Tue | Jun 19, 2018

Ewart Walters | Louis Marriott: the passing of a pasero

Published:Sunday | August 14, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Ewart Walters
Louis Marriott, playwright, producer and repository of history.

Jamaicans have used different words over the years to describe their relationships. I was drawn to remembering this on learning of the death of Louis Marriott.

One by one, the words came back. I would not call him a spar or a key-spar. Those were much too flippant for the kind of friends we were. The word in popular usage at mid-20th Century was points. It arose from auto mechanics and the fact that distributors had points, contact points, which transferred current from the spark plugs to each combustion chamber in turn. But points wore out and had to be renewed every so often. That would not do either.

So neither 'friend', nor 'spar', nor 'key-spar' nor 'points' satisfied my quest. And then I found it. Jamaicans returning after working in the Spanish-speaking countries of Cuba, Panama, Ecuador, Costa Rica and others used a word that was in the early 20th Century. That word was pasero. And in true Jamaican style, it was often shortened to pas, as in my pas. From the sense of 'ferryman' (translation from Spanish), or someone who would take you somewhere, pasero, in essence, is someone who will take a walk with you - from dar un paseo, to take a walk.

My walk with Louis spans 59 years. We met at the Ward Theatre during the 1957 LTM Pantomime, Busha Bluebeard. But it was five years later when I was parliamentary reporter at Public Opinion in 1962 that we saw each other more often and became paseros. It was one of those paseroships that had no need of regular meetings or telephone calls, or going to have a drink. Whenever we spoke or met, it was as yesterday.

More to the point, born in journalism, our paseroship flourished in the theatre and national development. Louis was born in the theatre. His father was a thespian. As he told me, "I made my theatrical debut at the ripe old age of two, portraying roles in works that my father wrote, produced and directed to raise funds for Garvey's (UNIA) and for the (PNP); and being a member of a large family that straddled every conceivable area of the arts and crafts."

Indeed, his uncle, Alvin Marriott, was the sculptor who created the statue at the entrance to the stadium, the statue of The Jamaican Athlete, incorporating aspects of the quartet of Wint, McKenley, Laing and Rhoden who blazed to gold and glory in Helsinki at the 1952 Olympics and put Jamaica on the track and field map.

Louis' passion for theatre led him to found the Caribbean Thespians, which included in its membership the supreme comedian Charles Hyatt, among others. So it was not strange for him to be invited to be part of that pantomime which marked the onstage transition from things English to things Jamaican and featured several black high-school students for the first time.

But the shadow of colonialism was still in its infancy. Louis himself was originally cast as the junior romantic lead, but, to the upset of the entire cast, was mysteriously jettisoned when the mother of his female counterpart insisted that her daughter needed a partner of "a lighter hue".


Mourning a patriot


It is a patriot we now mourn. A man of unshakable integrity and rectitude that sometimes worked to his detriment, Louis helped secure pay for pantomime actors. Dumped from that part because of his colour, he was then asked to audition for the part of the Dame, which was Charles Hyatt's role. But with Charles as a member of his Caribbean Thespians, he was against it and read without feeling. So the part remained Hyatt's. It was at this point that Hyatt asked for £25 in payment for his services. Grudgingly given, it led the following year to payment for Louise Bennett and Ranny Williams as well. They had never been paid before.

Louis was never very far from theatre and theatrical productions. When the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation began in December 1958, he was involved in the new wave of Jamaican culture over the radio as the sound-effects specialist, in addition to playing parts in radio drama.

As many people know, he wrote several dramas, including A Pack of Jokers, The Prophet, Playboy, Bedward and Over the Years. He has created and produced several radio programmes, many of which have been broadcast throughout the English-speaking world.

He had strong ideas about theatre and felt that "there are in our theatre today so many pretenders who reap what Stanislavski dubbed 'false success' on the backs of theatregoers". He wrote about the need for mastery of theatre craft and felt that "theatre fare today is not only half-baked or totally raw, but also lacking in essential ingredients".

"The theatre fraternity looks to me for facts on our theatre history. More recently, the PNP leadership has labelled me 'the party historian'. I don't know how that came about, as I'm not even a party member, but I've written for them a little booklet on the history of the party for their 70th-anniversary celebration and wrote, directed and narrated a 90-minute multimedia documentary staged on their 71st anniversary to launch their conference."

He worked in public relations with Development and Welfare Minister Edward Seaga on the 1963 Independence Festival, and with Prime Minister Michael Manley as press secretary in 1973 and 1979-80, and was assistant public relations officer for the Ninth Central American and Caribbean Games at our National Stadium in 1962.


Man of many hats


Between 1967 and 1970, he was adviser and deputy editor with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. From 1976 to 1979, he was assistant director at JAMAL, director of publications and advertising for the Agency for Public Information (now JIS), and was a freelance writer since 1980. Up to his death, he was the executive director of the Michael Manley Foundation, a member of the Performing Right Society, Jamaica Federation of Musicians, and founding member of the Jamaica Association of Dramatic Artists. In 1996, he published the book Who's Who and What's What in Jamaican Arts and Entertainment.

Louis described himself as "the son of the 109th member of the PNP". Often in his father's company 'as a fryers', he was exposed to a number of significant political events and developments. His oldest specific recollection is of events relating to the 1938 labour disturbances. It was a theme that was revisited in much of his writing and one that remained with him all his life.

Between 2001 and 2002, he had two-thirds of Growing Up With Jamaica Part I, of his two-part autobiography, serialised in The Sunday Gleaner. The title reflects his exposure to political events, including the fact that his parents' house was often the venue for meetings for Ken Hill's National Reform Association, which was foundational in the national movement. The first book was to end at Independence Day 1962. He had envisaged 56 episodes, but, for a number of reasons, lost momentum and moved on to other things.

Seven years ago, I ended an email note to Louis as follows: Our days draw near to their close, Louis. I am trying to get some things down on paper and out into the published world. Hope you are doing the same.

"As for recording our history for posterity, I have sort of started the process," he said. "If I live long enough, I'll complete the two autobiographical books, one on the history of the PNP, and a Michael Manley biography ... ."

I last saw him at the Jamaican launch of my book, We Come From Jamaica: The National Movement 1937-1962 , at the UWI, Mona, in October 2014. He was not well but came nevertheless out of paseroship, and the fact that my subject was the national movement of which he had been a first-hand observer. Indeed, he was one of the many individuals I consulted in researching the book.

Hasta la vista, pasero. Andas bien.

• Ewart Walters is an author and journalist whose most recent book, 'We Come From Jamaica: The National Movement', is distributed by Novelty Trading and is available in book stores, pharmacies and airports in Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and spectrum@storm.ca.