Back in the spring of 1983, Jack Kendrick talked me into driving out to Salt Lake City, he to meet the actor Robert Redford and me to start an artist residency at Weber State University in Ogden, UT. We left on St. Patrick's Day, not in the morning as planned, but 18 hours later at 3:30 a.m. the next day after Jack had hugged everyone he knew and sung Danny Boy in at least six bars and three restaurants.
Once on the road, Jack promptly fell asleep and I struggled to stay awake through the night, past Ogdemsburg, over the bridge into Canada and nearing the outskirts of Toronto before he woke up and declared it was time for breakfast. Setting a pattern to be repeated across Canada and the U.S., Jack chatted up every waitress, cook, fellow patron and other persons we met exchanging addresses and discovering distant friends in common while getting his picture taken from middle aged women who remembered him from his performances on the soap Days of our Lives.
In Chicago we spent a night with my friend the sculptor Terry Karpowicz in his loft near North Adams. From there I assumed we would head west on Interstate 88 picking up I 80 on through Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and into Utah a mere 1240 miles on top of the 850 we had traveled thus far.
Naj and Jack Kendrick
"We have to go to Minneapolis and visit the Guthrie," said Jack. "You do know about the Guthrie don't you?"
"It's a theater."
"The best outside of Chicago and New York. My friend Liviu Ciulei is the artistic director (described by Newsweek as "one of the boldest and most challenging figures on the international scene known for his uniquely physical and daring theatrical interpretations"). "I want to talk to him about staging my new play."
"He is there? He is expecting you?"
Jack convinced me that he was, that it represented a major opportunity for him, and so we headed northwest this time spending a night en route with my friend Toni Sikes in Madison, WI. When we reached Minneapolis Ciulei wasn't there. "Just missed him," his staff said. So after a tour of the theatre and a night with an architect friend of mine it was off to the Black Hills of South Dakota because, "Since we are so close we should see Mount Rushmore," which we did at dawn as well as the mountainside being carved as a monument to Crazy Horse.
From there we set our sights on Jackson Hole, WY where my friend Cub Schaefer (formerly of Keene) lived trying to get there via Yellowstone Park, but it was closed so we had to backtrack to Cody, and then down. After a night with Cub, it was on through Teton Pass to Idaho Falls, ID where we stayed with Carl and Julie Eberl. Carl was then the artistic director of their symphony orchestra, and they pulled together some friends so Jack could do a poetry reading.
Jack, by the way, is a very entertaining person to travel with. Being Irish he could go from one story, song, and reminiscence to another without hardly repeating himself. It was like having one's own personal National Public Radio station, good thing as at that time Public Radio was not so wide spread and l just couldn't listen to non-stop country music.
Also en route Jack's friendship for Robert "Bob" Redford deepened. Clearly they were quite close. Thus I was a little surprised by Jack's comment as we drove past Ogden, where my artist residency was to soon start, about his concern for my need to get to the college, and statements indicating he could make it from here. I would have none of that. "We had driven this far, what's another 200 miles?" I said.
We stopped at the Sundance Institute office in Salt Lake City, a cultural organization founded by Redford that hosted an annual film festival, retreats for screenwriters and cultural events at the ski center of the same name. "You know Bob? They asked. Jack convinced them he did, and they said, "Well, he is at the ski center, if you go down you should be able to catch him there."
"I wouldn't want to bother him," said Jack. "Nonsense," said I, "What's another 100 miles?"
We got to Sundance with Jack I wouldn't say back tracking, but not having the same gung-ho attitude displayed over the previous 3,000 miles. As we approached the administration offices, who came out but none other than Redford himself, who tipped his hat, opened the door and let us in.
"Ah, Jack, that was Redford," I said. "Shouldn't we turn around and go after him?"
"It has been a while," said Jack. "I wasn't expecting him to open the door. Do you have a piece of paper and a pen I can borrow?" (This to the receptionist, she did handing him a couple sheets). Jack then sat down and proceeded to write a long letter, which he then handed back to the receptionist asking her to give it to Redford. We then went into the cafeteria where Jack told me that yes he had met Redford at the NY Athletic Club, it was very brief, there were lots of other people in the room, yes he did hand him one of his books of poetry, but as for being close friends, maybe he exaggerated a little.
Redford then came into the cafeteria. I said, "Jack. We have driven 3,000 miles so you could ask Redford about getting into their screenwriter's program. Either you go over and introduce yourself, or I will ask him to come over. Which is it?"
"You know him?" he said looking over at Redford who was watching us.
"No, of course not. So what?" I said.
So Jack did. He spent a good 20 minutes with Redford and came back beaming. Redford did remember him and not only had read his poetry, but could recite a couple from memory. He did say that he had nothing to do with getting into the writer's workshop, that Jack would have to fill out the application form and wished him luck.
After that, Jack returned to Odgen with me, developed a friendship with the head of the Weber State English department that lead to many poetry readings at the college over the years. As for Redford, the irony is that 7 years later he hosted a conference on the arts and global issues that I organized, and we met annually for several years when I was director of the Film Forum and attending the Sundance Film Festival.