Paul Michael Remembered

This week we said goodbye to our dear friend and family patriarch, actor Paul Michael.

Paul was not my biological father, but he and my mom were constant companions, and effectively a married couple for over twenty years. They met on a play in Los Angeles and instantly fell in love. They continued to work together, touring the world and enjoying life and each other’s company. He always said, “Marion is my hero.”

Paul was born in Providence, Rhode Island to Lebanese parents. Among his many talents was cooking, and he introduced us all to Lebanese cuisine, which we are all now hopelessly addicted to. Every family holiday get together was complemented by Lebanese dishes which I know how to say, and ask for seconds of, but not how to spell.

He was a hardworking stage, TV and film actor who spent literally years of his life onstage. The last show he did was last summer, performing with my mother in a play written expressly for them by Joe DiPietro. Joe has since won a few Tony awards for other productions, and could have easily won another for Marion and Paul’s play, The Last Romance, had it made it to Broadway. It still may someday, but now, sadly without Paul. (Sadly for audiences, since his rendition of the role was something marvelous to behold.)

Paul was going to be 85 this year. He and my mother did eight shows a week at the Globe Theater in San Diego, two acts with only one other character. It was a crowning triumph of a truly stellar career. And he was SO funny in the role. The audience, attendance by which broke all records for that venue, was crying with laughter or pathos throughout the play.

I never got to act with Paul, but I was lucky enough to direct him in several audiobook recordings, and he was a complete professional, and brought all his characters to vivid life. I’m glad his wonderful voice will live on in those stories.

Paul was a gentle man, but very tough as well. He was very strong physically, even when he was quite advanced in age. Once he grabbed the arm of a pickpocket who was trying to rob Marion somewhere in Italy, and held him unyieldingly against a wall like the buttress of a cathedral until he dropped what he had taken from her purse and was allowed to flee. Paul was probably a good 75 years old then.

Paul was of course also an extraordinary singer, and had enough power to reach the back of large theatrical venues without amplification; he was, in other words, a trained Broadway singer. He in fact appeared in many, many Broadway productions, and in touring companies of shows like Zorba, and Fiddler on the Roof, where he carried the leading roles. He was that sort of actor, a Tevye, a Zorba, a bigger than life character that audiences wanted to watch and listen to.

He would sing anywhere, anytime, and his booming bass voice would resonate in your chest and echo through the house, or the great outdoors. He sang opera to Marion once on one of their trips abroad, in an ancient Roman amphitheater.  He sang to her in romantic places around the world…

He told me one time he estimated he had done professionally over 10,000 live performances.

But he also could have claimed his greatest role was that of Marion Ross’ soul-mate. Only it wasn’t really a role to him, it was a calling, a cherished post and a pleasure.

Paul had many endearing habits and abilities that make him memorable and lovable. For example, puzzles. He would spend time every weekend doing the most difficult puzzles in the New York and Los Angeles Times, and always to completion. His vocabulary was remarkable– he had studied Latin for years in his youth and had a very complete understanding of word derivations and definitions. He would show us the puzzles afterwards, explaining the challenge, and then his mind boggling solutions. He said he did it to keep his mind sharp, which it certainly did.

His understanding and love of words extended across languages, and he was fluent in at least five languages, including Arabic, which he loved to use in his travels and in certain restaurants in the states. He would sometimes eavesdrop on waiters who spoke Arabic and then surprise them by answering them in their own tongue.

His facile mind was also a ready clearinghouse for jokes, which he could tell by the dozens if the social setting was appropriate. He probably knew over a thousand jokes by heart, and could instantly recall them, or adapt them to work them into a conversation.

Marion would sometimes play a game with him at parties where she would challenge him, “Tell them the joke about the apple” and he would instantly provide some story that was loosely related to her suggested topic: “Well, there was this circus acrobat that loved apples, and he wanted to leave his wife for the bearded lady…”

One joke that I remember him telling often, (and it was always funny) he said was the great Johnny Carson’s favorite joke:

A man goes to visit his brother in the hospital. His brother has been in a terrible accident, and he is basically just a head laying there, no body at all. His brother says, “Johnny, it’s your birthday, and I wanted to come by and visit, and I got you a present.”
The brother on the bed looks at the present, sighs and says, “Another hat.”

I will never forget Paul’s laughter. It was as robust as his songs. Often, something would strike him so funny he would come apart laughing, tears filling his eyes with delight.

Paul was a gracious advocate of my character, Professor Knestor Jackdaws, and at family gatherings he would always throw out wonderfully supportive suggestions for painting titles for Knestor to describe; The Pharaoh’s Dog was one I’ll never forget.

For the last couple years, Paul has been having health problems and had been on a steady decline. Last year was a very difficult one, in the season following his triumph with Marion onstage in The Last Romance. In truth, he seemed to have been working on a gracious exit from the larger stage of his life since then, and there were numerous emergencies and trips to the hospital, where they patched him up again so that he could return home to Marion and their beloved Happy Days Farm, his puzzles, his kitchen and his cigars.

The final act was what they call a “Classy” one. On the Fourth of July weekend just finished, he cooked an extraordinary breakfast feast of french toast with bacon for about ten people down in Cardiff, where Marion and my sister Ellen have adjacent homes. Take my word for it, it was delicious. The way he made bacon, so that all the fat was baked off… and the french toast… well, it was pretty damned magnificent.

The next day he drove himself and my mother home to Los Angeles. Safely.

Then on Wednesday, July 6th, he enjoyed a cigar in the garden, spoke lovingly on the phone with his son, Matt, said he’d see him that night, then went into the house, took off his shoes and lay down on the couch.

That’s where Marion found him.

So, we are thankful today to Paul Michael for the many years of companionship, love, entertainment, of sustenance, of friendship, and of laughter that he gave us, and the many, many warm memories.

Here a giant trod
Here a great soul walked
Here a spirit dwelt
and ever in our hearts.

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45 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Jim,
    This is magnificent! You have told me more about Marion and Paul than I could have known. It is a privilege to have known Paul. He gave this family stability. I feel the future will also be blessed. May he rest in peace, and all the family cherish his memory.

    • Thank you, Aunt Alicia. Nice to hear from you, and I am glad you enjoyed my very brief essay. Of course, an entire book could be written about Paul. This is just a little stop-gap. He sure did give this family stability. Much love.

  2. I am so grieved to hear of this man’s passing. I felt like I knew him even though I never had the pleasure.

    My only connection to this good man was when I produced Jim’s studio recording of, “The Witch Princess” in which he played the role of the robust king in a performance that was very believable, loving and touching.

    I share a loss with Marion with the passing of my mother a few weeks ago, who meant the world to me and I’m only beginning to adjust to her absence. It is never easy making these transitions, except to hold the hand of us who remain and fortify them with comfort and love. I hope Maron is being surrounded by this.

    Like Paul, I am fond of Latin. My favorite Latin phrase is “Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis” which interpreted means, “The word was made flesh and dwelt among us”.

    I’m so glad Paul dwelt among us for a little while. The world suffers when good people are no longer with us!

    Mark Edgemon

  3. Having known the sting of loss I cannot with honesty offer consolation at the severing of a wonderful communication line such as this, only hearfelt best wishes for you and the gals and your lovely mom whom I met only once but in Paul’s presence.

    Or maybe there is consolation; in witnessing the graciousness with which you eulagize him here. Perhaps some of that articulation is the result of having lived in proximity to Paul.

    Richard Gleason

  4. Jim, very well said. Your love and admiration for your friend resonates deeply with me. I wish I had the fortune of knowing such a being. My thoughts are with you and your family. ml Marc

  5. Jim,

    So sorry for your and your family’s loss. I love your eulogy and while I never met Paul I feel like I got to know him through your words. Lebanese – huh! I wouldn’t have guessed that. I’m going there in a couple of months.
    Paul sounds like a great guy – my condolences to your mom for the loss of her lifelong partner. Stay with her and help her through this difficult time.

    All my love,

    Mazen

    • Thank you, Mazen. He was, and is a great spirit. All the best to you.

  6. Such a lovely tribute. Thank you for sharing Paul’s beautiful life with all of us. We are so sorry for your loss. We love you, Rachel and Bob

    • Thanks very much, Bob & Rachel. See you in September!

  7. How beautiful ”)
    My thoughts are with you and your family; my admiration goes out to Paul.
    L, Michelle

    • Thanks very much, Michelle. Love, Jim

  8. What a great tribute. Your affection for him is clear. I was lucky to meet him at Nancy’s once. What a way to wrap things up with their triumphant stage show-what an amazing gift!

  9. Hi Jim,
    Your writing of what I can now say was an extraordinary man riveted me.
    I have never met Paul, but having read all that you had to say about him I feel close to him and even feel like I have missed out on not having been lucky enough to have met this brave, bold, gentle soul of a man. You have done him great justice with your eloquent writing so that more people can get to know Paul than ever met him. Your mother was very lucky to have him in her life.

  10. My wife and I always raise a glass when we hear of a giant’s passing.
    Now we know of another.
    Bravo, Paul Michael. Bravo!

  11. Dear Jim,

    Thank you so much for the kind words for Uncle Paul. He was a great man and will be deeply missed.

    • You are very welcome, Rose. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  12. Lovely eulogy, Jim. While I only met Paul on a few occasions, your mother’s affection for him was obvious and that made me happy. I also liked that we shared the same names (Paul Michael). Please share my condolences with Marion.

    • Thank you, Paul. I shall. All the best to you and yours.

  13. Hi Jim,
    My dad and Uncle Paul were brothers, my dad being the youngest of 5 brothers and 1 sister.
    I would like to say that your beautiful words about Uncle Paul are very heartwarming and ever so true. What a great loss to us here on earth but what a wonderful gain for him to be with his family again in heaven.
    Thank you for sharing his and Marion’s story with so many that did not know him.
    Uncle Paul will be greatly missed.
    Take care,
    Rita “Michael” Vinson

    • Thank you, Rita, I have heard your name, of course, and look forward to meeting you someday. I know there will be a nice memorial service, perhaps I’ll see you there. In sympathy, Jim

  14. What beautiful words you wrote for you friend Jim, i read it with great interest and he reminded me alot of my own father who passed 10 yrs ago. How wonderful for Paul Michael that he aligned himself with such a friend as you to write so beautifully about his life and his love for your mother and all his fantastic acheivments. I would love to have written such words about my dad to validate his wonderful sense of humour. Your natural ability to communicate so creatively is a lovely farewell gift to your friend. I;m sure he lives on in all your hearts.
    Gay Johnson
    Australia

    • thanks, Gay, I appreciate your kind words.

  15. Jim,
    What a lovely tribute to a beloved man. How blessed your family, and mother, was to have traveled along life’s journey with him.

  16. Jim,

    What a lovely tribute to a great man. Paul had a wonderful way of making everyone feel at ease and was a true friend. Arnie and I feel very blessed to have spent time with Paul and Marion and enjoyed getting to know them both. Your mother has many wonderful memories to help her through this difficult time.

    Sincerely,

    Pat Mulso
    Freeborn County Historical Museum
    Albert Lea, MN

  17. What a wonderful tribute to a man who obviously was beloved by more than his family. I wish I could have seen him perform. I’m sure all who attended his performances will hold that memory like treasure. I feel so blessed to have my father (Paul Smith) still with me in his 90th year and hope I can bring tribute to him in the same style you have done for your Paul.

    Much Love,
    Sandra Simmons

  18. DearJim-
    You have beautifully captured the spirit of our dear friend Paul in your tribute. As you know, I was lucky enough to be in the play with Marion and Paul when they met. It was magic onstage and off from the very first moment they set eyes on one another. Their love and devotion to one another has been an inspiration to us all. I will treasure our time together, and keep Paul and your family in my thoughts and prayers. What a well lived life!

  19. Hello Jim, I really enjoyed the eulogy to your friend. You always seem to be able to step up when needed to say something wonderful and appropriate at these and frankly any time you’re called upon. I’m very happy that you had such a warm and loving relationship with Paul . He sure does sound like a wonderful being to be around. I wish that I had met him and been able to enjoy his company as you and your lovely family had.
    He seems similar in way to an uncle I once had and enjoy still through laughing and warm memories.
    Thanks for writing and reminding me….
    Rob M

    • Thanks a lot, Rob. that’s nice of you to say.
      I thought you might have met Paul at several of our gatherings, but it has probably been a long time, and one never knows when the last opportunity is presenting itself.
      I hope Sue is feeling stronger every day.
      I’m overdue to come visit again. I’ll do that soon, please let her know. And if you guys are up for it, please be my guests at the next JIMPRESSIONS show, July 29 or 30 down at The Acting Center.
      Lotta love,
      jim

  20. I am so deeply saddened to hear about Paul’s passing. My heart aches for Marion as I know she must miss him so very much. He was such a funny and brilliant man and I feel blessed to have known and worked with him. I remember during this last run of ‘The Last Romance’ whenever people would talk to him about the show he would bring up a Sir Walter Scott quote that I think he would like shared. “One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name.”

    Paul: You crowded so much love and so much life into every day and you will be sorely missed. Thank you for everything.

  21. Jim…thank you for sharing this wonderful tribute to Paul Michael. I am a “Dark Shadows” fan and he will always be remembered for his great portrayal of “King Johnny Romano”. I wish I could have met him. Thank you again. Thoughts with you and your family.

    Gary Mosher
    Warsaw, Indiana

  22. My sincere sympathy to your entire family, and my love to Marion. I had the pleasure of meeting them when Josh was included in “The Last Romance” which was such a beautiful show. Both Paul and Marion were so gracious ~ I will not forgot their kindness.

    He will be missed!!

    Ruth ann Jeremiah

  23. Mr. Meskimen,

    Your piece is beautifully written and a wonderful tribute to a great man. He will never be forgotten by the legions of “Dark Shadows” fans.

    Although my days of seeing your mother on stage went all the way back to the 1970s when I saw her in a dinner theater production in St. Louis, it was not until she and Mr. Michael attended the 1998 “Dark Shadows” Festival that I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Michael. As a member of the festival staff, I was recruited to help them sell their photographs for charity (the Red Cross) while they signed autographs. They were both incredibly wonderful with the fans and with me.

    I also had the pleasure of sitting at their table at our banquet later that evening. After dinner they showed clips from “DS,” including some of Paul’s scenes. When he came on the screen I glanced over to see Marion’s reaction and she nearly came out of her chair with delight; her eyes absolutely sparkled and she smiled and applauded with such pride and happiness. It was such a genuine display of total affection that I was mesmerized by it. Those few seconds, and observing them with each other, taught me a profound lesson on what love should be. I am not exaggerating when I say that watching them interact with each other that weekend changed my life for the better.

    I returned from that experience and within days left a difficult long-term marriage that I’d stayed in for all the wrong reasons. I realized that if you didn’t have at least some of what they had together, it wasn’t worth it. I mention this only to point out the rarity and beauty of their relationship. I later saw them several times – in “Love Letters,” and the plays they did at the New Theater in Overland Park. I can still hear that marvelous, booming voice of his. When I saw them in “The Last Romance,” I had sent a note to them a few days beforehand to say we would be attending and my friend and I were told by theater staff to wait after the play and someone would escort us backstage to visit with them briefly. It was a wonderful, memorable experience and so kind of them.

    I am so glad for both of them that they had those wonderful years together, and I hope treasured memories will sustain your mother during this incredibly difficult time. My deepest sympathies are with your family and Mr. Michael’s. He will be warmly and fondly remembered as we gather next month for the 45th anniversary of “Dark Shadows.”

  24. Jim:
    We loved him here at the New Theatre in Kansas City. I was able to find several old television episodes that he was in and gave them to him. He was very appreciative. I also found some of Marion’s early work.
    I hope you and your mom are well and I sure hope we get to see her again.
    Jim and Melissa

  25. Really? I am a huge Dark Shadows fan ever since I use to sit clued in front of the TV everyday at 4 pm as a young boy in the seventies. I had no idea that Paul played a character on that series, but of course I only knew of him over the last few years, so I wouldn’t have made his connection to the show. But I’ll try to get a copy of the episdoes he was in.

    I wished I had met him.

    Mark Edgemon

    • Paul played Johnny Romano, King of the Gypsies. He was working on Broadway by night, and on Dark Shadows by day for a while in the 60’s or maybe the early 70’s. That was one crazy show, but he looked amazing.

      • I know of the character in the series, but I didn’t know him back then so it’s hard to place him in the part. I hope I can find the series on DVD and rewatch his performance, this time as a tribute to him, fondly remembering my brief encounter with him through you.

        “Dark Shadows” was an important creative connection for me growing up, because it was my first encounter with opening up in a creative way without holding back. The worlds they created didn’t seem restricted by normal television requirements of the day, a complete abandonment to the craft they were creating. As a boy, it was all magic to me and I thrived on it! I hope I can contribute something of that effect in my lifetime!

  26. Thank you for bringing him to life for me ! What a wonderful person. xoxox JoJo

  27. What a beautiful tribute! i am heartsick to hear of Paul’s passing and I reach out to Marion with a warm hand and deep prayers of support…I did have the pleasure of knowing Paul and working with him and admiring him and loving his singing & cooking…what a divine man & artist…and such a snappy dresser to boot! The world is bit colder without him in it…
    sincerely, suanne spoke

  28. Thank you for a beautiful article. Paul and I worked together in the late 70’s. He was a great guy, full of life and a voice you cannot forget.
    He wrote in the Lebanese American Journal nice articles.
    Last time I saw Paul with Marion was at a Maronite Convention, and was so happy to see him and talk about times past.
    Thank you again and God bless his soul.

  29. Jim,

    This was a very touching tribute to Paul. It is great that you had such a great influence in your life. Your Mom was truly blessed, as were all of you. Your family is in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

    Love,

    Melodie & Glenn Reader
    & family

  30. I cannot tell you how much I, and so many of us who knew and loved Paulie Michael, loved this Eulogy.

    We Lebanese, from the village of Kfarsghab, where Paulie descended from, and our cousins in Providence, Rhode Island and Sydney, Australia as well, about 20,000 of us, overall, loved him. We knew he was in love with your mother, knew he took her to the “farm” in Rhode Island to visit his family, and to our village in Lebanon, as well.

    I remember an impromptu Memorial Day picnic at Bill Boulous’ house, in Easton, in 1979, where it snowballed into 300 people showing up at Bill’s house, and Paulie Miichael happened to be in Easton that weekend, for the St. Joseph’s Hafli. He sang the “Impossible Dream” in the driveway of Bill’s house, and the party was on…!! As we used to say, “it was all over, but the Palestra”…in other words, an army could not have stopped the partying that went on, that night…:)

    The last time I saw Paulie was at a Mahrajan (outdoor party with live entertainment and way too much food) in Connecticut, in the early 80’s. He loved the people from our village who settled in both Providence and from Easton. Paulie Michael, never forgot where he came from.

    One of our own in Australia, told me a story about another young woman from Australia, from our village, who was walking down a street in Kfarsghab, and could not believe she saw Marion Ross, Mrs. Cunningham, from Happy Days, in Kfarsghab, of all places….:)

    Allah yerhamek, ya Paulie…we love you, hah’bee’bee and will miss you forever.

    For Marion’s family, please know we love you too, and thank you so much for the kindness and love you showed our Paulie, all those years. We are always here for you, and always will be, as well…God Bless you all, and God reward you for your kindness…

    Like Khalil Gibran said: “It takes a minute to have a crush on someone, an hour to like someone, and a day to love someone… but it takes a lifetime to forget someone.”

  31. Forgot to mention the “Easton” in my previous post, is Easton, Pa….all the Lebanese from Easton, Pa, (about 2,000 of us), plus about 1,000 from Providence, Rhode Island, and about 17,000 from Sydney, Australia, are all descendants from one village in Lebanon: Kfarsghab, located in the mountains of North Lebanon, not 15 minutes from the famed and biblical Cedars of Lebanon. Paulie Michael is from Kfarsghab…….and we were so proud of him…..

  32. What a wonderful remembrance of Paul. He was obviously loved very much by your family. My sympathies on his loss.

  33. I have just been to see Marion Ross at the New Dinner Theatre in Overland Park, Kansas and found out about Paul’s passing from a tribute page in the program. I always looked forward to seeing them act together here and not knowing of his passing, was hoping to see him once again this year. I am saddened to hear of his passing and wanted to convey my condolences to your family.

  34. Jim, what wonderful words to paint for a man who obviously meant a great deal to your beautiful mother, you and your family. Even though I never knew him, I learned a great deal about him from your wonderful recollection.
    I hope I leave those types of memories to those around me.
    Condolences to your family.
    Much love, Joava


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