Voight & Alda to Honor teacher at Stepinac

Posted Friday, April 24, 2009 by Lohud.com

Actors Voight, Alda to honor teacher at Stepinac

By Peter D. Kramer
pkramer@LoHud.com • April 24, 2009

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Alan Alda and Jon Voight have found success on screens big and small, but tomorrow the award-winning actors will be back where it began for them, at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, to honor their drama teacher, the Rev. Bernard McMahon.

"It's important for me to give him a proper salute," said Voight, a native of Yonkers who graduated from Stepinac in 1956 and won an Oscar for "Coming Home."

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"With any of my successes, there was a collaboration with the director," Voight says. "And it goes back to the collaborative spirit that came from my work with Bernie. He's as good as anyone I ever worked with. Because of his taste, his enthusiasm and his talent."

Alda said McMahon "should be held up as a model for all teachers."

"I don't know if I ever had a teacher who quietly inspired me the way he did," said Alda, a multiple Emmy winner and star of "M*A*S*H."

"His goodness as a person and his acute intelligence made him an extremely good teacher and an exemplary mentor," he said.

Tomorrow's honor, the bestowing of the Major Bowes Theater Award, will be followed by a performance of Stepinac's spring musical, "Curtains," written by Nyack native and Scarsdale resident Rupert Holmes. The evening, a benefit for the school's theater program, begins with a cocktail reception with Alda, Voight and their honoree.

McMahon taught dramatics and literature at Stepinac, a Catholic boys' school in White Plains from 1951 to 1971. He moderated the Drama Club and directed several of its productions, chaired the English Department and oversaw the yearbook and the literary magazine.

When McMahon left Stepinac, it was to teach and serve as chaplain at the College of New Rochelle, where he taught Mercedes Ruehl, who went on to win a Tony for "Lost in Yonkers" in 1991 and an Oscar for "The Fisher King" in 1992.

McMahon, now retired, lives in Manhattan, and will attend tomorrow's festivities and reconnect with his former students.

Alda credits McMahon with nurturing his love of writing.

"He was constructively devious about the way he got me to develop my writing skills," Alda said. "You could either do this boring book report or you could write a 15-minute sketch for the Thanksgiving show."

Which did Alda choose?

"I chose the one that was fun," he said with a laugh. "And that also got me further along in my ability to write than the book report would have. You can write something and stick it in a drawer for 50 years, but it won't do you as much good as putting it in front of an audience once."

At Stepinac, McMahon directed the original musical "Love's the Ticket," for which Alda, a senior then, wrote the book and collaborated on some of the songs.

"What we never knew until it was all over was that he had put up his own money to get the show off," Alda said. "If the show didn't make any money, he would be out. He did it because he had faith in us."

Alda said one of the great lessons he learned, the hard way, on "Love's the Ticket" was that writers shouldn't write parts - leading parts - for themselves.

"You don't always learn the lesson you think you're going to learn," he said with a laugh. "But I learned about the structure of a play by doing it."

Voight recalled being enlisted to paint sets for McMahon's shows and, eventually, being cast in plays at the school's Major Bowes Theater. McMahon, he said, would sit in the theater and chat with him while Voight painted. They would talk about the character Voight was to play, and the young actor would bounce ideas off his director.

"He encouraged people to really go and they found a collaborative spirit with him," Voight said. "There was a special glow in those productions because of his personality and his talent."

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Aidan wrote:
A master teacher is so rare.
4/24/2009 5:49:57 AM
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