Fred was my friend.  I first met Fred about five years ago.  I was holding auditioning for a play I was about to direct.  The play was titled “The Time of Your Life,” a Pulitzer Prize winning play written in 1939 by William Saroyan.  Fred showed up at the audition. 

Fred and his wife Marcia had moved to the area only a week or two earlier.  Fred saw the audition notice in the paper and decided that since he was retired he had more time to act, so he came to the audition. Fred and Marcia had moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Fred had done a lot of theatre at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, in fact he and Marcia meet there during a production of “Amadeus.”  He dearly loved that theatre and was proud of the photos he took for them, but I’m getting ahead of myself.Fred, Kathy Wohlfeld & Paco Francesco

Fred was a good actor and I love nothing better than working with good actors.  He auditioned well and I considered him for two roles, an indecisive cop unsure whether to remain a cop or to quit his chosen profession, and the other a saloon keeper. I cast him as Nick, the owner of Nick's Pacific Street Saloon, Restaurant and Entertainment Palace in San Francisco, the decrepit saloon on the Embarcadero where the play is set.

I didn’t realize at the time, but Fred had spent a good part of his life running restaurants and saloons in Chicago and Spain.  He was perfect for the role and brought to it an honest reality, but that was Fred, honest and real.  His work was clean and simple, he was a good listener, the mark of a good actor.

Now, I was born in a small town outside of Chicago so we had something in common.  Fred mentioned one evening that he was a photographer and offered to shoot the press and production photos for the play, mentioned he’d done that in Grand Rapids.  I thought that was a good idea. One of the photos is of cast member Paco Francesco seated in a chair, a pool of light surrounding him, playing his harmonica.  It wasn’t a staged shot.  Fred happened to have his camera with him one night at rehearsal and during a break Paco was just sitting there in this chair on the stage practicing the harmonica piece he had to play in the scene we were about to rehearse.  Fred came to me and said in a low voice, “You see the light there on Paco?” Fred's photo of Paco Francesco

I said, “Yeah.”

He said, “We got time to see if I can get a shot of it?”

I said, “We’ll make time, shoot it.” And he did.  I love that photograph, have it on my office wall. 

Fred was a fine photographer, had a very good eye.  I’ve taken pictures for a lot of years, but he taught me a great deal about photography.  Fred continued to shoot photos for the theatre so the next several years until his health interfered would not allow it.  At that point I took over and still use some of the tips he taught me. I think Fred was good at just about anything he chose to do because if he didn’t love it, he didn’t waste his time with it.  I liked that about Fred.

Fred was great to work with as an actor.  He didn’t have time for ego or insecure games actors often fall victim to, naw, Fred was old school, sorta like Spencer Tracy, “Show up on time, know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.”  Fred was a real pro and he delivered a specific, detailed and delicious performance. He was an absolute pleasure to work with.  Fred, Paco, Otto Stockmeirer & Nick Miscusi in The Time of Your Life

One night I remember we were rehearsing a scene where Fred’s character was to deliver a drink to customers at a table. Now the scene was about the conversation between the two people seated at the table, Fred was just to deliver the drinks and say his line and walk away.  He did that, but I knew there was more going on in the scene and I took Fred aside and told him that it was okay to it us know just what he thought of this conversation.

Fred tipped his head back, squinted at me, then looked at the floor and said, “Yeah, alright.”  I think he was surprised that I saw what he was thinking and not showing us and he seemed surprised that a director was actually telling him he it was alright to do more.

We did the scene again and Fred paused and tossed this subtle look over his shoulder that spoke louder than if he had stopped and spoken a two minute monologue. Precise, small moments are gold for an actor.  The phrase, ‘less is more’ is crucial to any actor and Fred understood it completely.  I believe this was the moment where Fred and I gained deep mutual respect for each other, but of course we never talked about it, didn’t have to. 

Fred was a self-confessed, lovable curmudgeon.   He either liked you or he didn’t and let you know it; another of the many things I liked about Fred. He was the real thing, there wasn’t a phony bone in his body, he didn’t go in for playing games, he didn’t have time for it; you have to respect that.

Fred told great stories and I love a good story teller.  Often we met for breakfast at a local diner.  Fred was a very good cook and enjoyed fine food, but he savored the lack of pretention at the diner. He never ate, just coffee, he got up at O’Dark-thirty and had eaten hours ago. I’d have eggs and we’d talk photography, Photoshop and theatre too.  Sometimes he would bring in his work for me to see. He knew about my love of the west and one morning he brought in photos he’d shot of cowboy re-enactors a few years ago out in Tombstone.  They were beautiful portraits, captured the raw edge of the cowboy.  Once in a while Fred would tell me a story.

In the 1970’s Fred lived in Spain.  I have never been to Spain, but years ago I knew two sisters who were nieces of famed Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca.  Laura and Isabel piqued my interest painting delicious images of Spain. So I savored Fred’s stories.

Fred lived in Almaria, Spain and ran the Buffalo Saloon there. Fred’s sense of humor spilled over onto his menu, which included a touch of America, Perrolitos Caliente; hot dogs. Whenever Fred spoke of Spain or Almaria his eyes sparkled. He loved that place. Many of the spaghetti westerns and part of Lawrence of Arabia were shot just outside Almaria.  The film people, the crew and actors frequented Fred’s place.  Fred wasn’t much impressed with fame and they liked that, they could just be regular folks at Fred’s place.

When Fred first arrived in Spain he didn’t have much money so he took a job working for a photo studio that specialized in children’s portraits.  He would go to a family’s home and shoot portraits of one or more of the children.  He would return a week or ten days later with the proofs.  Now, Fred quickly learned early on that most people would only want to buy one photo of their child, but if they only purchased one photo, Fred didn’t make any money on the job.  So he came up with a way alter the situation.

Fred would show up at the family home with the package of proofs in hand, usually 12 to 15 photos.  Each photo was a little bit larger than a baseball card. “Now the important thing was to always remember to have at least one ball point pen with you,” Fred tells me. Fred would sit down with the parents and tell them he would show them the photos one at a time and they could choose as many as they liked. 


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