege by the undead. Using the screen name “Keith Wayne,” he made the most of the role, hoping it would lead to bigger and better. As a back-up plan, Keith sang in a local band, Keith Wayne and the Unyted Brass Works. His band appeared often on local programming on Pittsburgh television.

Unfortunately, Night of the Living Dead was Keith’s one and only film credit. Unable to further his acting career, he started another band, Ronnie and the Jestors, that proved successful. But in 1980, he abandoned show business entirely and became a chiropractor, setting up his practice in Cary, North Carolina. Now known as Dr. R. Keith Hartman, he also wrote a regular column for a weightlifting magazine.

Keith, however, fought a hidden battle with depression for years. In 1995, after submitting his final paper — “How to Find Chiropractic Help for Bursitis and Tendinitis, Sternum Noises, Knee and Neck Care” — for publication, Keith committed suicide. He was 50 years old.

IF: puppet

put your hand inside the puppet head

Wayland Flowers began making puppets by hand. A shy child, he was able to express himself through his puppets. One in particular, a loudmouth, crass “old broad” named Madame was his favorite. He patterned the character after a restaurant hostess famous for her outrageous eye shadow and her extremely colorful language.

He landed his first professional job in a play called Kumquats, in which his creation took the persona of a foul-mouthed Mother Goose. When the play closed, Wayland traveled around the gay bars in New York City, telling jokes with Madame for drinks and tips. He decided to move to Hollywood to see how far this show biz life could take him.

Wayland and Madame made their television debut on the Andy Williams variety show, telling a toned down version of the brash routine he delivered in New York. Soon he was booked in Las Vegas showrooms and made numerous appearances on talk shows, movies, even doing his own Showtime special Madame in Manhattan. Wayland holds the distinction of answering the last question on the game show Hollywood Squares in its final incarnation with Peter Marshall as host. (Wayland had taken over the coveted “center square” after the late Paul Lynde.)

In 1983, Wayland and Madame starred in a syndicated sitcom called Madame’s Place. The show costarred Johnny Haymer (Sgt. Zale on M*A*S*H) as Madame’s butler, Susan Tolsky (Biddie on Here Come the Brides) as her secretary and Judy Landers (an excuse to get men to watch the show) as Madame’s niece. A young Corey Feldman appeared as Madame’s neighbor. The premise of the series was a behind-the-scenes look at a television talk show that Madame hosted. The series was canceled after one season. Wayland was never seen on camera. Almost immediately, Wayland joined the musical showcase series Solid Gold and stayed for four years.

Over the years, Wayland developed a heavy cocaine habit. It was reported that an incoherent Wayland was carried on and off the Solid Gold set on many occasions. His drug habit worsened and, to make things even worse, he was diagnosed with HIV. In 1988, Wayland collapsed on stage during a performance in Lake Tahoe. He died a few months later at the age of  48.

Ten years after Wayland’s death another puppeteer took the Madame character back to the stage. In October 2014, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to finance a comeback tour for Madame. The goal of $50,000 was met with less than ten percent. The Madame puppet is currently on display at The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta.