Why a Purple Onion?

We who live in the Bay Area are accused of being smug.

Probably deserved, we feel we live in one of the best places on Earth.

And we feel certain people are our own, family, friends.

That is why we are even more upset about Robin Williams.

I have lived in this area for over 50 years, take a little time away for Roller Derby and Ticketmaster and Brown Paper Tickets.

But like so many others I feel I discovered Robin.

When the Boarding House nightclub was in serious trouble (quite often), a benefit was put together in 1976 to keep it going. Steve Martin and a flock of well-known comedians appeared at the Civic Auditorium; we at BASS handled the ticket sales and of course donated our service charge.

Steve Martin was appearing at Tahoe, so to not miss his show he had to go on first instead of the headline position. So following the “headliner” came out a kid in a loud shirt and pants with wide suspenders and just stole the evening from everyone with his amazing riffs of pseudo Shakespeare, voices, and ramblings….not a joke in the bunch. I felt bad for those who had to follow him.

https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xaf1/t1.0-9/10563151_776867485697512_965021327927207156_n.jpg Robin at the Boarding House benefit

He played all the usual clubs in the Bay Area: the Holy City Zoo, Cobbs, the Boarding House, Punch Line and others, and I saw him whenever I could. I had one brief conversation with him, trying to book him for BASS’s opening in Hawaii; but he never made it because he was snatched up for Mork and Mindy.

I saw his appearances, his comedy specials, and realized what an amazing actor he was (you want to see him playing against type as really dislikeable characters, see “Autofocus” and “Insomnia”).

And when the Reverend Cecil Williams asked for my help in producing the 30th anniversary celebration for Glide Memorial in San Francisco, I got to see him again as he headlined with Bobby McFerrin and Maya Angelou and helped to raise $300,000 for Glide’s good work.

But it wasn’t merely as an entertainer that he was so loved; somehow he seemed to reflect something that we would like to see in all of us…..that is why my heart is so heavy today.

Two short vignettes: When Mork and Mindy was just starting, a flight attendant I was dating was on a plane next to him and just was so blown away to be there with him, and they had a delightful conversation…..as the plane was landing in LA Robin realized something, he had no money on him whatsoever. Peggy gave him $20 and he gave her a check which she never cashed.

And last night Barb Morgen, the chief story teller for Brown Paper Tickets took a break after a busy day of television and other promotion for the blood drives in cooperation with the Red Cross and Roller Derby. As she was walking near her hotel a man signaled to her to come look in a door way nearby. She looked down and saw a purple onion there…..obviously puzzled, she asked the man what that was all about. “This is the site of the legendary Purple Onion club where Robin got his start. I drove all the way here from San Jose (50 miles) to show my respect for Robin and what he meant to all of us.”

We have every right to be smug about Robin….he was one of us.

3 comments on “Why a Purple Onion?

  1. This story touched our hearts .Peter and I and the rest of our union Brothers have a saying when ever we have empty pockets They will go to Peter and ask him for twenty dollars saying I said it was okay . It seems twenty dollars can float you for a day ;] I think I’ll put a touch of purple in my hair to honor Robin Williams . Someone please leave a light on stage for such a wonderful person .

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