“Without love life has no purpose.” Words spoken every night by the late Zina Bethune as Charity Hope Valentine in the musical “Sweet Charity” circa 1968, Memphis Tennessee at the Front Street Theatre where I had the time of my life playing opposite this beautiful, fragile and funny performer as Oscar Lindquist.
As a memento for opening night ( a performance she missed due to illness, the role quickly taken over, rehearsed and performed that evening by Jan McElhaney, her role taken over, I believe, by Harriet All) Zina gave every cast member a small silver heart engraved with those words that Zina lived by her entire life. A life that tragically came to an end as she was recently hit and run over by two cars in Los Angeles after stopping her car to help a wounded animal along the side of the road.
She loved animals. She loved dancing. And she loved Sean Feeley. A tall, handsome and kind young actor that she met while performing “Sweet Charity.” They were married soon after and I attended their wedding in New York’s Greenwich Village.
I lost track of Zina and Sean until I read about her tragic death. Not realizing all she had done to help animals and children with disabilities to learn to dance with her founding of the non-profit company “Infinite Dreams.”
I shined up my small silver heart this past Valentine’s Day a few days before what would have been her 67th birthday on February 17th remembering that summer of 1968 where we played “Sweet Charity” in Kennebunkport Maine, Allentown, Pennsylvania and Memphis, Tennessee. The summer that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in April of that same year. I took over the role of Oscar for the Memphis run.
It was incredibly humid when we arrived. And I believe we stayed at the same Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot. My roommate was Larry Vickers. He was black. But we were not at all concerned. The show was quite successful and we all had a great time.
Maureen “Mo” Neville and I became steadfast friends despite her short sheeting my sheets every night during this time and I hope that one day we will reunite. I have lost track of her also. She and Larry presented me with a pull string talking Irish chimp toy with the name Oscar embroidered on his chest. His repertoire still makes me smile.
Zina had many health problems and had a lot of pain but she rarely complained – loving every moment on stage and then leading a quiet off stage life with Sean. They were a lovely couple and my heart goes out to him and her mother Ivy. I am so saddened by her loss and will always remember Zina for her laughter, her generosity and her love for all things living.
Authorities are looking for a white car that left the scene of the accident. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Los Angeles Police Department.