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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Black gold, Texas tea?

Black gold, Texas tea?

It was 1962 and there was a new comedy series starting that fall on TV. It was  about a not very well-educated family who found they had come into a fortune because oil had been found on their land. All that money meant they needed to improve their living situation so they trucked (literally) off to California, bought a huge mansion with a “cee-ment pond” and quickly became a very popular comedy series for the next eight years.  As we watched the first episodes and the credits at the end, my mother, nonchalantly, mentioned that she had gone to school with Richard Whorf. What? There was his name on the TV screen. He was the Director of this show filled with misdirections and misconceptions, which turned out to be pretty funny, if not silly.

 So now I needed to know more about Mr. Whorf. In my mother’s yearbook, his name is repeatedly mentioned in connection with class plays and theatrical productions. He also served as Art Editor for the yearbook. My mother hadn’t followed his career so really didn’t know much except he had gone off to New York City and had appeared on Broadway. Then I learned that his family had lived just a couple of blocks away from my childhood home. Another Winthrop son had gained fame and fortune.

His parents, Harry and Sarah Whorf lived at 94 Somerset Ave. in Winthrop. The 1910 census shows three boys, Benjamin, John and Richard, who was about 4 that year. His father was a commercial artist and designer in Boston. A death certificate was found for an older sister who died in 1904. By the 1920 census, all three boys were still living at home and a paternal grandmother and a maternal aunt had joined the household. When Richard finished high school, he went off to NYC and the start of his career.

That the arts ran strongly in this family is not to be questioned.  The Whorfs were in the Barnstable area of Cape Cod in the 1700’s associated with the sea as mariners, whalers and traders. The name is still known there today and many of them have been noted artists. Not only was Richard into the theater, movies and TV, but he was quite an artist himself, having sold his first painting at the age of 15 for $100. His film career covered the 30’s and the 40’s, but many of the classics from this era can still be seen on TV from time to time. My favorite is Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Richard’s older brother, John, became famous as a watercolorist, having studied with many accomplished artists, including John Singer Sergeant. John took up residence in Provincetown, MA and remained a resident there until his death in 1959. The oldest brother, Benjamin was a linguist, an authority on the Mayan language and a professor at Yale. He died in the 1940’s at the age of 45.

Richard apparently married a woman named Margaret but not much can be learned from searching on-line about his personal life. He died Dec. 14, 1966.



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