With 85 years behind him– and his brother’s passing leaving him the last of his family– Morgan Stock decided it was a good time to write his memoir. The longtime local theater pillar and the namesake of the main stage at Monterey Peninsula College also wanted to pass on his story to his children, to whom he dedicates the book .
Sitting in the living room of the ocean-view Pebble Beach home he shares with June, his wife of 19 years, Stock talks candidly, and with genuine wonder and amusement, about the book and the decades of life that went into it.
One New York agent told Stock the manuscript didn’t deliver enough “whoa” for “this generation” of readers.
“The only way I could do it was publish it myself,” Stock says. He took the manuscript to Pacific Grove’s vanity press, Park Place Publications. It was released in May.
“I meant the book to sound like a conversation,” he says. With a lifetime of theater acting, directing, reading and teaching, that dialogue style fits.
The breadth of the stories is something to behold. He starts with his birth– in 1919– and works his way forward to the present, with oblique turns and jumps in time that add dimension to some stories. At other times, the temporal leaps beg for an editor. In short, the work feels like a manuscript– or a diary, full of asides, jokes, rhetorical questions, colloquialisms and shifts in voice– which is interesting and appropriate for a familial audience, but at times hard to follow for a wider one.
In fact, much of the “Private Stock” chapter is from a diary he kept while stationed in Iceland during World War II.
As if to fully reveal himself, he shows us what’s going on behind the curtain of the writing process. In one instance he writes “tail” instead of “tale”; but rather than making the correction, he wonders, in a parenthetical aside, about the subconscious implications of writing “tail.” That kind of casual, roaming literary gaze would be more distracting if not for the cleverness and good humor with which he goes about it.
The early chapters cover his childhood school years, life on the family’s Ohio farm, early jobs and his formative Pasadena Playhouse studies. His ear for accents helps bring characters to life: “Newark, Ohio” residents call their town “Nerk, Uh-hi-uh,” and later an Italian woman inquires, “How’s a you wife?”
The middle four of the 16 chapters are devoted to domestic matters with his first wife (“My Irish wife,” says Stock), Louisa, their wedding and children. The book veers into a touristy travelogue, covering overseas family trips to England and Ireland. Here again these read like they are written for his family, which gives the book intimacy, but doesn’t add much for readers outside of the family.
As for Monterey, he first came here with Louisa in 1946. For a time, he writes, he cleaned the roller-skating rink on Del Monte Avenue, walked to the Naval Postgraduate School to run a couple mimeograph machines, then took night classes at Monterey High.
He went to Stanford (where he wrote his thesis on Carmel theater), taught high school in Santa Rosa, and, in 1954, received an offer from Cal Flint, then-president of the new MPC, to teach drama and English. He leapt at the offer. Once there, he got down to the humble work of creating a legacy.
“He put the physical theater in place,” says Peter DeBono, director of MPC Theatre and MPC Drama Department co-chair. “When you’ve got a building, you’ve got a program.”
Stock, along with MPC’s then-president Dr. Bob Faul, is credited with founding the school’s theater program. In gratitude, the school named its main stage after the founding father.
DeBono calls him a mentor and a “grandfather” to Monterey Peninsula theater, and, from 1963-1965, also called him professor. Other students have gone on to decorated careers acting and directing, including Conrad Selvig, Nick Hovick, Stephen Moorer (“Worked like the dickens,” says Stock) and Lane Littlepage.
After 28 years as the chair of the Drama Department, Stock retired from MPC in 1982. His union with theater remains unbroken– as alive as when he first stepped on the stage at age 6. He and June recently went to see at the Golden State Theatre. When asked what his immediate plans are, he responds: “Maybe see this weekend. We’re going to the Smuin Ballet this afternoon.”
MORGAN STOCK signs his book at the MPC Morgan Stock Theater 2pm Saturday, at 980 Fremont St., Monterey. Free. 649-4495. Morgan by Morgan: A Member of the Greatest Generation is available at the MPC box office 3-7pm/Wed-Fri and during performances. 646-4213.