One hundred and fifty years ago, few knew about Lavinia Bell, a fugitive from slavery who trekked from a Texas plantation to Rouses Point, New York, in search of freedom in Canada. Now, for the first time, her experiences will be presented to the public in “Never Give Up: The Story of Lavinia Bell,” reenacted by Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux at Plattsburgh State University’s Krinovitz Recital Hall. The presentation will begin at 7:00 PM on February 11, 2011. The event is free and open to the public.
Ms. Thibodeaux’s visit to Plattsburgh in February will be her first to the North Country. She has already earned national acclaim for her sensitive depictions of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. The North Country location of the premiere of Mrs. Bell’s story, in the region where her vision was at last realized, is as fitting as are the sponsoring organizations: the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, Plattsburgh State University, and Clinton Community College. Ms. Thibodeaux will also offer performance workshops for university and college students during her stay in Plattsburgh. On February 12, she will cross into Canada where, under the sponsorship of the Negro Community Center in Montreal, she will introduce Mrs. Bell to a waiting audience.
To see Ms. Thibodeaux portray Harriet Tubman visit You Tube.
To learn more about this event, contact Don Papson at [email protected] or (518) 561-0277.
The Adirondack Council has announced that Allison M. Buckley of Piercefield, St. Lawrence County, has been chosen to replace John Davis as the organization’s Director of Conservation. Davis is due to leave his post at the end of the year.
“We are very pleased to welcome Allison Buckley to the Council’s Program Team,” said Executive Director Brian L. Houseal. “She has a degree in Environmental Science from SUNY Plattsburgh, and a master’s degree in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. Allison has experience working for a land trust, a watershed watch group, a winter resort and for the Village of Lake Placid. This summer, she filled in for a vacationing staff member at our Albany office and did a great job. She will now be stationed at our headquarters in Essex County.” » Continue Reading.
In late July, 1941, a young Plattsburgh boy received permission from his parents to visit the movie house just a few blocks away. Hours later, he had not returned home, and Mom and Dad hit the streets in search of their missing son. Soon they were at the Plattsburgh Police Station, anxiously seeking help. Two patrolmen were immediately put on the case, which, unlike so many stories today, had a happy ending.
The two policemen obtained keys to the theater building and began searching the interior. There, curled up in his seat near the front row, little Bryan Jay O’Byrne was fast asleep. He later explained that he enjoyed the movie so much, he decided to stay for the second showing, and must have drifted off into dreamland. When the theater closed for the night, no one had seen the young boy lying low in his seat. Perhaps no one knew it then, but that amusing incident was a harbinger of things to come. Bryan O’Byrne was born to Elmer and Bessie (Ducatte) O’Byrne of Plattsburgh on February 6, 1931. Life in the O’Byrne home may have been difficult at times. Six years earlier, Bryan’s older sister was born at the very moment Elmer was being arraigned in Plattsburgh City Court on burglary and larceny charges.
Still, the family managed to stay together, and after attending St. Peter’s Elementary and Plattsburgh High, Bryan went on to graduate from the State University Teacher’s College at Plattsburgh. After stints in the army and as an elementary school teacher, he pursued acting, studying at the Stella Adler Studio.
He appeared on Broadway with Vivian Leigh in “Duel of Angels” (the run was cut short after five weeks due to the first actors’ strike in forty years). Other jobs followed, but he soon surfaced in a new, increasingly popular medium: television.
In the early 1960s, Bryan began appearing in television series, becoming one of the best-known character actors in show business. Most people recognized his face from numerous bit parts he played in television and in movies, but few knew his name. That is true of many character actors, but ironically, in O’Byrne’s case, it was that very anonymity which brought him fame.
It all took place in the 1966-67 television season with the launch of a show called Occasional Wife. The plot line followed the story of an unmarried junior executive employed by a baby food company. The junior executive’s boss felt that, since they were selling baby food, it would be wise to favor married men for promotions within the company.
So, the junior executive concocted a plan with a female who agreed to serve as his “occasional wife.” He put her on salary and got her an apartment two floors above his own. Hilarity ensued as a variety of situations in each episode had them running up and down the fire escape to act as husband and wife. This all happened to the obvious surprise and bemusement of a man residing on the floor between the two main players. That man was played by Bryan O’Byrne.
O’Byrne’s character had no name and no speaking lines, but he became the hit of the show. Usually he was engaged in some type of activity that ended up in shambles as he watched the shenanigans. The audience loved it. The show’s writers had such fun with the schtick that O’Byrne became somewhat of a sensation. His expert acting skills made the small part into something much bigger.
Eventually, in early 1967, a nationwide contest was held to give the “Man in the Middle” an actual name. Much attention was heaped on O’Byrne, but the high didn’t last for long. Occasional Wife went the way of many other promising comedies that were built on a certain premise, but were not allowed to develop. It survived only one season.
O’Byrne’s career continued to flourish. Among his repeating roles was that of CONTROL Agent Hodgkins in the hit comedy series Get Smart, starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Over the years, O’Byrne remained one of Plattsburgh’s best-kept secrets, appearing in 45 television series, 22 movies, and several Disney productions.
Among those television series were some high-profile shows and many of the all-time greats: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Batman, Ben Casey, Get Smart, Gunsmoke, I Dream of Jeannie, Maude, Happy Days, Maverick, Murder She Wrote, My Three Sons, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Sanford and Son, The Big Valley, The Bill Cosby Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Lucy Show, The Munsters, The Partridge Family, The Untouchables, and Welcome Back Kotter.
Advertisers discovered the appeal of Bryan’s friendly face, and he was cast in more than two hundred television commercials. His experience in multiple fields, and his love and understanding of the intricacies of performing led to further opportunities. He became an excellent acting coach. Among those he worked with, guided, or mentored were Bonnie Bedelia, Pam Dawber, Nick Nolte, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jimmy Smits, and Forest Whittaker.
Writer Janet Walsh, a friend of O’Byrne’s since the early 1980s, noted that, early on, he recognized the talent of young Nick Nolte. According to Walsh, “Nick slept on Bryan’s couch for a year. Bryan cast him in his production of The Last Pad, and that launched Nick’s career.”
Besides working as an acting coach for the prestigious Stella Adler Academy, O’Byrne also served on the Emmy Nominating Committee in Los Angeles. He spent nearly forty years in the entertainment business, working with many legendary stars, including Lucille Ball, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Wayne. His television resume covers many of the best-known, most-watched series ever. And through it all, he remained a nice, unpretentious man.
Quite the journey for a ten-year-old movie fan from Plattsburgh.
Photo Top: Bryan Jay O’Byrne.
Photo Middle: Bryan O’Byrne and Vivian Leigh.
Photo Bottom: Michael Callan, Bryan O’Byrne, and Patricia Hart from Occasional Wife.
Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
A SUNY Plattsburgh ecologist whose research has taken her from Alaska to the Adirondacks will speak at Paul Smith’s College on Friday, Sept. 3. Dr. Danielle Garneau’s talk, “Of Mice and Moose and Scat,” will launch this fall’s Fish & Wildlife Seminar Series at Paul Smith’s. The lecture will be held at 10:10 a.m. in the Pine Room of the Joan Weill Student Center. It is free and open to the public. » Continue Reading.
The NCAA Division III men’s ice hockey committee recently announced that Lake Placid, N.Y. will host both the 2012 and 2013 Division III men’s ice hockey national championships. The New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) and State University of New York College at Plattsburgh (SUNY Plattsburgh) are the co-hosts of the two tournaments.
This year, the nation’s top four teams will vie for the national crown at Ridder Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota before returning to the famed 1980 Herb Brooks Olympic arena, which played host to the last three national championships, teaming with SUNY Plattsburgh to co-host the past two. The championship weekends in Lake Placid will feature two semi-final games, on the first day, followed by the championship match-up on the second day. Last year, St. Norbert College, Oswego State, Norwich University and SUNY Plattsburgh vied for the Division III men’s ice hockey national championship crown. Norwich University skated away with the title, beating St. Norbert College 2-1 in what was the longest game in NCAA Division III tournament history, 99 minutes, 29 seconds.
The Albany regional Small Business Development Center (SBDC), an affiliate of the University at Albany’s School of Business, is establishing the Champlain Bridge Business Assistance Center, an “emergency outreach office” to assist small businesses that have been adversely affected by the closing and demolition of the Champlain Bridge. The Center opened Feb. 18, at 3259 Broad Street in Port Henry. The Champlain Bridge Business Assistance Center will help interested business owners plan how to transition and maintain the viability of their businesses during construction of the new bridge. The SBDC, along with strategic partners, will offer assistance to dislocated workers who cannot afford the long commute around Lake Champlain to jobs in Vermont and may be interested in starting a business. The Albany SBDC is collaborating with the North Country SBDC located at SUNY Plattsburgh to provide staff for the counseling and outreach efforts.
Services offered will include assessment of impact, identification of NYS Champlain Bridge Relief Programs, application assistance for these programs, market research, cost analysis/financial management, identifying sources of capital and business growth strategies.
The bridge, which crossed Lake Champlain between Crown Point, NY and Chimney Point, VT, was demolished in December, cutting off a vital connection. Construction of a new bridge is expected to be complete in late summer 2011.
The SBDC program is funded through the Small Business Administration, New York State, and the State University of New York.
The NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Committee recently announced that Lake Placid will host the 2010 NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Championship March 19-20 or March 20-21, depending on the television broadcast schedule. The event will be held in the 1980 Rink Herb Brooks Arena. The Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) and Plattsburgh State University College of New York are the co-hosts for the tournament. Lake Placid has hosted the past two Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Championships, first partnering with State University of New York at Potsdam and then last year with SUNY Plattsburgh. The event features the two semi-final games on the first day, followed by the championship title match on the second day. Other activities associated with the event include a Fan Fest, which features live music, prize give-aways, and vendors.
The Wilmington Historical Society will sponsor the program “Adirondack-Champlain Iron: Creator of Boom Towns & Ghost Towns, 1750s-1970s” with guest speaker John Moravek, Associate Professor of Geography, SUNY Plattsburgh. The program will be held at the Wilmington Community Center on Springfield Road in Wilmington, Essex County, on Friday, July 17, at 7 pm. The public is encouraged to attend. Refreshments will be served. For further information, contact Karen Peters at 946-7586 or Merri Peck at 946- 7627. About the speaker: John Moravek has been on the faculty at SUNY Plattsburgh since arriving in fall semester of 1969. Now an Associate Professor of Geography, he teaches a variety of courses, including Physical Geography, Historical and Cultural Geography of the United States; as well as the History and Cultural Geography of Russia. He has also offered a popular and intensive two-week workshop (a 3-credit course) on the Historical Geography of the Adirondack Region every July for the past 26 years consecutively which he considers a genuine labor of love as an incorrigible “Adirondackophile”. John is also an official Forty-Sixer, having climbed the first 45 mountains solo. His doctoral dissertation, completed in 1976, investigated a number of facets of the history and geography of the Adirondack-Champlain Iron Industry. He has also presented several papers on the topic at professional meetings, with aspirations of writing a book on the topic at some future date. Currently, his publications include a number of Review Essays/Book Critiques on various topics, primarily related to the Adirondack Region.
The State University of New York at Plattsburgh will host the 2009 Conference on New York State History, an annual meeting of academic and public historians, librarians and archivists, educators, publishers and other interested individuals who come together to discuss topics and issues related to the people of New York State in historical perspective and to share information and ideas regarding historical research, programming, and the networking of resources and services. The conference will be held June 4-6, 2009 More than fifty individuals present formal programs in concurrent presentation sessions, workshops, and the keynote address. Special consideration is accorded first-time presenters, graduate students, and local government historians. The conference is self-sustaining and is organized by a committee of historians from a variety of institutions across the state.
The conference is organized by the New York State Historical Association in collaboration with New York State Archives Partnership Trust and is co-sponsored by New York Council for the Humanities. Conference organizers are inviting individual paper abstracts, panel proposals, workshop plans, and other program presentations that consider any aspect of the New York State history over the past 400 years. Diverse theoretical perspectives and innovative methodological approaches are welcomed.
Those interested in participating are encouraged to discuss proposals and any conference-related ideas with Field Horne, conference chair, via e-mail at conference-AT-nyhistory-DOT-net. All proposals must be received by December 31, 2008 at 5:00 PM. If at all possible, submit an MS Word document by e-mail to the above e-mail address. A proposal should be a one-page description of each presentation-not the full manuscript-and must include the following information at the top of the page: paper and/or session titles, names, postal addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of all participants, and all equipment needs and scheduling requests. It should also briefly discuss sources, methodology, and argument. All program participants are required to register for the conference.
Commentators sought: Qualified commentators for sessions are needed. Please indicate your willingness, with your areas of expertise, in an e-mail to the conference chair.
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