Sunday, December 24, 2017

Farewell, Teach! The Passing of Mike Goggans!

     I knew I was going to be a theatrical producer after college. My whole theatrical career was a matter of waiting for the stars to align. My first attempt at wasting time and money for a funny, funny show was a revue called Once Upon Vaudeville. I conceived the show, found the right theater, called in favors and then it all came down to the casting. After all the previous legwork, how hard could that be?
     As I whittled the script into some working shape ( a series of old vaudeville routines and stolen Warner Bros cartoon sketches), I would try them out on my downstairs neighbor extraordinaire Benton Jennings. We added more silliness, pasted on nonsensical diatribes and threw out things that didn't make us laugh the 20th time we re-read them. The process.
     Benton was a very accomplished stage actor (now film and television star) when I was cutting teeth. He sidelined as a Cowboy (stuntman) at Six Flags doing Cowboy shoot em up shows throughout the day. Benton worked with a group who would all become lifelong friends. Two in particular, Chris Whatley and Mike Goggans decided to take the show on the road and become their own act, The Gunfighters. They performed at corporate functions in addition to rodeos, shopping mall openings, fairs and stockyards. After years of working together, their sketches and routines were funny and tight.
     I decided to scoop Mike Goggans out of the Gunfighters (on break) to perform with Benton, myself and a zany crew of young current and post college talent in the Vaudeville show. I knew Goggans through contact with Benton. He was a tall, lean, easy going Texan with the spirit and looks of the old West, but an addiction to the Three Stooges. He knew silly comedy. Dry wit and slapstick. I knew he drank a little... what could go wrong?
     {Side note story: An Indian girl finds a rattlesnake almost frozen to death on an iced over lake. She takes it home. She nurses it to health, day after day. One day, she comes home and he bites her. As the poison courses through her small frame body... and she lay dying, she meekly asks... "After saving your life... why would you bite me?"
     His reply? "You knew I was a rattlesnake, B****!"}
     Goggans was a fine and funny stage performer with the Gunfighters, but also performed in a variety of other roles in area stage shows. Usually, a western character or a zany old man. In Vaudeville, I cast him as the German school teacher in a Little Rascals spoof, a lawyer in the court routine and lots of quick joke fillers that were sprinkled through the show. Not much of a workload, but loads of fun and audience laffs. careful what you ask for!
     We opened Once Upon Vaudeville at the Circle Theatre in Ft Worth in May of 1982. A small but lively cast worked their collective ass off to get the dance steps, songs, jokes and timing down. Goggans? Not so much. "I'll get there! I'll get there!" Now... the Circle Theater served alcohol and what I found out late in the rehearsal process was the Goggans was stealing from the beer cooler every night... every rehearsal. Ouch. As the rest of the cast had become tight, razor sharp and quick witted (even the chorus girls were throwing zingers), Goggans had fallen behind. He didn't know his lines. He was disruptive. He was a nuisance. It was coming to an impasse.
     The owner of the theater was the one who caught Goggans stealing one night. This was my out. I could fire him on the spot. And so I did. Privately, to a drunk and humiliated friend. You know the adage 'this is going to hurt me more than it will you'? Well.. it didn't hurt that much... until the next day when a sober and contrite Goggans showed up at my door. He apologized (much as a friend or family member would) and asked if he could keep the role that I had tailor made for him in the first place.
I knew I was going to have to go through Benton on this. Benton had worked with Goggans for years. Could he turn this around? Benton turned the decision back to me. It was a hot show. I don't think even he trusted his friend at that time.
     Goggans went sober. He was a smash in the show. And the cast hated him because as he received accolades for his work in the show... he was doling out his own advice to the cast on comedy, timing and performance. I had to run interference a few times when they wanted to take a swing at him... and those were the chorus girls.
     Fittingly, during our final performance (now at a dinner theater across town) Goggans had come up missing. I headed straight to the bar area where they stored all their beer. Instead of finding him drinking, he was making a pie out of shaving cream. He planned on hitting me with the pie on stage during the curtain call. I told him I'd play dumb and go with it. And I did. Curtain call. Smash to the face with a MENTHOLATED Shaving Cream pie. I was blinded for some time after that gag. but... what could I say... I knew he was a rattlesnake, B****!
     I lost touch with Mike Goggans after I moved from D/FW. I called a few times. Followed him mostly on theatrical notices from the Hip Pocket Theater. Goggans was Goggans. Benton and Goggans were like older brothers to me when we were all together. I knew his passing would be sooner than later.  I will never be able look back at that period of my life in Texas without thinking of him fondly. One true blue Texan... and stooge fan! My coarse acting brother from another mother!

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