& 29th August, 2008
New concerts announced!
Click HERE for details.
Photo by Jay Hagan,
7/12/08 Burbank, CA
A Thought for Today
If our dreams seem harder to realize as
each day passes it’s only because few of us are wise enough to hold onto
our visions. Try to do so, whatever the cost.
TO BEGIN WITH
As you might imagine, most of my mail this week asks a single question:
What are you doing in New York? So, I’ve decided to address it by
letting all of you in on an occasional feature I call
NOTES ON A LIFE IN PROGRESS
As many of you know I’ve been president of AGVA for twenty-five plus
years. Whoa, that’s a quarter of a century.
And I’ve held the office of president longer than anyone in the nearly
seventy years of its existence. My position is unsalaried but I take my
obligation to our membership seriously and have great pride in the
changes I have helped to bring about during my multiple terms as AGVA’s
The American Guild of Variety Artists. Variety Artist? What’s that?
Well, if you’ve been to Radio City Music Hall and marveled at the talent
and precision of The Rockettes (only the most famous chorus line in the
world); had your picture taken with Mickey and Minnie or Goofy at
Disneyland; Watched Conan or any of the muscle men and daredevils cavort
at Universal or most of the nation’s Theme Parks; been tickled by Mickey
Rooney the top banana of “Sugar Babies” or tapped your feet at “Ain’t
Misbehaven’” you’ve encountered a ‘Variety Artist. BeeHive, Swing and
the Johnny Cash musical are all AGVA shows.’
They come in all guises and perform in umpteen styles. Our Alumni
include Sinatra, Hope, Dietrich, Eddie Cantor, Gypsy Rose Lee, George
Burns and on and on. And our list of current members is pretty
illustrious too: Phyllis Dillier is a long time member, so are
Streisand, Minnelli, Frankie Valli, Jackie Mason, Jerry Lewis, Rich
Little, Donnie & Marie, Rip Taylor and Gloria DeHaven. Even Dame Edna
calls AGVA her parent union.
I joined AGVA in 1955 just after returning from service in Korea. My
first job as a member took place later that year at The Purple Onion in
San Francisco where I shared the bill with Phyllis, Ketty Lester, The
Kingston Trio and Maya Angelou. Although I had had my first book of
poetry published two years earlier at that time I was plying my trade as
folk singer. Maya had yet to arrive at her most celebrated profession ––
that of being one of the great voices and a true icon for black poetry
and literature in America. In those days she worked as a calypso singer
and dancer. And, she was damn good at it.
WHAT DOES AGVA DO?
In addition to negotiating lucrative and fair contracts for Mickey,
Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Snow White and Cinderella (those ladies and
gentlemen in the outsize Disney outfits are called strollers) we
represent, skaters, performing athletes, dancers, funny folk,
monologists, singers, specialty acts and actors in reviews and cabaret.
You name an entertainment category and chances are they carry an AGVA
We have a Sick and Relief Fund and a Health and Welfare program for our
members that is the envy of trade unions in or out of the entertainment
fields. In time of sickness and suffering we take care of our own. Rent
checks go out to landlords of members who have fallen on hard times. Gas
and light bills get paid for out of work artists and the rising costs of
health care has provided many a bed for the ill and ailing.
We contribute heavily to The Actors Fund home in New Jersey and it was
an AGVA relief grant that spearheaded the renovation of an apartment
complex in Hollywood where those living with HIV and AIDS can find
I’m just as proud of the star that bares my name in the courtyard of
that building as the one awarded me on Hollywood Boulevard. Under the
aegis of our S&R Fund many of our older members continue to perform
programs and shows for charity and senior citizen hospitals and homes.
An expert and knowledgeable board reviews and pays out benefits.
Money for the Sick & Relief fund comes from membership dues and
contributions to Welfare Trust are shared equally by working members and
We have representatives and offices throughout America that monitor
contracts, working conditions and grievances. But our headquarters is
and always has been in New York. I’ve been in the city for the past
couple of weeks taking care of AGVA business.
Business this time around includes finding a new bank to handle our
Health and Welfare investments. Like many banks these days our former
investment firm was absorbed by an even larger financial institution who
have termed our mere (?) 5.5 million in funds to paltry to bother with.
Lots of other matters needed my attention too.
All of us at AGVA are still mourning the loss of our energetic and
beloved secretary treasurer and senior board member Frances Gaar who
died earlier this year. On August 3rd Frances would have celebrated a
very seasoned birthday. We will continue to celebrate her spirit and
dedication to AGVA for many seasons to come
Frances was an actress and water ballet star who had a long and varied
career. After her retirement she came to AGVA where in addition to her
duties as secretary treasurer I relied on her as a valuable liaison
between our organization and the other major entertainment unions. She
was AGVA’s heart and soul and as such carried many of her talents with
her to the grave.
I knew that the necessary job of finding someone to serve out her
unfinished term would be difficult but very necessary. After many weeks
of consideration and advice from other members I finally found it an
Susanne Doris is a former Rockette and for many years has helped
negotiate contracts between our members and the management of Radio City
Music Hall. Again and again she has demonstrated her talent and fairness
in meeting the demands and needs of our members while sorting out with
understanding the needs of management. She will be an excellent
Secretary/ Treasurer and an important leader of the new team I’ve been
putting together during my New York City stay.
These notes on a life in progress that I make from time to time are a
way of keeping all of you in touch with what I’m up to besides my
various other vocations. Today’s ruminations and thoughts certainly
wouldn’t be complete without a generous nod to the members of the East
and West Coast offices of AGVA, our national vice president David Cullen
and all the regional V.P.’s who do such a formidable job in serving our
And to the membership at large, you have my unwavering promise to
continue to fulfill the obligations and trust you have placed in me over
RM NYC • 8/27/08 First Publication
And to my readers and passengers who drop in on this safe place to land,
how is your life progressing?
on the Stanyan House logo to buy Rod McKuen books, CD's and lots more
Click on the heart logo to
subscribe to the Rod McKuen mailing list
Catch Rod McKuen live!
Click on the links below for details of
concerts and appearances.