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St. George Productions

From left, Darren and Sal St. George discuss 'The Top 5 People Who Make Us Laugh' during a recent virtual conversation through Sachem Public Library.

By Tara Mae

For fans of classic movies, old Hollywood trivia, and celebrity icons, the show must go on. So when COVID-19 redefined the boundaries of normal life, St. George Productions reimagined the entertainment it provided to its audiences. After years of creating live educational theatrical events, it moved its endeavors online and began hosting digital lectures and virtual museum tours. 

On Mondays at 10 a.m., St. George Productions, through Zoom, offers virtual journeys into the past. “We celebrate entertainment’s leaders, legends, and icons through lectures and virtual road trips,” said Darren St. George in a recent interview. He and his father, Sal, manage the business and oversee all its operations. 

A virtual visit to the John Wayne Museum in Iowa

Focusing on the lives of notable historical figures, mainly of stage and screen, the talks feature Sal’s personal insights from his years in the business. They also draw on his experience as a pop culture historian and adjunct professor at Long Island University and other schools. 

Sal and Darren are motivated by their desire to teach the public about entertainment history and its impact on the culture. “Even if there was no pandemic, keeping the memories alive of these great entertainers is essential,” Sal said. 

The virtual tours are of museums dedicated to celebrities and cultural icons, such as actor Clark Gable and Frank Capra’s 1947 classic holiday film, It’s a Wonderful Life. “We did the Clark Gable Museum, which then let other museums know. The It’s A Wonderful Life Museum let the Jimmy Stewart Museum and Donna Reed Museum know,” Sal said. 

This word-of-mouth method of promotion has proven effective, with museums now reaching out to St. George Productions to arrange virtual visits, according to Darren. Usually conducted by executive directors of the museums, the private tours are free to the public. The company does not make a profit from them. 

“We are doing this to help support the museums themselves; we come from the museum world. We love this subject matter. Dad and I are going to be talking about this regardless; if you give us an opportunity we want to learn more,” Darren said. 

Before the pandemic, the company developed and produced educational theatrical works for organizations closer to home like The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and the Smithtown Historical Society. Creating informative entertainment is both a profession and a passion for the team.  

“I have always been self-employed in the entertainment business in one form or another. Everything I do is a stepping stone to the next program. We are reaching a lot of people, and who would have thought that we could do this, working off a computer, out of a house,” Sal said. 

A virtual visit to the Clark Gable Museum in Ohio

The business started over thirty years ago, when Sal was developing content for Walt Disney World. “I was approached by the head of historic services for Suffolk County — it had just restored Deepwells [Farm]. Rather than be a small fish in a big pond at Disney, I chose to be here and support the museum world,” he added. 

Darren, whose mother, Mary, also works for the company, joined the family business at a young age. He has worked both on the stage and behind the scenes, as the roles required. In recent months, his job has evolved to providing technical support for online content. 

“Working with my dad is a dream come true. Working with family has always been what I strove for. It has been challenging due to COVID, but every week we’re guaranteed to sit down and have a great time. It just so happens that people are watching,” Darren said.  

This camaraderie transcends family ties and extends to viewers who tune in from around the country, allowing people to bond through common interests and retreat into the comfort of fond memories.

“Our guests motivate us so much. Times are hard, and this has turned into something for all of us to look forward to; an encouraging moment to come together and enjoy celebrities and movies we have all appreciated for so many years. It is incredible — we would have never been able to do this without Zoom, etc. Besides, how often do you get to travel to Wyoming, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, Idaho without leaving your living room?” he said.  

The next lecture will be “Influential Women of Comedy: Part II” on March 8 at 10 a.m. All programming is free, with a suggested donation. For more information about the lectures and museum tours, visit www.stgeorgelivinghistory.com. 

Olivia Newton-John
Celebrating the lives of Linda Ronstadt & Olivia Newton-John

By Ed Blair

Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England, and raised in Melbourne, Australia. Linda Ronstadt was born in Tucson, Arizona. “They were polar opposites in fashion style, song content and personality,” said Sal St. George, longtime creator of productions chronicling the lives of popular stars of the past and present. “And yet,” he continued, “Olivia and Linda had very similar beginnings and successes.”

Thus the reason that St. George has paired the two iconic songstresses in a Living History Production titled Tribute: Linda Ronstadt & Olivia Newton-John, a heartwarming holiday show that will run from Nov. 19 through Jan. 10 at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook Village.

“Country, pop, opera, rock, Broadway — they successfully conquered all music genres and became music legends,” he added. The celebration of the lives of the two internationally famous singers focuses on their incredible stories, and audiences will thrill once again to their classic songs.

The show’s motif will be familiar to St. George fans. “The program will follow the same format as in the past,” he explained, “except we have two of the most popular singers of the seventies as our stars. We are in the year 1978. Olivia is riding high with the success of ‘Grease.’ Linda is astounding New York audiences in ‘The Pirates of Penzance.’ Both shows will be discussed in the program, and, along with the songs of the stars, seventies’ fashions will be highlighted.”

Linda Ronstadt’s singing career was quite diversified. Beginning with her work as lead vocalist for the folk-rock group Stone Poneys in the mid-1960s (“Different Drum” scored high on the ratings charts), Ronstadt pursued country, alt-country, country rock, pop rock, Latin and classic jazz genres. Along the way, she put together the band that became the Eagles, won a dozen Grammy Awards and was christened the “Queen of Country Rock.”

By the mid-1970s, Ronstadt’s image became just as famous as her music. In 1976, she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and was also featured on a TIME magazine cover in 1977. She was the top-selling female vocalist of the 1970s and produced a succession of platinum albums on into the ’80s. Ronstadt’s popularity continued into the ’90s, and beyond.

In a 2011 interview with the Arizona Daily Star, Ronstadt announced her retirement and sadly, in August 2013, she revealed to AARP that she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, saying “I can no longer sing at all.” In an April 2016 interview, Ronstadt is quoted as saying, “I can’t sing anymore. That’s that. I can still sing in my brain but I can’t sing. It’s just the way it is. If you’re going to have Parkinson’s you’d better have a sense of humor.”

Actress Emily Tafur, who portrays Ronstadt in the WMHO production, noted, “I feel challenged and appreciated and honored to be portraying one of the great music legends of our time.”

Olivia Newton-John was known in the UK and Australia for her performances on television and in clubs, but her fame grew further when she came to the United States. Her hit recording “I Honestly Love You” (1974 Record of the Year) garnered a Grammy Award, and more successful albums followed. Newton-John really rocketed to international stardom, however, for her role in the 1978 film “Grease,” in which she co-starred with John Travolta.

Although she received another Grammy in 1981 for her hit, “Let’s Get Physical,” Newton-John’s musical career waned somewhat in the 1980s. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and underwent a partial mastectomy. She has since donated portions of the proceeds of her appearances to cancer research and has recorded songs she designed to provide hope and courage to cancer patients and their families. Continuing her advocacy, Newton-John organized a charity walk along the Great Wall of China with other cancer survivors to raise funds to build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne. During the past year, the singer learned that the cancer had returned, and she is currently undergoing treatment.

Cierra Ervin, who portrays Olivia Newton-John, offered these comments: “This is a daunting and exciting experience! To portray such an identifiable entertainer has been a dream come true. We think audiences will have a wonderful holiday experience at the show.”

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, located at 97P Main St. in Stony Brook Village will present Tribute: Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., and on Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on the following dates: Nov. 19, 25, 26, 29 and 30; Dec. 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 17, 20 and 21; and Jan. 3, 4, 6, 7 and 10.

Partially sponsored by the Roosevelt Investment Group, admission is $48 adults, $45 seniors and children under 15 and $40 groups of 20 or more. Performances are followed by a luncheon, tea and dessert. Reservations must be made in advance by calling 631-689-5888. For more information, visit www.wmho.org.

This post was updated Nov. 17 to correct pricing for seniors and children.

Debbie Reynolds in a scene from 'Singin' In the Rain'

By Ed Blair

Debbie Reynolds during the filming of ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown‘ in 1964

She was the quintessential “girl next door” — sweet, wholesome and unassuming. She was pretty and perky, had a dazzling smile and looked great in a cute summer dress. In short, she was the ideal, all-American girl every guy wanted to take home to meet his parents.

For many, Debbie Reynolds fit the classic romantic fantasy perfectly, whether she was dancing as an 18-year-old with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), rollicking in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964), for which she received an Oscar nomination, or crooning her chart-topping 1957 hit “Tammy.”

Reynolds’ daughter, Carrie Fisher, earned her star as another type of princess in her iconic role in the “Star Wars” series. Their relationship, and their coinciding deaths, were headline material that generated wide media attention, and the sometimes contentious interactions between mother and daughter will be a featured in “The Debbie Reynolds Story,” a musical theater tribute being presented at The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center from May 6 to June 15.

Debbie Reynolds with her daughter Carrie Fisher

The center has hosted a number of shows orchestrated by St. George Productions, which has brought to life the biographies of stars such as Bob Hope, Patti Page, Mickey Rooney and, most recently, Mary Martin and Dinah Shore. As in the past, presentations will be followed by a luncheon catered by Fratelli’s Italian Eatery and includes tea and dessert.

In a format familiar to audiences who continue to enjoy his live musical theater tributes, director/writer/producer Sal St. George’s latest offering details the life of Debbie Reynolds and her on-again-off-again relationship with her daughter, Carrie Fisher.

Setting the show’s time line, St. George explained, “The year is 1977. Debbie has recently completed ‘Irene’ on Broadway, as well her one-woman show, and is touring with ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’” Reynolds had received a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for her role in “Irene,” and teenager Carrie Fisher had appeared on stage with her early during the musical’s run. “Carrie, now 20, is still in England promoting ‘Star Wars,’” St. George continued. “Although she is not [portrayed] in our show, Carrie’s relationship with her mother will be a major topic of discussion.”

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in a scene from the 1977 ‘Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope’

Indeed, that relationship has been scrutinized and commented upon in the media since the deaths of the two stars became headline stories in December of 2016. Reynolds’ kaleidoscopic career and rags-to-riches road to stardom contrasted sharply with Fisher’s experiences.

Paris Pryor, the actress who portrays Reynolds in The WMHO production, paid tribute to the late star’s achievements, pointing out that, “Although her death is still fresh in our minds, I hope our presentation will be a positive reflection on her rich legacy.”

St. George noted that Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart and Rosemary Clooney lived in the same neighborhood as Reynolds, and his production features actress Jordyn Morgan, who portrays Clooney. “It is an honor,” said Morgan, “to be re-creating the life of such a remarkable musical artist. Our production is a salute to two of Hollywood’s greatest icons.”

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, located at 97P Main St. in Stony Brook Village will present “The Debbie Reynolds Story” on May 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 17, 18, 20, 21, 24 (sold out), 25 and 31; June 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 14 and 15. Performances are at 11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. on Sundays). Admission is $48 adults; seniors (60 and over) and children under 15, $45; and groups of 20 or more $40. Advance reservations are required by calling 631-689-5888.

Created by Ward Melville in 1939 as The Ward Melville Community Fund, The WMHO is a not-for-profit organization founded to maintain and enhance historical and sensitive environmental properties and to develop and foster community enrichment through cultural and educational experiences. To learn more about The WMHO, call 631-751-2244 or visit the website at www.wmho.org.