If you ask him, Phil Doran will say the three best people he ever met while working as a TV writer and producer in Hollywood were Bob Newhart, Garry Marshall and Norman Lear.
The 76-year-old, a resident of Laguna Woods Village for 15 years, quit Tinseltown in his mid-50s. The producer of such TV situation comedies as “The Bob Newhart Show,” “All in the Family,” “The Dating Game,” “Sanford and Son,” “Who’s the Boss” and “The Facts of Life” will be talking about his career and family history during the Theatre Guild of Laguna Woods Theatre Guild’s monthly Zoom call on Aug. 19 at 7 p.m.
“I’ve definitely been lucky and had a great life,” Doran said in an interview. “I came to Hollywood on a whim at 23, met Chuck Barris at a party and I made him laugh. He asked if I wanted to be a writer on his shows.”
In addition to writing and producing, Doran lived in Italy with his late wife Nancy, a sculptor. They purchased a 300-centuries-old house badly in need of restoration in Tuscany, which became the subject of his 2005 book, “The Reluctant Tuscan: How I Discovered My Inner Italian.”
During the Zoom meeting, he will also share his family history — namely about his grandmother, Frieda Rose Tapper, whom he is writing about in his upcoming book, “A Life Lived.”
Frieda left her family in the village of Checkinovska-Gabernia in the Russian Ukraine when she was 14. She used the family’s tablecloth as a rucksack for her meager belongings. All she had was a ticket for steerage on a ship to New York, 13 rubles in her underwear, half a loaf of bread, her birth certificate and a letter of introduction to a distant cousin in Chicago written in Cyrillic, which she could not read, Doran wrote.
She married Samuel Ross, lived a full life and had six children, one being Doran’s mom, Ruth.
“She was an incredible woman with an incredible story,” Doran said. “Everyone seems to have a story about a family coming over from the old country. She fled Ukraine and got on a boat on her own, without knowing a soul in America.”
Doran was tapped by Wendy Shade, Theatre Guild treasurer, to give the Zoom presentation about his life in Hollywood. A member of the Guild, Doran previously worked with Barbara Powell, program chair, on “Baby Boomer Blues,” a main stage play he wrote and the Theatre Guild produced for the LWG Performing Arts Center in March 2019.
Doran sent Powell pages of two books he was working on, including “A Life Lived.”
“I shared the ‘A Life Lived’ with other members of the board and we were captivated with his grandma Frieda, the plucky 14-year-old who journeyed alone to America from the Ukraine in 1921,” Powell said.
Doran agreed to do the Zoom meeting and to have the Guild take some of the stories from “A Life Lived” to create a three-scene play about his grandmother. He converted passages from prose to stage play format so it could be performed by actors.
“It is a humorous and touching piece that will be shown at the Aug. 19 Zoom meeting,” Powell said.
With the continued lockdown, Powell said she wanted to give the actors something to get excited about and “to sink their teeth into.”
Like other clubs in LWG, the Guild has held virtual meetings during the pandemic. To keep the club viable, it had to change with the times and offer content and participation while in isolation, Powell said.
She said she has yearned to do a Reader’s Theatre Project for a while, but noticed that the pool of actors was limited — only those who were able to memorize came out for auditions.
“We have a lot of untapped talent in the Woods and I wanted to encourage these folks to have a safe environment (both figuratively and literally) to try acting,” she said.
Powell teamed up with seasoned actor Barb Turino and Shade, a new director. Turino and her partner, Bear Sanchez, have been invaluable to this project, she said.
“With her connections to the acting community, Barb found us two wonderful teenage actresses to play young Frieda and her American cousin Katia,” Powell said.
Sanchez, a “Zoom Ninja,” acted as a technical adviser to the project, Powell said. He did the editing that isolated the people so the project looks more like a film than people in Zoom boxes side by side.
“This was wonderful because the biggest challenges have been with technology,” Powell said. “How to act/react to someone in a Zoom box. Most of our actors are used to the stage and use the energy among the cast and the reaction of the audience when they perform. Doing this in isolation feels flat to some and is a big obstacle to overcome.”
For Doran, the Zoom project is a way to let the public, as well as his children and grandchildren, to know and love his grandparents the way he did. He and his sister, Debbie, “were practically raised by them,” he said.
“They were tough, very Old School, but they were loving and wise and really helped us become the people we are,” he said.
All are welcome to attend Zoom meetings. If you are not a Theatre Guild member, please email Estelle DiNunzio, club president, for the link at TheatreGuildLW@outlook.com.
Source: Orange County Register