Much-beloved Committee company member. Present at the birth of longform improvisational theater. Founder of The National Theater of the Deranged. A dedicated teacher who left generations of students and friends behind him. As Alan Myerson put it, he was a “soulful artist who passed around joy as if it were Christmas candy.” RIP Jim Cranna. Photo by Jerry Wainwright.
We lost another pioneer this week with the death of Gary Austin. When The Committee started its run at The Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles, Gary joined the cast in San Francisco under the direction of Del Close, and he was part of the company when it made its early breakthroughs in longform improvisational theater. Austin continued on with The Committee with various ensembles under various directors, evidently soaking up everything he quickly learned. It’s hard to imagine that The Committee’s cultural influence would be so widespread without Austin to evangelize their work. The Groundlings, which Austin founded in 1974, became a force in comedy that for years was matched only by The Second City in the talent that it attracted and nurtured. As a teacher of acting for forty years, Austin helped players bring their full selves to the stage and to play at the top of their intelligence. Thanks, Gary, for your commitment to elevating the art form and for your life of service.
Earlier this month we joined San Francisco history and culture maven SK Morton on his podcast SK Morton’s Lousy San Francisco Podcast to talk about The Committee, The San Francisco Improv Festival, and our personal histories in uncomfortable detail. We even do a little improv at the end. Enjoy, it’s a fun listen and if we got anything wrong, holler.
Jim Cranna in Whifflefrock get-up, Don Sturdy aka Howard Hesseman in high splendor, and photographer Jerry Wainwright. Narcissistic Purposes Productions was a partnership between Hesseman and Wainwright that produced a series of satirical movie posters that featured Committee actors. This image was taken as they photographed the poster for the film Whifflefrock for the Crown (“Master of Her Majesty’s ships, he ran roughshod over her heart – until destiny forced him ashore!”)
Everything is so amazing in this 1971 Committee cast photo by Jerry Wainwright, including the original sign left over from the theater’s earlier incarnation as The Bocce Ball nightclub. Larry Hankin (at the top) directed this cast, which featured (counter-clockwise from Larry’s right): Richard Levine, Darryl Kinne, Bob Bione, Diann Henrichsen, Bruce Mackey, David Moody, and Gary Austin.
Chester Anderson and Claude Hayward take on the underground press to defend their friend Bill Love. The 1966 bust, detailed here with righteous bias, was a sad event for The Committee and Lovin’ Spoonful both. It resulted in the blackballing of The Lovin’ Spoonful and a premature end to their career. Bill Love was misidentified by the police. Sturdy could have gone back to the pen for a long while. Bad scene. For Steve Boone’s take, check out his memoir “Hotter Than A Match Head: My Life on the Run with The Lovin’ Spoonful.” Thanks to Eric Noble and diggers.org.
The Committee closed their theater at 622 Broadway in October 1972, but regrouped shortly after for a limited holiday engagement. “Four More Years” was directed by Alan Myerson. Here is who we have identified so far (thanks to Raj Kaup for help!): (left to right) Nancy Fish, yet-to-be-identified, Garry Goodrow, Archie Hahn, yet-to-be-identified, Dan Barrows, Valerie Curtin, Howard Hesseman, Dick Stahl, John Brent, David Moody, Carl Gottlieb, Del Close, yet-to-be-identified, Scott Beach, Julie Payne, Ruth Silveira. The conductor is also yet-to-be-identified. Feel free to help us fill gaps.
Photo by Jerry Wainwright, courtesy of The Wainwright Family.