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May 2, 2010

Favorite mail of the week: A welcome face from the past

In this business, you learn to be wary of hand-addressed mail that arrives at your workplace, especially when the world "personal" has been penned in the corner and when there's no return address. Such items tend to be filled with something less than gushing compliments. (People are far more apt to contact you to complain about what you've written than say they enjoyed reading it.)

Early in my career in Florida, a piece of mail with the above-mentioned characteristics contained not just a block-lettered diatribe against my reviews of the local symphony, but, for good measure, an actual "Palmetto bug" (as Floridians like to call the gigantic cockroaches that inhabit the area -- one of them seems a gazillion sizes larger than the ordinary household vairtey up North). Luckily for me (less so for the poor creature), only the corpse remained after the letter had been through the mail, but the shock value was still pretty high.

Then there was the time when, after writing about one of my favorite conductors, Wilhelm Furtwangler, and his controvserial years during the Third Reich, I got a 'personal,' no-return-address letter from a neo-Nazi organization suggesting that I should embrace the greatness of Hitler and his breed. Ah, but I digress.

As I said, I usually expect the worst. Such was the case last week, when a plain white, 9x12 envelope arrived, with my name and Sun address neatly hand-written, the word "Personal" on the side, and no return address. But my face brightened considerably when I opened it and discovered

two photos from the dynamic comic actress Ruth Buzzi of "Laugh-In" fame.

She had somehow spotted my reference to her in a review of "On the Verge" at Rep Stage, and that, I guess, was enough to merit a response. All I had done was mention that Natasha Staley, one of the three excellent actresses in this production of Eric Overmyer's imaginative play, reminded me of Ruth Buzzi -- partly a coincidental physical resemblance, partly the amusing way she carried out stage business. (To tell the truth, I didn't think I'd even get that allusion past the editors, since it does rather date some of us.)

Well, many, many thanks, Ruth Buzzi, for the great surprise -- and for all the laughs over the years. I hope you're doing well. I also hope you don't mind my sharing your pictures with my valued blog readers, but I couldn't resist: 

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:30 AM | | Comments (1)


What a nice contact with TV Land of the past. I can remember Ruth Buzzi's lady-in-the-hairnet character.

(So sorry you had to endure a palmetto bug in the mail. We lived in south Florida when I was a teenager, and we were just discussing those bugs the other day. The could fly, too, couldn't they?)

Ah, yes, the flying. I've tried to suppress memories of that element. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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