Inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame, October 22, 2002.
Good evening. My name is Michael Boyd and I am inducting Bob Fish into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame. So, it seems I'm here to tell you Fish Stories…
Bob Fish was the funniest man I have ever known. Bob Fish was the bravest man I have ever known. The traits are not unrelated. But they seemed incongruous in the person of Bob Fish: Korean War veteran, Sixties peace demonstrator, traveler, recluse, raconteur, humanitarian, actor, alcoholic, comedian, friend.
Bob was a study in conflicts. Bob wrestled with life. It was not an easy fit for him. He was, in almost every aspect, a "Fish out of water."
Except on the stage.
On stage Bob's ungainly walk, his one roving eye, his exaggerated lisp… his magnetic, personality, his wit and intelligence… lit up every second he was "out there." On stage Bob wasn't a Fish out of water, on stage Bob fit… like an Armani suit.
For nearly 50 years, Bob performed in every venue in the Dayton area. No one knows exactly how many roles he played — Bob would have preferred it this way. Perhaps two-hundred, perhaps many, many more. But one thing is for certain, of the thousands of people who saw Bob on stage, only the comatose could forget him.
My first role on stage in Dayton was in an under-rehearsed, self-directed production of Thurber Carnival at the Theatre Guild. Carole Lee was in that cast, too. I was feeling more than my share of stage butterflies on Opening Night. Bob could always tell. He had a wonderful way of reassuring his fellow actors.
He said: "Don't worry kid, you'll be OK, I'll be right there onstage beside you, too… So, nobody will be paying any attention to you!"
And he was absolutely right.
But who could ever hold the stage with Bob? It was like every light in the grid was aimed at him and he knew it. His comedic timing was flawless; getting laughs out of lines other actors would have thrown away. He was the only comedian I've ever seen who could do a completely credible double take. He said, "Always let the audience be smarter than you."
And when he did a dramatic turn, he could rip out your heart and then gently hand it back to you; bruised, yet somehow enriched.
The mark of comic genius is the proximity of tragedy. I later learned that Bob had been the victim of a bashing and robbery...he was attacked and nearly killed in his own home. Thankfully, his brutal, ignorant attackers were caught and imprisoned. Bob never spoke of it.
There was a fire at the Guild in 1989. I was summoned from my apartment at about 4:30 in the morning and drove bleary-eyed to our beloved little theatre to see it surrounded by fire equipment, still belching smoke. Instantly, and from nowhere Bob was at my side, cogent… crying. We watched while the firefighters fought to save the structure.
Later, when we were allowed inside, Bob was the first civilian through the door. As we slogged through the ruins and the knee-deep water on the stage, we looked at the melted rubble that was once a beautiful set — just completed a few hours before.
Part of the roof had burned away and a bit of morning sunlight glittered on something golden lying in the muck. Bob lunged toward it, and if you ever got to see Bob lunge, it was quite a sight... One of the oldest traditions at the Guild is that volunteers who contribute to 5 shows in a single season receive a coffee cup with their name embossed in gold. No one else is allowed to use that cup. Bob lunged forward, snatched up the thing, turned to me (as well as the startled firefighters and police) in absolute triumph holding the object aloft — and shouted:" Ta Da!"
The flames, the smoke, the water and the falling debris… nothing had touched it. Bob's cup had survived everything and still glittered golden in the light.
All of the Guild cups sit in a shadowbox near the green room, waiting for the actor's next performance. Bobby, wherever you're performing tonight, I'm sure you're center stage and the audience is howling with laughter.
Bob doesn't have any family here tonight. Yet all of us are related to him. I'm pleased to accept this award on his behalf and on behalf of all those who loved him.
If I can quote a passage from one of Bob’s favorite plays:
Do you call us People?
We are not People! We are Actors!
We are the opposite of People.