The primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral history Project

Celebrating the visionaries who created New York's vibrant Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater.

MUSINGS

Posted Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Off-Broadway Oral History Project
by: Casey Childs
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FROM THE STAGE

Posted Thursday, March 2, 2017

Working the Cino
by: Robert Patrick
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FROM THE HOUSE

Posted Thursday, March 2, 2017

Casting about Off-Broadway
by: Rosemarie Tichler
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FUTURE FORWARD

Working the Cino

Posted Thursday, March 2, 2017
by: Robert Patrick

I don't know that I ever officially met Joe Cino.

He was always busy behind his steaming coffee machine, itself veiled by dangling baubles, or at a back table watching shows, or cooling it in his mysterious back room. There were flashier personalities up front in the Cino to fascinate an "All About Eve" fan – beautiful actors and actresses, chatty directors, pretentious playwrights, a kaleidoscopic crowd of customers. When Joe sat talking after closing with his close friends, their easy acquaintance with opera and ballet was daunting to a boy fresh from Roswell. Besides, I started an affair with a beautiful waiter/poet/welder and we didn't often hang around for socializing after hours. And usually in the afternoons when I'd come charging into the Cino from my office job, there was work afoot readying the place for the evening and little time for talk – especially if Joe himself was late because he was having to do temp office work to keep the place going (it never made a cent).

But I recall an afternoon when there was no one in the place but me and Joe. He called me "Yellowbird," a nickname from my first entry into the Cino in a chrome-yellow hoodie, fresh from summer stock, rather than "Una," an appellation someone attached to me when they learned my surname was O'Connor (Una O'Connor was an eccentric character actress in films). I asked how he happened to start doing plays and he said it was at the suggestion of an actress named Phoebe Mooney. I told that story for decades until a late statement from Ms. Mooney herself that it was false, followed by a corrective update from dancer Billy Mitchell that staging plays in the Cino was his idea, followed by corroborative pics and programs from him. Now I have to tell you something about Joe which words probably cannot explain. Everyone loved Joe, and wanted him to love them. I cannot tell you why.

Joe was not beautiful. He was handsome, but plump, and did not seem to worry about looking attractive. He usually wore blue-jeans with short-sleeved pullovers (often worn inside-out in the manner of dancers). He was not an overt people-pleaser. He was affable, and, as you can hear in his recorded introduction to Doric Wilson's play, And He Made a Her, preserved on a CD. He was articulate and cultivated, but aside from policemen who wandered into the totally illegal institution and needed to be suavely gotten out before they asked to see certificates or licenses, I never saw Joe make an effort to charm anyone. There was something a little sad about him--perhaps for the loss of his dancing ambitions because of a weight problem?--and one did itch to make him smile. His notice was flattering.

One day the waiter was too busy setting up tables to go get the night's pastry from Mrs. Douglas' Bakery down the street, and Joe casually declared, "That's all right, Bob will do it," which statement had the double advantage of letting me know I was now taken for granted as part of the operations, and that Joe knew my real name. I never had romantic aspirations toward him. I was, as all others seemed to be, awed by his union with impossibly handsome, awesomely intelligent Johnny Torrey, an electrical whiz who had wired the Cino to get free electricity (we could not have had theatrical lighting otherwise)!

I guess Joe and I were friends. I was his slave, had he wanted it. He told many artists, "Do what you have to do," cracking open the Formica 1950's like the hand of God. But when I brought in my first script and Joe tossed it casually over his shoulder onto the trash, saying, "You don't want to be a playwright. Playwrights are terrible people. You're a good guy. You pull your weight around here. You'll thank me someday," I would without comment have let it rest there. (However, some playwrights standing by demanded Joe do my play and he grudgingly acceded.)

After my signal success handling the record and very unruly crowds for Jeff Weiss' play "A Funny Walk Home," Joe bought me a West Point cadet's jacket and a black sombrero as a uniform and made me officially, "Doorman of the Cino." I was never prouder. A final, funny, friendly memory: on October 5th, 1966, after Joe, another playwright, and I had spent the entire night on amphetamines tearing down the stage constructed for my play Indecent Exposure, Joe as a reward took us to see a Rock Hudson vehicle, Seconds. It turned out to be a grueling, paranoid nightmare of a movie, totally unsuitable to be seen when frazzled on speed. For days, the three of us phoned each other, asking, "Are you all right?"

 

Watch our interview with Robert Patrick!