Dorothy Fuldheim Challenges Composer Chandler

Dorothy Fuldheim Challenges Composer Chandler

Laughing Through The Tears
or Something Good Always Comes Out of Tragedy, Eventually

Before we talk about composer Dennis Chandler being told by Dorothy Fuldheim, to “never do anything in this town”… “Cleveland eats its babies alive”... we send a shout out of thanks to Hanks… Tom Hanks, that is. Why? One always hears him talk in interviews about his early mentors. Particularly those who helped him do his internship here in Cleveland, Ohio. He credits them for securing his pre-actors-equity-card status. Hanks is much too modest. We saw firsthand how it was his acting ability that got him his status (and still does). BUT, this is about his reminding us about those who mentor. We can relate to some of the same folks from Lakewood’s Shakespeare Festival, later Great Lakes Theatre Festival in Cleveland. We had the pleasure to play for GLTF… err… volunteer for GLTF. It was fun serving through committees, literally Meet and Greet, Adopt-An-Actor (Hello Delroy Lindo), Hospitality stocking supplies for all the actor’s apartments (Hello J.D. Sutton), co-chairing benefit events and of course, musician-Dennis playing piano for the ladies who lunch. (But, that’s another story).

Here and now we are reminded of the times spent with some of those same folks. The ones who are gone but whose influence is not forgotten; especially for the-composer-in-Chandler. For right now, two names come to mind. Dorothy Fuldheim (of blessed memory) and the late Vincent Dowling (who after GLTF went to be artistic director at the Abbey Theatre). Here’s how the dots almost connected between the three.

The first dot that almost connected was with the late, great broadcast pioneer… the woman called “THE FIRST LADY OF TELEVISION…. THE GRAND DAME OF TELEVISION”…. THE RENOWNED DOROTHY FULDHEIM”.  She was the one who “commissioned” (read: challenged) composer Dennis Chandler to write for her. It was for a then-forthcoming musical of her book she titled, “Three and a Half Husbands”.

After years of a sort of mental-block on this subject, Dennis was recently reminded of the music he wrote for Dorothy, his dearly departed friend and mentor. It all happened when back to Cleveland (from the West Coast) came a mutual friend of “Lady Fuldheim” and her former co-host (“The One O’Clock Club”) the great Bill Gordon aka Bill “Smoochie” Gordon. It was Bill who got Dorothy and Dennis collaborating. (Dennis was musical director for Bill Gordon and he often would write music for Smoochie’s shows).

Since Bill Gordon said it would make for some interesting reading… here’s the tale of how they came together on this subject and the manner in which Dorothy asked Dennis to be her composer. We go back in time to tell it here… Dorothy Fuldheim heard the farewell song writer Dennis wrote for retiring Morning Exchange Host Joel Rose. He was commissioned by TV5′s then producers Carol Story, Terri Moir and Jane Temple. (He had written numerous ditties, jingles and anniversary songs for the show). But, this was a song specially written in tribute and laid to video for… Joel Rose. On the day that it aired, Dorothy Fuldheim was a guest on the set when the video was played. She loved what he had written so much that she asked Dennis Chandler right there to be the one to write music for her play.

But, we have to tell you about HOW Dorothy did it. Picture this, a petite fireball of a small woman (only in physical stature), sitting on the MX couch, sunk low. Little Dorothy was trying to get tall Dennis’ attention. Boy did she ever. When she turned to him, shouting in what seemed like a gruff tone, “Did you write that?” He responded “Yes, what of it? Don’t you like it?” Dorothy shot back, “Yes, I love it! If you wrote that, we need to talk. I want you to be the composer for my play.” She then turned to Morning Exchange host Jan Jones and instructed her to “Bring him into my office right ASAP!”

Once Dennis was seated in Dorothy’s office, Fuldheim-the-interviewer began with her barrage of questions:  “Who are you? Dennis Chandler, why haven’t I heard the name before?… Such talent… Do you know how talented you are?… What’s your background?… What’s your story?… Do you know what to do with such talents?… If you don’t know what to do, how can you expect this town to know what to do with you?… Don’t do anything here… With Cleveland, it’s beyond prophet-in-own-town syndrome… this city eats its babies alive… So one has to make things happen out of town… Then make it look like a coming home thing… If YOU don’t know what to do with you, I KNOW what to do with you… I’M GOING TO BE YOUR CHAMPION! YOU’RE GOING TO BE THE COMPOSER FOR MY PLAY!”

Then Dorothy asked… “Can you write me songs with these themes, Irish, Jewish? Chandler’s what kind of name? Scottish? What, your father’s Irish, then you can write Gaelic music. Do you know anything Jewish? What, your mother’s Jewish, then you can write Hebraic music. Good, good… now I know you can write me anything. A lost love theme, a children’s song, etc.”

Fuldheim continued… “NOW, GO HOME AND WRITE.  But, wait a minute… First, GO MEET THE MAN WHO HAS MY PLAY, GO MEET VINCENT DOWLING!”

Who was Vincent Dowling? He was working as Artistic Director at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival then. (Recall we mentioned above that Tom Hanks would always give credit to his mentor Vincent Dowling and GLTF?) Later Dowling left GLTF to run Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, but while Dowling was still here in Cleveland; Dennis did go to meet him. Although Dowling graciously acknowledged Dorothy’s referral, he seemed to be in a “New-York-state-of-mind”, that is, he seemed to imply he already had a composer in mind; “a Broadway composer”. To Dennis’ knowledge, nothing was ever done with Dorothy’s book. So, then and there, musician-Dennis decided he would learn to write Broadway-style music, too. Thus musical director Dennis became composer Chandler.

After meeting the great Dorothy Fuldheim, Dennis couldn’t help but be motivated to write, and write he did. Sadly, Dorothy never got to hear her music. She had a stroke and passed away before Dennis could play the music for her. He still hopes to one day do “DOROTHY’S MUSIC” as he still calls it… in a play. Both in her honor and of course, Bill Gordon’s, too. What Lights.

Gee, wonder if Tom Hanks ever got to meet Dorothy… or… got to be bosom buddies with “Smoochie”? Well, we did. We were blessed. Wait… We are blessed.

P.S. When it was announced that television broadcast pioneer Fred Griffith was retiring after a 50 year on air career, we wished him “Congrats” here in Cyberspace. We knew Fred from when we all worked together on projects for WEWS TV 5 (and of course because of Dorothy Fuldheim and Bill Gordon). Again… what Lights. We appreciated all that they did. By the way composer Chandler also wrote a farewell song for Fred. Never heard it? Well, maybe because Fred never really retired. It was titled, “Always Fred”. One can bet that he still won’t retire. After all… for he’s always Fred. Not to worry, maybe composer Dennis will put that in a play, too. (But, maybe not in this town?)

(Signed, Liz Chandler, Website writer)