In remembrance of Randy Morris: arts lover, teacher, musician and the best audience member in town
Many years ago, audience member Randy Morris arrived at the old Theatre 3 in downtown Fresno for a performance of “The Orphans” and found his usual seat occupied. Sitting in it was a young woman. He took the seat next to hers.
Randy – I can’t imagine calling him Mr. Morris in this piece, as the occasion of a remembrance would normally dictate – couldn’t help but chat. (As one friend described him, “He was very verbal.”) He took a look at the cast list and told the woman how much he was looking forward to seeing one of his favorite local actresses, Pepper DeLano, in the show. Had the young woman seen her work? Perhaps her standout performances in “Sylvia”? Or “Hamlet”?
Did she like Delano, too?
“Yes, I love her,” the woman told him. “I may be biased. She’s my big sister.”
After the show, during the meet-and-greet with the actors in the lobby, DeLano’s sister whispered to her, “I think I’ve just met your biggest fan.” Introductions were made. And that’s how DeLano first learned Randy’s name.
“We had a laugh,” DeLano says. “Several, probably.”
Randy, who died unexpectedly last month, made being the “biggest fan” seem like the happiest title in the world. It wasn’t just Delano who appreciated his jolly, affirming presence. Many local actors and musicians felt the same way. If Morris was in the audience, it meant someone was rooting for them.
“He saw every show I did. He saw every show everyone did,” actress Jennifer Hurd-Peterson says.
The Fresno Community Concert Band dedicates its concert tonight (7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, Fresno City College Theatre) to Randy. It’s just one of a number of tributes and remembrances over the past weeks. Nate Butler honored him earlier this month at his Classic Silent Movies night.
The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.
At the Mini-Rogue Festival several weeks ago, organizers blocked off a front row of seats, affixed a sign that read “Saved for Randy” and included a Diet Coke, his beverage of choice.
I’m sure that many of his fifth-grade students from across the decades are remembering him as well.
In arts journalism, we tend to focus on the creative folks who keep us riveted on stage, as well we should. But we should also acknowledge that without the audience, all that effort would lead to, well, just another rehearsal.
Not that Randy spent all his time sitting in the dark. He enjoyed the limelight as much as any performer. An ardent saxophonist, he and fellow musician David Spencer made a tradition of offering “Original Jazz and Blues” at the Rogue Festival. (They went to Fresno High School together, both graduating in 1972. Spencer remembers him as “the most intense sax player in the assemblies and talent shows, and the musician with the biggest smile in the yearbook photo.”)
Spencer remembers, amusingly, that Randy got to wear his hair long in high school and looked like John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, while Spencer endured forced parental haircuts.
Randy also made a splash as a DJ for KFSR (Fresno State radio), hosting a morning jazz program. He and his wife, Anita, shared the 2019 Volunteer of the Year award at the Fresno Art Museum. Along with the Rogue Festival, he was a strong supporter of Fresno Filmworks. Season tickets to Good Company Players? Check. Willing to troop out to support an upstart theater company? Double-check.
It seemed like every time I walked into a theater, he was there. He kept busy. If he wasn’t performing, surely there was an audience he could be a part of, right?
“Randy was all for having good times,” says his wife, Anita, who accompanied him on most of his cultural outings. “I truly think he enjoyed life more than anyone I’ve ever met and my only consolation is that I believe he squeezed about three lifetimes into his 68 years.”
One person who will miss him, for certain, is DeLano and her son, Trevor. In the past five years Randy and Anita took the pair under their wings and treated them to show tickets and dinners.
They always stuck to their routine, DeLano says.
“Every time that Randy called me, whether he got me or voicemail, he would ask, “Is this that famous Fresno actress we hear so much about?’ And I would say, ‘Depends, is this the president of my fan club?’ ”