Very often, we lose track of people we loved, like Larry Zavaglia.
I recently heard of Larry's passing, and I was struck with regret. I hadn't seen him or talked to him in at least twenty years, but the news triggered a stream of memories, all happy, now touched by sadness. Larry loved the theater, and as long as I knew him, his dream was to play Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.
Larry worked in management at the Daily News in New York, graveyard shift, and when the unionized press room went out on strike, Larry recruited me to work as a scab (defined as, someone who doesn't give a shit about union "solidarity"). I didn't have to cross any picket lines because of the late hour, strikers asleep, and the pay was excellent. Each night, Larry and I had lunch together in his office. He glided all over the office in his comfortable rolling chair, checking this and that on the computers, which earned him the nickname, "Ironside," after a popular TV show about a detective in a wheel chair. After work, we hit the bagel joint for a feast, he with tuna on a toasted bagel and me with a super-salted bagel with butter, bacon and egg. Oh glorious breakfast, we agreed.
But, my best memory of Larry was at a dinner theater in New Jersey. Not just an actor, Larry loved theater so much that he would pitch in at ungodly hours to help out on the production of scenery. One ungodly a.m., with opening night looming, Larry, producer Jack Bell and I were the only troops left to finish work on the scenery, and, at one point, Larry stopped in the middle of the stage carrying a large chair. He had been walking back and forth with the chair for several minutes, exhausted, trying to find a good place to store it in the wings.
"Aw," he said, "my dogs are barking."
Jack and I paused with our paint brushes to wonder, "Huh? What dogs?"
"Dogs. Didn't you ever hear that? "Dogs" means "feet." It means my feet hurt...Y'know, they're "barking."
We couldn't work for the next twenty minutes because, in our state of exhaustion, we collapsed in mirth, and every time we resumed work, one of us would chuckle and trigger another round of ridiculous laughter, tears welling up all around.
As an actor, Larry was superb. He had been afflicted with Bells palsy, a relatively rare affliction which paralyzes muscles in the face and makes the mouth droop on one side--not once, but twice, once on each side, so that his face appeared perfectly symmetrical, droop though it did, and he spoke with a detectable lisp.Yet, his dramatic and comic lines onstage were always perfectly intelligible and powerful, always believable.
I missed the show when he finally got the part of Tevye, probably busy with my own dreams. It must have been glorious.
(Photos and clipping courtesy of Stephen Newport).