Deceased October 26, 2003
Absence. No continuation, except in our memories. The nullities of mortality are undeniable and familiar. As Jack appreciated, they help us to measure the human spirit. Beckett composed them with spare eloquence. So, more loquaciously, did O’Neill, Albee, Pirandello, Shakespeare and other playwrights whose work Jack admired. His own writing built upon them, as did his engaging talk and thoughtful presence. He made the best of both hope and despair, often to the benefit of other people. Comes now, for us, the rest of living, without Jack.
Jack was very much a New Yorker, so much so that he felt a bit alien anywhere else. He grew up near the city. Its theater, especially, was a beacon to him. Along with many others at Amherst, I found Jack’s devotions infectious, especially to theater, films, books and ideas. He would return from English I and II, history lectures, meetings with Henry Commager or Elmo Giordanetti, etc., bursting with intellectual energy, fluent in the topics at hand. He was an excellent student and carried his powers easily, sharing them generously with his friends, associates and audiences. In a recent email to me, one of those friends, Steve Collins ’69, recalls Jack “… holding forth from his semi-permanent table in the snack bar, always jolly and welcoming; a sort of non-exclusive Algonquin round table at which (he) entertained, told stories and invited dissent on any and all subjects.”
Jack and I were fast friends during our Amherst years and in New York for a few years after that. We shared youthful experiences of every order. They ranged from enjoying jolts of Colt 45 malt liquor during the first weekends of freshman year, to consulting each other about romantic troubles with our Smithie inamoratas, to listening together to new Beatles LPs, to spending hundreds of hours in theaters in Amherst, New Haven and New York. He wrote a number of plays that were produced at Amherst, especially in some of the performance spaces that he helped to establish as student-run alternatives to the parochial conservatism of Kirby Theater. He was a better than passing actor too. My thesis project senior year was a production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. I cast Jack as Tom, the narrator and struggling young playwright, modeled on Williams himself. Jack brought a young writer’s understanding to the part, along with his love for his own family, which played wonderfully with an excellent cast that included Susan Richardson, Sarah Harris and Steve Collins.
The following year, based in New York, Jack and I had a hoot producing a winter season at the Berkshire Theater Festival in Stockbridge. Come Valentine’s Day we hatched the idea of celebrating the sexual side of the day’s spirit. We invited the playwright William Gibson and other notables, mostly from the New York theater world, to give readings on Valentine’s eve. Then we plastered the area with posters. Word got to the chief of police, Officer Obie of Alice’s Restaurant fame, that explicit passages would likely be read. Obie phoned our manager at the theater and said that if we went ahead with the event, he and the local D.A. would be in the audience and would make arrests at any transgression. Unintimidated, Jack and I had our manager contact every TV station for miles around. On the evening of the event, video crews showed up from Boston, Albany, Springfield, Burlington and Hartford. Every seat in the theater was filled. We had decided that, out of consideration for our presenters, I should give the first reading. While Jack watched from the wings, I began to read aloud some pieces of warmhearted literary pornography that we figured should trigger an arrest if anything would. Sure enough, the chief stood up from his aisle seat and started to walk towards the stage. Banks of TV lights snapped on; videotape rolled. The chief stopped his advance and looked back at the D.A., who had been sitting beside him. The D.A. summoned him back to his seat. As I continued to read, they conversed feverishly. A few minutes later, they stood and left the theater. Their exit was featured on 11 p.m. newscasts throughout the region.
In later years, in New York, Jack worked in theater as a writer, producer, dramaturge, director, literary consultant and editor. He co-produced a Brian de Palma film, Home Movies. He was co-founder and producer of The Play Company. He worked with the Manhattan Theater Club. For several years, he produced the repertory season at the New School University’s Actors Drama School. And he created many original productions. He was a mentor to many people, giving them valuable suggestions and welcome encouragement, committed to helping them succeed. He was a recognized and cherished part of a large community of people who shared his passion for theater.
Jack’s calling revolved around the printed word. His apartment in Brooklyn overflowed with books. In fact, at the moment of his heart attack, on Sunday afternoon, October 26, he was lugging a much needed new bookcase along a sidewalk, towards his door. I was in New York that weekend with relatives. I hadn’t seen him for 20 years or so, but I had spoken with him at length by phone during the preceding year, and we planned to get together. Several times that weekend, I thought of phoning him, but I saw that there wouldn’t be enough time for a suitable reunion. I put off my call for another occasion.
Many people knew and loved Jack Temchin. They include his friends and colleagues from Amherst days, before, and after, and his mother, sister, brother-in-law, nephews and cousins. Our loss, and our appreciation for Jack, unite us all.
Mark Parsons ’68