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An American Actor's Literary Life - an Editorial Review of "Where the Possums' Dance..."

Updated: Jul 31, 2022



Book Blurb:


Actor/writer/painter Brandon R Maggart seems to have written Where Possums Dance and the Willow Sings for readers whose imaginations are as keen and improvisational as his own. He wanders freely within "the proscenium arch under his brow and behind his eyes," peopled with characters real or imagined (sometimes both); gliding comfortably through times real or imagined (sometimes both), giving some lurid details; leaving others tantalizingly just beyond reach.


In his six-decade career Brandon has rubbed elbows (and other body parts) with some of the greatest luminaries ever to grace the world's stage and screens. There are famous names and events, colorful anecdotes about many of the greats. But Where Possums Dance and the Willow Sings is orders of magnitude beyond that. It is nothing less than Free Passage into Brandon R. Maggart's inner life, through which "regular reality" is perceived. Or maybe not, depending on the reader's own inner life skills.


This is psychic autobiography; an inner journey we're invited on. It is highly erotic, deeply philosophical, and broadly instructive. It is a blend of spiritual confession, imagined history as well as the author's real-life experiences. It's tricky reading, I admit. But it's also absorbing reading.


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Editorial Review:


As a reviewer of some previous experience, in creating a review of ''Where Possums Dance and the Willow Sings'' by Brandon R. Maggart I must admit to a certain level of difficulty in presenting a fair and balanced view of this highly personal and extremely idiosyncratic work. That it is written from the heart there is no doubt. Neither is there any doubt that this is a monumental work. That it is at times oblique, rambling and difficult to follow is equally true. Brandon Maggart has, from his vantage point of eighty-seven years, a story of an extremely rich and varied life to tell and in the telling of it there are a large number of profound truths and gems of pure understanding lurking in the thickets and in the undergrowth of the text like glittering diamonds. They are undeniably there and well worth seeking out amongst the lengthy oblique asides. ''After the curtain, I take a bow and we in the audience applaud the work, some more than others,'' he says. Elsewhere, he refers to ''my imperfectly beautiful tapestry''. Both sentiments are equally true.


In his introduction, the author suggests that this book would perhaps best be listened to rather than read [perhaps with the voice of Garrison Keillor as a personal suggestion]. Certainly, much of the book has a conversational 'one on one' nature and a quality that is highly endearing, like a chat with an old friend whilst nursing a couple of beers. There follows a protracted stream of consciousness reminiscent of the late, great James Joyce and a rich and twinkling use of language of the equally late and great Dylan Thomas. The unique sly humour of Kurt Vonnegut is also present. The language lulls, to be read or listened to on a warm summer's day or at night when sleep eludes you. There is a sporadic intensity of a phrase or an image that suddenly strikes you; the reader should be prepared for these sudden ambushes and to be equally aware there is no specific 'plot' to follow and upon which to set one's course. This is, rather, a series of observations and extended fantasies garnered together and to be reflected on from a long and rich and varied life. This is 'thinking aloud' writ large and will possibly be not to all tastes:


''I am a stage, and I am a book, an odyssey of sorts, wherein my pages are footprints that I have made and will leave behind. - some steps taken were firm and true, while others, as it turns out, were quite unfortunate missteps of character and direction. My footprint is different. My footprint is unlike all others.'' This reads like a manifesto, a statement of intent, and a wholly justifiable claim for uniqueness. It is also a 'Confessio' in the classic tradition. This serves as both an explanation and a warning for what follows. Maggart offers no apologies in advance, offering only this defence: ''Most scientists are at a disadvantage by not realising the endless quantum leaps of the creative mind.''


One very swiftly learns that with this book there is simply no means by which that which comes next can in any way be predicted. Maggart displays, it seems an intensity, a need to express and expand upon an idea as soon as it occurs to him. This becomes something of a recurrent fear; a fear that if a thought, a memory, is not written down and noted it may be lost forever! Here, for example, is an observation of his grandfather, Cam Smith:


''Oh, sweet Jesus, it would have been great, Cam Smith, with your uniquely fascinating self, if you had kept a diary. If you had recorded for us, a few words about your life, and your thoughts for us to read - to read about your life and how you felt about any and everything? We can now only imagine.- what a shame. I'll be sure to write that down on paper before I forget it.'' This is one of many such injunctions for the reader to note and record. Leaving aside the extended sections of fantasy, there are, as a consequence of his long career as an actor, a number of recollections of famous people - a roll call of the great and a succession of name-dropping moments. Some of these are devastatingly charming. Vivien Leigh, for example, is one figure he makes frequent reference to and one description of her simply sparkles like a diamond:


''......having a close relationship with Vivien Leigh was like waltzing on a moving stage with a fragile Tiffany bowl filled to the brim with nitroglycerin - always dangerously unstable and highly explosive - to be handled with the greatest of care - but, I will say, well worth the trouble.'' There is, indeed, a constant reference to the need to register and to record: ''I was fascinated that I could write a thought of mine on paper and someone would be able to read that thought a hundred years from now - a thousand years from now....''


Often the writer moves into extended passages of what appear to be tangential wanderings into the lives of characters clearly not his own. The reader by now should be well accustomed to the style and nature of this work. We are also often taken into the realm of reincarnation and of 'therianthropy' - 'shape shifting' and the 'Kafkaesque' sensations of becoming, for example. butterflies or owls. Many of these fantasies are extended recreations of previous lives. These are stories in themselves set within a larger work, as in the Shakespearean device of setting a play within a play. There is, for example, a touching vignette of a young man's love for his childhood sweetheart in Tennessee as he seeks his fortune in the Californian goldrush. He passes from youth into old age before travelling back home, in the form of a butterfly, to be reunited with his beloved Kate Apple. The importance of memory once more emerges:


''My Aunt Ella gave me a journal on my tenth birthday, which was yesterday. There's stuff to write down before I forget....stuff that I might like to read when I get old......stuff that my future offspring might find to be interesting. My Aunt Ella said as much to me. She said ''write things down as soon as possible because time will distort your memory. You will need to know where you've been to know where you are.'' Maggart's various descriptions of his childhood and youth are like everything else he touches upon. They are descriptions of love tinged with regret. ''For me, everything is all securely embedded and available in my memory.'' From time to time the reader is jolted with an observation that swiftly appears from seemingly nowhere. The subject matter is varied in the extreme. A former President of the United States is a frequent object of scorn and dislike. Here are two personal favourites chosen at random:


''I've heard that Episcopalian Funerals, possibly due to the stifling of emotions, might cause constipation'' and, in answer to a centuries-old question: ''I was reading a neuroscientific explanation of da Vinci's masterpiece, the 'Mona Lisa' about why she seems to be smiling, and then again, why she doesn't seem to be smiling.......Every time now when I see the 'Mona Lisa' smile, I see her as peeing in her underpants. Tragically, I inadvertently planted that image in my mind, and now I'm stuck with it. Forgive me; I'm afraid that now there's a chance that every time you gaze upon the 'Mona Lisa' you'll be thinking about the 'Mona Lisa' peeing in her pants. And, then she'll express that somewhat pleasant relief with a smile. - I'm so sorry. I'm afraid I've now marred, for both of us, da Vinci's great masterpiece.''


Where did that come from? In this simple memory of observing the same expression on his sleeping infants' faces as they slept and making a connection with the 'Mona LIsa' smile. Maggart, amongst other things, has gifted us with a literary earworm that will not now go away!


Memories of his family lead Maggart to a highly central description of a great personal tragedy: the death of a child. This difficult subject is dealt with in a supremely moving and personal fashion that leaves the reader with a great sense of sorrow, emptiness and loss. Naturally enough, this key recollection brings him to the memory of many friends and acquaintances, many from the acting profession, who have taken their last bow. He is with them often on a regular basis as once more they strut their stuff: ''I gather some of my friends here, once or twice a week, for my soirees. We sing, we dance, stage plays. My guests enjoy telling old show business stories and bragging about their most treasured, and often sordid, love affairs. When they've told all their stories as if they are telling them for the first time. By now, they know quite well where the laughs are.'We arrive at length at a possible explanation, a motive, for the creation of this book in the first place:


''I am, suddenly, having doubts about just why I'm writing this book. Am I slinging paint on my canvas in hopes of getting some sort of abstract picture of my life as Art? If so, will it turn out to be a worthwhile painting? A worthwhile picture of a worthwhile life?'


The explanation, if not already surmised, is perhaps long overdue and the possibly more irritated of the readership may be grateful for it. This admission is followed by a categorisation of the writer's perceived failings and shortcomings. There is, again, his fear of a loss of memory and a difficulty in remembering lines [ a serious flaw in an actor], and a fear of failure. He was a faithless alcoholic - ''I was a drunk, and my infidelity was rampant.'' The name listings continue as Brandon Maggart tells us more of his career in show business. Much of this is to the backdrop of the twin assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the growing tragedy of the Vietnam War, the Democratic National Convention and the terrible riots:


''It was wonderful to see and hear full houses of happy Americans enjoying themselves for an evening away from the terrible news of the day - all the while, we were having so much fun in Burlesque. The carnage raged on and on across the world.''


Having arrived at this point in Maggart's memoir, the reader has perhaps, like this reviewer, arrived at the conclusion it would be best to simply surrender oneself 'to the flow' and to sit back and enjoy and to bask in the knowledge that there is simply no way of calculating what will occur next and to be fully prepared ''to soar aloft on butterfly wings, where possums dance and the willow sings''. To arrive at this point has involved a long and bumpy journey, but it has been well worth it! With characteristic good humour, Brandon Maggart has an attempt at his own Epitaph as he peers under ''the attic stage beneath the Proscenium Arch of his brow.''


''The door to mediocrity was only slightly ajar, but he forced his way in''.


*****

Where the Possums' Dance and the Willow Sings” by Brandon Maggart receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


Author Bio:


Before my traveling without leaving the chair from the small attic stage behind my eyes was required, I ventured into the light quite a few times. Since 1958, I have been an actor/singer on television and on Broadway (Tony nomination for Applause with Lauren Bacall)… Winner of the Theatre World Award for the musical revue, Put it in Writing. The original cast of Sesame Street (Buddy and Jim)… Four-time Cable Ace Award nominee for the TV series, Brothers on Showtime... Starred in TV series Jennifer Slept Here NBC… and Chicken Soup ABC… Over 50 yrs., guest starring on shows like… Naked City, The Defenders, Route 66, Newhart, Murder, She Wrote, Murphy Brown, Married With Children, ER, Ellen, Madeline, Love, Sidney, The Sentinel, Boy Meets World, L.A. Law, Who’s The Boss, Simon, Bakersville P.D., Babes, and Brisco County Jr.… TV movies: Daughter of the Streets, The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg. The Betrayal, Running Mates. Spiritual Warriors, Living in Fear, Mars and Beyond, Intrepid, Running Out, Dream Date, and My Old Man.

Operas include La Traviata, Die Fledermaus, Carmen, and Pagliacci. Other Broadway and Off-Broadway shows include New Faces of 1968, Lorelei, Purlie, Musical Chairs, Put it in Writing, Potholes, Straws in the Wind, Sing Muse, The Long Valley, The Mad Show, Gems of Burlesque, Lil Abner, South Pacific, Romance: But Not for Me, and Eugene Ionesco’s The Killer. Big flops were Kelly, One Night Stand, We Interrupt This Program, America be Seated, and Hellzapoppin (twice). Films include The World According to Garp… Dressed to Kill… and the cult film, Christmas Evil.

I am the father of musical artists, Fiona Apple Maggart and Maude Amber Maggart, actor Garett Maggart, writer Spencer Brandon Maggart, R.N., C.C.A.P.P. Recovery Counselor, Jennifer Louise Maggart, Contract Administrator, Julienne Joy Maggart, and six grandchildren: Ian, Mack, Kylie, Loren, Lindsey, and newly on the scene, Hudson Earl Maggart. And, hopefully, saving me a seat in the afterlife, Justine Marie Maggart.

I am a graduate (Notable Alumnus) of the University of Tennessee’s School of Journalism, class of ’56. I, also, attended Sewanee, The University of the South, and Columbia University. My artwork was featured in the Venice Centennial Art Walk in 2005. Also, I had the honor of reading my poem, “Diversity in Venice” at The Venice Carnivale, the Venice Centennial Celebration, and the Venice post office Abbot Kinney Mural Dedication in 2007.


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