Friday, December 9, 2022

A Night at the Opera and Singing Along with Mitch

Many of my blogs relate my experiences to current newsworthy happenings. Today’s entry is different. It focuses on the experience of someone I worked with for nearly 20 years. 


John Donoghue was a bear of a man. Irish in demeanor and character. In other words, lots of blarney and grand storytelling. Almost always with a smile on his cherubic, fleshy face, except when he contemplated where exactly he had left the keys to his rental car (usually on the roof of the sedan), or exactly how to get the wax out of his ears (usually with one of the keys retrieved from the top of the car).  


John sold advertising for Chain Store Age so successfully that he became its national sales manager and then the regional manager of the parent company’s Los Angeles office. His family relocated to Agoura Hills, a suburb of LA.  


This reverie about John was prompted by an article in the Thursday Arts section of The New York Times. Joshua  Barone provided a first person account of what it was like as a non singing extra during a performance at the Metropolitan Opera. Specifically, being an Egyptian soldier in Act II’s Triumphal Scene of “Aida” (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/07/arts/music/met-opera-aida-actors.html?smid=em-share).


During his early adult years in New York, John engaged his larger than life persona with stints as an extra at the Met. Until he served as an extra for Aida. 


Unlike many current performances of Aida, back then the Triumphal Scene was filled not just with human extras but also with creatures, some exotic, including camels. 


Standing stage right (that’s the left side viewed by the audience), John stood in full Egyptian soldier attire, his hand holding a spear. He was silent as instructed until a camel stepped on his foot. Excruciating pain sent him scurrying across the stage. 


His devotion to opera notwithstanding, his cross-stage jaunt made him persona non grata for any future stints as an extra at the Met. 



OK, Now a Story About Me: Bob McGrath died this week. 


If you ever watched “Sesame Street” before 2016 you would recognize his face. He was Bob, “reliably smiling, easygoing and polite” in the neighborhood since the inception of Sesame Street in November 1969 (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/04/arts/television/bob-mcgrath-dead.html?smid=em-share).


My exposure to Bob McGrath predates Sesame Street. It goes back to his time as a lead singer on “Sing Along with Mitch,” a favorite television show of my father and brother.


I, on the other hand, preferred “The Untouchables.” Problem was, both shows aired at the same time. In those pre-VCR/DVR days, with only one TV set in our household, fights were bound to break out. 


“Sing Along with Mitch” aired on NBC between 1961 and 1964. “The Untouchables” ran on ABC from 1959 to 1963. 


One particular week I was not to be denied. I screamed and yelled and cried. I made enough noise to drown out any hopes Bernie and our father had to enjoy the gang singing along with Mitch. 


Of course, by the time they finally gave in, Eliot Ness was already deep into his crime-fighting episode. Mobster Frank Nitti could have already been arrested, or better yet, machine gunned, by the time I was able to switch the TV to Channel 7.


Our confrontations lasted through “The Untouchables’” last season in 1963. After that, for the next year we all watched the bouncing ball above the words on the screen, singing along with Mitch and Bob. 

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