BRohanGrandftrunk - MY GRANDFATHERS TRUNK By Barry Rohan I...

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MY GRANDFATHER’S TRUNK By Barry Rohan
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I never knew my mother’s father. His name was Barry Conners. He was an actor and a writer who wrote half a dozen plays that ran on Broadway in the 1920s. He later became a pioneer screenwriter at Twentieth Century Fox. He suffered an untimely death, killed in a fire in his Hollywood apartment. That was in the depths of the Great Depression, three years before I was born. For as long as I can remember, I knew those things about him and little else. This is an account of my path of discovery, how I came to know essentially everything important about his career and his life -- the things that made him seem human and a real member of the family. Everything changed for me in one afternoon. I was visiting my elderly mother, Renee, who was making a bad recovery from a major operation in hospital in Appleton, Wis. As she lay in what might have been her death bed, she mentioned her father‚s theatrical trunk for the first time. "His trunk?" I was astonished. "How come you never mentioned it before?" This was a trunk my mother inherited when she was 20. Somehow she managed to move it, along with our other possessions, through several apartments and houses in which she raised her four children. The trunk was in a corner of the dimly lighted basement of her apartment building. "You’ll need a flashlight to find it," she said, adding almost incidentally, "it has his papers." More astonishment: "His papers?" "I went through it all at the time of his death," she said. "Afterwards, nobody seemed all that interested."
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How could I have missed it all those years? Even in the dim yellow light of the basement of my mother’s apartment building, the huge black trunk quickly emerged as one of the largest objects in the room. It was unlocked. I lifted the heavy lid, played a flashlight around the dark insides and felt my way to the bottom. It was all soft and filled with papers. They lay there from corner to corner, over a foot deep, reverently layered. On top, a book of newspaper clippings, then a huge ledger of neatly scripted, notes, apparently bits of business for Vaudeville acts. At the bottom, thick, folded manuscripts, dozens of them. I couldn’t resist a quick look. .. As copies of the turn- of-the-century theater playbills fell under the flashlight, I made the first of many discoveries. My grandfather experimented with his name, In the earliest playbill he was "William F. Conners," his real name. ( which, I later learned, even my mother didn’t know). In later playbills, he appears as "Billy Conners" and then finally, "Barry Conners." Was "William F." too formal, "Billy" too undignified? As I headed up to the brighter light upstairs with an armload of paper, I had a great insight: "Maybe his whole life is here?" Then a more disturbing thought.
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BRohanGrandftrunk - MY GRANDFATHERS TRUNK By Barry Rohan I...

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