Fewer and fewer Madisonians nowadays would recognize the name “Gavin Lodge” if you said it to them. But I’ll never forget him — he was my best school pal, the guy I was closest to from, oh, about the fourth grade up into freshman in high school.
And if you google that name, you’ll find a number of hits on it. But, that’s not my pal Gave (as I usually called him). That’s his son: Gavin Knox Lodge IV, Broadway actor, singer and dancer.
By the way, that first name is pronounced to rhyme with “raven,” not with a short “A,” as most people say it. Don’t ask me why his family pronounced it differently — they just did.
Gavin’s dad, Gavin K. Lodge II, was partners with his brother Boone Lodge in Lodge Brothers Furniture, which was at Main and West streets where the Madison Coffee & Tea is now. Up the street half a block, on the corner of the alley, was Lodge Brothers Hardware. The four other Lodge brothers — Irvin, Jack, Bill and Knox — owned and operated it. The Lodges were a BIG family, even for those days. There were three sisters, as well as the six brothers.
My pal Gavin and I were in the same class from first grade on, but we didn’t become best friends until about fourth grade. As we became closer and got to know each other better, we discovered that we liked a number of the same things — especially reading.
We both graduated from the children’s department at the Madison library, to the history room on the second floor, while still in grade school. Precocious — that’s what you might have called us. Don’t know if we knew that word at the time, but we had left the children’s books way behind.
I imagine Gavin learned of some books that he later enjoyed reading, from me, but the ones I remember are the ones he recommended to me. “Andersonville,” by MacKinlay Kantor — one of the greatest Civil War historical novels. “The Road to Tyburn,” about a famous English highwayman, burglar and prison escapee of the 18th Century named Jack Shepard. “Mandingo,” the first of that series of novels about a slave plantation in pre-Civil War Alabama, and its owner, Hammond Maxwell. Kyle Onstott wrote the first two or three; I think someone else took over as author after that, but I only read the first three.
When Miss Drusilla Cravens, descendant of James F. D. Lanier of Lanier Mansion fame, died in 1956, she was living right across Fairmount Drive from the Lodges. One of her family told Gavin’s father that if his oldest son and namesake, and Gavin’s three younger brothers, wanted to rummage through an old shed on her property right by the road, they were welcome to take anything they wanted, as it would all be thrown away soon. Young Gavin went through it and came up with two historical treasures: “Life and Death in Rebel Prisons,” published in 1865 by Union Army veteran Robert K. Kellogg; and another book, the exact title of which escapes me, which was published in 1876. It was a recounting of (in the author’s judgment) the most important 100 events in the first 100 years of our country, year by year. Gavin and I read those two books almost to pieces. We were fascinated.
Gavin became a huge Civil War buff, reading everything he could get his hands on about the War Between the States, to give it the preferred Southern name. He talked so much to me about the Civil War that he got me interested in it, too. I never read as much as he did about it, but I read quite a bit. I still remember some of our conversations about it. Where other boys our age played cowboys and Indians, we played Civil War.
Gavin was also the one who first made me aware of an off-the-wall, unconventional young songwriter named Tom Lehrer. Gavin II and my friend’s mom, Nadine, had bought a stereo album of his humorous, irreverent tunes, and Gavin and I listened to them, and listened, and listened … We got them all down by heart. In seventh and eighth grade, occasionally in music class at school we would ask Joanne Williams, our teacher, if we could get up and give a duet rendition of “Be Prepared,” or, “In My Hometown,” or “Lobachevsky”, for our classmates. She always was happy to oblige, and the other kids always seemed to enjoy our singing — unprofessional though we were. We made up for it in enthusiasm and hamminess, though.
And here’s an interesting sidelight: That was in the late 1950s. Today, in 2011, Tom Lehrer is still living! He’s in his early 80s, and actually has a listed phone number at his home out in California. I’ve tried calling him, but the phone only rang and rang — no answer, no voice mail. Would love to tell him how much my friend and I liked his music, so many, many years ago.
Besides loving reading and music, what was Gavin like? Well, he was a tall, stocky boy — we were both big for our ages, although I was skinny — then. He had wavy hair; a lot of the girls though he was “cute.” He tended to be loud and, often, crude; we both got into the habit of using cuss words at younger ages than we should have. But Gavin was funny — very, very funny. He cracked me up so many times with poker-faced, hilarious wisecracks, sometimes based on re-wording of well-known sayings, sometimes more original. And he liked my wit, too. We often had each other laughing like loons — we just kind of thought alike in many ways.
I still remember once when we went to the Ohio Theatre to see a Disney live-action movie called “Westward Ho, the Wagons.” At one point, when the wagon train was halting for supper, the cast was singing, “It’s time to stop the wagons, and bed down for the night –” and all of a sudden something flashed through my mind and I leaned over to Gavin and sang, “The Injuns are a-comin’ and there’s gonna be a fight!” He picked up on my improvised line half-way through it and sang the last few words with me — and we both howled, both at my parody of the song (we never did hear what the real second line was) and at how our brains worked in tandem.
We both became big fans of the comedy team Laurel and Hardy, whose movies from the 1930s were starting to appear on TV in the mid-50s. We both watched the Mickey Mouse Club, and, like many other little boys across the country, we both fell like a ton of bricks for Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, she of the exotic dark hair, soulful eyes, and, uh … no, wait, she didn’t have those yet. Suffice it to say, we thought she was gorgeous.
There was one subject where we definitely didn’t agree, though. Remember the “Davey Crockett” series that Walt Disney featured on his “Disneyland” program back in the ’50s? Well, like most boys of that era, I thought Davey Crockett was the ultimate in frontier cool. But Gavin sure didn’t.
You see, Gavin was descended somehow from Daniel Boone, the famous frontiersman. That’s the main reason he had an uncle, AND a cousin, named “Boone.” He found this glorification of Davey Crockett a terrible affront — thought Crockett was two-bit compared to his own ancestor. I found a paper Gavin had typed, tacked to his closet door, one day when I was visiting at his house. In it, he outlined all the exploring and settling that Daniel Boone had done, then declared that Davey Crockett “never explored or settled anything.” He wound up by saying that he didn’t see why Davey Crockett should be “built up by Walt Disney” to be “bigger than President Eisenhower!” Gavin was never shy about expressing his opinions.
In eighth grade, Gavin and I were picked as the lead male roles in two class plays put on at the E.O. Muncie Elementary School, then in its first year. I don’t remember much about the plays, except that they were both based on family life (each of our characters was a husband and father), and they were funny. We didn’t do bad!
In high school, Gavin went on to act in school plays, to become a member of the National Honor Society, to play on the football team, and to have an excellent resume by his senior picture in the yearbook. Me? I kind of dropped out. Not out of school, but out of trying. In grade school, we each made almost straight A’s. In high school, my grades plummeted. I didn’t want to try hard enough, I had problems with some math classes, and I just gave up.
We drifted apart in high school. No quarrels or anything like that. The difference in our families’ economic situations just became more important as we got older, Gavin was a “wheel” in our class, and I was — just there. Our paths had diverged.
After graduation, Gavin went off to Wabash College. I went to the U.S. Army. Gavin took Marine ROTC in college, became a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps upon graduation, eventually was sent to the Vietnam War.
I wound up in Vietnam also, with seven months left on my enlistment. All I lost was seven months. When my three-year stint in the Army was up, I was mustered out and sent home.
Gavin wasn’t so lucky. He was leading a night patrol which hit a land mine. Gavin took the full force of the blast. He had severe facial, shoulder, arm and upper chest burns. The tops of his ears were burned off. He spent a long, long time in a Texas burn center. Finally released, he was given a medical discharge by the Marine Corps. He went to law school, became an attorney, married his sweetheart, Marcia Main, who was from Colorado.
In the times after his college graduation, and my release by the Army, Gavin came to see me whenever he was home. We went out and got drunk together several times. Typical young guys, reminiscing, laughing, looking forward to the lives we had before us.
After Gavin’s recovery from his Marine wounds, he sometimes came back to visit me again. He looked different now, with the severe scar tissue. But he was lucky just to be alive. The wounds, the ordeal, had changed him. He was grimmer now, more cynical. Combat alters people in ways that don’t always show physically.
Gavin and Marcia settled in Colorado. They had a baby boy — Gavin Knox Lodge IV. Gavin’s mother, Nadine, worked as a secretary for Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Paul Schnaitter, then his successor, Judge Joseph Hensley, after her husband Gavin’s untimely death. One day in 1983 when I was in the judge’s office as a reporter for The Madison Courier, Nadine gave me bad news: Her son Gavin had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. They were trying to treat it. She was hopeful that they had caught it in time.
That August, our graduating class held its 20th reunion at the Clifty Inn. Al Huntington, who had been our senior class president, told us that he and other class leaders had arranged to have an open line from a phone booth at the inn, to Gavin’s home in Colorado, so we could take turns chatting with our absent classmate. “He has brain cancer, and it’s terminal,” Al said. I was stunned; I hadn’t realized it was that bad.
We lined up to talk to Gavin. When my turn came, he was the same old Gave. He sounded jaunty and a little cocky, like he had when we were in grade school together. I told him I was having a few drinks. “Yeah, I’m gettin’ into some of that, too,” he laughed.
It was the last time we ever talked. Gavin turned 38 in September. In October, he died. He was the first member who had graduated with the Class of 1963, to pass away.
Here too briefly; gone too soon. My best pal, Gavin Lodge.
I still miss him.
Gavin and Marcia’s son, young Gavin, was about 9 years old when his dad died, I think. I met him once, years later when he was a young man, and he came to Madison when his grandmother Nadine died. He was a tall, handsome young man (probably 6-4, maybe even 6-5; taller than his dad; taller than me); friendly, well spoken.
Young Gavin got into acting, as his dad had in eighth grade and high school. But the bug bit him — he made it his life’s work. Now in his late 30s, he’s been in New York City for the past 10 years, acting, singing and dancing on- (and occasionally off-) Broadway in plays — mostly musical comedies.
His most recent work is in a play called “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” Here are a few comments posted recently on a theatrical website about his performance as the character “Mitzi” (yes, it’s a gender-bending type of musical!):
“… I have to say that Gavin did a fantastic job as Mitzi …”
“My friend and I were fortunate enough to see Gavin Lodge as Tick” (he’s played two different roles in the play) “this past Wednesday. … (We) were absolutely blown away by Gavin’s performance. His Tick is complicated and human. The father-son scenes are real and touching …”
“Gavin really sparkled in the (Mitzi) role. He just nailed it.”
Besides “Priscilla,” Gavin has had parts in “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” “Primrose” (off-Broadway), and “42nd Street.”
And on Sept. 9, 2011, a large group of Broadway stage performers gathered on Duffy Square in New York City to sing “New York, New York,” as a tribute and remembrance of the 9/11 attacks of 10 years before. Gavin Lodge was among them.
My pal Gavin, and his wife Marcia, who is also deceased, would be proud of their talented son.
(If you’d like to see and hear young Gavin, go to http://youtube.com , search for “Gavin Lodge,” and the first video you come to will be one in which he is interviewed about his career in Broadway entertainment, by the Denver Post from his home state of Colorado.)