Thursday, May 15, 2014

Remembering MICHAEL MAITLAND (1956–2014)

(with Marie Maginity)

He was born Michael Walker, son of Scott Walker, TV and movie bad guy, featured in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, THE MUPPET MOVIE and other light classics. His mom, a former Broadway dancer and daughter of theatre critic Ward Morehouse, picked the stage name Michael Maitland from Sir Harry Maitland, an actor whom she admired.

I met Michael in college when he and I were two of 32 students accepted into the Acting Program at the State University of New York at Purchase in the fall of 1977.

"So, Michael, have you done much acting?"

 "Well, lately not so much, but, I did some stuff when I was a kid."

Maitland as leader of the Leviathans on DARK SHADOWS.
At which point he just casually rambled off a list of professional credits. Michael had played Hal Linden’s son in THE ROTHSCHILDS, and portrayed Patrick Dennis (not Dennis Patrick) in the original cast of MAME with Angela Lansbury. Oh, and some television work for a soap opera called DARK SHADOWS.

Needless to say, I was awestruck. Before the age of 21, this guy had accomplished more than what 95 percent of most actors did in their lifetimes. In comparison, my claim to fame was the starring role of Mortimer in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE at St. John’s Church in Yonkers.

The funniest story Mike ever told (and he told many) referred the time he had played Winthrop in a revival of THE MUSIC MAN at New York City Center. The production starred Bert Parks, best known as host for many years of the Miss America Pageant. Mike, however, was very familiar with the film version, so when he and his mother spotted Robert Preston on a Manhattan street, the boy recognized him immediately as Harold Hill, albeit the wrong one.

“Professor Hill! Professor Hill, hi, how are you?”  Mike ran up to the confused actor. “Don’t you remember me? I played Winthrop with you!”
Dan and Mike

But Preston just smiled and feigned recognition. “That's right, son, we did. And didn't we have a wonderful time?"

Mike and I stayed in touch after college. He did not continue to pursue the acting career which had served him so well as a boy. The big city is full of stories of child legends who did not successfully migrate to adult careers in show business, and Michael was one of them.

But Mike was not bitter; if he missed it, he never let on. He adjusted well to real life and established himself in the restaurant business, eventually becoming a banquet manager at a midtown Manhattan hotel.

His favorite pastime was softball in the Central Park leagues where opposing hitters learned quickly to not hit it to centerfield; he ran down everything in the park. And that's a big park.

Word about Michael's cancer started making the rounds about five years ago. At first my reaction was not to be overly concerned. After all, he was only in his early 50s; they’re making wonderful progress with these things nowadays. Time passed, and the truth dawned on me: Mike wasn’t going to make it.

Michael lasted much longer than anyone predicted, but he was in horrific pain. It had reached a point where I began to wish his pain would end. In January, I heard from a mutual friend that if I wanted to see Mike I'd better act fast.

The next day, I drove the roughly 180 miles to his facility in Rhinebeck, N.Y., preparing for the worst. To my great relief, however, he did not appear to be at death’s door — anything but. Mike looked like a guy who had just had his appendix out and was waiting for the doctor to say "go home." It was certainly not my mental image of an advanced cancer patient.

After an hour or so of conversation and laughs, Michael suggested we head down to a room with vending machines, tables and a TV. But we were barely through the door when he stopped me, out of breath.

“It's in my lungs now. I can't go any further."

I stayed for another couple of hours. When it was time to leave I hugged Mike and told him that I loved him, knowing I would never see my friend again.

As I walked down the hall, I was grateful that it was a Sunday evening with only a skeleton crew working the floor. Big boys don't like to be seen with tears in their eyes.

As I waited at the elevator, a young man caught up with me.

"I just wanted to tell you that I have never seen anyone handle something like this as well as Michael has."

The end finally came on April 23. His sisters were present at the hospice in upstate New York.

One of his sisters, Jackie Graves, is raising funds for a memorial bench in Central Park, where he loved playing softball so much.

A family member is raising funds for a memorial bench in Central Park in Maitland's name.

Dan Hickey and Marie Maginity performed together in a production of NIGHT OF THE IGUANA at South Camden Theatre Company. Marie played the role of Miss Fellowes, portrayed in the film by Grayson Hall. Dan played the Nazi father (of Marie’s real life daughter).


HorrorFreak said...

Beautiful memorial of a great actor and what sounds like a great person in general. It almost brought me to tears.

Melissa said...

You KNOW a kid is a good child actor when he could out-creep David Henesy as David Collins.

David said...

Michael was my closest friend I saw him the week before he died and he truly died better in the face of cancer then anyone I have known. i have lost three very close friends and my mom to cancer and Michael went out not burdening anyone. Nor bitter, people he had some ambivalence to he let in his life and did not bring up the past to make anyone uncomfortable. He was a warm generous person, months before he died but in and out of the hospital he knowing I was having money troubles and so was he kept trying to give me money . Michael was the guy who would give you the shirt off his back. Miss him.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...