Sitnews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


By June Allen


July 27, 2002
Saturday - 12:45 am

Ketchikan's First City Players' long-running melodrama The Fish Pirate's Daughter was written and debuted in 1966. The hilarious spoof on Prohibition, Creek Street and fish pirating was a little bit of history, a few naughty characters and a lot of laughs. It was a natural continuation of the First City Players' first year of productions. The mid-'60s were also a time when Ketchikan's leaders were doing some serious thinking about attracting some of

Fish Pirate's Daughter 1966 program

-Fish Pirate's Daughter
1966 - Program
Click on program for larger view...
Program Courtesy of The First City Players
Digital by Sitnews
the tourism dollars that other towns in Alaska were enjoying. A popular play with a universal plot was a natural for both locals and visitors.

The First City Players were organized a year earlier when ten or so aspiring thespians met in the undercroft of St. John's Church one evening, chose the name for their new theater group, and recognized Chuck Maniscalco as their director. Chuck was the advertising manager for the Ketchikan Daily News and another member was a reporter for the paper, so the Players were more or less assured of adequate coverage of their endeavors. They would need it!

Chuck, originally from Los Angeles, also had had professional experience. Anyone old enough to remember the "Wildroot Creme Oil, Charlie" singing commercial on TV in the late 1950s, may remember seeing the hand coming out from behind the shower curtain and waving to be handed the tube of Wildroot Creme Oil. That hand was Chuck Maniscalco's. In spite of his failure to become a Hollywood star, Chuck turned out to be a brilliant director, sometimes hard-nosed, but knowledgeable and sensitive.

Additional would-be actors drifted into the First City Player ranks. The very first production consisted of three one-act plays, staged at the White Cliff School auditorium the evening of April 10, 1965 - unfortunately on the evening of the big New England Fish Company fire. Other plays followed. But very often the cast was almost as large as the audience. Slick television programs were available, and it was proving difficult to accustom Ketchikan people to the idea of watching live actors in plays. Audiences, however, were growing a little and the First City Players were having a good time and believed in themselves.

One of the actors attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting in early 1966 in the hopes of attracting business community interest in theater. At almost the end of the meeting she blurted out that the First City Players were thinking about writing and producing a play called The Fish Pirate's Daughter for summer visitors and locals. Some of the troupe members had talked about it off and on again - usually while having a cold one or two after a rehearsal - about doing this play about a fish pirate and a madame with a heart of gold, and all the

Fish Pirate's Daughter photo

Fish Pirate's Daughter
A group picture taken at Petersburg
when the First City Players took
the show on the road in 1966
Seated in front are (unidentified), Arlene Crawford and (unidentified). In the middle row from left,
Tom Kelley (is it?), Bob Allen, Jack Shay,
Chuck Maniscalco, Mary Kinerk and
Maureen Karlson.
Back row from left, (unidentified), June Allen,
Margot Shay, and Jim Alguire

Click on photo for larger photo...
Photograph Courtesy of The First City Players
Digital by Sitnews
clichés - set during Prohibition. She says she expected the members to nod politely and then push back their chairs and leave. However, the members all stood applauding the idea and calling out encouragement!

First City Player member and talented writer Bob Kinerk was immediately contacted and told, "We need a play, right away! It's to be called The Fish Pirate's Daughter and this is what it has to be about. etc. etc." That was a Thursday, after Chamber meeting. The following Tuesday the play was written! Kinerk brought it into the newspaper office. Up until this point Chuck Maniscalco, a purist, had lifted his nose a little higher than usual and sniffed, "I will not direct a silly melodrama." But he marched up to Kinerk and said, "Give me my play!" And off we went!

Everyone pitched in. Member Jim Alguire, our musician, wrote the music, some of Kinerk's lyrics set to existing tunes and others original. Jack Shay would be the villain, and he plays the role occasionally to this day. June Allen volunteered to make the gown for Violet LaRosa, the madame with a heart of gold - to be played by Margo Shay. It was made from a length of red-glow sateen, originally intended for U.S. Air Force airfield markers, bought surplus. A full-length sheath, it needed ornamentation of some sort. So she went to Tongass Trading and told clerk Pete Bringsli that she needed some fish net to trim a gown. The oldtimer grinned and asked, "How much." She reckoned that it be about half a yard? So a grinning Pete cut that half a yard, which was - ye gods! - 34-feet long, or some such measurement!

The play was cast. The role of Sweet William, the hero, was played by Phil Miller, a rough and tumble logger who looked as if he may have been boxer at one time and who ambled in off the street one evening and read the part as if born to it. After the summer run of the play, he left and no one ever saw him again. Did they? The actors rehearsed wherever they could find space. One of the places for rehearsals offered to them by owner Gordon Zerbetz was the old hospital, recently vacated, on Bawden Street. That was where the Ladies of the Line learned to do the (innocent) bumps and grinds that accompany their opening song. It seemed strange to be rehearsing in a chapel! Jean Barry offered to play the piano to accompany the play's musical numbers.

But possibly best of all, Gordon Zerbetz, also the owner of the old Stedman Hotel, remodeled the hotel's bar/banquet room to include a little stage, just for the Fish Pirate

Fish Pirate's Daughter photo

-Fish Pirate's Daughter - 1966
Click on photo for larger photo...
Photograph Courtesy of The First City Players
Digital by Sitnews
play! The Stedman's Totem Room bar facing Dock Street could be separated from the banquet room in back by folding wooden doors. The stage at the rear had entrances/exits on both sides. The facility had a piano plus seats enough for a large audience, all available through the generosity of that community-minded businessman. Zerbetz would later play Sweet William, the hero, himself. What a chuckle it was to see a soft-spoken and blushing Zerbetz sail manfully through his lines in Boy Scout costume with short pants plus a bandage on one knee.

Opening night was a smashing success! The place was packed, eager faces reflecting the stage lights as the Ladies of the Line entered. The Madame sashayed through the audience, kissing bald heads and saying such things as, "Come on up and see me sometime." Men ducked and women squealed in delight, caught up in the action. The audience was coaxed into a sing-a-long of old-time songs that everyone knew, and join in they did. Then the ladies of the line began their opening song, counting their (Monopoly) money and tucking it into their bosoms. With a little coaxing, the audience cheered the hero, booed the villain and sighed with Little Nell, the heroine. Secrets were revealed and villain thwarted and the audience left satisfied and feeling a little nobler. Maybe.

That year, 1966, the Kayhi graduating class wanted just one thing: To see the Fish Pirate's Daughter! They couldn't go to the Stedman Hotel's theater because alcoholic beverages were sold there. So the Elks lodge graciously made their upstairs hall and tiny stage available and the cast put on the play just for the graduating seniors. The popular play also traveled to Petersburg and another appreciative audience. The actors also did the play on the ferry en route, for passengers and crew. Over the years it traveled to other towns and, like the Energizer bunny, it just keeps going, and going, and going.

Over the years the play has moved from venue to venue, with various directors and casts. The play was great fun! And it still is these 30+ years later. Somehow it's as funny today as it was back then. I doubt that anyone has ever counted the number of people who have acted at one time or another in roles for the Fish Pirate. It must run into the high hundreds! And how proudly those of us from the 1966 production say, "I was in the original cast. y'know."

And I was.


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