The Triumphant Return

Author’s Note:

I had always thought I would write about one of the most extraordinary experiences of my entire life at some point, but just never got around to it. Last month’s Trail Talk, My Brush With Fame, was what I now recognize as barely half of the story. Luckily I had kept a journal of that amazing adventure, and was able to fill in most of the details from my sometimes hastily scribbled notes. So here is Part Two.

Our embarkation point had been the western South Dakota town of Rapid City, on Aug. 29, 1970. We had spent the summer as part of the acting company of the nearby Black Hills Playhouse, auditioning for the USO Tour troupe, rehearsing, getting our shots and passports, and building “portable sets” that would fit into standard military trunks. 1970 was the 25th anniversary of the oldest continuously operating summer theatre in the country (last year was the 75th). The occasion was marked by numerous special performances throughout the summer, including our show, “Call Me Madam” and the revue. As I recall we also performed at several events around the Hills, including the Central States Fair. But through it all we were still members of the regular company, and as such we worked crews and performed in a full slate of scheduled shows as well.

Our scheduled return was to be October 5. But we wound up returning not to Rapid City, and two weeks earlier (Sept 21 to La Guardia) where we binged on four days of Broadway plays of our choice. Our fearless leader had set aside 50% of our daily meal allowance throughout the tour so we could take advantage of this opportunity. In the end, we returned to Sioux Falls, which was the closest airport to the University of South Dakota, and where many of us were headed anyway, on September 25.

But before all this, we still had many shows to do, command performances at various Officers’ and Service Clubs, radio interviews, and of course, THE WEDDING. This was an entirely spontaneous event conjoining two members who had met for the first time at the beginning of the summer. Personally, I don’t remember much about it, because the night before, following our final performance of the tour, we were walking to the Mess Hall along an unlit path for our customary midnight breakfast, when I stepped off the surface and somehow managed to break my left foot clean across the instep from side to side. There ensued much hand-wringing and decision-making to drag, push and pull me to the infirmary, where I was confronted by a very angry, not too sober M.D. (who I learned later had been pulled out of an “important” bowling tournament to tend to me.) He hastily slapped a cast on my foot after manhandling my foot into the shape it has had ever since, but still managed to ask me - in a stellar example of tactlessness - if my foot had always been deformed. The answer was no (but I had had polio as a child, not to mention the current - unwelcome - realignment).

He sent me away without any pain killers, and by morning the pain and swelling had risen to heroic proportions because of all the broken blood vessels, torn muscles and tendons, and I don’t know what-all. They removed the too-tight cast and fitted me with a new one, and by that time it was time for the wedding - so, as I said, I don’t remember much about it.

So now it was off to the Great White Way and cramming as many matinees, evening performances, shopping and museum hopping as we could into our remaining time. I must say that with the help of a rented wheel chair, I was able to fully participate, and even scored significantly better theatre seats or free museum admission in some cases.