Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Sophomore, A Senior, A School Play, and A Serial Killer

 He was standing by the wall next to the drinking fountain, his arm in a cast supported by a sling. Our eyes met, and he gave me a smile. He was handsome in a dark way. He didn't speak, just looked at me. I took a quick sip from the fountain and hurried into the girl's restroom, which was serving as a make-shift dressing room. Quickly I changed into another costume. After putting on my red wig and applying more make-up, I was ready to return to the stage. As I walked back into the empty hallway I glanced over by the fountain and he was still standing there. Once again he flashed that smile. For a moment I felt uneasy. Strange.

 Why was he standing in the hallway behind the auditorium and not watching the play with the rest of the audience? The chorus of the cast was on stage performing a big dance number. It was time for my next entrance. I smiled back at him and opened the stage door and headed for the side wings.


It was Friday, November 8th, 1974. It was the fourth performance of our high school musical, 'Redhead.'
As a sophomore, I had been cast a few months earlier in the title role.
I remember clearly the day the cast list was posted. As I approached the doors of the choir room there was a crowd gathered around. People were pointing at the list excitedly. I heard people saying things like,
"But she's just a sophomore." And "Mr. C. has never done that before."
As I made my way through the crowd I felt the stares of several seniors and wondered what all the commotion was about. Suddenly one of my friends saw me and called out, "You got the lead!"
My face felt hot and I felt like all eyes were on me.
I made my way to the list and sure enough, there was my name listed next to the character Essie Whimple.
A wave of elation and nervousness came over me.
Some of my new friends from Drama Club were congratulating me and giving me hugs.
It was unexpected and surreal.


 Rehearsals soon began in earnest. Everyday after school for several hours as well as Saturday mornings.
One-on-one dance rehearsals with our choreographer Mrs. S. for my solo numbers.
Singing rehearsals with Mr. L. for the many musical solos, duets and ensemble pieces.
It was exhausting and exhilarating.
I was thrilled to be working with so many talented new friends, especially the seniors that I looked up to.

 The original production of 'Redhead' opened on Broadway in 1959, the year of my birth. It starred the legendary 'triple-threat' Gwen Verdon and was the directing debut of master choreographer Bob Fosse (Gwen's husband). The show ran for over 400 performances and won 6 Tony Awards, among them Best Musical, Lead Actress, and Lead Actor (Richard Kiley).

The premise of the show: When a young actress is murdered in 1900's London, the enterprising Simpson Sisters' Wax Museum installs a tableau of the grisly deed. Tom Baxter, the murdered woman's friend comes to the museum to complain, and there he meets the niece of the Simpson sisters, Essie Whimple, a plain girl with a hyperactive imagination. Smitten with Tom, Essie pretends to have been attacked by the murderer, as well, and crazy things begin to ensue, complete with cunning disguises, spine-tingling escapades and chases, and a show-gone-wrong at the Odeon Musical Hall. 





The evening of November 8th, the play was sold out and the auditorium was packed. Our drama director never watched his plays once they opened. After the final dress rehearsal Mr C. would say to us, "We have all worked hard. I have given you my best direction. The play is now yours and I turn it over to you with all my trust." After cast call Mr C. would stay in the chorus room, listen to the audio over the monitors and chew on his neck tie. Mr. L. was of course directing the orchestra and Mrs. S. stood in the back of the auditorium to take notes for cast meeting. That evening during the performance a man approached Mrs S. in the back of the auditorium and after some small talk told her he needed help jump-starting his Volkswagon which he was unable to do by himself because of his broken arm. She declined saying she was taking performance notes. A few minutes later a student told her parents that since she had seen the play twice and knew how it ended she would be happy to drive over to pick up her younger brother at the roller skating rink and would meet them afterwards. When the play was over she had not returned. Her parents found their car in the parking lot with their daughter's purse and keys on the front seat.


The following Monday the story would unfold at school.
Some of us were called down to the school office to answer questions about 
any unusual activity or persons we had seen that night.
I told of seeing the mysterious stranger, as did a few other students.
A police sketch artist was called in to take descriptions.
Police officers were on sight at the school all week.
Mrs. S. had police guarding her apartment across the street from the school.
I would later learned the name of the man who had smiled at me.
Ted.
Ted Bundy.


His victim that evening; Debra Kent.
Debi was one of the seniors who had congratulated me on the morning the cast list was posted.
We had met in Drama Club. Several of her friends were dancers in the show.
She would often come to rehearsals.
Debi was always smiling, sweet, unassuming, helpful, a bit shy.
Such a lovely person. She was always kind to me.
I liked her.
I have not shared this story much over the past 40 years.
It affected many people deeply and in many different ways. 
Today I think of Debi's family and of another anniversary passing without her coming home.

*NOTE: I have chosen not to sully this post with a photo of Mr. Bundy. If you are interested in reading more about this notorious evil killer of 100's of women there is a fairly concise write-up on Wikipedia (with a few minor inaccuracies regarding the November 8th event) and plenty of other sources online.

3 comments:

Who Is Courtney? said...

So I - halfway - watched a history channel thing on Ted Bundy about a year ago, and I was shocked to see that so much stuff happened in Utah (and that he was also shut down by a girl in Ttah who he attempted to kill) and of course they showed this story too, I had NO idea you had such involvement in that horrible, horrible time or that you knew her. So sorry that you have had to even think of such things in your past. But so glad you made it out OK and to tell the story.

M-Z-T said...

Wow. Creepy.

I am glad you shared this story. Sharing stories like these make us remember those who may be forgotten because people like him get the 'spotlight'.

Mar C said...

I'm sure Debra's family look forward to being with her again some day. You made a great Essie Whimple!