Monday, October 28, 2013

Worcester and The Waste Land

“You are the music while the music lasts.” – T.S. Eliot

Painting by Tim Gannon
The Waste Land, written by T.S. Eliot has been called the single most influential poetic work of the 20th century and is widely recognized as one of the first great American poems to utilize the rhythms of jazz. It was first published stateside by Scofield Thayer of Worcester.

In the 1920s, Thayer published The Dial, an art and literary magazine which featured works by such cutting edge writers as Hart Crane, Ezra Pound, and W.B. Yeats, and important artists like Gaston Lachaise, Charles Demuth, and Odilon Redon. 

The Waste Land was the lead item in the now famous issue of November 1922. With its modern themes, revolutionary techniques and sharp-eyed look at post-WWI realities, it was both hailed and ridiculed and as Michael North notes, comparisons of “this new poem to jazz became almost ritualistic.”

In his book, Inside the Great Divide: Literature and Popular Culture in the Birth Year of the Modern, North writes: “In his influential review, Edmund Wilson noted how the language of The Waste Land turned ‘suddenly and shockingly into the jazz of the music halls.’ John McClure called Eliot’s poem, ‘the agonizing outcry of a sensitive romanticist drowning in a sea of jazz.’ And Burton Rascoe, writing in the New York Herald Tribune, called Eliot the “poet laureate and elegist of the jazz age.”

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain. 
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

The relationship of Thayer and Eliot went back to their days at Milton Academy in Massachusetts. Thayer’s father, Edward D. Thayer, was a founder of the Crompton & Thayer Loom Company, and an early director of the Worcester Trust Company. Young Scofield, born in Worcester on December 12, 1889, was no stranger to literary achievement. His uncle, Ernest Thayer is the author of the classic poem, Casey at the Bat.

Thayer's passport
Thomas Sterns Eliot was born in St. LouisMissouri on September 26, 1888. Originally from New England, the Eliot family left the area in order to establish their own Unitarian Church. T.S. Eliot’s father, Henry Ware Eliot, was a successful businessman who presided over the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company in St. Louis

Thayer and Eliot crossed paths again at Harvard, where Tom (1909 and 1914) studied philosophy and Scofield (1913) majored in literature. In 1914 the aspiring young writers found themselves in 
England, where Thayer studied philosophy for two years at Magdalen CollegeOxford. That same year, Eliot was awarded a scholarship to Merton CollegeOxford.Thayer’s early involvement with The Dial dates to 1918. He is said to have purchased stock in the publication for the sum of $600. The following year, he and fellow Harvard alumnus, Dr. James Sibley Watson, Jr., became owners of The Dial. 

Watson was the magazine’s president, while Thayer was its sole editor. The first issue under their direction was published in January 1920 (January-June), and from the start it was trumpeted as an art and literary magazine with serious import, featuring literary works by Sherwood Anderson, Amy Lowell, and Carl Sandburg, as well as art pieces by Eyre De Lanux, E.E. Cummings, and Oswald Herzog.
Young Eliot
In their book, The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, editors Peter Brooker and Andrew Hacker noted that, “The influence which the Dial quickly acquired as a cultural arbiter and taste-maker allowed it to formally reconstitute modernism as a transatlantic project.”

Even before Eliot’s landmark The Waste Land was published, the young writer was contributing to the pages of The Dial. From 1921 to 1922, he was the London correspondent for the magazine. His dispatches included reviews of works by Stravinsky, Picasso and George Bernard Shaw.

The Waste Land was first published in the October 1922 issue of The Criterion, a London-based publication. In December of the same year, it was published in book form.  Its opening line, “April is the cruelest month,” is among the most recognizable in modern verse.

With its allusions to the Fisher King and The Holy Grail legends, The Waste Land utilizes a revolutionary, almost hallucinatory blend of voices, jumping between those of smarting satire and clear-eyed prophecy that shift in time and space. With its dark themes of disillusionment and despair, The Waste Land predicts the prevailing winds of change coming in 20th century.   

Eliot typing


The poem’s jump-cutting style is often associated with jazz. Ralph Ellison, the African-American writer whose 1952 novel Invisible Man won the National Book Award, cited The Waste Land for its seminal influence on his decision to become a writer.

In an interview in the Paris Review, Ellison said: “In 1935, I discovered Eliot’s The Waste Land, which moved and intrigued me but defied my powers of analysis -- such as they were -- and I wondered why I had never read anything of equal intensity and sensibility by an American Negro writer.”

At the time, Ellison was a student at Tuskegee and moonlighted as a jazz trumpeter. In the Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison, he wrote: “At Tuskegee I found myself reading The Waste Land and for the first time I was caught up in a piece of poetry which moved me but which I couldn’t reduce to a logical system. I didn’t quite know why it was working on me, but being close to the jazz experience – that is the culture of jazz – I had a sense that some of the same sensibility was being expressed in poetry.

“Now, the jazz musician, the jazz soloist, is anything if not eclectic. He knows his rhythms; he knows the tradition of his form, so to speak, and he can draw upon an endless pattern of sounds which he combines on the spur of the moment into meaningful musical experience, if he’s successful. I had a sense that all of these references of Eliot’s, all of this snatching of phrases from the German, French, Sanskrit, and so on, were attuned to that type of American cultural expressiveness which one got in jazz and which one still gets in good jazz.”

In its ad copy for first editions of The Waste Land, The Manhattan Rare Book Company states: "Assembled out of dramatic vignettes based on Eliot's London life, The Waste Land's extraordinary intensity stems from a sudden fusing of diverse materials into a rhythmic whole of great skill and daring.

“Though it would be forced into the mold of an academic set piece on the order of Milton's 'Lycidas,' The Waste Land was at first correctly perceived as a work of jazz-like syncopation--and, like 1920s jazz, essentially iconoclastic. A poem suffused with Eliot's horror of life, it was taken over by the postwar generation as a rallying cry for its sense of disillusionment.

“[Ezra] Pound, who helped pare and sharpen the poem when Eliot stopped in Paris on his way to and from Lausanne, praised it with a godparent's fervor. As important, Eliot's old friend Thayer, by then publisher of The Dial, decided even before he had seen the finished poem to make it the centerpiece of the magazine's attempt to establish American letters in the vanguard of modern culture.

“To secure The Waste Land for The Dial, Thayer arranged in 1922 to award Eliot the magazine's annual prize of two thousand dollars and to trumpet The Waste Land's importance with an essay commissioned from The Dial's already influential Edmund Wilson.”

It should be noted that the 1920s was commonly known as the Jazz Age, where people were almost expected to “live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse.” While many of the writers of the generation wrote about it, many women of the era lived it. Well documented by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, the women were shaking off the corsets of Victorian restraint.

The wives of Fitzgerald (Zelda), Eliot (Vivienne) and Thayer’s (Elaine) were all flappers, dancers who celebrated life, music and excess in the Jazz Age.

Historically speaking, Thayer and Eliot are often defined as important figures of the “Lost Generation.” Eliot, the more famous of the two, became one of the most important writers of the 20th century. He died in London in January 1965 of lung disease. 

Thayer suffered a worse fate. His biographer Alyse Gregory described him as, “Slender of build, swift of movement, always strikingly pale, with coal-black hair, black eyes veiled and flashing, and lips that curled like those of Lord Byron, he seemed to many the embodiment of the aesthete with over-refined tastes and sensibilities.” 
e.e. cummings

Thayer was also a troubled soul. His marriage to Elaine Orr in 1916 ended a year later after her affair with E.E. Cummings. By the mid-1920s, he began showing early signs of mental illness and became a patient of Sigmund Freud. By 1926, he was institutionalized for the rest of his life.

Operations of The Dial, under the direction of Watson and editorship of writer/poet Marianne Moore, continued until 1929. For years the Thayer collection was housed at the Worcester Art Museum, but at the time of his death it was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City. As legend has it, Thayer had originally intended to donate the entire collection to this city’s museum, but after a 1924 exhibition of the work at the WAM, he changed his mind. In his overview of The Dial Collection, Daniel Catton Rich documented the account: "Scofield Thayer had been born in Worcester and he undoubtedly felt pride that this collection, which he had thoughtfully chosen for the portfolio would be exhibited in his own city. If he was 'irritated slightly' when the Braque Nude (No.7) and a Picasso drawing were not hung (the administration fearing 'a conservative public might be prejudiced'), he was indignant when John J. Johansen, then in Worcester to paint a life-sized portrait of the president of Clark University, denounced The Dial in a local paper as 'an intellectual sewer.' This episode he made the theme of one of his most biting comments in a subsequent issue of the magazine."

Woman Carrying Fruit by Braque

The collection includes works by Alexander Archipenko, Pierre Bonnard, Constantin Brancusi, George Braque, Charles Burchfield, Marc Chagall, James Chapin, Charles Demuth, Arthur B. Davis, André Derain, Jacob Epstein, Duncan Grant, Herman Haller, Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent, Yosuko Kunyoshi, Gaston Lachaise, Marie Laurencin, Reinhold Lepsius, Wyndham Lewis, Reinhold Lepsius, Jacques Lipchitz, Aristide Maillol, Manolo, Franz Marc, Jean Marchand, John Marin, Henry McBride, Henri Matisse, Kenneth Hayes Miller, Marianne Moore, Edvard Munch, Elie Nadelman, Georgia O'Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Andé Denoyer de Segonzac, Charles Sheeler, Paul Signac, Maurice de Vlaminck, Edouard Vuillard, and William Zorach.

Standing Woman by Lachaise

Today, The Dial magazine is recognized by literati around the world for its importance in documenting the Jazz Age. Thayer’s papers are held at Yale University.

Scofield Thayer died in May of 1982 and is buried in Rural Cemetery109 Grove StreetWorcester.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: Also see:  Thank you.

Special thanks to Tom Reney for his editorial commentary. 

Look for the upcoming release of The Tortured Life of Scofield Thayer by James Dempsey. Former Worcester Telegram & Gazette columnist and current instructor at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Dempsey is also the author of The Court Poetry of Chaucer and Zakary’s Zombies. The new biography will be published by University Press of Florida on February 18, 2014. 


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Swinging Sheppard Brothers

By Chet Williamson

Harry Sheppard tells this great little story about how his brother Harvey used to wake him up in the middle of the night and carry him into downtown Worcester to hear some of the all-time great jazz artists jam. 

Harvey is Harry’s older brother. He’s 88. The kid’s just celebrated his 80th on April 1st -- No foolin’. Back in the late ’30s, early ’40s, Harvey had a studio on Front Street, overlooking the common.

“Quick story,” Harry says, speaking by phone from his home in Houston. “Bands would play at the Plymouth [Theatre on Main St., now the Palladium]. My brother would run his jam session after hours at the studio. Nobody was invited but musicians.

“My brother would come home and get me out of bed and in my jammies, he would take me down to the studio. I would sit and listen to these guys play. I was a little kid. My folks never knew that he took me out of bed. I enjoyed it so much.”

The wily veterans have an intercom phone and Harvey jumps in and says, “I rented it so we could woodshed. We used to get all the bands coming through. Gene Krupa's band. Will Bradley's band with Ray McKinley. The guys wanted to drink a little and just jam.”

The Sheppards were born in Worcester. Harvey in 1920. Harry’s date is 1928. They both started out on drums, but later switched to vibes. 

While Harry is better known, having played with among others, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, and Coleman Hawkins, Harvey has also remained active throughout his career performing in Europe as well as New England, Florida and Texas. His group, “The Tune Timers,” played the “Arthur Godfrey Show,” and also was the opening act at the Sands in Las Vegas for Louis Prima and Keely Smith for many years. He also opened for Jimmy Durante, Dean Martin, among others in Vegas.
Harry says he grew up in Worcester, Leominster and Leicester. “My first grade of school was in Leominster. Two years later we moved back to Worcester. I went to Chandler Street School. Then in the sixth grade we moved to Leicester.”

Harvey says, “I went to Classical. The Hurricane of '38 forced me to finish at North.”

While in Worcester, the Sheppards lived on the second of a three-decker on Dale Street, which is off Murray and Jacques Ave. “It was 23 Dale Street,” says Harvey. Teddy Lane [trumpeter] also lived in the neighborhood.

Harry recalls that there was music, “all over the street,” he says. “Don Fagerquist lived right across the street from us. We used to hear him practicing. We also had music in the family a very famous music publisher, Robbins Music Corporation. Jack Robbins was my mother’s brother.”

Harvey left Worcester in 1942. “We are only talking about 65 years ago,” he says, laughing. “I left to enlist in the Army.”

By the time Harry was of age, he too cut out of town, by joining the Navy. Before leaving however, both Sheppards were very active in town playing with many of the notable musicians of the day. “I was mostly playing commercial around Worcester,” Harvey says. “I worked with Jerry Goodwin, a good local band at the time. George Greece, a wonderful trumpet player and Jack Kaplan, a trombone player, were in that band.

“I worked with Dol Brissette -- ‘swing and sweat with Dol Brissette.’ I did a few things with Dol. I did the home show at the Auditorium. I worked at the Moors on Rte. 9 with Emil Haddad. He was a terrific jazz player.”

The brothers might be octogenarian percussionists, but neither one of them has missed a beat in the way of memory. “In those years I worked all the clubs,” Harvey says. “I started with the Lido on Pearl Street. It was an upscale supper club. I played there with Ned Cosmo.

“I was still a drummer then and Cosmo says, ‘Why don’t you get vibes?’ I said, ‘I don’t want vibes.’ He said, ‘If you don’t get vibes, I’m going to get a drummer that’s got them.’”

Harvey says he finally relented. “I went downtown to Carl’s [Seder] Music Store. I paid $250 for a set of Ludwig vibes. If I could find Ned Cosmo -- whether he is in heaven or hell -- I would send him a thank you note. Because if I was still playing drums, I would be home watching television and my brother would still be playing drums.

After high school, Harvey headed off to Boston. “I studied percussion at the New England Conservatory with George Lawrence Stone. I never got a degree. I took arranging, keyboard, solfeggio and percussion.”

From there, he spent a memorable summer in playing at the Cape. “I got a summer gig in West Falmouth at the Barclay Club,” he says. “I was there with a bass player Mary Francis Conlon. She went to Classical. Bernie Cormier on tenor saxophone and Al Mercury on drums.”

The gig was not far from Edwards Air Force Base, which eventually led Harvey into the military and out of town. “I was in regimental band,” he says. “We had guys from Vaughan Monroe’s band, Tommy Dorsey’s band and Ruby Newman's band. They called it the All-American Army Band."

Harry says like his older brother, he too, first played drums. “As a little kid he started me off. I guess I was around seven. The idea was as we grew up I could be the drummer in his band. He knew he was going to go for vibes.”

That never happened. “He went into the service for four years, got married and left,” Harry says. “I never did gig with my brother. When he was in the army I was still a kid. When he came back from the army he went onto bigger and better things. The years separated us.”

Before going into the Navy, Harry played in his own backyard of Leicester. “Our music director was a guy by the name of Ted Hopkins. I was maybe 15. I wasn’t supposed to be in these places. We played the Hillcrest Country Club.”

When he got out of the Navy, Harry went to Berklee College of Music. “My second semester I added a secondary instrument,” he says. “I figured if I pick a horn I’ll never get a sound in a semester. I could fiddle around with vibes, because they were always around the house. By my third lesson I said, ‘This is it! This is what I want to do.’ I practiced five hours a day for a year and a half and that was the end of the drums.”

Harry on vibes and Betty on bass
His first gigs on vibes were with Perry Conte. “Perry would say, ‘Bring them along. Play them at the end of a tune, a chord, something.’ They were very instrumental in inspiring me to learn,” Harry says. “Perry would book us with different bands. On a Saturday night he would have a bunch of bands. There was a lot of work. Sometimes he’d send me out with his brother Al Lopez, [Loconto]. If it wasn’t for that whole family I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do what I do. They really pushed me into it.”
Johnny Rines
Accordionist Johnny Mason and guitarist Johnny Rines were two musicians in particular that made an impression on Harry. “There were a lot of good accordion players around Worcester, but Johnny Mason was in a class all by himself. He played more like Count Basie. He would be like a whole sax section. Johnny Rines would be playing a solo and Mason would back him up like he was the whole Basie band. He had a big band sense. Nobody got a sound like that and he could do all the Art Van Damme stuff too. He had great facility. He was a wonderful swinger.”

He begins his thoughts on Rines by saying, “He was such a sweet guy. He could have worked with anybody in the country. He just wanted to do his thing. He was working with Emil Haddad. When I left and started to do stuff in New York, like the “Steve Allen Show.” Johnny grabbed me one day when I came back to Worcester to visit and said, “I’m so proud of you. You did it. You left Worcester.’ He was so proud that I went out to New York.

“Johnny Rines was one of the great jazz players. He could have played with anybody in the world. He was totally unsung. Nobody knew about him except in Worcester. You couldn’t really compare him to anybody. He was just so clean and so full of fire. There’s nothing he couldn’t play. He could really swing.”

Betty and Harry 

Before heading off to New York, Harry also had a group with his former wife. “Her maiden name was Betty Ann Miller. She went to Commerce High. She was a singer. She later took bass lessons in New York and became a very good jazz bass player. She now lives in Atlanta. Of course, we are divorced a thousand years now, but we are still friends. She remarried and never went back to music.”

See: -- Swinging Betty Sheppard 

Harry in the shades and Betty
Harry was active in New York throughout the 1950s. His long list of credits includes stints with Billie Holiday, Cozy Cole and Benny Goodman. His touring highlights include the world with Lana Cantrell, in Paris with Georgie Auld and Doc Severinson, South America with Benny Goodman. Harry has an extensive discography to his credit including more than a half dozen as a leader. He has also recorded with among others Chubby Jackson, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, and Ruby Braff.

Harry's publicity shot

These days Harry and Harvey are back together again like their early days on Dale Street. “Harvey’s living here on my property,” Harry says. ”He’s still playing. He does four or five retirement homes a week.”

Harvey's early pub shot 
Just before hanging up, the Sheppard brothers are asked if they know Moe Kaufman. Harvey laughs indicating he gets the joke. Harry takes it a step further by saying, “The flute player that wrote ‘Swinging Shepherd Blues.’ No, he didn’t write it for us. He would have spelled the name right.”

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at:  Also see:  Thank you.

This piece was originally written and published in 2008. 

Here's a clip of Harry with Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins --



Friday, October 4, 2013

Abbie on a Summer's Day

By Chet Williamson
Young Abbott Hoffman

In 1961, Worcester-born Abbie Hoffman, the man who gave us a “revolution for the hell of it,” opened an art house movie theater in town.

One of the first films on the schedule was Bert Stern’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day, an improvisational masterpiece that features Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Anita O’Day, Chico Hamilton (with Eric Dolphy), Sonny Stitt, Dinah Washington, Mahalia Jackson, and Chuck Berry, among others.

At the time, the future famous revolutionary was still known by the more formal name of Abbott Hoffman. He was married, with a son, and working by day as clinical psychologist at the Worcester State Hospital.

Biographers note that Hoffman had a life-long love affair of film. He was an unabashed fan of Charlie Chaplin in particular. Film critic Pauline Kael and her Cinema Guild was a model for his venture. He was also inspired by fellow Worcester State Hospital staff psychologist, Eli Strum, who according to Jack Hoffman (brother), “introduced the art film of European directors to Abbie.”

“In September 1961, Abbie talked a Lebanese friend of our father’s, a used car salesman named Duddie Massad, into letting Abbie open an art cinema house in an empty movie theater building he owned. Abbie convinced him that art films were going to be the wave of the future. And Duddie, who probably hadn’t ever seen an art film, went along.”

On October 3, 1961 Hoffman officially opened Park Arts in the old Park Art Theater, most recently known as the Webster Square Cinema building, at 24 Mill Street. It was basically a one-person operation and a first of its kind in Worcester. Like the Bijou, Cinema 320, and other recent art house movie theaters, Park Arts was ahead of its time.

Abbott Hoffman in front of Park Arts
According to biographer Marty Jezer, Hoffman “selected films, chose the music to play before and after each screening ('to create an atmosphere suitable for the film,' he told a local reporter), wrote and mailed a monthly schedule describing the forthcoming films, selected and sold art posters and books about movies in the lobby, and encouraged local artists to hang their works there. Much of his time was tracking down films he wanted to see.”

Hoffman’s brother Jack added, “For music, Abbie brought over his own phonograph and record collection. He used to work at the theater from 5:30 p.m. until midnight, going there directly from Worcester State. The wife of the projectionist used to bring him meatball and sausage sandwiches out of pity.”
Hoffman inside theater

In his book, For the Hell of It, writer Jonah Raskin said that Park Arts opened with two Ingmar Bergman classics: Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), a romantic comedy, and The Seventh Seal (1956), a dark and apocalyptic parable of modern life. Later, that same month he showed Bert Stern’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959), Akira Kurosawa’s The Seventh Samuri (1954), and The Crucible (1957), a French cinematic adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play about the seventeenth century Salem witch trials, which offered insights on contemporary victims of persecution. Abbie’s film selections certainly showed good taste.”

Jazz on a Summer’s Day had never been shown in Worcester and Hoffman deserves the credit of being the first to bring it to town. Internationally viewed as a classic, and an early “festival film,” it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008.

Marking the milestone, Alan Kurtz wrote this of its filmmaker: “Fielding five cameras simultaneously, some handheld and with telephoto lenses, and using the finest 35-mm Kodak fast positive-reversal color film, Stern captured brilliant images that, as he said, ‘just jumped off the screen.’”

Young Bert Stern with camera
“Usually jazz films are all black and white,” Stern himself later remarked, “kind of depressing and in little downstairs nightclubs. This brought jazz out into the sun. It was different.”

Kurtz also noted that the film employed high-fidelity audio, recorded on monaural analog tape by Columbia Records and synchronized with the film during post-production. “This roundabout and complicated process actually represented a huge advance over such prototypes as Jammin’ the Blues (1944), a smoky, 10-minute simulation of informal small group jazz.”

“My favorite memory of the Park Arts Theater was that about a month after it opened Abbie was playing a documentary about the Newport Jazz Festival, and from the projection room he noticed me dancing in the aisles to the blues singer Big Maybelle,” said younger brother Jack. Seeing how much I enjoyed the show, Abbie scheduled a repeat performance for the following Saturday night, and let me invite all my friends to come free.”

It is not known whether or not Hoffman attended the 1959 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival, at which Jazz on a Summer’s Day was filmed. However, it is documented that he was in attendance at the Newport Folk Festival during his time as a student at Brandeis University. It was also common knowledge that Hoffman was a huge fan of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and other “left-wing” folksingers of the day.

It should be noted here that a couple years after the Park Arts venture Hoffman founded the Prospect House, an inner-city social service agency that focused on advocacy for the poor. One of his associates was Betty Price, who would later become one of Worcester’s first black school committee member. Price was married to bassist Bunny Price, the son of noted trumpeter Barney Price. Together their group, the Soul Jazz Quartet, played many a benefit for the Prospect House.

Barney Price
Other than being a clinical psychologist at the Worcester State Hospital, the movie house gave Hoffman a kind of new identity -- something alternative to the “square-world,” to use the parlance of the day. “Abbie was searching for a new way to be himself,” brother Jack said, “testing a new persona as if he didn’t have moment to lose. Listen to him being interviewed by the Worcester Telegram in an article that appeared in October 1961, soon after the Park Arts opened, sounding off with all the unblemished intellectual enthusiasm of a young Truffaut: ‘In a way I may be idealistic, but I believe there’s entertainment in a thought-provoking adult theme … . To me, a Hollywood production which is geared to the emotions of a mass audience, and which inevitably ends happily, is obscene. Such a production is obscene because it isn’t real.”

Hoffman was interviewed a few times during his ownership of Park Arts. Marty Jezer notes that as much as he would later profess to be a “man of the people,” Hoffman had a kind of “elitist, college-boy’s sense of bringing culture to the locals in this endeavor.” Others say it more bluntly. In 1961, when it came to art films, Abbott Hoffman, was in fact too much of a snob to sell popcorn. He was determined to attract a serious clientele to his theater.

“The crackling of the popcorn makes concentration difficult,’ Hoffman once told a Telegram reporter. “I may be idealistic,” the future revolutionary said, “but I believe there’s entertainment in a thought provoking adult theme.”

Brother Jack says that “within weeks it became clear that the Park Arts wasn’t going to be a profitable venture. And I remember Duddie trying to pressure Abbie into having a popcorn stand on the premises so that he might at least have a chance to recoup some of his lost investment. And Abbie refused, saying that people had to be able to think while they watched these films and that people eating popcorn in theater would make too much noise.”

Boyhood friend Ron Siff, who would later promote major concerts, usually of the bluegrass persuasion at venues such as Mechanics Hall recalled, “Abbie had two people sometimes in his theater and I was both of them.

Ron Siff

"I’ll never forget one night I was alone in the theater, watching The Magnificent Seven. And it was snowing outside and at the time there was a trampoline place next door to the theater. I wasn’t aware of this. And Abbie said, ‘Watch this,’ and he opened up the side door of the theater, walked down to the end of the aisle that was facing the side door, and he started to run like crazy out the door, jumps into the air and into a snowdrift about ten feet, and I’m sitting inside with my eyes wide open…. But he was very discouraged with the theater, the fact that nobody turned out for it.”

Unfortunately, Hoffman’s enthusiasm for art films was not shared in the more “working class” tastes of Worcester. After seven months of struggle, Park Arts closed its doors. Hoffman would later claim it was at a loss of ten thousand dollars to Duddie Massad.

A year later, now separated from his wife and child, Abbie continued to pursue a career in the world of film. He moved to New York City and secured work managing the newly opened Baronet-Coronet Theater on Third Avenue.

Hoffman didn’t stay long in the Big Apple. Homesick, he reconciled with his wife and returned to Worcester. The rest, as they say, is his story. 

Yippie, Abbie Hoffman

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at:  Also see:  Thank you.