I am a prolific author of Literary fiction. Occasionally I post a Blog on KOOBUG.
THE LEGEND OF MOON MOUNTAIN, Ruwenzori, A Fable For Every Age
PATAPSCO, A Novel Of Benjamin Banneker
COUNTRY ROADS,The Internal Life Of A Mannish Rascal
(In Memory Of Alverta LaPallo)
On Monday June 2, 2014 I paused at the Obituary Section of The New York Times, as is my habit. After perusing the page to determine which Notices to read, based on familiarity of name, profession or ethnicity, I settled on the one obituary that stood out.
Lee Chamberlin, ‘Electric Company’ Actress, Dies at 76
Beneath the headline was a photograph of a very attractive Black woman whose face I recognized from wherever, whenever? The name Lee Chamberlin was less familiar than the face. Still, my interest was piqued enough for me to read on and see if any of her credits rang a bell. As it turned out, I had seen some of her movie and tv performances.
Allow me at this juncture to inform you that in 1959 and 1960 I sang with the fledgling Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. As a result of that connection, I met a number of dancers from various companies, one of which was the John Destine Dance Company.
During an International Dance concert at the Carter Baron Amphitheater in Washington, D.C., there were representative presentations by Celonese, American, African, Haitian and other cultures. A performance of a Voodoo based dance by the Destine group produced a unique occurrence. While the troupe performed the ritual, one of the dancers became "possessed." She went into the kind of state with which I was familiar as a shouting fit, in the Southern Baptist Church at the center of my childhood. It seemed to me as it had during the revivals of my youth that such a seizure was emblematic of true spiritual devotion. The young woman who had become possessed, I was to learn, was named Alverta LaPallo.
One night not long after the tour that had placed us in Washington had ended, Art D'Lugoff had a shindig in a cellar pad he had leased across the street from his Village Gate nightclub, in New York.
From the outset, the evening promised to plant an indelible memory into my post adolescent mind. Alvin was there along with the Derby sisters and others I knew from his company. Babatunde Olatunji, with whom I was doing a stint at the time, was also there. Flutist Herbie Mann, Congo drummer Montego Joe and a slew of artists who would become or were already celebrated, filled the smoky, funky cellar pad. Alverta LaPallo was there too.
How it happened I have no recollection; but I happened to hook up with Alverta whom I had become obsessed about since the night she displayed what was to me, deep spiritual worthiness. We spoke of things philosophical, artistic and traditions descended from mother Africa.
Somebody introduced to the typically 1960's drink and toque party, the Limbo.
I WANNA SEE A MAN WHO CAN LIMBO LIKE ME-EE
LIMBO LIKE ME
LIMBO LIMBO LIMBO LIMBO
LIMBO LIKE ME-EE
LIMBO LIKE ME
Living up to my identity as the vocalist in the house, I quickly learned the stanzas of the song and took the lead in chanting it. While that was fun and ego boosting, discovering that I could bend backwards and slither under the Limbo stick with most of the dancers, who were quite agile, I was not, was even more gratifying.
Of course, none of it all was as thrilling for me than that intellectual (she had entered college at age 15), spiritual, lovely and talented Alverta had chosen to hang out with me.
Looking back, it is clear that the little bit of petting we did was to Alverta who was a good deal more sophisticated than me, was a pleasant and welcome amenity of the festivities.
Never the less, a month or so after that night, I sent a love letter to the young woman who was to become, Lee Chamberlin. In her response, she expressed appreciation and surprise at the depth of my adoration. She mentioned that she was soon to be married. More about her letter later.
On June 3, 2014 the content of the obituary began to sink in. Not only had I seen Alverta in two comedies directed by Sidney Poitier, Uptown Saturday Night and Let's Do It Again, I had seen her in television appearances.
I had objectified her as I was supposed to, without recognizing that the actress Lee Chamberlin was my dream girl Alverta LaPallo.
When I reflected on the highlights of the death notice, certain facts of Alverta's life caught my attention. Among them were that her husband had died 15 years earlier. Suddenly, as if she and I might have met after she was widowed, and she would have opened her arms and exclaimed, "My darling, at long last fate has brought us together," the notion of reclamation sped through my neurosis.
On that day and on the Fourth of June, the healthy part of my mind kept screaming, "FOOL, YOU NEVER KNEW HER; NOT IN THE BIBLICAL SENSE NOR ON ANY PRACTICAL LEVEL!" Still, as Fats Waller might have jested, "One never knows do one?" Later, on the same day, now two days after discovering that a girl who touched me more deeply than any other ever has; the woman from whom I instantly learned that while some cats were "Leg men" and others "Breast men" I am a "Brain man."
I am a serial monogamist. As such, over the years, I knew and loved a number of women two of whom I married. Yet, Alverta remained as fresh in my romantic memory as "Now Is The Hour," the first love song that made me cry.
I am in a good place along my journey. At nearly seventy eight, I am more fit with more muscular definition than most men thirty or forty years younger than me; I began studying piano at age 66 and still practice; I have published four books of fiction, completed another and am half way through the completion of my sixth work. Still, my memories and fantasies about Alverta lead me to remember that, in addition to any possibilities of a romantic attachment to her having foundered, so have notions of a singing or Acting career.
June 4: Full realization that this woman had died, (inexplicable though it may be) made me cry. During the previous two days I had been on the brink of tears without expecting to actually weep. Again, I did not really know Alverta, let alone, Lee.
I should factor in to the poignancy of my sorrow that contemporaneous to learning of Alverta's death, I was watching the French Open Tennis Tournament (Alverta lived in Paris). Also, within a month prior to her death, several persons whom I did know, passed. The two most recent of them, I cried over. Yet, and it made me feel presumptuous, I not only cried over Alverta/Lee, I sobbed, I wailed.
On June 6, it fnally came to me, the source of my sadness is that for more than half a century I have expected that, at some point, I would run into and get to know Alverta LaPallo. And now, I have to accept, that never will and never could have happened. The Alverta I imagined never existed. The Alverta who was, and whom I did not really know, ceased to be when she became Lee Chamberlin. Lee Chamberlin was a wonderful actor whom I saw in, "Uptown Saturday Night" and other works, without recognizing that she was the dancer I never stopped having a crush on. All of which leads to the fact, the woman whom I either pretended to or actually did fall in love with, only existed in my mind.
The resulting pain is exacerbated by my having to accept that after all these years, the construct has to be dismantled and replaced with an unfamiliar reality. My God, it hurts.
Meanwhile, I wonder how Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones are affected by Lee's passing. Given the circumstances of my path and personality, I do not assume they are as devastated as I am. I am a pushover; as some old time comic used to say, "I cry at Supermarket openings." But, since I only spent a 'minute,' with Alverta/Lee, and these folks knew her well, worked with her on numerous occasions, how did they feel about this person whose memory I'm doting on. I'm sure they recognized her to be a vessel of empathy and integrity. So, how, from their superstar perspectivess, were they affected upon hearing of the death of Lee Chamberlin?
In 2010, Lee Chamberlin founded the Playwrights Inn Project in Paris: http://playwrightsinnproject.org/ The Playwrights’ Inn Project develops work of diverse American playwrights, including women and people of color traditionally under served in the play development process.
For the surviving members of Lee Chamberlin's family, Father: Bernando La Pallo, Sister; Nandra Gant; Daughter; Erika Chamberlin, Son: Matthew Chamberlin and Lee's Grandchildren, I offer in addition to my deepest sympathies, an apology for personalizing her death. And to finish my reflection on her answer to my love letter: Alverta said, by way of apologizing for what she perceived to be an inadequate response, "Forgive me these paltry words."
The struggle continues
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