Hines: Supreme Talent, AppleMaster
August 12, 2003
first met Gregory Hines in Manhattan in the late summer
At the time his comeback
from performance exile was well underway and he was
moving rapidly on a direct path to stardom.
Hines had started tap
dancing at age 3, performed at Harlem's Apollo Theatre at
5, and became part of an act with his older brother and
father (Hines, Hines, and Dad). But in his late 20s, the
breakup of both his marriage and relationship with his
brother, led him out of show business and into a period
of Southern California escape and reflection.
After a hiatus of seven
years, he had returned to New York, landed roles on
Broadway, and for his performance in Eubie, had
been nominated for a Tony award.
I knew none of this. I
was struggling to succeed and survive as a teacher in a
small private school that was high on innovation and low
on salary. I had little time or money for Broadway. The
school year was about to begin, and I was busy preparing
for the year's crop of 10- and 11-year-olds.
"Hi, I'm Gregory Hines,
Daria's father," announced the presence, bounding into my
class area. "I'm an actor, we're working on a show."
The jaded New Yorker's
mind kicked in. Yeah, you and a million others in this
"We're doing a show out
of town." Yeah
"But we'll be bringing it
to New York." Yeah, Yeah.
"Here's my number, call
me when you need to." Sure, sure.
"Hey, I'll get you some
tickets, when we come back." Yeah, sure.
It was a great class of
kids that year, and I was really into my role of
improving the world one child at a time. Extensive
communication was a mantra. Daria was living with her
mom, but when there was an issue or question I was in
contact with all parties. So I called Gregory as
warranted, each time confidently stating what he could or
even should do.
Round about Thanksgiving,
he again pops into the class area.
"Hey, Fred, howya
"Great. How are
"The show's coming to New
York soon!" Yeah. Yeah
"I'll get you some
Well the show did come to
New York, it was Sophisticated Ladies and I had
scant knowledge of it or the debut until I got a note
indicating that Daria would not be coming to school in
order to attend the opening. Not a great idea I thought;
miss school for a show?
The next thing I remember
is being bombarded by peers. "Hey, you've got Daria Hines
in your class? Did you see the papers?
And there, plastered all
over the dailies and The Sunday Times Arts and
Leisure section, were pictures of my out-of-town
actor-dad, in performance and with daughter, and all
surrounded by erudite superlatives I had trouble
"Get a grip," I scolded
myself. "So, you've got a notable and his daughter in
your circle. Dime a dozen on Celebrity Island. Stop
acting like an out-of-towner and get back to
A few weeks later: "Hey,
Fred, howya doing. Stopped by to see how things are
going. Look, I want you to call this number and tell them
I said you're to have some seats for the show."
Now what, Mr.
Eventually I called for
tickets. The designated Saturday night arrived. My
girlfriend and I headed downtown and into the theatre.
Sixth row center. "Boy, I hope its at least somewhat as
good as they say, so he doesn't see me walking out
Thirty piece Mercer
Ellington orchestra, playing hs dad's music. Marvelous
intro and backdrop for a wonderful cast of performers:
Judith Jameson, Phyllis Hyman, and a whole host of other
tappin', struttin', and swayin'. Beautiful choreography
and sets, great voices. A knockout.
And then there is Gregory
Incredibly, he stands out
head and shoulders above this marvelous collection. He's
a sensation. The movements, the voice, the energy, the
personality, the connection. He taps stage left, he taps
stage right, he taps up the staircases, on and over
props. He's everywhere and everything. Dancing, singing,
playing the drums. The audience is ecstatic; I'm
Then a very memorable
highlight. He's part of a human Checkered Cab. Two other
performers crawl butt-to-butt as the taxi's front and
rear. Gregory "drives," perched atop. The outfits,
As the taxi shuffles
across stage, Gregory's begins I'm Just a Lucky So and
So with the human-taxi hood and trunk rising for
their assigned refrain.
As I walk down the
Seems everyone I
Gives me a friendly
I guess I'm just a
lucky so and so.
This is what I want to be
if I could choose anything. To combine that talent, with
that energy and creativity, to produce that amount of
After the show, we stood
at the backstage door to thank him when he came out.
Stranded on the circumference of the crowd that received
him, we waited until within normal earshot.
"Fred! Howya doing!" And
a big, warm hug.
You can take me now,
Lord. I'm ready.
I returned to school on
Monday and for the rest of the semester I had to muster
every ounce of my inner strength to not appear any
different to him or his daughter. I knew there was no
middle ground. Give an inch, and you'll be reduced to
Daria was in my class
again the next year as our school put 5th and 6th graders
together, and half would transition each year. She was
doing very well and there was less need for extra calls
home. Gregory's star was now in full ascension. More
musicals, television, films, recognition all awaited. Yet
he still dropped in from time to time.
At the end of that second
year, Daria moved up, and I moved on. The initial wave of
microcomputers that the Parents Association had donated
had caught my fancy, and I was off to graduate studies in
Instruction Technology and Media.
A decade later, I was in
The Valley designing educational software, and then in
1995, a dream realized, landed a job in the Education
Division at Apple.
Times were tough in
Cupertino. Michael Spindler, "The Diesel", had derailed
the train, Apple was hemorrhaging hundreds of millions
and turn-around specialist Gil Amelio was brought in as a
It's hard to imagine now,
but during that period the confidence of Apple's Board of
Directors was so low they were ready to sell the company
out to Sun Microsystems. Amelio balked only when Sun
asked for the already low price to be cut even
Yet somewhere within
those lean times an interesting marketing idea developed:
AppleMasters, an invitation-only Apple "Institute" for
extraordinary people who shared a passion for the
The Masters received no
pay, got to meet together under Apple auspices, mug with
Apple products in front of the camera, speak their
fondness for the Mac, and entertain the troops at
Corporate and the faithful at MacWorld Expos.
AppleMaster's was a harbinger of Steve Jobs' Think
Different promotion campaign, with one major
difference. Not only were all these folks alive, they
actually used Macs. What does Mahatma Ghandi have to do
Gregory Hines was an
I never did meet or speak
with Gregory after I left that New York school, so I
never could asked one of the questions I've been thinking
about since the news of his death on Sunday.
Why did he do
What could a Macintosh
possibly mean to this man? His talents had been forged
and honed from Day 1 via family influences and through
every facet of his physical personae and spiritual soul.
What could a cutely dressed up collection of bits and
bytes mean to this man?
Was it industrial design
elegance? Hipness? Simplicity?
Was it the
counter-culture vs Big Brother?
Well, I think it must
have been more visceral and empowering.
We're rapidly moving in
on 20 years since the first-bitmapped, scripted
hello created in MacPaint appeared on the debut of
the original Macintosh, in January, 1984. The magic
imbedded in that moment has been experienced by millions
as they came in contact with their first Mac.
Macintosh was immediately
and indelibly imprinted as both a joyful technological
experience and a vehicle for human
Since Steve Jobs' return
to Apple, that legacy has been dramatically extended. The
inviting allure of Jaguar. The iApp novice creativity
suite (iMovie, iDVD, and iPhoto). And then the natural
path to professional programs (Final Cut, DVD Studio Pro,
Adobe apps, etc.)
During the recent
economic downturn, Apple has cleverly parried the blows
with captivating add-ons, like .Mac accounts, iPods, and
the Apple on-line Music Store. All nice products that add
revenue streams, but are more about lifestyle than
So I worry.
About this trend and
about rumored ventures into combo personal digital
assistants or affiliations with entertainment
And now about the
processing monster G5 and Panther (Mac OS X v 10.3). Is
this the combo that ends perceived speed deficiencies and
pushes big powerful Mac boxes into corporate client and
I guess I should care,
but at least this week, I don't.
For me, Gregory Hines was
about an experience of sheer joy, intimately connected to
an individual's desire to reach the highest levels of
No matter what its market
share, Apple will succeed as long as it closely adheres
to that guiding vision, exemplified by the great talent
it now celebrates on its web