Jim Van Buskirk
Frederic Allen Sawyer, Jr., was born on January 1, 1957, the middle of three children adopted by Dianne and Frederic Allen Sawyer, Sr., and grew up in Moraga, a prosperous suburb of San Francisco. Sawyer dropped out of San Francisco State University’s Drama Department in the late 1970s to work full-time as the manager of the Castro Theatre, a 1920s movie palace that had recently begun programming classic Hollywood repertory. Sawyer often dropped in to watch the double bills, postponing his managerial duties until late into the night. While working there he met Vito Russo and contributed to the revised edition of Russo’s pioneering The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies.
In 1981 Sawyer parlayed his now-vast knowledge of Hollywood’s golden age into A Fine Romance, a musical revue of Jerome Kern songs, which was the inaugural show of the Valencia Rose and ran for nearly a year. Sawyer also briefly performed stand-up comedy at the club, which had quickly become an unofficial community center as well as an important venue for emerging performers including Whoopi Goldberg, Marga Gomez, and Lea DeLaria.
John F. Karr, theater critic of the San Francisco gay weekly Bay Area Reporter, impressed with Sawyer’s handling of the Kern material, invited him to collaborate on a chamber musical piece of John O’Hara poems set to original music. Titled Talking to the Sun, it shared a double bill with Gertrude Stein and Al Carmine’s In Circles, both directed by Sawyer and Karr at the Theatre Rhinoceros. The success of this collaboration led to a series of centennial concerts for composers and lyricists Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Ira Gershwin, which played at the Plush Room and the Great American Music Hall.
The team guided new musicals at Theatre Rhinoceros. Dirty Dreams of a Clean