I never met Roscoe Lee Browne, who died April 11, but here in the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles right now, they're holding a memorial service that is, well, astounding. What a man. Laurence Fishburne just finished speaking, a very moving speech, reminiscing about the time he spent with Browne, with whom he performed on this very stage in Two Trains Running.
Gordon Davidson, former Artistic Director of the Center Theater Group is speaking now, and coming up will be Sidney Poitier and Martin Sheen. When Gordon got up there, he said, "I'm Gordon Davidson, and I used to own this theater!"
If you head over to Browne's IMDB page, you'll see in the trivia section that he set the world record in the 800 meter run in 1952. His nephew, who's speaking now, said that when they were playing hide and seek, the other kids would make him wear over-sized sneakers. He was just that fast.
What will jump out at you, though, is the impressive list of work in TV and Film this man created. From what I'm gathering from this service so far, though, is that this incredible man was a creature of the theater. Check out his Internet Broadway Database page. Check out his Wikipedia page. Dig the education. Note the Shakespeare work.
In the big recording of life, it's tough to lay down that many great tracks.
I'll be posting some wav files of Mr. Browne as soon as I can get them uploaded.
Brenda Vaccaro is speaking now. She said that Roscoe gave her her first great compliment, when she was 18. He said, "If I were a woman, I'd want to be you."
Martin Sheen said he and his wife wanted to come see him in a play here, so she called him and said, "Roscoe, we want to come see the play but we don't know what night you're dark, and Roscoe said 'Dear, I'm dark every night.'"
Anthony Zerbe started to speak, so we thought Sidney Poitier wasn't here. Anthony said, well, since Sidney's not here, and a voice rose from house right "I'm here."
Zerbe: "Would you like to say something?"
Portier: "I would."
What an entrance! Standing ovation. I wish I could hear better. Our show program mic isn't picking him up very well, because he's looking down to read his notes. He said when he and Roscoe realized that their bones were getting brittle, they had to accept it with grace. They were in Atlanta 8 weeks ago to accept and award, and he looked around and realized that he and Roscoe were the most brittle. That got a big laugh.
Now back to Anthony Zerbe, who did Behind the Broken Words here with Roscoe. They toured every year to at least one theater for the last 38 years to do Broken Words. One time, in Washington State, they were late, went onto a stage they'd never been on. They didn't know where the audience was, because the first scene was completely dark.
Roscoe: "Where are they dear?"
Zerbe: "We'll just have to listen for them."
And he started to choke up.
"He was the noblest man I ever met."
"Politically he was the most succinct man I knew: 'They're all dummies, dear.'"
Zerbe said when they were choosing a poem for the end of Broken Words, he came across a terrific little poem, and said "Roscoe, this is a great poem. Who wrote it?"
Roscoe: "I did, dear."
Zerbe: "We have to end the show with this, and you have to read it."
Roscoe: "Oh, no, dear."
Zerbe: "Let me put it this way: No poem, no show."
So, Roscoe agreed. And, in the program for the show, where the poems and their authors were listed, he insisted that he be listed in the "demure" R.L. Browne.
R. L. Browne
If the birds do not come
I, whose wings are cleft
And whose gentle talons
Hold you fast to my breast
And from whose throat comes only
The coarse, grey, and grating cry
Of extremity - where no music is -
I, if the birds do not come,
Will sing to you...
If the birds do not come,
Will you who are Spring and
Flight and all Music,
Will you sing to me,
if the birds do not come?