On a weekend visit to the Berkshires
last month, I learned that Al Schwartz had died in September. I hadn’t seen him in years, but I was
saddened by the news. His legacy, as recounted in local tributes, was to have revived the Mahaiwe Theater
in Great Barrington as a performing stage. But I knew Al in the 1970s when he first came to the Berkshires,
a University of Hawaii grad who had exited early from a business career in New York’s garment district.
He rented 10-acres on Route 22 in Hillsdale, N.Y., and tried to make a go of it as a tenant farmer. In
summers he rented out shares in the two-story farmhouse, which is how I met him and Tyler, his Weimaraner dog, aka affectionately
by Al as “the hound.” Al’s farming included, among other things, rabbits,
sheep, purple beans, and grapes (from which he produced home-made wine that made you appreciate the real thing).
Al introduced me to the Berkshires, including places like Morandi’s Restaurant
and smokehouse in Hillsdale where you could get such delicacies as center cut pork chops, corn relish and smoked cheese.
We would also hit several singles bars, including one on Route 23 near Catamount and one on Railroad Street in Great
Barrington before the street’s transformation into shops and eating places. And there was also the Great Barrington Fair, where you could get ears of local corn plucked
from large vats of boiling water, look at local livestock brought for judging, and lean against a white railing and watch
as horses raced by. I introduced him to Aston Magna when the early music festival and school first got
going, located at that time in a magnificent home on a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside.
It was probably in the late 1970s that Al began working as the manager of the Mahaiwe,
which was then a worn out movie theater. He gave me a back-stage tour and described his vision of
bringing back live performances. He noted how difficult it was to get distributors to give him really good
films to show but added that he was not going to stop trying.
of Al posted on the web after his death showed that he had put on weight since his farming days, but he still seemed to have
the same boyish face and enthusiasm. If you want to know more about Al, you can find a tribute and photos
by clicking here .
My memories of the Berkshires won’t be the same without him.
-- Jeff Bogart
A Rose in Bloom
New York Times reported earlier this month that interviewer Charlie Rose, a mainstay of public television, will
become an anchor of CBS' "Early" Show. The story left me wondering, What are the different demands made by hosting an interview show
and hosting a morning news show? Have other people made the transition successfully? How do people who have tried
making the transition, whether successfully or not, describe the difference? PerhapsThe Times will run a follow-up
-- Jeff Bogart