Jef Valentine is a shape-shifting performance artist who plies his trade mainly in the Bay Area and environs. Jef recently spent a lunch hour or so with Bay Area Critics Circle member, and writer for TalkinBroadway.com, RICHARD CONNEMA:
Bucket List Item #3...Have lunch with RICHARD CONNEMA
by Jef Valentine
Like most Bay Area theatre folk, I'm quite fond of Richard Connema. He's a charming guy you're likely to see at any opening night and you can read his opinion afterwards in his online column for Talkin' Broadway.
For years I've enjoyed his company mostly in 10 minute increments in theatre lobbies all over town. I've gathered a few of his stories, but knew they were the tip of a very interesting iceburg and have always wanted a good sit down with him. Today (1/22) we had lunch at the Presidio Social Club and talked about a lot more than showbiz. His childhood in Ohio, where his father operated a hotel. During the depression it stayed afloat as an underground gambling joint frequented by John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd, who rubbed his head for luck.
(Seriously.) He remembers Hitler rising to power during his boyhood. He was drafted during WW2 and wound up General MacArthur's personal photographer in the Phillipines. A career in Hollywood followed as a still photographer during the Golden age of movies. His first job? Orson Welles' "Macbeth". He also photographed "A Streetcar Named Desire". Vivien Leigh was grouchy. Brando was friendly. They had a few dates. But those stories are classified.
He came to San Francisco when it was still nicknamed North Hollywood, to work on the "Dirty Harry" movies. For the last umpteen years we've enjoyed his smiling face in the crowd as a critic and cheerleader for the arts. He lost his partner Eddy two years ago and the theatre community wrapped it's collective arms around him, as we always will.
Thank you Richard for all you've contributed to the scene with your column and your avid support. Thank you for describing my performance of Frank-n-Furter as BALMY. (Grab a dictionary, I had to.) I was ready to beg him to write a book documenting the queer culture he's seen and the Hollywood movie lore. Turns out he's writing it NOW! How lucky we are. I can't wait! I remember the time I corrected Shane Ray on what year Lauren Bacall appeared in "Applause" (1970) He looked at me amused and declared that one day I would be Richard Connema.
Richard and Jeff
If that means that at age 90 I will be attending theatre 5 nights a week, up on the latest technology (he texts!) and a wise old owl who shares performing arts stories worth remembering, I'm perfectly fine with that.
Pics by Larry O
taken at Richards 90 Birthday
Celebrated at SF PLAYHOUSE