Family commitment to Dad’s legacy staying strong

My father, the late James Whitmore, was an actor of some recognition. People generally loved his work. He has left a great legacy behind and some members of his family are fighting to keep that legacy alive. And they are succeeding.

They’ve formed a theater group, Whitmore Eclectic, in Los Angeles that’s composed of my pop’s grandchildren and his oldest son, James Whitmore Jr., also an actor/director of some recognition.

They put on plays. On a stage, of course; but really a space where magic most assuredly can take place, as any theater devotee will tell you. I was fortunate enough to snag a ticket for me and my family this past Thursday evening (Aug. 4) for the opening of the theater group’s first play of its second season. I am not going to comment on the play itself because this is family and when it comes to family, the best policy is always to agree. I have learned over the years that “Yes, sir,” or “No Ma’am” is indeed the way to keep things on a stable path.

As an old friend of mine – who also just happened to be a superior court judge presiding for many years over family matters in dependency court –  once said: “Family can be shelter from the storm or it can be the storm.”

My family relations have been stormy at best for many a moon, but lately they’ve improved. I am going to keep it that way.

One of the most basic things in life that so many of us lack is commitment. Commitment to anything. I certainly fail in that corner of the world. My commitment to anything falls short. Every day.

But the commitment of these Whitmores at this theater – 520 N. La Brea, Los Angeles, Calif. 90036 – is as solid as the Earth itself. They believe, as did my dad, that theater is an area in which stories unfold, actors reveal, sets reinforce and writers take us on a journey away from our daily lives of time, disappointment, unresolved problems; I could increase the list ad infinitum.

When my Dad passed, I agreed to be interviewed about his life. The only requirement was it had to be in a small theater in North Hollywood named the “Whitmore-Lindley” theater, after Dad and actress Audra Lindley. Ms. Lindley was an actress of some recognition as well, making Helen Roper in “Three’s Company” a household name.

I sat in this small theater for the interview, and spoke of my Dad because my father loved, and I mean loved, live theater. One of the reasons he said he loved theater, as opposed to television or motion pictures, is because he was in control once on stage. It was his power, ability, sensitivity, or whatever makes a fine actor, once on stage. The finest tribute to my dad really was sitting quietly in a theater, whispering “thank you” for the fine work and enjoyment that he gave to so many.

This is alive and well at the Whitmore Eclectic. There is a granddaughter, Aliah; a grandson, Jacob; a son, James Jr.; a daughter-in-law, Salesha; and various other members of Jim Jr.’s extended family. They all work hard and it shows in their productions. This is sweat equity purely for fun and for free.

Something a little bit odder is that I am not a big fan of live theater. I support it. Primarily because of family. But live theater, in general, just bores me. It’s like opera. I appreciate the talent, the work, and most certainly, the commitment. It just doesn’t do it for me. I like movies. I’m a big fan of the “Transformer” movies, just as an example to show what kind of goof I am. The simpler the better. And if you blow something up along the way, that takes us to an even better place.

Live theater is a whole helluva lot of talking. Man, they talk a lot. Lot’s of spitting too. I suspect the spitting is from the art – or lack therein – of voice projection. It’s no good in live theater if you can’t be heard. Thus, the spittle.

But theater was my Dad’s passion, and theater is the Whitmore Eclectic’s passion. All of you should get off your derrieres and check it out. It’s an experience not soon forgotten.

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About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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