Schwiznet and glit

 

Dudley Knight 

1939-2013 

It seems likely that anyone coming to this blog at this point will have heard of Dudley’s passing. If not, here’s what happened: On June 25th, 2013, walking home from rehearsal, on a beautiful cool night in Irvine, Dudley Knight was struck down by a heart attack. He died soon after without regaining consciousness. 

What we lost on that night is hard to reckon, impossible to quantify, and just plain difficult to think about.  However, as I get more practiced at dodging the most painful pieces of shrapnel, I discover that I’m able to settle into those memories of Dudley that bring me joy. He was a funny, funny man. The funniest, sharpest, driest wit I’ve ever encountered. He was a masterful story teller, an insightful coach, a thoughtful friend… 

…and what I’d like — what I think we might all appreciate, as a salve to our deprived, and grieving hearts – would be to share a few stories. I know I have a collection, and I’m keen to hear yours. It doesn’t matter how short or long the story, whether it’s funny or somber. Let’s just give ourselves the gift of sharing our collection of Dudley moments. 

Here’s one for starters: 

Dudley taught Speech in a small room in a trailer – a temporary building  long since built over by new structures, and looking out the window, we could see a wide expanse of lawn. One of my classmates had a habit of coming late, and as we saw her strolling slowly across the lawn, apparently unconcerned that she was already 10 minutes late, Dudley seemed to have had enough. He barked out, “Give  me a nonsense word!” like he was calling for more ammunition. Someone offered “schwiznet” /ˈʃwɪznɛt/, and he thanked them and turned back to the lesson. That lesson was on vowel length. When our classmate finally arrived, Dudley welcomed her with a smile and let her know that she had missed the beginning of his lecture on “vowel schwiznet”  but that he would be happy to review.  He proceeded to do just that, talking about the concept of schwiznet, quizzing us on degrees of schwiznet, asking us about the distinction between a vowel being half, of fully schwizzed. When the tardy student asked about the condition of lack of schwiznet, Dudley replied “If there is no schwiznet, then we would describe the vowel as ‘glit’ /ɡlɪt/. He kept this up through the class, and even through subsequent classes, until I finally broke down and let the cat out of the bag. 

That is some dry humor, and perhaps the deep origin of Omnish. 

Tell me one of your Dudley stories. 

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4 thoughts on “Schwiznet and glit

  1. I don’t have any great Dudley stories, just a lot of wonderful memories. He and Marta came to our house many times, including for every Swedish Midsummer and 12th Night party we gave during the time that I knew him. He was a fantastic guest, especially expressing his appreciation for my pickled herring and horseradish aquavit.

    My first clue that Dudley was someone I really wanted to know was discovering our shared love of terrible poetry. William McGonagal, the worst poet who ever lived, was a particular favorite of Dudley’s, and of mine. It was my Scottish grandfather who first introduced him (McGonagal, not Dudley) to me. In Dudley’s memory, I here include the text of McGonagal’s absolute greatest terrible poem, “The Tay Bridge Disaster.” If you knew him, and his rich baritone, and his dry wit, imagine his voice as you read it:

    The Tay Bridge Disaster

    Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
    Alas! I am very sorry to say
    That ninety lives have been taken away
    On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
    Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

    ’Twas about seven o’clock at night,
    And the wind it blew with all its might,
    And the rain came pouring down,
    And the dark clouds seem’d to frown,
    And the Demon of the air seem’d to say-
    “I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.”

    When the train left Edinburgh
    The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
    But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
    Which made their hearts for to quail,
    And many of the passengers with fear did say-
    “I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”

    But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
    Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
    And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
    On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
    Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

    So the train sped on with all its might,
    And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
    And the passengers’ hearts felt light,
    Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
    With their friends at home they lov’d most dear,
    And wish them all a happy New Year.

    So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
    Until it was about midway,
    Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
    And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
    The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
    Because ninety lives had been taken away,
    On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
    Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

    As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
    The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
    And the cry rang out all o’er the town,
    Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
    And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
    Which fill’d all the peoples hearts with sorrow,
    And made them for to turn pale,
    Because none of the passengers were sav’d to tell the tale
    How the disaster happen’d on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
    Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

    It must have been an awful sight,
    To witness in the dusky moonlight,
    While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
    Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
    Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
    I must now conclude my lay
    By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
    That your central girders would not have given way,
    At least many sensible men do say,
    Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
    At least many sensible men confesses,
    For the stronger we our houses do build,
    The less chance we have of being killed.

    See more at: http://www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk/gems/the-tay-bridge-disaster#sthash.mkzN1AJT.dpuf

  2. I don’t have a funny story, but everyone else does and of course he made us laugh all the time with his dry wit. I will just tell my own little personal story of his generosity and gentle way of guiding and teaching along the way. As an undergrad, we didn’t have classes with Dudley, so I really don’t know how all of this came about, but the lovely Diane Robinson got a job at The Globe three weeks from the opening of Dudley’s spring production of Not By Bed Alone. He asked me to step into the lead role. Needless to say, suddenly rehearsing on the mainstage surrounded by second and third year grads, I was terrified and just hung on any piece of information Dudley would give me. As he gave acting notes, he also gave speech notes, giving me a crash course in speech in three weeks. He also allowed me to workout with the grads the rest of that semester. Of course I learned a great deal from this and was so lucky. The show ended up being a blast, full of farce both on and off stage, and I made lifelong friends, Dudley included. Upon graduation, I found myself living in France teaching speech and singing to French actors in a studio in Paris. Once again flying by the seat of my pants. But Dudley’s teaching, his words, his exercises, his discipline…all the gifts he gave us, I turned around and tried to give those actors and many more through the years. And those gifts are with me today, whether it’s singing in a wedding or prepping an audition, Dudley is with me in my warm-ups!
    Thank you Dudley! Your gifts live on in ALL of us.

  3. This just in from Dudley’s brother Charlie. I think you might detect some family resemblance:

    PART 1
    Hi Phil–

    Thanks for getting in touch and sending the picture. I have a lot of stories about my brother, and I really regretted not being able to go to Irvine to share a few of them. I also tried to post one of them on your blog, but the somewhat intimidating question about what format I was using kept me off. I’ll tell the story here and then get on to your questions.

    When I was a Senior at Haverford, Don (as he then was) was a Freshman. We performed together as the Antipholus twins in Comedy of Errors. He was the searcher, I the searched. At the end of the play, when he was plumped down kneeling opposite me, the director did not give us any business to indicate our various feelings–his delight that his search was successful, my surprise that another me even existed. Nor did the director encourage us to work out any business of our own. He wanted us to stay there like two potatoes. At the tech rehearsal (maybe the dress rehearsal, I’m pretty sure we were in costume) Don plunked down opposite me with a slyly mischievous expression, and held up a small piece of paper in the palm of his hand. It said “Zounds!” I of course completely broke up, but the director was furious.

  4. PART 2

    Now to the biography.

    Donald Dudley Knight was born on July 1, 1939 on a hot day in Rochester, MN. I actually remember it. He was the son of Harry Charles Knight and Antoinette Dudley Burr Knight. Father was doing a post-doc at the Mayo clinic, but he was serving in the US Public Health Service and located in San Francisco (where I was born in 1937). In 1940 (I’m pretty sure, but it could have been 1941) father was posted to New Orleans, where Don and I both attended the Newman School. After the war father left the USPHS and went into private practice in Middletown, CT. He was a urologist.

    So if you had met us in 1945, when we moved, we would have been Tony and Donnie. I switched from Tony to Charles (or Charlie) a few years later when I discovered that most people are called by their first names, not their second. Don switched to his second name well into adulthood at the behest of the Screen Actors Guild, which already had a Don Knight on the books. My children have always called him “Uncle Don,” even though “Uncle Dudley” has a nice storybook character to it. He went to San Francisco after his MFA at Yale to go to Berkeley, but dropped out to perform at the Magic Theater and later ACT, About the same time (1967), against my advice, he married the worst woman in the world, and I suspect that her presence had a negative effect on his career. The marriage lasted seventeen unhappy years. His very happy marriage to Marta was a just reward.

    But between Yale and Berkeley–in 1965, I’m pretty sure–he had a fellowship to go to NYC to study voice and speech with a famous theatrical lady. She may have been the one who went on to run the Shakespeare Company in the Berkshires, but if that was so, it was before she adopted the principles of speaking one line at a time and accenting the iambic pentameter, principles, I trust, not included in Knight-Thompson speechwork. But those six weeks were a real impetus to his interest in speech. Years later, we went to a performance of King John in Lenox that was acted on those principles. It was dreadful.

    Bob Folkenflik sent me Cohen’s lovely appreciation of Don, but it was inaccurate in at least one detail. I had the impression that Dudley, as I now can call him, did two Lears with Cohen at Irvine (or one at Irvine and one somewhere else in CA), so with his Lear for Colorado Shakespeare Festival, that would make three Lears rather than two. I’m not certain about that, but I am certain that he did at least three Falstaffs–one in Colorado, one at New Jersey Shakes, and one in Utah. I did not see the one in NJ, but I did see the other two. In Utah Don introduced me to a man who was showing tourists around. He told me that the tourists enthusiatically proclaimed that Don was born to play Falstaff. I assured him as his brother that he grew into the role. Even more important than his three Falstaffs is that fact that he played Pandolf in King John four times (in addition to playing the Bastard in college to my King John). So Pandolf rather than Lear or Falstaff was his signature role.

    I think I answered your questions, but if you have more, I’d be glad to answer them too. In losing Don I realize that I have lost the last living link to my childhood. But beyond that, as you know, he was a warm, funny, intelligent, and generous human being. I think about him all the time. Thanks for asking about him.

    Cordially,
    Charlie Knight

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