No, Oz never did give nothing to the
Tinman….that he didn’t, didn’t already
have…" America, "Tinman."
There are meetings we have in life
that become more definitive as time goes on, and there’s
one of those that I still think about quite a lot. It’s
sort of a "celebrity run in" which on the surface
might seem trite. But the fact that I remember it so vividly
says to me that it was more than that.
That I’ve always been interested
in celebrity culture probably plays a part in this. A product
of the 70’s TV generation, it was a time when our
celebrities were still bigger than life and still veiled
with some sense of mystery. There was no tabloid TV, very
little tabloid print—it was basically People magazine
from about 1974 and that was it.
As I got older and got into making
commercials, I got to work with more and more actor types,
many of whom I grew up watching and appreciating. (More
on that in another essay). As the years went on, many of
these people become friends, which gave me yet another,
more intimate view of celebrity culture.
But way back in 1974 at the age of
12, I had an experience with an actor that became for, the
gold standard of all meetings.
For many of us, "The Wizard of
Oz" is a seminal film. It helped define good vs. bad,
reality vs. fantasy and even black and white filmmaking
vs. color. But I think more than anything, it presented
us with a series of characters that I believe we all ended
up choosing from. Between Dorothy, The Scarecrow, The Tinman
and The Lion, most of us (in my circle anyway) felt a stronger
kinship with one of those characters more than the others;
some common bond, some relative trace of being.
For me, it was The Tinman. Not sure
why, but he was (and always will be) my favorite.
In 1974, the Broadway production of
"The Wiz" starring Stephanie Mills (and the magnificent,
late, great Tiger Haynes as the Tinman was in the midst
of a huge run. (About 10 years later, Tiger would become
a good pal of mine—one of the greatest people I’ve
ever known.) We went to a Wednesday matinee of the show,
my mom, my two sisters and I. After the performance, we
went to Sardis for an early dinner. (Sardis remains a classic
Broadway landmark. If you’re ever in NY and you’ve
never been, go. And check out sardis.com.)
As we were starting to eat, my mom
(who has an uncanny gift for recognizing people) mentioned
quietly that at a table nearby, the Tinman was sitting.
Jack Haley himself. Taught as we were to not bother people
in public, I was told that no, I could not rush over to
Mr. Haley and bombard him with attention. But as I negotiated
the finer points of a possible compromise with my mom, my
younger sister wandered over to the table. Next, I saw her
engaged in what looked like friendly conversation with Mr.
Haley and his female companion (who ended up being the pretty
actress Penny Singleton from all of those old "Blondie"
movies.) So I ditched the negotiation process and headed
over myself. By the time my mom came over to gather us and
apologize, Mr. Haley had already been as gracious as he
could be. He jotted down his home address on a piece of
paper, gave it to me and said, "You write and ask me
whatever you’d like—I’ll be sure to answer
Who, despite lacking the aluminum makeup
and oil can hat, still had the twinkling Tinman eyes and
So I go home that night and compose
the mother of all fan letters. I wanted to know everything—how
they shot the movie, where they shot the movie why they
shot the movie—where the munchkins came from, how
the effects were created, etc. I had the Tinman’s
home address after all. And he said it was okay to write
Weeks went by and one day when my mom
was picking us up at school, she had an oversized manila
envelope that had come in the mail. Return address: Beverly
I opened it carefully. In it were several
production stills from The Wizard of Oz, all signed individually
to my sisters and I. But more important to me, was a two-page,
single-spaced typed letter to me from Mr. Haley, answering
in great, pleasant detail every question I’d asked
of him (and then some.)
He closed by saying we could visit
him if we were ever in California and ended with the religiously-based
sign off, "In His name, Jack Haley."
I cannot see the Wizard of Oz and not
think of that experience. (It’s a fond family memory
for all of us.) I always think of the strange odds that
bring you face to face occasionally with those you admire,
and then leave you with a treasured moment.
Who’s you favorite character
from the Wizard of Oz? I’d be interested in hearing