Remembering Bobby Ghisays
... Son reflects on accomplished actor, director and mentor
Dominic A. Ghisays, Contributor
The 1970s was the golden age of the Jamaican creative scene, establishing Jamaica as the voice of the Third World. An artistic ferment was under way with Bob Marley and the Rastafarian movement, the theatrical release of Perry Henzell's classic The Harder They Come as well as the burgeoning theatre and art scene. Jamaica was enjoying a cultural revolution.
Bobby Ghisays (November 17, 1934-November 12, 1990) and his wife, Sylvia were members of this new wave of Jamaica-centric trendsetters, visionaries and artists.
A pioneer of Jamaican theatre and television, Bobby's contributions included such early Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) television trailblazers as Saturday Night Sit-In where Bob Marley, as part of the Wailers, made his first televised appearance, The Bobby Ghisays Show, Here and Now and a one-off special It's a Child's World where Bobby would pose searching questions to Jamaican children from various backgrounds.
As a practiced interviewer Bobby brought out the best in his guests, among them, Mutabaruka, Patrice Wymore Flynn (Errol Flynn's widow), Ranny Williams, Miss Lou, Susan Taylor Bowes, Count Ossie, David Ladd, Sophia Loren and James Earl Jones.
JBC's director of television
Bobby was appointed director of television for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation in 1982, a position he held until his untimely death in 1990. His creative programming and love of films were showcased in his twice weekly 'Sneak Preview' where he scheduled Monday night for international films, Tuesday's for westerns, Thursday was comedy night, Friday and Saturday nights were double billed with a good family film included, and of course the very popular Sunday morning Matinee Classic. Other great highlights included his production of the 'Eartha Kitt in Jamaica' special where she performed her classic hits and was interviewed by Bobby at beautiful locations throughout the island. Probably one of Jamaica's biggest managed events was the Kingston 100 celebration which Bobby directed at the National Stadium.
As a theatre director, his productions included the National Pantomime (one of three he directed) Johnny Reggae which toured the United Kingdom (UK), United States (US) and Canada, Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific, Godspell and The Dread Mikado.
Together with producer/writer partner Tony Gambrill, Bobby produced a string of award-winning musical reviews and plays at the Way Out Theatre at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel - The Man in the Moon is a Miss, Actor Boy award-winning Same Time Next Year, All That Glitters, Two's a Crowd and the hugely popular 8 o'clock Jamaica Time satirical revues. The shows gave Bobby the opportunity to work with great Jamaican talents such as songbird Dawn Forrester, Rooney Chambers, Carol Lawes, Charles Hyatt, Leonie Forbes, Oliver Samuels and Volier Johnson to name a few.
As guest director (twice) for Black Theatre Canada, Bobby's interpretation of A Raisin in the Sun was critically acclaimed, recognizing his status as one of the Caribbean's foremost touring theatrical directors. The Government-sponsored Come Home To Jamaica with his friends Louise Bennett, Oliver Samuels, Faith D'Aguilar and others toured the UK and US and was a huge hit for Bobby and Jamaica.
Although he achieved milestones directing for stage and television, when asked how he wanted to be remembered, Bobby, without hesitation stated 'as a great actor'. And indeed he was, not only starring in several of the productions above, he, while at RADA, the world's foremost drama school in London, won best actor accolades while among alumni that included contemporaries such as Albert Finney, Peter O'Toole and Susanna York.
Among his favourite acting roles were the troubled and lustful King Herod in the television production of Oscar Wilde's Salome with the great actress Lois Kelly (Barrow) Miller and the beautiful Dennis Heffes; as Fagin in the musical Oliver he was as good as the original and as for comedy, he was hysterical as the Sheik in the film Club Paradise with Robin Williams, Jimmy Cliff, Peter O'Toole and Leonie Forbes.
It should not be overlooked that Bobby, as a writer, was also prolific. At 21 years old, he wrote the (unpublished) novel A Different Drummer. His screenplay 'Completely Surrounded By Water', a story loosely based on his family, was written during his time as a hotel manager at the Myrtle Bank Hotel. Bobby also wrote many Jingle lyrics in collaboration with his musical colleagues Brian Brodber, Peter Ashbourne and Grub Cooper. Classic commercial jingles like 'The great little sausage with the great big taste', Grace Vienna Sausages and the Grace Tomato Ketchup jingle, which Yellowman mimicked in one of his more popular songs.
While the quality and quantity of his professional work is impressive, it was his quality as a man, his content of character, his love and friendship which set him apart. Bobby Ghisays was a true artist, who poured his heart, experience, intelligence and sophistication into all his work. His passion and enthusiasm were boundless and inspirational to all who knew him.