Funny how the old adages often ring true. Like the one about tragedy bringing out the best in people.
In the two months since Valley playwright and actress Terry Earp was hit by an SUV while she was riding her bicycle in north Phoenix — an accident that’s set her on a roller coaster of recovery, setbacks and early prognoses of quadri- or Paraplegia — fellow artists and friends have come out of the woodwork in support.
Some, like poet and songwriter Rod McKuen and folk musician Barry McGuire, have never met her. Never knew about her reputation here and outside the Valley as a playwright of historical dramas and Western monologues performed by herself and husband Wyatt Earp, nephew of the legendary lawman.
No, McKuen says, they were just moved by her story. He and McGuire, who wrote and recorded songs together in the 1960s, are reuniting for the first time in 40 years to headline a benefit concert for her Thursday and Friday nights at Scottsdale’s Kerr Cultural Center.
“That’s what we’re all here for,” says McKuen, who lives in Los Angeles. “It’s just something you do. You don’t think about it. The only thing you do is look at your calendar.”
Already, a fundraising concert and auction held in Prescott last month netted more than $12,000, helping defray costs for the Earps to check Terry, 58, into a Colorado hospital specializing in spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
“There’s just no way to tell you how much gratitude we have for everybody,” says her husband, phoning from the hospital outside Denver where the two have been since Nov. 20.
“We’re real humbled by all this.”
Earp and her husband were bicycling to a restaurant with a friend when the driver of a 2003 Honda Pilot ran a red light at Union Hills Drive and Central Avenue and hit Earp in the intersection.
Earp, who was wearing a helmet, was taken to the hospital and listed in critical condition. Doctors suggested that she might have suffered serious spinal cord injury, and could end up quadriplegic or Paraplegic.
Word of Earp’s accident spread like wildfire through the Valley’s theater community and Western historical buffs who’d known the couple through the historical monologues they had long staged at venues nationally and internationally. (The duo was planning to perform updated editions of their longtime bioplay projects “Wyatt Earp: A Life on the Frontier” and “Mrs. Wyatt Earp” at the Kerr playhouse.)
“People were calling us to say, ‘What can I do?’ Some of the biggest names in Valley theater and entertainment, along with audience members,” says A. Nannette Taylor, a longtime friend of the Earps who often directed the playwright’s shows, including a hit bioplay about notorious restaurateur Jack Durant they remounted last year for Earp’s On the Spot Theater. (Taylor, who also ran the Kerr center, relocated to Portland, Ore., two months ago.)
The news touched off more than the usual “What if that were me?” fears; it also prompted local theater people to wax nostalgic about Earp’s impact here.
“There’s just a magic about her,” says Robert Severance, better known as Robert X. Planet, a set designer, musician and actor who was given his first directorial gig by Earp, a remounting of her stripper bioplay “Skimpies,” in 2003.
“She just seems to be everywhere,” he says. “Almost everybody who has been in a play has worked with her or knows her. She sort of, like, made a community out of diverse groups of actors and producers around the Valley. It wasn’t for money, it was for the love of the theater, and everyone who worked with her knew that.”
Marshall Trimble, a state historian and head of Southwest studies at Scottsdale Community College, says the news made him recall a tender moment:
“We did a little program one time, and I can’t remember the song, but (Wyatt) and Terry got up and did a waltz. That’s the first thing that crossed my mind: the picture of them dancing on the stage that night, and wondering if it would ever happen again.”
The Earps’ Web site (www. wyattearp.biz) features a continually updated log of Terry Earp’s progress. Among the medical minutiae of infections and blood clots and ventilators, the page reads like a documentation of what Wyatt considers “tiny miracles”:
Nov. 14: “In several hours, Terry is expected to start talking!”
Nov. 24: “She was able to skip the pureed meal and enjoyed a normal meal of ham, candied sweet potatoes, green salad, cantaloupe and water. Wyatt said, ‘She was levitating in front of us!’ ”
Nov. 28: “At dinner time, Wyatt wheeled her into the dining room and she sat around a table with about 18 other people! … After dinner Wyatt wheeled Terry to the glassed-in tunnel and they watched the snow falling for a while.”
All along, Earp has defied early prognosis — that she could be profoundly paralyzed — with little wiggles of toes, nudges of her shoulders and arms. She now has sensation over her body, her husband reported, and can talk.
“There’s a lot of hope here,” he says.
A SHOW OF SUPPORT
Bob Zucker, an Earp family friend who manages a reunion lineup of the 1960s folk band the New Christie Minstrels, put together the Kerr fundraiser and recruited Minstrels member McGuire (best known for his solo hit “Eve of Destruction”) to headline. Shortly after, McKuen signed on.
They’re joined on a bill with Arizona balladeer (and onetime Minstrel) Dolan Ellis, Trimble and a slew of singer/ songwriters, cowboy poets and gunfighters. Wyatt Earp is expected to fly back and be on hand, too.
But it won’t be a downer of a show, everyone agrees.
“Oh, no,” Trimble says. “Terry would want that. It’s not going to be maudlin at all.”
It’ll simply be a few nights of artists helping out their own kind.
“She can’t wait to get back to writing. She’s writing more. She can’t wait to get back to finishing her cowboy documentary,” says her husband.
“Her mind-set is, ‘I don’t think about the past, I think about today and what I’m going to do tomorrow. I never look back.’ That’s the education she’s had.”
Benefit concert for Terry Earp
* What: Rod McKuen and Barry McGuire, with Dolan Ellis, Marshall Trimble, Joe Bethancourt, Sue Harris and more
* When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday
* Where: Kerr Cultural Center, 6110 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
* Cost: $27.50-$47.50
* Information: (480) 596-2660 or www.arizonaentertainers.com
By Chris Page, Tribune