Anxiously, I met Mr. Buckley in front of the IU Memorial Union at 11:00 AM when he arrived in his limo. I learned he was being paid $20,000 for his one-hour lecture that evening at the Indiana University Auditorium, so, my time with him took on added significance. I hoped my 50 phone calls to IU and Buckley’s secretary would result in a smooth luncheon and tour prior to his talk.
Buckley, in keeping with his image, looked somewhat disheveled, older than I wanted him to look, but not at all intimidating. My fear about the luncheon was that at some point someone would stand up, point a finger and ask, “Just who the hell is this Jim Stark and what is he doing here?” Before Mr. B checked into the union’s hotel room to freshen up before lunch, I explained I was a business person in Bloomington, not part of the university, but a great fan of his writing and knowing his fondness for classical music, had used my acquaintance with people in the School of Music to set up the luncheon. Buckley was most appreciative and looked forward to the opportunity to learn about IU.
The luncheon was held in a small intimate dining room for eight of us. With Buckley at one end of the table and Webb at the other, the Dean went around the table introducing the attendees. There was Virginia Zeani, Distinguished Professor of music who had performed the starring role of LA Traviata hundreds of times throughout Europe. Next to her were Dr. George Buelow, Chairman of Musicology at IU, and Mr. Doug Wilson, Vice President of IU. Across the table were Dr. Keith Brown, conductor of the IU Camerata Orchestra, and Malcomb Webb, son of Dean Webb and coordinator between Indiana state universities. When the Dean got to me he said, “Of course you know Jim Stark who runs a major electronics company in the Midwest. And I added, “And also plays the harmonica, a little.” All laugh.
A pleasant luncheon followed with conversations about the performances IU was staging that year. Then the talk turned to the lack of interest by the common man in opera and the challenge to reverse the trend. How to market opera to the masses was the question put before the table.
I volunteered, “Well, I’ll tell you how to market opera” Having said that, it suddenly occurred to me, “Stark, what the hell are you talking about? Here you are surrounded by virtual impresarios of the music world and you are going to tell them about opera?”
I fearlessly charged onward, “My wife and I love opera. We go to opera in Louisville and Cincinnati as well as Bloomington. We love the staging, the costumes, and the music. But the thing that enhances our enjoyment tenfold is when the opera is performed in the original language with super-titles. That way, seeing the translated words on a screen permits us to enjoy the theater of the opera.” Not knowing what to expect from those around the table, I was elated when Dr. George, Madame Virginia and Dr. Keith started applauding.
Apparently, Dean Webb resisted the use of super-titles and allowed students to sing in English instead. (Guess what? At the very next opera performance and every performance thereafter, super-titles with translations appeared above the IU opera stage. Thank you, Jim Stark.)
As the luncheon was concluding but before things moved to the touring stage, I interjected with, “Now wait. I ought to be entitled to at least one question about sailing.” To those assembled, I explained, “You may not know it, but Mr. Buckley is an experienced and accomplished sailor. He has crossed the Atlantic and Pacific at least four times and written four wonderful books about each of those adventures. His last book was subtitled The End of an Affair. My question is, Was it?”
Buckley answered by saying that the companions with whom he liked to sail where now into other things¬—Ambassador to France, head of Time/Life correspondents, etc. and the effort to prepare was great and very expensive.” But then added, “Who knows?”
His answer gave me the opening to reveal that one of Mr. Buckley’s sailing companions was his son Christopher. And like his father, Christopher was a best-selling author. In fact, I said, “At one time both father and son had a book on the New York Times bestseller list. And that was a first.” And Buckley chimed in saying, “And the only time.”
After the tour, Dean Webb gave our distinguished visitor some brochures of music school activities. One of the pieces was a recital hall schedule for the month showing the performers scheduled for October. At that moment I was able to lean forward and say “Yes, and you will notice that on October 12th there is a doctoral recital to be performed by Eric Stark, my son.”
Buckley said, “Oh you must be very proud.” Dean Webb was even more impressed. “Eric stark! Is he your son? Eric has done several conducting’s for me at First United Methodist church. He is very talented.”
I loved it.
Saying goodbye to Bill in front of the union, he could not have been sincerer in his appreciation of the luncheon and the effort spent on his behalf. I thanked him again for his letters and the book he had generously given me.
Buckley’s letters had always been signed “Wm F Buckley,” but the note I received following his Bloomington visit was signed “Bill.”
William F. Buckley, Jr died in 2008. His son Christopher wrote a wonderfully touching book titled “Losing Mum and Pup”. I sent Christopher a letter and he replied, “Thank you for your lovely note about the book. I’m so glad it landed as it did with you. All the best, Chris Buckley”