Saturday, August 21, 2010

"..and Keep Looking UP!"

The Miami Herald reports that Jack Horkheimer, The beloved Star-Gazer, has died at age 72.

When I first moved to Florida back in 1985, my grandmother dragged me in front of the TV one night.  "Have you seen this guy?" she asked.  "He's terrific."  Jack was perched on the rings of Saturn, telling us what wonders we should step outside and look for.  "...and Keep... Looking... UP!"

Back in 2003, Actors' Playhouse was mounting a production of Return to the Forbidden Planet.  It's loosely based on the classic sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet, which brought us Robbie the Robot.   In turn, the film was based on a Shakespeare play, leading producer Barbara Stein at one point to describe the play as "Shakespeare meets The Tempest."

The musical has some narration, to set up Act 1 and Act 2, and to conclude the play.  It was written to be done on video, played on the mainscreen viewer of the spaceship that made up the set.  And our director, David Arisco, had a brilliant idea.
"In South Florida, when you think of space, who do you think of?  The Star-Gazer!  Wouldn't that be cool?  The Star-Gazer as the Narrator for Return to the Forbidden Planet?"
He was absolutely right; how could it be anyone else?

So he got hold of Jack Horkheimer, Channel 2' Star Gazer, and I found myself helping to carry a load of video equipment into the Museum of Science.  I wasn't the videographer; I was there more to play production assistant and do whatever needed to be done to make it happen.  Science geek that I am, I wasn't going to miss an afternoon with Jack Horkheimer.

Jack came out of his offices, and we shot in front of an image of the solar system that was on the museum floor.  He was gracious, and tickled that he was going to appear "on the stage."  "I always wanted to act" he said.

He wore his trademark blue sweater, and worried about his trademark toupee; it became my job to assure him that it was on straight.  It's not that he was terribly vain about it, he just wanted to "look right" for the kids.  His Star Gazer persona was very important to him, making it a real honor that he was willing to lend it to Actors' Playhouse.

It came out beautifully. And the critics agreed.
Perhaps the most inspired touch is casting the Miami Space Transit Planetarium's executive director, Jack Horkheimer, as the Star Gazer, who provides wry onscreen narration in iambic pentameter.
- Ron Mangravite, Broward/Palm Beach New Times, October 16, 2003
It is absolutely one of my favorite moments in theatre production.  It was a "celebrity casting" that worked seamlessly, marrying the production solidly with the community.

Sleep well, Jack.  We'll keep looking up.


  1. I loved watching him on TV. His joy and enthusiasm for astronomy was contagious.

  2. Jack was a force for good in the cosmos. Even when he was dragging around half his body-weight in breathing equipment, he never gave any project less than his full and impassioned attention. A great cheerleader for the wonders of the natural world -- the intelligent appraisal of which is always the best bulwark against the poisonous pretend wonders of the "super"-natural.

    Thank you very much for mentioning him.

    - BKT