Saturday, May 25, 2024


Notes from the Westport Arts Awards: Imogene Coca Wowed Them at Open Houses

Sundays Town Hall ceremony for the 10th annual Westport Arts Awards produced some interesting tidbits from speakers about those honored and their lives in Westport and Weston.

Imogene Coca
, whose show business career spanned 80 years before her death at the age of 92 in 2001 in Westport, often would accompany real estate agent and longtime friend Mark Basile as he went to open houses around Westport.

Basile told the awards audience Coca most times would sit outside while he inspected homes. But sometimes she went inside and he always knew it because a crowd would quickly gather around the comedienne. ғThey were thrilled by her stories, he said.

Evan Hunter, the prolific writer who writes under his own name as well as Ed McBain and several others, startled the audience with his gravely voice and finger constantly held to a white button on his throat. He explained he lost his vocal chords to cancer and was speaking with a synthetic voice.

The 76-year-old Weston resident ended his brief talk with thanks to Westport and the Arts Advisory Committee for selecting him as an honoree. ԓArt is all about voices, he said. ԓAnd Westport is all about art.

John Ohanian came to Westport in 1940 as the only music teacher in the Westport public schools. He retired in 1972 as director of music, leaving a legacy of one of the finest music education programs in the country. Ohanian, who died last year, founded the annual Staples Candlelight Concerts.

But his son, David, said times in Westport were not always easy for him.

His father tried to ingratiate himself with students so they would be interested in music. He recalled one time his father sat down in a school cafeteria and shared a squirrel sandwich with a student, the animal having been shot the day before in Weston.

He would ride the school bus with the football players to learn their songs. He taught them to sing in rounds, the younger Ohanian said. He convinced them that taking chorus was an okay thing to do.

One high school production called for a scene with motorcycles. Ohanian reached out to students with more interest in motorcycles than music, allowing them to polish up their cycles and be included in the scene.

John Held, Jr., is best known for his illustrations of flappers in the 1920s. He moved to Westport in 1919 to the Compo Road South home later occupied by the F. Scott Fitzgeralds. He later moved to Weston where he bought Grindstone Hill Farm and could keep the many animals he loved.

Judy Held, his daughter, told the audience that her father always had a special affection for the Westport-Weston area and especially loved his farm. ԓHe became a Weston gentleman farmer, she said.

She recalled that he suffered a serious facial injury when he was kicked in the head by one of his horses. She said her father later said that the animal had ԓknocked some sense into him because he became so famous. 

Held never lost his love of the flapper era, his daughter said, and continued to wear a raccoon coat until 1958 Ԗ the year he died.

She talked about what makes an artist and ended her remarks by saying:  A person who uses his hand, his head, and his heart is an artist. ThatӒs my father.

Leonard Everett Fisher, a longtime Westport resident who continues to be a versatile and prolific painter, illustrator, and author, drew a chuckle from the crowd when he said he looked forward to being part of the celebration of the nationԒs tercentennial in 2076.

Everett, who is 79, said some of his works were included in a time capsule buried in Westport in 1976. It is to be opened 73 years from now.

Actor Christopher Plummer said he moved to Weston in 1981, taking the first house that he was shown. He said he had a funny feeling that the house in fact had once belonged to his friend and fellow Canadian-born actor Raymond Massey. He said he called Massey and described the house to him.

Massey said that was not his house, Plummer recounted, adding, with a grin, but it was the house next door.Ӕ

Plummer, 73, thanked the Arts Advisory Committee and said he has enjoyed being a resident of the Westport-Weston area. This is just like getting a medal for already living in paradise,Ӕ he said.

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