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0021 Bobbie Lang
Robert Lang – constantly threatening to ‘burst my bud of calm and blossom into hysteria’
How to describe my very special friendship with this wonderful, larger than life, man of the theatre?
Our friendship started during the late 1940s. Having just been released from the navy, aged 20, I was beginning to discover that I was drawn to sensitivity, eccentricity, and warmth in human beings and I felt strongly that I was somehow destined to be involved with the performing arts and its people, in every shape, form and colour.
Back then, just after World War II, Cape Town’s Bree Street and the Malay Quarter above it (the Bo-Kaap) were a haven for artists, writers, poets and musicians. I suppose it became our own ‘Left Bank’ and it was here that everyone who was heartily sick of the war with all its horror and misery retreated to make love, not war.
John Farley, a well-known artist at the time, owned a lovely old double-storey house in Bree Street, and to help make ends meet he rented out rooms to ‘suitable’ people. Robert Lang (‘Bobby’ to his friends) was one such person. At that time, Bobby, along with the well-known Cecil Jubber, was an announcer at the SABC and, like most of us in those early days, he too was starved for theatre.
At that time, Brian Brooke (later to become a doyen of South African theatre) pioneered the formation of a repertory company and hired and converted the Dutch Reformed Church’s Hofmeyer Kerksaal into a lovely theatre. Many actors and stage technicians were to cut their teeth there under Brian’s tutelage, and during my short stint as a dancer with the UCT Ballet Company I also worked for Brian at night learning the ‘syntax and grammar’ of the theatre, (backstage). For my labours I was paid one pound sterling a week.
Along with Bobby and people such as Mike Albrectson, Noel Arensohn, Teddy Darrell, and my lovely friend, Marion Menzies, we decided to form a ‘club’ where actors, singers, dancers, and artists could meet and socialise at night, after their various performances, or gigs. We found an old, double-storey Malay house halfway up Wale Street and rented the top floor, which we converted into a spacious lounge-cum-dance floor. Someone found an old 78-speed record player – long-playing records (LPs) were as yet unheard of, let alone the digital downloads of today! And so our little club took off. We named it the Gilded Cage Club and for at least two years it opened every night. Actors being notoriously broke, we placed an old soup plate on the table at the entrance and people would put in what they could afford. We were young, adventurous, idealistic, with not a care in the world – other than permanent poverty.
The highlight of the year was the annual New Year’s march down Wale Street of the troupes of Cape Minstrels, on their way to the Coon Carnival – now more politically correctly named the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival. In those days this was a huge event, with every troupe from the Malay quarter descending in colourful celebration at the stroke of midnight. In a fit of rather inebriated Happy New Year enthusiasm one year, Bobbie and I joined one troupe and danced and staggered all the way with them to the Rosebank showgrounds, arriving at sunrise.
Years later, on my return from Kenya as a young married man, Bobby and I hooked up again in Johannesburg and he was instrumental in launching my career as a theatre photographer. He introduced me to wonderful theatre personalities such as Leonard Schach, who, in 1959, gave me my first break photographing his production of The Tenth Man at the Playhouse Theatre in Braamfontein.
Sadly, Bobby died of emphysema in 1988. PACT’s prima ballerina, Dawn Weller, and I attended his memorial service. Cecil Jubber was also there, to read his beautiful tribute to our true and dear friend. Cecil will, I know, forgive me for quoting this edited extract from his gentle heart and pen. I couldn’t have put it better.
‘Robert Lang did not single out any one of his many chums and playfellows; we were all equal in his regard. I’m no-one special in the long roll-call, the vast cast list of his friends.
‘Dear Bobby, sweet and kind. Lusting for life and interested in everything from kittens to catastrophes. Sweet Bobbikins, squat and lotus-like upon the floor, eyes a-glitter with gossip, from just somewhere, anywhere, in his last cramped years — but specially news about the theatre; his world, his life, his everything. Bobbity, of the flashing wit, the barbed tongue, and yet also the most good-natured, golden heart of all.
‘Then there was “Robert Lang”, stern arbiter of what was done and what was just not done, never suffering fools gladly, saying “One day I’m going to burst my bud of calm and blossom into hysteria”.
‘A light, a brightness of a myriad of fireflies, has flutter-flickered out of our lives. I’m blind-eyed in the dark he’s left behind. We warmed our cold and sometimes careless hearts at his friendly fire, a warmth that I will remembe
View of the Key West Lighthouse
History comes alive at the Crowne Plaza Key West - La Concha. Carl E Aubuchon built this Key West landmark, first opened in January of 1926, to provide the city with a "first class hotel." The newest hotel on the island had marble floors, private baths, elevators and other luxuries that were new to Key West accommodations. It was no surprise that the hotel was an immediate success with wealthy industrialists, visiting dignitaries, and high society. In fact, when the president of Pan American World Airways, Juan A. Trippe, announced the beginning of service between Key West and Cuba in 1927, he located the first office in the hotel. During this time, rum-running thrived, the sponge-gathering and cigar-making industry was booming and warm weather tourists from the mainland were being delivered by the hundreds to Key West by Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad.
The stock market crash of 1929 hit Key West hard and suddenly it was one of the poorest cities in the United States. In 1930, because of financial difficulties, the hotel changed ownership and changed it's name from "La Concha" to the "Key West Colonial," although the natives still called it by its original name. Although the start of construction on the Overseas Highway improved the flow of visitors to the area, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 damaged major parts of the highway and the Overseas Railroad and Key West was cut off from the mainland once again. The hurricane ended the Key West extension of the railroad and its bridge pilings and railway track beds became a part of the Overseas Highway, more commonly known as U.S. 1.
Through it all, the La Concha survived and played host to its share of famous personalities. Ernest Hemingway, a name synonymous with Key West, stayed at the hotel and his protagonist in the acclaimed To Have and Have Not makes reference to La Concha's landmark tower as he sails from the island. Another Pulitzer Prize winning author, Tennessee Williams, finished the play "A Streetcar Named Desire" (for which he won the prize) here. In his words, "We arrived in Key West and occupied a two-room suite on the top of the Hotel La Concha and it was there that I really began to get Streetcar into shape. It went like a house on fire…" The rest is Broadway and movie history.
The next 30 years saw the hotel fall victim to age and newer and glitzier hotels and resorts. By the early 80s, the only part of the hotel still open was the rooftop bar (for the history of rooftop bar, click here). The remaining rooms had been boarded up and were now occupied only by pigeons and the occasional vagrant. That all changed when architect Richard Rauh was hired to save the faded gem. Working only from old photographs, interviews of longtime residents about what the hotel once looked like, and stripped layers of wallpaper and panels, his crew painstakingly restored the La Concha to its former glory. The multi-million dollar, award winning project re-opened in 1986, this time with a new coral-pink exterior replacing the drab mustard-yellow look it once sported.
When the hotel first opened, an article in the January 20th, 1926 edition of the Key West Citizen proclaimed "The roof of the Hotel La Concha has already become popular on account of the fine view that one can get of the entire city and surrounding gulf and ocean...In the distance are the towers, boats in the harbor, boats passing, the old fort, the sun shining down on the surrounding waters, and many other beautiful pictures made picturesque from that height." Storm damage to the 7th floor in September and October of 1948 forced repair of the rooms on that floor. In order to show the public that the damage was minimal, the hotel introduced a "penny cocktail hour" each evening.
The popularity of the event led the hotel to realize they had not capitalized on the view from the top of the hotel. The opening of "The Quarterdeck" was announced in September of 1949 with an ad for "Dancing under the Key West stars with the lights of Key West and The Naval installations far below...a tropical moon...a sip of Cuban rum...a low rumba...all in the atmosphere of a Naval shop from quarterdeck to poop deck to bridge."
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