Carnett: Fundamentally fantastic acting teacher

It was an assignment for my acting fundamentals class my freshman year in college.

I was to recite something from great Western literature.

Lucian Davis Scott, head of Orange Coast College's theater department from 1955 to 1969, taught the course. He was a kick.

Known to students and fellow faculty and staff members as "Luke," Mr. Scott had a passion and flare for teaching drama.

Not only did Luke teach and direct plays and musicals at Coast, but he also starred in several campus shows over the years. He played the demanding title role in the college's 1955 production of Shakespeare's "King Lear" and received high praise from critics.

Four years later, he played the title character in OCC's "Macbeth." Scott's prize pupil, David Emmes — who went on to establish South Coast Repertory — was Macduff in that production.

I was privileged to be Luke's student from 1962 to '64 and appeared in his productions of "Peter Pan," "The Matchmaker" and "Two Gentlemen of Verona." He was one of the best teachers I ever had.

Luke was never shy about literally walking into a scene that you were performing for a grade in his class and delivering a line as you "should have" delivered it.

We had the opportunity to portray a wide assortment of characters in his classes, and he worked tirelessly with us on our scenes. He also told lots of stories about the theater. Luke had an exquisite supply of tales pertaining to the greatest names in the industry. He'd personally met many of them, including the illustrious Katharine Hepburn.

Luke performed extensively throughout the United States — including touring with his one-man show — before coming to OCC. He also spent an extended period living and performing in Paris. His Paris stories were entrancing.

Based upon his colorful accounts, I made up my mind to someday visit the City of Light. I wasn't disappointed when I finally achieved that dream decades later.

Following Luke's retirement in 1969, he performed on Broadway and was a regular for a season on CBS's "Bob Newhart Show." Scott was hilarious as Bob's aged, befuddled and bumbling therapy patient, Edgar J. Vickers.

I now turn the spotlight on Luke's 1963 acting fundamentals class:

I remember a particular assignment that semester. The class met in the 1,200-seat campus theater, and we were required to read on stage –- full-throated and with precise diction –- a poem, sonnet or passage from great literature.

So what'd I select? Chaucer? Rabelais? Balzac? No. I went with Randy and the Rainbows. I recited weighty lyrics from R&R;'s 1963 pop single, "Denise."

I know. Risky.

I donned my ascot, pseudo smoking jacket and Mid-Atlantic accent and let 'er rip:

"Oh Denise scooby doo/I'm in love with you, Denise scooby doo/I'm in love with you Denise scooby do/I'm in love with you.

"Denise, Denise, oh, with your eyes so blue/Denise, Denise I've got a crush on you/Denise, Denise I'm so in love with you. Oh, oh.

"Oh, when we walk, it seems like paradise/And when we talk, it always feels so nice/Denise, Denise I'm so in love with you. Oh, oh."

It goes on like that for four more stanzas, but you get the idea.

At first, my urbane approach was greeted by nervous titters from my fellow classmates. Alfred Lord Tennyson this wasn't. Then –- with cascading "scooby doos" reverberating from the apron of the stage to the back wall of the house –- the titters in the audience grew to snorts and, finally, chortles.

Upon concluding the final line, I said thank you and strode from the stage to my seat. You could cut the tension with a Boy Scout knife. Luke glared at me and said nary a word for interminable moments but then, at last, conceded a tiny smile.

"Not the assignment, Jim," he chided, "but clever. Read a Shakespearean sonnet at our next class meeting or you'll receive an F for this project."

I did and he didn't — give me an F, that is.

Luke was quite a guy.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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