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The Tinman

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 you myself."

The Tinman.

Who, despite lacking the aluminum makeup and oil can hat, still had the twinkling Tinman eyes and kind smile.

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 him.

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 Hills, CA.

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 your take.

 

 
 
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