Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lois Kibbee - Actress and Writer

I personally do not believe in reincarnation.  The numbers, odds, are far too great that I come back as anything animal, vegetable or mineral.

But sometimes I have to think about it and when I do, the following memory always pops into my mental view.

I made a brief acquaintance with a famous TV actress, the late Lois Kibbee.  TV actress, I say, and or long term soap opera star on the Edge of Night as character Geraldine Whitney Saxon.  I use the word actress instead of actor as is so common these days in the lexicon.  And I made the effort on one or two occasions to watch that soap to see her as a screen actress.  Didn’t know who she was when I first met her.

Ms. Kibbee was a friend of a distant relative that introduced me to her back then in the 80s after I first came to NYC. Lois was also a writer and had very kindly read one of my plays and commented. She had also been a producer over her long career in the theatre of off Broadway type plays as well as being the igniting and maintaining spark of community theatre companies over the years.  

She didn’t like my play, thought it was too vulgar.  I may have been ahead of the curve on America’s taste back then but she was kind in pointing out its strengths and weaknesses.  It still is in the drawer waiting for a third rewrite.  She did use that old cliché a lot about how “there is no such thing as write.  It is all rewrite.” 

One of her books, as a ghost writer, was The Autobiography of Christine Jorgensen.  It is June and LGBT pride month, so I thought I might mention that.  Story is that Lois never got paid for a book that became a perennial bestseller over the years in the paperback category.  Oh well.  Formal contracts are sometimes better than handshakes.

Of course she was the daughter of and niece of very famous, prolific character actors, Milton and Guy Kibbee, from the heyday of Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s.  She had a long family history of show people on her mother’s side, the Wilsons, as well.  All and all something of a royal theatrical blood line ran through her veins and psyche. She had that kind of presence.

Subject I started out with is reincarnation.  Well here is the strange thing.  I was in her Manhattan apartment once and its walls were covered with famous people’s photos, autographed by living movie stars and writers in her day as well as classical prints and signatures of people long dead like Charles Dickens and Edwin Booth, cannot remember the others etc.  The apartment had a dramatic ambiance like a stage setting. 

Lois, in her private life, had a theatrical image of herself in the form of the famous character Harlequin.  There were various prints and images of Harlequin on the wall.  Apparently there is an old theatrical style of performance called Commedia dell’ arte, comedy of the (acting) class.  It is a standard look at life through a handful of characters common to everyone’s life.  Three standard characters of this improvised acting style are Harlequin, Columbine and a clown.  In a way the cliché of Hollywood film making – boy meets girl – boy loses girl – boy fights to win girl back – is a centuries old scenario found in traveling theatres, operas, stage dramas, movies, TV etc.

A variation of the Harlequinade style has puppets such as Punch and Judy going through the standard Harlequin Columbine farce.   The intermediate clown acts as protagonist.

Well anyway, in Lois’s apartment was this ambiance, atmosphere that I somehow reacted to, being in love with the autographs of Dickens and others.  It was as if there was a genuine energy connection from those mostly dead personalities by their pictures and signatures on the walls.  I do have a vivid imagination.

Lois also was an opera buff.  One other piece of historic paraphernalia she had on the wall of the her living room was a rather large piece of gold damask curtain, framed and behind glass, from the old New York Metropolitan Opera House torn down in 1967.

Over the years, I have come to know many opera buffs and I have to say the majority of the ones I have met have said that they believed in reincarnation.  Some believe that opera is a staged version of life, in its many aspects, and more tragic than comedic.  That life, no matter how many times you live, the content of the play rarely changes.  Whatever.

So a question ran into my head when I first saw this artifact from the old Met.  I just popped it out without thinking. 

“Do you believe in reincarnation Lois?”

To which she replied simply “I don’t disbelieve in it.”

Good answer. 

End of story.