Friday, February 08, 2008

A Letter from Gretchen

[Published with permission]

My name is Gretchen (Stainbrook) Givens.... sister of Jon, Kathy, and Nancy. I was blown away recently to discover your incredible Dirty Jack's website. It is so wonderful! I just lost myself in reading all of your stories, reliving you memories, seeing the photos. You really captured the whole aura and spirit of Dirty Jack's in your writing. In fact, Rick, I wanted to compliment you on your writing ability. You are really fantastic... and should think about compiling a book about your summers there. You write so colorfully. Anyway, I wanted to thank you, as a member of the Stainbrook family, for keeping the memory of Jon, and all the Dirty Jack's crew alive.

Living in California, I wasn't in the Dirty Jack's plays, although I too was an actor. But I saw every one of the plays, as I visited every summer. I remember so well the Dirty Jack's Band that you were a part of... Doc Holt and his band of renegades. You guys were just terrific. Do you have any recordings from that time?

I don't know if you realize it or not, but I wrote all of the music for Cat Ballou, Hallelujah Trail, and about 7 of the other shows that were put on at Dirty Jack's after that. I majored in music composition and acting. Jon contacted me when he was writing Cat Ballou. I was in Mills College in Oakland at the time. He told me so specifically what he wanted.... how many songs I needed to write; what each song's content was to be; for instance, he would tell me that he wanted a 'romantic ballad' that was 2 minutes and 45 seconds long and it had to say exactly what he wanted me to say. Yes, he was that specific. The ballads weren't so bad... but the group numbers were really challenging. It nearly drove me crazy, but I had a great time doing it. (Somewhere I do have some of the cassette tapes of some of those shows.)


I wrote all of the music and lyrics. I remember writing it all out technically on manuscript paper each year. I would start in January, and finish by May. I would make cassette tapes of the music with scratch vocals here and then send it all to Jon.

It is funny, Rick... I worked so hard on all of the many nuances of the melody, etc.... but came to find out that Doc Holt didn't read a lick of music. So, he would just listen to my recordings... and improvise. It wasn't always exactly what I had written, but I have to say it was full of vitality, great musicality, and high energy. It was always so much fun to come to the shows and hear my music performed by the band and the singers. That was a real trip. And My Mom and Dad would be out selling popcorn and sarsaparilla in the lobby.

I wanted to tell you that I am still writing music, and plays... and actually have just finished a movie screenplay with Linda Gregg...(She worked for many years at Dirty Jack's, too. You may remember her. She was the original Cheyenne Rose with Jon's Kid Shaleen). She now is married and lives in England. Anyway, she and I have written a screenplay centered around Jon. It involves the original days of Dirty Jack's, and much of it takes place in Jackson. We are putting together a presentation to show an agent.... and I needed some old photos of the town and theater and Jon. That is when I got the idea to do a google search of Dirty Jack's on the internet, just for the heck of it. And WOW... was I lucky to find your website!

I was able to download some of the photos, and capture the essence of some of your memories, captured in your great writing. I wanted to let you know that... hope it was ok. It won't be used for publication or anything like that. It will be just to show this agent the flavor of what it was like back then. I know having the movie made is a long shot... but we are very happy with the screenplay. I'll keep you posted if anything comes of it.

I still get back to Jackson every summer to visit Jon in the Living Center rest home... and Kathy, who is happily married and lives in a home by the beautiful Snake River. I saw David Turner, Tommy, Rocky, and some of the other cast members a few years ago at Nancy's memorial service. I was always so impressed with the music David wrote. As a composer and lyricist, I know how difficult it is. I am so happy that you will be sharing the music from Gorgeous George. He wrote a song in that show called "The Measure of a Life" that is one of the most beautiful I have ever heard... and you can tell him I said so. I was one of his biggest fans.... plus, he relieved me of being the resident composer for Dirty Jack's after 7 years or so. I always enjoyed watching David,Tommy, Rocky, Nancy and Kathy onstage together. They were brilliant.... They were a big extended family.

Well, Rick.... this has been pretty long... but I wanted to add a few comments since finding your website.... and personally thank you for being such a great and caring historian for all of us. We all feel the same way you do about Dirty Jack's. There was something so special about the place... that will be in our heart of hearts forever.

Take care,
Gretchen