History

Chapter 9, Part 1: The Ballet Dancer

In 1967, a woman’s car got a flat tire. The owner of the car was one 43-year-old Marta Becket, from New York City. And her car’s tire just happened to go flat near the abandoned, dilapidated Amargosa Hotel and Corkill Hall, at Death Valley Junction.

Marta Becket was a ballet dancer, actress, choreographer, and painter. She had been in the corps de ballet at Radio City Music Hall. And she had been a Broadway actress, appearing in Show Boat, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Wonderful Town. And later, after age had weathered her complexion and Broadway no longer wanted her, she started her own one-woman show, which she performed in small theaters and school auditoriums all over the country.

Marta stood near her flat tire and surveyed the desert landscape that surrounded her. She absorbed the barren crags of the Funeral Mountains to the northwest, the undulations of the Greenway Range to the southwest, and the spreading Nopah Range to the east. She regarded the broad, flat floor of the Amargosa Valley, and the dry watercourse of the Amargosa River, running through it. And she took note of the short and sparse shrubbery that covered this valley floor.

And somehow it seemed like she’d found her destiny.

Then she turned her attention to the dilapidated U-shaped building. The Spanish-colonial designed Amargosa Hotel and adjoining Corkill Hall that had been built and abandoned by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. And she got a crazy idea. She would stay put, right there.

Sure, service is slow getting your tire repaired in the middle of nowhere. But that’s not why Marta decided to stay. No, she was following an inspiration, and on an impulse decided to act on it.

She located the owner of the hotel, and rented Corkill Hall. Then she renamed it the Amargosa Opera House, and got busy renovating it. And on top of making it hospitable for human attendees, she put her artistic talent to work.

The Amargosa Opera House, formerly Corkill Hall.

She painted the ceiling with cherubs, and on the walls she limned a wrap-around mural, depicting Renaissance figures of nobility, seated as an audience in tiered galleries. It was an audience she imagined might attend Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.

Cherubs painted by Marta Beckett, on the ceiling of the Amargosa Opera House.

This would be her audience. An audience that would always show up, and never leave a seat empty. An actress’s dream come true.

Marta painted a medieval audience on the walls of the Amargosa Opera House, that always shows up for performances.

Marta’s neighbors regarded this invader from New York City with a mix of droll curiosity and head-scratching bewilderment. And by neighbors, I mean those living within, let’s say, a 50-mile radius. Because that’s how sparse and spread out the population is, in that neck of the desert. But even so, everybody knew everyone there, and anytime anything unusual happened, such as the current goings-on at the Amargosa Hotel, word spread like wildfire, and everyone found out.

One curious neighbor, with a particularly snooty attitude, with whom Marta would have frequent run-ins over the next several years, ventured into the former Corkill Hall and found Marta up on a ladder, busily painting her mural. She stiffened up and barked, “What do you think you’re doing?”

Marta replied that she was painting a mural for her opera house that would be opening soon.

“But why?!” she sounded confused and exasperated.

“Why not?”

“But it’s not PRACTICAL!” she protested.

Marta had to chuckle. Little did this poor flibbertigibbet realize that the scene she was making would one day become part of a future repertoire.

Not practical. Marta had a lot to teach the world, at her opera house in the middle of nowhere, and this was one lesson. Not practical. Isn’t that what life is all about? The living spirit goes well beyond that which is practical.

Why do coyotes howl? Why do crows perform aerial stunts on windy days? Why do bloggers write posts?

We do that which is practical in order to maintain life, so that we can keep doing that which is impractical. Impractical is what life is all about. Without impractical, we’d never want to be practical.

This is the latest installation of my series, The Amazing Amargosa. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 9, Part 2: The Sitting Down Show . Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.

91 replies »

  1. She reminds me, in some respects, of my father. He was very strong in the arts at school, and went on to become a scenic designer/artist for a theatre company until the advent of television, and the resulting collapse of theatre (late 1950’s). He switched from repertory theatre to seasonal work … being the only kind available, but always wanted his own home for us all. He had a very basic knowledge of construction from his Dad who had worked for a construction company. One evening, I overheard him and Mom having a discussion about our situation (we lived in a trailer at that time), and I remember hearing him say ” We’re never going to be able to afford our own home, unless I build the damn thing myself!”
    He then made friends with a number of local builders who had projects near us, and he came home from the library with a pile of books! He built our first home and, after he was finished, he commented that it was much easier than he expected, and that he wanted to build another one (of a more striking design)! He did!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Good on her. There’s nothing quite like an artist with talent and vision. I certainly couldn’t do all the painting she did. Just…wow.

    And, don’t ya’ just know that, every time you try to bring a vision to life, there is always that one “fly in the ointment.” Her naysayer must have a very boring life. Busy people rarely make a nuisance of themselves. Tell me she just grabs a fly swatter and goes “WHAP!” one good time.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hey TG – Got this message this morning from a woman, Go figure eh!

    “You may be sleeping but I “yelled” your name. Brad was acting real happy before he went to bed and I found out the reason! Gee! I wonder who he got a certain link from! Yes I may have ….smacked my head!.. as he laughed.
    I hope you sleep well in your deep hole! :)”

    Liked by 2 people

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