Sunday, November 01, 2009

Keith Visona Was a Great Stagehand and a Better Friend

When I was a young stagehand in LA scraping up work scraping the paint off the floor at ABC stage 54, the old Lawrence Welk stage at the ABC Prospect Lot in Hollywood, I met Keith Visona, a drawly southerner with an Italian-style demeanor of gregariousness. He could, and did, make friends with anyone and everyone. He genuinely liked people.

We worked together many times over the years, most notably on the Home Show on stage 54. When that show went non-union, we picketed together. When I couldn't get new work right away, and then the Northridge earthquake shook the employment scene into rubble, our car was repossessed. Keith lent me his "yellow rocket," a beat up old Datsun pickup that he had kept running for many hundreds of thousands of miles with, as we southerners say, duct tape, spit, and a lot of hope. There were, I'm pretty sure, a few wire clothes hangers holding things together under the hood. Keith was the King of southern ingenuity.

After driving the rocket for a few months, I managed to get back on my feet, and went to his house to return the truck. He was cooking, which he loved to do, and wanted to show me his huge baseball card collection. There was a homeless guy in there helping sort the cards. Keith's charity.

Keith went on to have a good career for a stagehand, working as head carpenter mostly, most notably City Guys and Nurses. You couldn't ask for a better guy to work for. He was patient, never minded teaching you something, but didn't hold you by the hand and dictate every minute detail. He's let you figure your own way as much as he could. When I became a head of department, I would often think, "What would Keith do?"

We lost touch over the years, and he got cancer. I got osteoarthritis and moved up here, about as far away from Hollywood as you can get. He and I kept in touch, occasionally, by email. I always liked the funny things he sent to his list, and I was happy to be on it.

A few weeks ago, Keith went down to Atlanta, where they were going to try a new Chemo. Here's his last Facebook post:
I am tired, more than usual though. I am packing for a move back to Georgia and relatives that can keep me on schedule for this new try at a of chemo/radiation. Should be settled in a week, see you all then. Keith

He was surrounded by friends and loved ones when he died yesterday. I'm sure that's the way he would want it. Surrounded by loved ones right in the middle of the fall classic.

And Halloween used to be my favorite holiday.

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