Interview with a Playwright and teacher: John T. Dalessandro

(Ricardo Ben-Safed ) As soon as I met John D’Alessandro at the weekly Coffee Club, I wanted to interview him. He’s a retired High School English and Drama teacher who also went to Merton College, Oxford and earned a PhD. and has an interesting creative history. So I decided to interview him.  Here are the results of the interview.


“John, What do you think got you started in theater productions?  How old were you when your interest was first piqued?”


 (John D’Alessandro )  “Since my mother was a business woman, running beauty shoppes, she occupied her five children, including my brother and I in various lessons to keep us busy and out of trouble. Rita has to study accordion, Jeanette, the Hawaiin guitar, Antoinette, drums.  My brother and I  were forced into dancing school, whether we liked like it or not, taking lessons sometimes three times a week from the age of 4.
We danced for all charity organizations who were having meetings or banquets, and in the early 1930 were in a few vaudeville shows.  Our picture is still displayed in an old vaudeville theatre in Oaklyn, N.J.,  The Ritz. My mother did play the piano and my father played the guitar for our family orchestra (brother and I were the singers).  Our dancing teacher was a pretty good, we never realized that he was gay.”
(Ric) “I enjoyed reading  the anecdotes you wrote about in your book ” It tolls for thee, Mr. D”. There is a charm in reading about the young High School adventures of people who later became celebrities.  What did you learn about Producing that might have helped you as a High School Teacher?”
(John) “There are some stories in the original book about students in my musicals: notably Bye,Bye Birdie,  Good News, Oliver etc. I would always tell my casts no to be inspired to go into acting, but a few did anyway, including Bruce Willis and Michael Landon who were successful, but many more who got nowhere.  Of course, being in a high school musical is an unforgettable experience for high school seniors and the subsequently all became fans of and attended productions of Broadway musicals. This was the best teaching effect and result.”
(Ric) “When do you think your interest in musical theater got started? Did you have dance or voice lessons when you were young?  Do you think you are organized  to produce from afar, or did you direct the productions more from impulse?”
(John).  “When I was a high school senior, we wanted  to give a Broadway musical but we didn’t have money for royalties. Consequently, a class mate and I wrote a musical called  “A Latin in Manhattan”, I directed it as a student and it  was pretty good.  When I went to Temple U. in my junior and senior years, although I was in the business school, I was dance captain for two musicals given by the famous Pop Randall (theater names after him.) At those shows everything backstage was chaos. so when I did my own musicals I developed a system of completely organizing the cast and all the committees, so that it would all operate smoothly without my being back stage.”
(Ric). “Did you have a role model to be a Producer?  How did you develop those skills if not?”
(John) “I guess it was in my third year in my third school, that I got a chance to direct a play.  The school had never done a musical before, but I decided to give “Good News”,  copying most of the stuff from the movie. There were 90 Seniors students. The choral work was very hard to do.  I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I did “Bye Bye Birdie” for my second musical and found out for myself how to do it.”
(Ric) ” So would you say that your methods evolved along with your interests?
(John) “My methods were picked up by several high school  in South Jersey, and also by about three cast members who became teacher-directors in the own high school jobs.”
(Ric) “I imagine if was a trick to keep a balance between your job as an English teacher and developing the musical theater group at the High School?  Did you have to fine tune your own skills?”
(John)  “When picking a high school musical, you have to keep a ear out for good singers in the school choir or glee club.  I never pre-cast but I usually knew who would be trying out for the lead roles. Although a few times, such as with “High Button Shoes“, a great lead came out of the woodwork. Of course, I had seen the show or movie of the musicals;  sometimes, as with West Side Story I was in theatre in the dark scribbling notes on the choreography of Jerome Robins etc. Costumes was never an obstacle because in all cases but one, I rented costumes from Brooks Van in New York. I always had the good fortune of having a great music director who never argued with me.”
(Ric) ” Would the School District give you a budget to work with?  How did you fund this musical theater.
Did the School Districts leave you on your own , and just paid the bills without questions?”
(John)  “In the adult productions, such as with the Haddonfield Chorale or the Camden County Musicrafters, the group usually had no money, and that meant I would have to be producer, director, choreographer, and also public relations director. In adult groups there were always people with college experience, so you would get a dentist who would be a great Music Man.  None of my productions every made much money but they did break even.”
(Ric)  “What was your best musical and the worse to produce? What production was the easiest…. ? What effect did they have on you?”
(John)  “Of all the 21 productions I directed and choreographed, I found “High Button Shoes” to be the most difficult. Besides 105 in the cast, 300 costumes, much scenery, three horses, a gorilla, a model T car and so much else. Fortunately I had a student teacher take over my English classes, but the task was monumental and I lost 30 lbs. The easiest was West Side Story with the Penn Players. Because the 32 boys and 32 girls wanted to do it. Penn students are very smart and they would call their own rehearsals without me. They were easy to teach. Although I could have used get-up costumes I had all the costumes, including beautiful suits and gowns, made for me by Brooks Van Han in New York.”
(Ric)  “How hard do you work to get High Schoolers interested in going into the Theater.  Comment if you would on inherited skills and ‘learned’ ones.”
(John)  “I try very hard to dissuade students, especially cast members, from thinking about studying theatre arts. But some defy all the odds and do it anyway. Some go to N.Y.C but usually end up working in a restaurant and working as a bartender. If any of these ever get anywhere, it is mostly luck. In the present time, they shouldn’t try unless they are really, really good looking.  Directors don’t care about resume’s but the will take a good singer who is really good looking.”
(Ric)  “Did you inspire yourself to become a Playwright? “
(John)  “Of course, my play   “Raiding Poppa” has been sent to many producers in New York City. There was one production of it in Daytona Beach and some companies did readings.  It is almost a fantasy of mine and I wrote it mostly in tribute to my mother, who was a great suffragette, and to my grandfather, who although he was a bootlegger, was a great man.”
(Ric)  ” What important proverb or wisdom did you learn from your experiences and publishing a book of memoirs?”
(John) “The first book was one great vanity trip, signing books, making guest appearances etc.  At my age, if I complete the second book, do I really need another vanity trip.?”


(Ric)  “Well, I hope you don’t talk yourself out of it.  I attended and very much enjoyed your course at Temple University Center City titled  “How to Produce a Broadway Musical”.  I’m going to look forward to your next book as well as the next course at Temple University.  Incidentally I just did a search and discovered that your first book is presently on sale at in England for £ 25.25, but here in the u.s. for $125 to 130 dollars”


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Source: Man Stumbles Down Rabbit Hole And Finds 700-Year-Old Templar Cave

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Walt Whitman’s reaction to the Poetry of Edgar A. Poe. (Sorry Poe fans!)

“Poe’s verses illustrate an intense faculty for technical and abstract beauty, with the rhyming art to excess, an incorrigible propensity toward nocturnal themes, a demoniac undertone behind every page—and, by final judgment, probably belong among the electric lights of imaginative literature, brilliant and dazzling, but with no heat.” – Walt Whitmanon Edgar Allan Poe’s significance, circa 1880.

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Source: Taylor, Bayard (1825-1878) | The Vault at Pfaff’s

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Homosexuality is a “gift from God” according to one bishop in Brazil, who said his intentions in preaching on the topic were about saving the lives of LGBT people who may be at risk. Bishop Antônio Carlos Cruz Santos of Caicó made the positive remarks in a July homily, telling Mass-goers: “‘If [being gay] is […]

via Bishop Calls Being Gay a “Gift from God,” Seeks to Save LGBT Lives — Bondings 2.0

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On November 7,8 and 9th, 2017  the Jewish History Museum will be the site of the 26th annual conference of the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies annual Conference and the first time since its founding in 1991 it will be in Philadelphia. Pa.  Conference attendees will stay at the Wyndham Hotel in the Colonial Historic District.  And yes, Spanish Jews were settled in Philadelphia from 1735, and even Dr. Benjamin Franklin contributed 3 British Stirling pounds. A considerable amount at the time. Most of the Spanish Jews were Portuguese having fled from Spain during the expulsions.



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It seems like you can’t read a newspaper or online news about anything related to medicine (not to mention some novels) without running into terms such as DNA, RNA and protein, all sorts. I thought maybe I could provide a primer, in bite-sized bits, which you could use to follow along. The information I will […]

via All That Genetic Stuff: DNA — SaylingAway

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A couple years ago a friend published a book titled “Teacher!, Teacher! , Mr. D’s amazing adventures at Collwood High .”   It’s by J. D’Alessandro. We got to talking, me listening, and he waxing eloquent about writing music. So I asked him permission to re-publish his words of wisdom on the subject.

The following is all his ideas.

1. There is always the question of which comes first, music or lyrics. Jerry Herman, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter and many others sat at the piano and wrote and lyrics at the same time. When Rodgers worked with Hart, Hart wrote the lyrics and Rodgers would do the music. Since Rodgers was always drunk at Sardi’s, Rodgers gave up on him, and joined up with his classmate from a Brooklyn high school, Oscar Hammerstein II.


They worked separately with Hammerstein writing the lyrics first, and then Rodger putting it to music. Stephen Sondheim stays away from the piano and writes all his lyrics laying on a couch with a yellow pad then putting it to music. Although famous, Sondheim has never had a hit song. His only popular song, “Bring in The Clowns” was stuck into “A Little Night Music” by his friend, John LaPointe, the director, although it had nothing to do with the play. Some of the great song writers like Irving Berlin and Anthony Newley could not read music ( It was also said that Sinatra, really couldn’t read music) Cole Porter became famous writing outrageously tricky lyrics to his catchy music. He did write several musicals. “Anthing Goes” and “Kiss Me Kate” remain popular and are given all over the world many times each year. Without question, Oscar Hammerstein is the greatest lyricist of all, having written the lyrics for everything from “Showboat” to “South Pacific and a dozen more great musicals. Stephen Sondheim does not really want to write Broadway musicals. He really wants to write opera where everything in the play is sung.

3 The 1999 federal law said all songs, musicals, and artistic works of an author would have copyright protection for his heirs for 99 years after the the death of the lyricist or composer, but that all artistic musical works would be in the common domain if written before 1923. Although the song is sung in every country from Italy to China, “Happy Birthday” has been held, until recently, by copyright law by Warner Music.and royalties had to be paid. ($12,000 if played on network television) Recently the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “Happy Birthday” was in the common domain, but it is being contested and appealed.

4. Most song writers have ASCAP collect royalties for them. Its phone number is 800 505-4052. This agency used to find out about the illegal use of songs by information from newspaper clipping services; now it finds out about illegal use from anything and everything put on the Internet. Illegal use usually results in a bill sent to the illegal users for the royalties. ASCAP was organized when Victor Herbert heard his songs being played in a swanky restaurant. He demanded payment of a royalty. After he was rebuked, he got together with Rudolph Friml, Sigmund Romberg, Irving Berlin and 10 other to form ASCAP ( American Association of Composers and Publishers). Although ASCAP controls 50,000 songs, some songs are controlled by other agencies like Disney Music, Rodgers and Hammerstein

Repertory, Tams-Witmak Musical Library. If one does not know who the song writer is, he goes to a “clearing” house to get appropriate licenses for the songs. If a piano player is using a lot of songs in a saloon, ASCAP will give him for a fee a “blanket license”.

5. As for musicals, the licenses for use are mostly controlled by Tams-Witmark, or Music Theater International, or Rodgers and Hammerstein Repertory ( which also controls all of Irving Berlin’s songs). Nothing can be used for free, royalties must be paid for everything or a lawsuit ensues. The current royalties on non-professional musical productions is about 20% of the “take” (the number of seats, times the number of performances, times the ticket price determines the total take). Meredith Wilson’s 3rd wife sold all his copyrights to one of the Beatles for 5 million. “The Music Man” is given someplace in the world 800 times a year paying full royalty. Two years ago TheWalnut Theatre had to pay $ 45,000 to the Beatles guy for the right to perform the show. For example, West Chester High School had to pay about $5,000 in royalties in order to give “The Music Man 3 years ago.

6. Recently “Bullets Over Broadway” .. the failed Broadway musical ( it lasted only 3 months on the Great White Way) played in Philadelphia. Woody Allen, the author, decided to use about 20 old time 20’s songs, but the production has to pay royalties to all original authors by way of ASCAP.

There are perennial songs that keep on producing royalties for song writers. Lee Adams who wrote “Put On A Happy Face” for “Bye Bye Birdie” told me he lives on the royalties from that one song.

7. My field is play production. I wrote a cost estimate for possible investors for the musical “Bridges of Madison County” with capitalization at $12 million. It played a month in previews, but was killed by the critics on opening night and closed immediately. The investors lost everything. Only one in 5 Broadway musicals make any money. Because too many people were losing money on Broadway shows, Gov Cuomo has passed a law that investors must be “qualified” ( half million in income, at least 5 million in assets). But one can still invest in corporations that invest in Broadway musicals for at little as $10. It is like betting on horse. But investors in “Phantom of the Operas” have made 3.2 billion. Investors from Camden N.J, who put up the money for “My Fair Lady”, are still getting royalty checks.



Ricardo Ben Safed.


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Last nite 10/19/15 at Free Library of Philadelphia heard excellent panel on

“Race, Poe and Philadelphia”

by Dr. Liliane Weissberg, U of P prof and editor of “Romancing the Shadow: Race and Poe”

with Donn Scott, local historian and ast Prof of English in engaging and

controversial conversation. So much so, that I just subscribed thru

for my own copy. Furthermore, because of Dr. Weissberg, I am convinced that

Poe never became a Southern Gentleman or holder of the enslaved,

and illustrated in his own life experiences of how to deal with racism.

Ricardo Ben Safed.

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I don’t know why some folk who count themselves as Friends of Poe, refuse to acknowledge that the state of the science of “addiction recovery” in 1848 was non-existent. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that Freud’s discovery of the psychology of the human mind was even conceived. So Dr. examining E.A. Poe, had no idea what addiction really was, nor how to treat its enviable ‘withdrawal’ symptoms, much less the expected ‘addiction recovery’ process. And it wasn’t until 1935 that Bill W. and Dr. Bob happened on the group therapy called “Alcoholics Anonymous”. Of course no valid diagnosis can be made of an event that happened 166 years ago. Which only underlines the fact that relying on physicians notes taken in 1849 also cannot be conclusive either.

Today, in 2015, if you consult The standard American Psychiatric Association diagnostic and statistical manual for “delirium” you will find that it has to be properly assessed before appropriate treatment can be maintained and supported. Poe could have had a head trauma, gone into shock, had a seizure or a stroke; And there is a long process and time within which the body will react to the sudden withdrawal of alcohol and/or drugs. Importantly there is a difference between clinical ‘delirium’ and the notation ‘he was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, outside Ryan’s Tavern. Poor man just didn’t receive adequate medical treatment, the delirium was not recognized, and patient expired.

kind regards,

Ricardo Ben-Safed

Portrait of Poe by William Abbot Pratt from September 1849, a month before his death

On September 27, 1849, Poe left Richmond, Virginia, on his way hometo New York. No reliable evidence exists about Poe’s whereabouts until a week later on October 3, when he was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, outside Ryan’s Tavern (sometimes referred to as Gunner’s Hall).[5] A printer named Joseph W. Walker sent a letter requesting help from an acquaintance of Poe, Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass.[1] His letter reads:

Dear Sir—There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker[6]

Snodgrass later claimed the note said that Poe was “in a state of beastly intoxication”, but the original letter proves otherwise.[1]
Snodgrass’s first-hand account describes Poe’s appearance as “repulsive”, with unkempt hair, a haggard, unwashed face and “lusterless and vacant” eyes. His clothing, Snodgrass said, which included a dirty shirt but no vest and unpolished shoes, was worn and did not fit well.[7] Dr. John Joseph Moran, who was Poe’s attending physician, gives his own detailed account of Poe’s appearance that day: “a stained faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat”. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in this condition, and it is believed the clothes he was wearing were not his own,[7] not least because wearing shabby clothes was out of character for Poe.[8]
Moran cared for Poe at the for-profit Washington College Hospital on Broadway and Fayette Street.[9] He was denied any visitors and was confined in a prison-like room with barred windows in a section of the building reserved for drunk people.[10] Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” on the night before his death, though no one has ever been able to identify the person to whom he referred. One possibility is that he was recalling an encounter with Jeremiah N. Reynolds, a newspaper editor and explorer who may have inspired the novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.[11] Another possibility is Henry R. Reynolds, one of the judges overseeing the Fourth Ward Polls at Ryan’s Tavern, who may have met Poe on Election Day.[12] Poe may have instead been calling for “Herring”, as the author had an uncle-in-law in Baltimore named Henry Herring. In later testimonies Moran avoided reference to Reynolds but mentioned a visit by a “Misses Herring”.[13] He also claimed he attempted to cheer up Poe during one of the few times Poe was awake. When Moran told his patient that he would soon be enjoying the company of friends, Poe allegedly replied that “the best thing his friend could do would be to blow out his brains with a pistol”.[14]
In Poe’s distressed state, he made reference to a wife in Richmond. He may have been delusional, thinking that his wife, Virginia, was still alive, or he may have been referring to Sarah Elmira Royster, to whom he had recently proposed. He did not know what had happened to his trunk of belongings which, it transpired, had been left behind at the Swan Tavern in Richmond.[10] Moran reported that Poe’s final words were “Lord, help my poor soul” before dying on October 7, 1849.[15]

Credibility of Moran[edit]

Because Poe did not have visitors, Moran was probably the only person to see the author in his last days. Even so, Moran’s credibility has been questioned repeatedly, if not considered altogether untrustworthy.[2] Throughout the years after Poe’s death, his story changed as he wrote and lectured on the topic. He claimed (in 1875 and again in 1885, for example) that he had immediately contacted Poe’s aunt (and mother-in-law), Maria Clemm, to let her know about Poe’s death; in fact, he wrote to her only after she had requested it on November 9, almost a full month after the event. He also claimed that Poe had said, quite poetically, as he prepared to draw his last breath: “The arched heavens encompass me, and God has his decree legibly written upon the frontlets of every created human being, and demons incarnate, their goal will be the seething waves of blank despair.” The editor of the New York Herald, which published this version of Moran’s story, admitted, “We cannot imagine Poe, even if delirious, constructing [such sentences].”[16] Poe biographer William Bittner attributes Moran’s claim to a convention of assigning pious last words to console mourners.[17]
Moran’s accounts even altered dates. At different points, he claimed Poe was brought to the hospital on October 3 at 5 p.m., on October 6 at 9 a.m., or on October 7 (the day he died) at “10 o’clock in the afternoon”. For each published account, he claimed to have the hospital records as reference.[18] A search for hospital records a century later, specifically an official death certificate, found nothing.[19] Some critics claim Moran’s inconsistencies and errors were due only to a lapse of memory, an innocent desire to romanticize, or even to senility. At the time he wrote and published his last account in 1885, Moran was 65.[18]

Cause of death[edit]

Poe was originally buried at the back of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground without a headstone. This stone marks the original burial plot today (Lat: 39.28972; Long: -76.62333).

All medical records and documents, including Poe’s death certificate, have been lost, if they ever existed.[19] The precise cause of Poe’s death is disputed, but many theories exist. Many biographers have addressed the issue and reached different conclusions, ranging from Jeffrey Meyers’ assertion that it was hypoglycemia to John Evangelist Walsh’s conspiratorial murder plot theory.[20] It has also been suggested that Poe’s death might have resulted fromsuicide related to depression. In 1848, he nearly died from an overdose of laudanum, readily available as atranquilizer and pain killer. Though it is unclear if this was a true suicide attempt or just a miscalculation on Poe’s part, it did not lead to Poe’s death a year later.[21]
Snodgrass was convinced that Poe died from alcoholism and did a great deal to popularize this idea. He was a supporter of the temperance movement and found Poe a useful example in his temperance work. However, Snodgrass’s writings on the topic have been proven untrustworthy.[2] Moran contradicted Snodgrass by stating in his own 1885 account that Poe did not die under the effect of any intoxicant. Moran claimed that Poe “had not the slightest odor of liquor upon his breath or person”.[2] Even so, some newspapers at the time reported Poe’s death as “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”, euphemisms for deaths from disgraceful causes such as alcoholism.[22] In a study of Poe, a psychologist suggested that Poe had dipsomania.[23]
Poe’s characterization as an uncontrollable alcoholic is disputed.[3] His drinking companion for a time, Thomas Mayne Reid, admitted that the two engaged in wild “frolics” but that Poe “never went beyond the innocent mirth in which we all indulge… While acknowledging this as one of Poe’s failings, I can speak truly of its not being habitual”.[24] Some believe Poe had a severe susceptibility to alcohol and became drunk after one glass of wine.[25]He only drank during difficult periods of his life and sometimes went several months at a time without alcohol.[3] Adding further confusion about the frequency of Poe’s use of alcohol was his membership in the Sons of Temperance at the time of his death.[26][27] William Glenn, who administered Poe’s pledge, wrote years later that the temperance community had no reason to believe Poe had violated his pledge while in Richmond

Ricardo Ben Safed.

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