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Monty

Monty Montgomery has been an importnat fixture in the arts scene in the Fort Myers area for years, working with the Alliance for the Arts as well as a contributor (and advisor) to Ft.Myers magazine. With his move to St. Petersburg in April (luckily he will continue to be involved with the Allliance as well as Ft.Myers magazine), we thought it a good idea to find out a bit more about the man behind the Monty. And who better to conduct the interview than Monty himself, whose interviews with the likes of artists Darryl Pottorf and Gale Bennett, Naples Philharmonic Director Myra Janco Daniels, and set designer Ray Recht, to name just a few, have been some of the highlights of Ft.Myers magazine over the past three years.

Monty: To start, thank you for making time to do this interview with me.

Monty: I’m happy to squeeze you in. I consider it an honor as well as a genuine responsibility to Ft. Myers & SWFL magazine not just to evaporate without notice of any kind. Especially since I have previously committed myself and promised the publisher that I’d be sending in a future ‘Interview with Two Conductors’, featuring Naples Philharmonic’s amazing new Maestro Mester and Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra’s incomparable Maestro Nadler. They are both such major talents. Our area really is lucky to have them. Individually they’re each phenomenal. So, reading about them together in one interview will be incredible. But now their interview will have to wait.

Wait?

For a while, till I get things in my life sorted out.

Such as?

Just about everything. It’s suddenly as though I’ve gone through a time warp and entered a whole new time-space continuum. I’m now in a totally new era. In the twinkling of an eye, I’ve changed my career, changed my residence, changed my name and just about everything else, too. I guess it’s what I’ve heard called ‘a change of life’—but without the hot flashes!

Oh?

Well, things have been turned upside-down and inside-out since the death of my partner in early December. Between then and now, I’ve given up my full-time job as Publicity Director for the Lee County Alliance for the Arts after five years; sold my home of 26 years on Sanibel; packed it into a thousand little boxes and moved it and myself to an apartment on Crescent Lake in St. Petersburg and to a getaway cabin in the north Florida ‘mountains’. I plan to spend the next few months doing nothing—just relaxing, traveling, and enjoying myself. Using my new-found wealth and monthly social security checks to fund a new life of comfort and ease.

And what about changing your name?

That’s a long and very personal story. One I’d rather keep to myself.

Sorry, no, no—this is an interview. And as you well know from the interviews you, yourself, have done, with Darryl Pottorf, Myra Janco Daniels, Gale Bennett, Bruce Gora and others, that once an interviewee voluntarily introduces a topic, professional protocol allows follow-up questions. It’s like during a trial—any information raised by a defendant is subject to cross-examination.

You’re comparing me in some way to a criminal defendant?

Not at all, unless there’s some new relevant subject you’d like to introduce here? Which, of course, could lead to follow-up questions.

Okay, I’ll be glad to tell you the whole story, or at least part of the whole story. Except I’ve forgotten what we were talking about. I’ve discovered with age comes diminishing short and long term memory retention. Here one minute and gone the next.

Name change?

Right. After I was born as an orphan in the Reading, Pennsylvania hospital so long ago the year had a 4 in front of it, I was named Elmer Smith by the nurses. Elmer apparently is a good old Pennsylvania Dutch name much beloved by the locals and much despised by me. Years later, after a series of foster homes, I moved to Clyde and Jeanice Montgomery’s home in the country, where I finished elementary and high school before going off to college at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and Columbia University in New York City. All the while feeling burdened by the awful name Elmer Smith.

So, after my first high-paying NYC job (probably $89 a week) as a producer on NBC-TV’s Today show, I had my name legally changed to E. N. Smith-Montgomery: E for the dreaded Elmer, Smith for my original nurse-given cognomen, and Montgomery for the wonderful family who became my true parents. Looking back, I realize I created a moniker with an old-English nobility sound; with generations of Smith-Montgomery lords and ladies in castles easily imaginable. It gave me a history, a lineage; it certainly meant I definitely was not Elmer Smith! Such a person never existed!

Alas, now, years later, after a lifetime of hyphen and alphabetizing complications, with dozens of mangled variations and versions of ‘my name’—different on every credit card, every piece of mail, every phone solicitation, etc. I receive—I realize as I approach the senility of my life, there’s a high probability some surgeon will amputate my leg instead of Ed Smith’s, or a nursing home attendant will pull the plug on me rather than Ian Montgomery, etc. So, for life and death reasons, I’m officially changing my name again. This time to Monty Montgomery, the name I’ve actually used in life for the past 45 years anyway, except on legal documents such as drivers license and tax forms.

So your new legal name is going to be your old ‘common law’ name?

Just another one of those paradoxes that now and then ring true.

You’re not doing it to escape some nefarious notorious episode my readers should know about?

You wish! In truth, as E. N. Smith-Montgomery I built and lived a satisfying and productive life. My early TV production experience game me a good foundation. I only got the Today show job at age 22 because none of the established producers wanted to get up to leave their Connecticut homes in time to be on a live NBC-TV set at 4am. But I did! It didn’t hurt that I could walk crosstown to the studio in ten minutes. I had a great time. In some ways, it was the pinnacle of my career! (Which gives you some clue about where it’s been and gone since then!)

After that, I went to grad school and got a masters in industrial psych, which I used in jobs doing psychological testing, executive assessment, and other personnel research activities. Then, for a twenty-year period I was a management consultant specializing in the creation and delivery of multi-media training and development programs for hundreds of Fortune 100 companies around the world. E. N. Smith-Montgomery did great!

Uh-huh. And then?

I bought my home on Sanibel to use for quick weekend visits and longer vacations away from New York City and the demands of my stressful ‘life on the road’. I moved down here full time in ’95. Sometime after that, because I never made sales calls and had an unlisted phone number, business calls ceased. My high-flying life became a sedentary and serene one. And, since my definition of success in life has always been ‘free time!’ I enjoyed it… for a while. Later, I began working part-time at the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce as the Chamber Director of Information Technology Services and also took another part-time job as Publicist at the Alliance for the Arts, while Karl Hollander was executive director. Full-time work as Publicity Director followed. My five years at the Alliance, culminating in my recent semi-surprise retirement party have been a blast.

I look forward to returning in my new Special Projects Development role there. The first special project being the Movie Month of May series, followed by Digital Imagination 2005 in November, etc. You can see I’m not completely disappearing—more like fading in and out. Although it’s not general knowledge, I’ve also taken a fascinating freelance producer assignment with WGCU-TV, for which I’ve already begun field research and B-roll videotaping. Which brings me up to now, where my story begins!

Begins? Really?

You could look at it that way. I’m not an artist. I did draw a cow once in fourth or fifth grade that was pretty good. It looked just like Broadwater Letty, my pedigreed Golden Guernsey, who (with her sisters and cousins) helped send me to college. I also once drew my left fist and it looked just like what it was. And that’s the end of my artistic accomplishments.

I do think I’m pretty good with words though. And now that the 2005 Steering Committee for the Angels of the Arts Awards authorized three separate Angel Awards for Artist of the Year: Performer of the Year, Writer of the Year, and Visual Artist (painter, sculptor, etc.) of the Year, maybe I could be considered a ‘writing’ artist. Because, you know, based on the controversial comments you may have heard or read about recently in the new book declaring Fort Myers and Lee County an artistic wasteland, every artist we can get is especially important now that they’ve been portrayed as artistically depressed NASCAR philistines in a cultural desert.

What are your reactions to that writer’s disparaging comments and evaluations?

That’s a tough one. Fort Myers obviously isn’t Naples or Sarasota or St. Pete/Tampa. However, artists abound. The names Bennett, Biolchini, Cullen, Pottorf, Rauschenberg, to name but a few, command international recognition and respect. And there are dozens of art galleries throughout the county. Sanibel is officially called ‘The Island of the Arts’. Matlacha has a thriving arts reputation. Bokeelia and Bonita are thriving art centers. There also are many, many active, highly respected arts organizations such as the Alliance, BIG ARTS and numerous other local art leagues and societies. Hundreds of serious professional artists and art administrators are working to bring art appreciation and awareness to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness. Plus civic leaders like Mayor Jim Humphrey and Commissioner Bob Janes spend a lot of effort supporting local arts. Personally, I think the guy who wrote the book on the best art towns in America was mistaken. And, sadly, he misguides and misinforms his readers.

To counteract his erroneous faux pas, the only thing we all can do is keep doing what we’ve been doing more and more. Eventually the truth will shine through. That’s why I’m so proud that my Angels of the Arts Awards efforts have been so well received. Now that there have been two successful annual award ceremonies, it is not just launched, but entrenched, I’d say. Of course, I am biased and am coming back later in the year to start working on the 2006 show, which will be held on our usual first Sunday evening in March at the Broadway Palm Theatre again.

By the way, how did Angels of the Arts Awards get started?

As I wrote in the Angels FAQ’s in the 2005 Ceremony Program, my first attempt to celebrate artists with awards was when I wrote my still-unsold spec movie script And the Winner Is…, starring my ideal cast of Miss Piggy, Joan Rivers, Ru Paul and Wayne Newton, in which those four luminaries vie for the prestigious NANAS Award (NANAS stands for the National Academy of Nightclub Arts and Sciences). When the script didn’t sell, and the Las Vegas Visitor & Convention Bureau didn’t want to fund NANAS as legitimate annual awards in Vegas for nightclub artists ‘for real’, I tucked it away until years later when I brought it back to life as Angels of the Arts Awards. A real award for real people: Artists! Real, really deserving people!

Although everyone imagines the life of an artist is easy and fun-filled, with lots of free time to hang out and be creative, in actuality, it’s a long, rough row to hoe, as they used to say in Pennsylvania (and probably still do). Artists need the constitutions of alligators and the ferocity of tigers to just survive. Let alone make it. Talent is essential, of course. As is an 18-wheeler load of luck and good timing. Plus constant efforts, the ability to keep struggling regardless, extensive business smarts, and the capacity to smile and be persuasive and productive — no matter what. Did I mention all this occurs without benefit of a regular paycheck? Which often leads to gut-wrenching hard-scrabble challenge-filled personal and family life?

But, in the end, all that lasts is what artists create. The writing and paintings, the statues and ceramics from centuries long gone are almost all that remains from ancient civilizations. What survives? The works of Homer and Aristophanes, Terra cotta soldiers in a Chinese emperor’s tomb, King Tut’s mask, Greek statues, Rembrandt paintings. They’re what endure. Art records the history of humanity. Just as movies show us what life might be within a certain realm of ‘fictional, fantasized’ time and space, art captures and informs what actual human existence was…or is.

And speaking of movies…

Oh yes, movies are amazing. Be sure to see the Fort Myers’ Movie Month of May series of international films featuring live, insightful ‘insider’ commentaries by nationally celebrated film critic and reviewer Dennis Cunningham beginning at Alliance for the Arts on Tuesday May 3. Four more significant movies follow on subsequent Tuesday evenings. I plan special trips back just to see them. I especially want to hear his insider info; for example, about his sister living with one of the directors in Paris, and that a character, Paparazzo, in La Dolce Vita gave his name to the journalistic horde we now call paparazzi. Anyone who loves movies—some say it’s the only original American art—will have ‘a great cinematic experience’ by attending. Call the Alliance for the Arts at 939-2787 to make advance reservations.
How dare they, or anyone, say Fort Myers isn’t an art town! •

from the May-June 2005 issue

"How dare anyone say
Fort Myers isn't an art town!"


painting by Sheila Hoen