Monday, January 30, 2017

Meet Al Muller!

The following is not political and may be given to some rambling, so if I start to lose you, jump down to the last couple paragraphs. That's where the big payoff is!

Al Muller passed away last week at the age of 84. He'd spent about a half a century teaching and contributing to the local theater community, from high school shows, to the community college stage and Stockton Civic theater. Mostly flamboyant musicals. Click the link for more.

His resume is lengthy, I won't try to reproduce it here. His energy was boundless and his enthusiasm infectious. He was a good husband, father to five daughters, mentor to many and a good man.

I knew "Uncle Al" when I took some classes from him at Delta College. I had been bitten by the drama bug in junior high school, took classes and appeared in a number of high school productions. I was continuing my studies in the dramatic arts when I met Al. I took his classes and he directed a number of plays I was in.

I suppose, because he had a larger talent pool to draw from, the roles I got in college were not as prominent as those I had in high school A couple were memorable. In West Side Story, I was cast as Lieutenant Schrank, the character Simon Oakland played in the movie. I believe Al cast me for two, maybe three reasons:

1) I was tall (6'3") and had to play an adult while all my peers were playing teen-aged hoodlums.
2) It was not a singing part!

More memorable to me was when he cast me in Mame. I played Mame's adult with no singing part. (You know, I'm starting to see a trend here!) Who doesn't remember Auntie Mame's banker?? It was a brief, transitional role. The curtain drops, and moments later, the banker steps out with a brief exposition, thus furthering the story, while behind the curtain, actors change costumes, stage hands set up for the next scene.

But after I was cast, I had some reservations about one of the lines. Didn't know if I could say it. It contained, shall we say, some less than delicate language. I went to Al with my concerns. Now, I guess he could have said, "Well, if you can't read the line as it is written, then we'll get somebody who can!"

But that wasn't his style. He sat down with me and we discussed it. Just one line from a minor character, but people weren't minor to Uncle Al. I can't recall exactly what he said to convince me, but it must have worked, because I was there every night saying it. Probably something along the line of 'it wasn't really taking the Lord's name in vain, but more of a bowdlerized version'. Punctuation, as it were, as noted in the Brief History of Profanity.

You've heard, "There are no small parts, only small actors"? Looking back at my "small part", it seems a little strange. The curtain comes down, I step in front of it, holding what appears to be a telegram, and immediately get hit with a spotlight...couldn't see a soul in the audience if I'd tried! I broke the news to the audience, in my angry banker voice, that Mame's husband had died..."fell off a goddamn Alp!", turned on my heel and walk offstage.

That's it. I don't think I was seen again until the curtain call, but for that brief moment, every eye in the theater was on me. No scenery to distract, no fellow cast members...just me and my phony telegram was all there was to see. I didn't think about it that way at the time. Might have scared the spit out of me! (See? I told you I'd ramble!)

This was back in the early seventies. I saw Al a few times off and on since then, at Civic Theater performances, where he was either directing or supporting the person who was. I do remember attending one cast party at his house, along with scores of other people.

I last saw Mr. Muller in 2013, where his family and San Joaquin Delta college were honoring him by naming one of the theaters after him, reception to follow. A brief video of the ceremony can be found below. People flew in literally from coast to coast to be there to honor him. I listened to the speakers, Al included, but I really didn't remember much of what was said until I reviewed the video. During the reception, we ate, chatted with a few college friends, and, as expected, people were lined up to talk to Al and congratulate him.

I figured he had a lot closer friends and acquaintances than I, so I hung back and waited until there were only a few people queued up. When it was my turn, his face lit up with a smile, and unprompted, he called me by name. It had to have been over thirty years since I attended his classes or tread the boards with his actors, but he remembered me. We had a nice chat. Forgive me, I can't remember about what, after congratulating him for a well deserved honor.

We spoke for a bit and he asked me if I was back in town. I said I was, and he expressed a desire to get together for lunch some time. You could tell he was sincere, and not just a "Let's do lunch" kind of thing. I, too, thought that would be great, so we shook hands and yet somehow life got in the way. One thing after another, the way it has a habit of doing. In retrospect, I wish I'd said something like "How about Tuesday 12:00? You pick the spot and I'll buy! Or is Thursday better?"

But I didn't. Tempus fugit. That was the last time I saw him. He was a great guy and a good man,  almost a force of nature to be reckoned with. Many people will miss him. I doubt we'll see the likes of such a man again. Sometimes I'll say on Mother's Day or Father's day "Love 'em while you've got 'em". The very same applies to friends. Trust me.

Rest in peace, Mr. Muller.

An online guestbook in the Stockton Record can be found here.

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