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      DRIVING MISS DAISY by Thomas Putnam

      “Hoke, you're my best friend.”

      Those words—that scene—from DRIVING MISS DAISY always get me. I first encountered them in the film with Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy. It's toward the end of the film and both of them are much older and winding down. They've gone through a lot over the years. It's quiet and peaceful. “Hoke, you're my best friend.” 

      I loved the movie. Jessica Tandy was terrific, as she was in anything she's done. There are moments that the Daisy/Tandy remind me so much of my grandmother and other moments when she/they remind me of my mother. The story of two different people finding common ground: an old white Jewish rich educated woman and an old black Christian poor illiterate man.

      In 1995 we produced the play at the Don Gill School, where we moved in every summer from 1993 to 2005. Lots of good memories from those summers. We had auditions and had a wonderful “Hoke” in Jay Atkins. Jay was in the Admissions Department at MU. Huge in size and personality he had appeared previously THE BOYS NEXT DOOR and A BIRD, A FISH, A BOY FROM THE STARS. He was indeed a great find and one of the big incentives to produce DAISY. We also had a great Booley in Rob Fitzgerald from Mansfield. Rob had been in THE BOYS NEXT DOOR and I REMEMBER MAMA. (Rob was one of the original three HG board members.) Both guys were committed and together made a great team. But, what about Daisy? Of course you can try to age a person to look 85 years plus old but it doesn't always/usually ring true. (We did do a pretty good job of aging 35 year old Jay, however.)

      We were looking for a woman of a certain age who could convey the spunkiness that Daisy exuded. One possible woman was going to be out of town for the run of the show...something about seeing plays at some festival in Canada. Another woman, Nan Bowser was a new face to me and I found myself at their home near the canyon talking about the script. She was just getting ready to move into town and it was going to be too much for her that summer. (After Nan moved into town she became quite active with HG in such shows as CROSSING DELANCY, MEET ME IN ST LOUIS, QUILTERS, a variety of short plays.) Other women were considered but it didn't work out for various reasons.

      So how can we find Daisy? I forget who it was who suggested a very short older woman who was active in a club—I forget which one; the art club?--but she was known to be spunky. She was however probably not available since her husband was seriously ill in the hospital. I called the hospital and talked with her and apologized for intruding but I had this play she was recommended for. She said bring the script to the hospital. That night I sat with Joanne Morgandale on the bench next to the elevator across from her husband's room on the second floor of SSMH. We talked and read and talked and laughed. I left the script with her to read. She called the next day and said she'd do it. 

      The person who recommended her (and I actually had heard about her from more than a few people) was spot on: the woman was spunky. She held her own against two wise-cracking joking much younger men. Could she take direction? Well, more than once when I would suggest trying something differently she'd turn to me and scold: “Now, Tommy, you told me just to be myself in this role and that's just what I'm doing.” 

      Those weeks of rehearsals were golden. Three really great people: we laughed and loved and relished in these new characters as we crawled around in their skin for a summer. 

      Both Joanne and Jay are dead now. I miss them. We're hoping to produce DAISY again, but are frankly finding it next to impossible to find a black man to play Hoke. I'd love to spend some time with Hoke and Daisy and Booley one more summer. 

      “Hoke, you're my best friend.”

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