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Reader with Gary roots looking for actor John Astin

Post-Tribune

Reader Evelyn LaHaie, of Valparaiso, wrote me last week with a question about actor John Astin and his connection to Northwest Indiana.

Astin, who is celebrating his 86th birthday March 30, is best known for his television role as Gomez Addams on the 1964 ABC TV series "The Addams Family," and was also married to actress Patty Duke.

"Hi Phil, and congratulations on your column, which I enjoy reading," LaHaie wrote.

"Back in 1997, I saw actor John Astin in a great one-man stage show with him starring as author Edgar Allan Poe. Does he still tour and perform, and could there be a chance of him returning to our area with his stage show? I also have an added interest in Mr. Astin, since his daughter-in-law was one of my students. But I've lost touch with her in recent years. Thank you for your help with my question. Sincerely, Evelyn LaHaie."

After some further research, our reader LaHaie is a well-known personality herself.

The Jackson Family acknowledges it was her idea to name the Jackson Five, after she met Joe Jackson and his singing sons, including then-6-year-old Michael, on Aug. 4, 1965. For decades, LaHaie ran her Evelyn School of Charm and Modeling at the Hotel Gary in Gary and helped give many young talents their start in the spotlight. It was LaHaie who booked the Jacksons, just as they were launching their singing group career, to perform at her agency's fashion show at The Big Top department store in Gary.

The letter sent to me from LaHaie, who has previously served on the board of directors of the Modeling Association of America, included some photos from her personal collection, which she said I could share with readers.

The former student LaHaie mentioned in her letter is Christine Louise Harrell, who married actor Sean Astin, the son of John Astin and Patty Duke, at a ceremony on July 11, 1992, at his mom's Idaho farm. Harrell held the title of Miss Indiana Teen USA 1984.

Sean, who gained stardom early on as a star actor in films including "The War of the Roses" and "Goonies," is known to many for his role in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy. While shooting the football film classic "Rudy" in 1992 at Notre Dame and on location around Northwest Indiana, Sean got to spend plenty of time getting to know the Hoosier landscape of his wife's youth in Rolling Prairie, before the couple met while attending college at UCLA.

Sean and his wife and three children still make it back to Northwest Indiana on occasion, such as a March 2008 appearance when he stopped by Hammond with Chelsea Clinton campaigning before a crowd of more than 5,000 people for then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, commenting to this reporter: "She's the best person for the job. She's extraordinary," and emphasizing he "has worked closely with the Clintons since the 1990s."

As for whether we can expect to see his equally famous father returning to our area anytime soon, as queried by LaHaie, he is still working, but with a reduced schedule these days. He no longer performs "Edgar Allan Poe: Once Upon a Midnight," the show described by LaHaie, which she saw at the Mercury Theatre in Chicago in 1997. However, he has been doing a limited tour of an audience question-and-answer stage show called "An Evening with John Astin: Gomez, Poe And The Usual Suspects," which is described in press materials as "the actor offering an eclectic evening of excerpts from well-known works by Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Shakespeare, Kurt Weill, Thomas Wolfe, e.e. cummings, Ezra Pound and others, combined with anecdotes and film clips from the popular TV series 'The Addams Family.' "

The closest he has come to our area with any tour dates was in October 2015, with a performance at the Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock, Ill. Today, John Astin resides in Baltimore with his third wife (of 27 years) Valerie, and he is currently a visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins University where he is director of Theatre Arts & Studies and has currently been directing two of the university's stage productions, "Three Men on a Horse" and "Sunday on the Rocks." In addition to son, Sean, his family includes his four other sons and five granddaughters.

Philip Potempa is a journalist, author and the director of marketing at Theatre at the Center. He can be reached at pmpotempa@comhs.org.

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