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A LOVE LETTER TO MY BUDDY
Caravan News

A LOVE LETTER TO MY BUDDY

Al Muller (Alfred H. Muller) - by Bobbi Wallinger

Dear Al,

I miss you so much but since we share feelings about an afterlife, I am confident you will understand why I chose to write directly to you rather than simply scripting a eulogy.

Getting to know you thru the theatre in the mid- seventies, seeing your productions at Delta and SCT, little did I realize then what an impact you would have on my life.  What began as a casual friendship turned into a collaboration of more than fifteen projects, as well as the blending of our families as Harry, Carrie and I joined forces with the entire Muller Clan.

You first asked me to write some scripted material for a Cabaret production at Delta College after having seen a couple of skits I had written for S.J. County and the school district. You had already cast me in “No, No, Nanette” and “The King and I “ and I had gotten a taste of the Muller charm.  Soon my family and I felt the relationship was one of, “BEST FRIENDS” with you.  But soon we would discover we were but three of tons of best friends because you had the ability to make everyone with whom you came in contact feel treasured by you and Camilla.

Your entire family embraced us and included us in celebrations of every description; weddings, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and new babies.  As Hosts, you and Camilla could be surpassed by none.  Dinner parties at the ranch and then in town were always filled with your Big 4 Motto: Family, Friends, Fabulous Food and Fun.   Thank you so much. .

Our collaboration continued with the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Drama Dept. at U.O.P.  I’ll never forget when you introduced me to Mr. Gerber, Hollywood producer and UOP alumn , sharing  that I had written the script for the evening and of course, you were the director.   The man looked at us and dubbed us the” Comden and Green” of Pacific.

We had a great time that night and it got even better when the announcement came that Stockton had been chosen to participate in the All--America City contest in Philadelphia. While I was screaming with joy and glee, you pulled out a paper and started making notes. “We need to meet tomorrow”.

You had already put a team together and with the blessing of the City Council and under the guidance of Ann Johnston and Donna Brown, a theme was chosen and you told me you needed a rough draft of the script right away. You gave me a list of things to include and then added, “Remember the show can only be 10-minutes long so don’t get carried away”.

With Nancy Memory, Nick Elliot, and more than forty proud Stocktonians we won.  WOW!  First we cheered, then we cried and then the five of us, you, me, Donna, Nick and Nancy raced to the bank of phones in the hall to call our spouses.   Can it ever get better than this?  Well, getting to go to The White House in D.C. to pick up the award thanks to Donna Brown, was unreal.

Could it get better?  The answer was an unequivocal YES! 

Our next collaboration would be the dedication of DeCarli Plaza.  In preparing the script I mentioned it was too bad we couldn’t have an Alpine Horn to open the show.  You didn’t even pause…the next thing I knew you had lined up the Swiss musician and had obtained special lighting to highlight the magnificent plaza.  You are an amazing man.  You simply don’t have the word, “CAN’T” in your vocabulary.

I’ll never forget the day you called to inform me of a plan to celebrate Stockton’s 150thth Birthday.  We were going to write a musical for the Stockton Sesquicentennial.  Holy Moly!  The more we collaborated the more ideas you came  up with including a real 1800’s stage coach, pulled by a team of horses as well as a Native American man on a live horse who would ride up to the stage to deliver his lines.  The Muller spectacular would end up with a cast, crew and orchestra of more than 150 people.

Much of the music would be original compositions with my lyrics and Daryl Bodley’s music.  Daryl was amazing and many the morning, there the three of us would be; Daryl with his keyboard, you with your yellow pencil and me trying to explain how I saw these lyrics, (jazz, operatic, French, 49-erish) at 5:00 AM.    Remember the night we worked at your house until 11:30 pm and you were at my door at 4:45  the next morning holding a bag donuts?  Little did I know that part of that gig would include the two of us shoveling horse poop following a particularly long rehearsal.  There were many challenges putting that show together. 

We were often referred to as, “The Bickersons” rather than “ Comden and Green”.  And I’m not sure if it was you or Alison or Harry who dubbed us, “Frick and Frack”.   But, gosh it was a hoot. Our collaborations continued with more plays, remember “Anything Goes?  I kept screwing up my lines in one key scene so I had written them on the inside of my arm.  At the final dress rehearsal when you were giving notes, you declared, ‘BY THE WAY, I DON’T LIKE THE LOOK OF BOBBIE’S ARMS.  I want her in full-length gloves”.  Thanks Al but you were right. The gloves looked great and thanks to the help of my fellow actors, my fluffed lines hardly showed at all…nor did the flab on my arms.

More projects evolved including us producing a video for the fantastic ArtsworkYes! Program you developed for elementary school children in San Joaquin County. Thanks again for letting me be a part of your educational masterpiece.

You were there for my family during some challenges and I tried to be there for yours.  The worst for me was when Harry was dying and you, Pat Rogers and Marvin Williamson took turns staying with me at the house, changing linen, talking with Harry when he was no longer lucid and that ultimate trip when you picked Harry and I up and took us to Hospice House.  Your kindness and calm, thoughtful demeanor made the difficult journey almost peaceful.

Our last phone call in December seemed so ordinary.  As usual you talked so lovingly about Camilla and the girls, and, of course, as many of the grandchildren and now great-grandchildren as you could fit into the conversation.  Thank you again for the books you sent me and for the offer of the costumes you still have in the garage if I decide to direct “Incorruptible” in Albuquerque.

Somehow, I don’t know if I can take on the project if I can’t phone you for advice and support.  I keep thinking of our last big collaboration when Dominee directed us in, “ Love Letters” at SCT four years ago and I wonder if she knows what  a gift that was for me.

I am so thankful to Camilla and the rest of your wonderful family for sharing you with all of us in such a warm and generous way. I know how much you love them all and how much they love you. I know your journey will be peaceful and when you arrive, I take comfort in knowing Harry is there to greet you and, “show you the ropes”.  

Love,    Bobbie,   (aka Frack)  

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