Musings of the Iopan and Other Things
Pre-Iopan. In 1958, I was directing TV at a small television station in Zanesville, Ohio. One day, members of a touring religious drama company called “The Bishop’s Company” (hereafter sometimes called “the Company”) were interviewed on a show I was directing. This company toured around the country performing plays in church sanctuaries. I went down to see one of their performances at the local church, and afterwards I got to talking to one of the company members, Frank Herold. Frank was from Santa Barbara, the headquarters for The Bishop’s Company. We met after the show, and over a few beers—which further piqued my interest in the Company’s lifestyle—he told me how they traveled around the country with a station wagon and a trailer and about six members and did these one-nighters, mainly in churches. They would tour for a while and then return to the headquarters in Santa Barbara.
Religious convictions and acting experience were not necessarily prerequisites for being a member of the Company. Frank himself was a TV repairman. One day, while working on a television set at the Company headquarters in Santa Barbara, there was a need for an emergency replacement in one of the touring groups out on the road, and they asked Frank if he wanted to join the Company on the road to fill the void—which he did. Now, there were several things that appealed to me about his story: One was traveling around the country; another was that they accepted people with limited acting experience—in Frank’s case, none; and, best of all, the touring group would end up in Santa Barbara, California, which to me was a lot more appealing than Zanesville, Ohio.
So, acting on my spirit of adventure and a secret desire to become an actor, I sent off a letter to apply…and, I was accepted—because they thought I was someone else! As fate would have it, a pastor of the local church where the Company had performed sent off a glowing letter of recommendation on behalf of another guy from Zanesville who was interested in joining the Company. This other person got cold feet at the last moment and never sent off his request to join. Then when my letter arrived, they thought I was the one the pastor had recommended, and they hired me. So… on a hot and muggy night in August 1958, I joined the Company in Louisville, Kentucky; and, after touring around the country for a while, I indeed ended up in Santa Barbara.
I was living at the Company headquarters, a large house up in the hills above Santa Barbara, an area called the Riviera. For about a year or so I was involved in local productions done by The Bishop’s Company and other theater groups in Santa Barbara. Then I was dismissed from The Bishop’s Company on the grounds that they found out that I was looking for an agent in LA, which they thought was some sort of disloyalty. The real reason, I believe, was my involvement as a partner in the Iopan, which had also led to the defection of Marilyn Dayle (later Berner), upsetting them greatly. So I moved out of The Bishop’s Company into a small room I fixed up on the second floor of the Iopan and became more active in the coffee house management.
Since we had very little money to work with, we had no espresso machine—instead, we used the finest of instant espresso—and fortunately, the kitchen was out of sight of the customers, and the sound of the aerosol whipped cream canister was close enough to the sound made by an espresso machine, so very few realized that they were drinking instant espresso.
As you entered the Iopan there was a short hallway to a staircase. On either side of the hall there were these large glass-paneled folding doors that led to identically sized rooms. We used only the rooms on the left side, as you entered, as a showroom. We were booking Hugh Romney (aka Wavy Gravy) into the Iopan. Hugh’s manager was Victor Maymudes. Now how he came to us, I really don’t remember. I think he was somehow connected to Odetta, and Bill (Berner) was planning to produce a show with Odetta at the Lobero Theater. Anyhow, Victor was Hugh’s manager, and he thought our showroom didn’t have the capacity for the people that Hugh would bring in. He suggested that we knock down the doorway on the right side, across from the showroom, making one large L-shaped room with a path going through it to the stairway. I was not very enthusiastic about this because I thought it would sort of destroy the atmosphere of the place. But that was a moot point, as one day I came home to find Bill and Victor banging away with sledge hammers, crowbars, whatever—and in the midst of altering the room. Victor was right—Hugh Romney did need the extra capacity—and I was right that the coziness of the place was sort of destroyed. We tried to restore it by covering the missing walls and room entrance with large curtains. But the place was never really quite the same.
Also, Victor convinced me to invest in a proposed coffee house, to be on the roof of an abandoned Sears building in Westwood. Odetta’s then-husband, Dan Gordon, was going to be a partner in this as well, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I actually went down there and stood on the roof as he explained to me what was going to go where and all that, but he never got past the “idea” part. Victor was very charming, had unbridled enthusiasm, and I was impressed by his hipness and connections. I should have stuck with my Midwest conservative outlook. However, that was that—there never was a coffee house on the abandoned Sears building, and I never saw the money again. I don’t believe it was intentional on anyone’s part—just one of those things.
The quest for a beer and wine license. There came a point when we figured that the only way we could survive was to serve beer and wine. We applied for a license and were granted a hearing. At the hearing we found out that there had been some undercover persons checking out the place. They didn’t come up with much; in fact, I think all they could come up with was finding some beer bottles in the bushes outside the place. We actually ran a very clean operation. I think this is right—I believe that they denied the license on the fact that we didn’t include our own personal bathroom on the application where we were supposed to show what rooms were going to be occupied by the public. Apparently, one of the undercover ladies wanted to use the bathroom and we said, “Sure, go ahead and use it,” thus it became a “public place.” NO JUSTICE.
Miscellany regarding operation of the place and Bill Berner. We had no cash register; we operated out of a shoe box. Bill Berner would, on occasion, scoop up some cash and head to the bars on a PR mission to pump up the place. I think that was when we were having After Hours Jazz and he figured the bar patrons would come—well, I guess he did bring in some patrons, at least according to him.
One time he went to town to buy a wing nut and came back with a TV set. One afternoon, while Bill and Marilyn were out of town for a few days, Bill’s former girlfriend, and the mother of his child, came by with baby Billy. She asked me if I would watch him while she went shopping, which I did, and she never returned—ever…never, ever. Marilyn had found out a few weeks before that she was expecting her first baby, and now she became the instant mother of a two-year-old as well as a first-time expectant mother. Anyhow, Billy was cute but proved to be a handful.
Occasionally, Bill and I would troll the Sunset Strip, the hot spot during the early 60s, in search of talent. We found Joe & Eddie, certainly one of our best acts, at the Troubadour there, and down the street we came across the duo of Shula and Sandra. Sandra, or Sandy, was going with a cinematographer named Jules Brenner at the time. Jules was one of the youngest persons ever to be entered into the Cinematographer’s Union. Jules accompanied the girls to their engagement at the Iopan, and we became pretty good friends. He recommended that we hire a friend of his, a folk singer named Heber Jentzsch. Heber was a good entertainer and fun to be around, and the three of us kept in touch for years after the Iopan closed.
Heber later became involved in Scientology, and in 1976 when I was planning to get married, Jules told me that Heber was now a minister in Scientology. So rather than go down to City Hall and a Justice of the Peace and all that stuff, we had Heber perform the ceremony for us in the garden of a friend of ours in Sherman Oaks. It was a very nice ceremony, I must say, and Heber went on from marrying us to become the International President of Scientology. The ceremony actually worked pretty well, because I’m still married, after almost 30 years, to the very same Diane.
During my Iopan years, I would sometimes do stand-up. So when the place closed, I had to decide whether to go to Los Angeles or San Francisco to pursue a stand-up career. Joe & Eddie convinced me to go to San Francisco because they had connections there with the Hungry I, a famous club at the time.
My stand-up didn’t exactly take off, mainly because I would never do it. Finally, I teamed up with a black guy named Steve Jones, and we had a pretty good act doing white guy/black guy stuff. This eventually fizzled out because Steve became involved in something called The San Francisco Black Arts Movement and didn’t want to go to LA, which would have been our next career move. I eventually became a member of The Committee. This was around 1968. The Committee was an offshoot of Second City, which started in San Francisco in 1963. In the sixties and seventies, San Francisco was the hotbed of the counterculture movement, and The Committee was right out there as one of the avant-garde leaders of that movement. They did a lot of improv, political anti-establishment humor, and were immensely popular in San Francisco—the place to go—and it achieved a national reputation by appearing on shows like “The Tonight Show,” “The Smothers Brothers,” “The Flip Wilson Show,” etc.
So, actually, fate once again was involved in my becoming a member of The Committee. I was at a workshop that was a training ground for Committee members, and I was asked to join The Committee for only two weeks while one of the regular members, Morgan Upton, went on vacation. After the two weeks, when he came back from vacation, my employment was to end because Peter Boyle was scheduled to join The Committee. Well, Peter Boyle never showed up, and I became a member of The Committee for about eight years, until 1974 when it eventually closed.
I stayed in San Francisco for a while and did a lot of commuting to LA to audition for shows, and finally moved down there in around 1976 because there was more work for actors there than in San Francisco. That was also the year that I married Diane Horowitz, who is now known as Diane Barrows. I met her at The Committee—where she was in the offshoot of The Committee called the “Experimental Wing.” She became a nurse while we were living in San Francisco, and, when we moved down to Los Angeles, we got married and she became a Pediatrics Nurse Practitioner. So, we’ve been together for over 30 years, and I know that’s not very “Hollywood,” but what can you say. We have a son, Justin Robert, who is now going to junior college, where he has an interest in philosophy, computers, and oceanography. No show business aspirations, which proves he’s well adjusted.
While I was in Hollywood, I had a pretty good career. I’ve done a lot of sitcoms, a few movies—epics such as “Eating Raoul” and “Billy Jack”—and somewhere along the line I changed my name to “Beans Morocco,” which gets me in the door a lot out of mere curiosity. I’m currently thinking of returning to stand-up, which would mean, of course, actually doing it.