Danville Express

Column - October 19, 2007

Diablo Views: June becomes Eleanor

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

June Pass wasn't available to talk Friday afternoon - she was off searching for a wheelchair. It wasn't for her. It was for FDR, a supporting role for her portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt in "Remembering Eleanor," which she is performing at the Danville Library next week.

"It's not easy finding a wheelchair from that era," she said when she returned my call. Luckily, June, the director of J&L Center Stage Inc., has access to the props used at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, and found what she was looking for in its warehouses.

I met June two years ago when I wrote a story about her and her production company. We visited for three hours in her condo off Camino Ramon, me enthralled by her memories of Hollywood as well as captivated by her warm manner. June recounted the happiness in her life and the sadness, especially the passing of her beloved husband Lowell and her daughter Carol, both 10 years ago. When she and Lowell moved to Danville in 1990, they founded J&L Center Stage, a nonprofit theater group to bring plays to youths that reflect humanitarian values. For awhile they ran a teen theater program with the town.

June also shared her enthusiasm about Eleanor Roosevelt, who refused to give up her activism when she became First Lady. In fact, she became FDR's "eyes and ears" since he was in a wheelchair. She traveled all over the country, giving lectures and radio broadcasts. June met Eleanor at a fundraiser in the 1950s in Beverly Hills for the United Jewish Appeal. She recalls shaking Eleanor's hand, looking her in the eyes and seeing her spirit. "It was a long time ago, but it's a memory I cherish," June told me.

In 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt, as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, was instrumental in the adoption of its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Roosevelt said she felt this was her greatest accomplishment. Inspired by this and all of her life, June partnered with a Hollywood writer to create "Remembering Eleanor," and it was presented by J&L Center Stage in 2000 at the Lesher Center. June invited members of the Roosevelt family who lived in San Francisco, never expecting a reply. One of them, Janet Roosevelt Katten, not only attended the performance but joined the board of J&L.

When I talked to her two years ago, June had made plans to present a one-hour version she rewrote of the show to students during the school day at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord as part of the J&L School Outreach Program.

"Mrs. Katten is encouraging us to bring it to the schools because it is important for young people to understand human potential," June said.

But then the school sound system went kaput. Next, June fell and broke her hip and had to get a hip replacement. After that, she struggled against double pneumonia, and it took more than a year for her to recover.

Now she has recovered her strength, Mt. Diablo High has installed a new sound system, and "Remembering Eleanor" was rescheduled for Oct. 18. Students were involved in the production, operating the sound and light system and projection machine, which were all set up by June's grandson, Pete Simms, who is a sound and light engineer in L.A. Her other grandson Jeff Levin, who lives in Berkeley, is one of the technicians in the production. She said Jeff visited her every Tuesday during her recent convalescence and called it "Tuesdays with Nani."

June said cutting the play from a full-length production to one hour was challenging, and she had to leave out a lot about Eleanor's personal life.

"Both versions have their strengths," June said. "The main purposes of Eleanor's life are especially strengthened in this revision."

"Remembering Eleanor" begins at 7 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 24-25, in the Mt. Diablo Room at the library. Fittingly, Oct. 24 is also United Nations Day. But! The room isn't very big so be sure to get there early.

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.


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