Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Laurel: A Guest Post by Fred Eberle

Lauren Cronin & Fred Eberle
I’ve known Fred Eberle since 1989, when I was on staff at Chicago House and he was one of my most dedicated volunteers. He is, without a doubt, one of the most talented, generous, thoughtful men I’ve ever known (he's blushing right now, trust me). I’m so pleased that he agreed to share this story of one of the most important friendships of his life.

My friend, Laurel was…a force of nature.  When she entered a room her energy and charisma filled the space. Laurel Cronin was a brilliant actress and director, and when she was onstage it was hard to watch anyone else. It wasn’t that she intentionally pulled focus; she drew it to her. From the first moment we met, it was as though we could finish each other’s sentences. I don’t know if I believe in past lives but, if they exist, I know Laurel played a significant part in mine. 

Laurel directed the first play I did in Chicago after returning from college.  It was a community theatre production, and her creativity and ability to motivate her actors made it a memorable experience.  We both went on to work professionally in Chicago, and our multi-level relationship lasted for nearly 20 years. 

We had one falling out that resulted in a loss of contact for 2 years. I know neither of us thought it would be the end of our friendship, but pride or stubbornness kept either of us from making the first move. One day I heard that she had walked off stage and passed out in the wings.  Without thinking I picked up the phone and asked what she needed.  The ice was broken and we were finally able to reconnect and move forward. 

Immortalized by Al Hirschfeld
Her illness was diagnosed as a kidney issue and, with some time, medication and a change in diet she was able to resume her career.  A casting director invited her to come out to L.A. and within a month she was cast in the supporting role of Liza (Wendy’s housekeeper) in Spielberg’s film, Hook. That opened every door and you couldn’t turn on the television without seeing Laurel in shows such as Murphy Brown, Brooklyn Bridge and a supporting role in Julie Andrew’s short lived sitcom, Julie. She also had roles in films including A League of Their Own, Beethoven and House Sitter (which got her a feature story on Entertainment Tonight as a “scene stealer”). 

In May of 1992, Laurel was in town and we met for lunch just before I left for a season of summer stock at the Peninsula Players in Door County, Wisconsin.  The season would run through early October and, when it was over I was invited to come and stay with her in L.A. She offered to show me around and introduce me to her agent and managers.  I thought my future was set. 

One morning, as I was heading to rehearsal, I got a phone call. It was Laurel telling me that her illness had returned and she was coming back to Chicago to have a kidney removed. Her spirits were good and she was determined to get back to work as soon as possible. Things seemed to be going well until the pathology reports came back and it was discovered that she had been incorrectly diagnosed. The problem was a malignant tumor hidden behind the kidney. 

The day after I got home from Wisconsin I called and her mother told me Laurel had been moved to the hospice at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.  I visited several times but was still in denial about what was coming.  One afternoon, on the way to a theatre fundraiser, I decided to stop in for a quick visit.  When I got on the elevator I heard footsteps and held the door and Laurel’s friend, Bridget got on. She said “I’m so glad you’re here. She’s dying.”

The reality finally hit me. I stood at the foot of her bed with two of her best friends and watched as Laurel’s mother held her hand and tearfully told her it was okay for her to let go.  We were so amazed by her instincts that it took a moment for us to realize that the tortured breathing had stopped. Laurel was gone. 

In the years since, not a day goes by that Laurel is not in my thoughts. I was a product of the era when we were taught that “men don’t cry.”  Even during sense memory exercises in acting class I was never able to produce a tear.  Since that day at Northwestern, I cry at the drop of a hat. I think that's a good thing. I guess that is just one of many things for which I owe Laurel my thanks. 

Fred Eberle is a former professional actor and director. He spent nearly 2 years in the original production of  Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? Fred currently works as a Concierge and Event Planner, and. sits on the Advisory Council for Concierge Preferred Magazine. He also co-hosts the magazine's quarterly web cast, ¨Unlocking Chicago¨.


Friend Grief said...

Fred asked me to share the following comment:

My post seems to have stirred memories for quite a few people and I have already heard from several old friends. One of them asked me about the persistent rumor that Laurel's death was HIV related. In fact her ex husband had died of complications from the disease just a few years before. She spoke quite openly about it when she hosted the annual benefit for A Season of Concern (Equity Fights AIDS.)

I can officially put that rumor to rest. I visited Laurel in the hospital after the removal of her kidney. She was on dialysis and hooked up to various monitors and IVs. She was weak, but her sense of humor was in tact. She lifted her arm with the tubes attached and wryly said ¨Well, at least they just told me I'm HIV negative.¨ Laurel died as she lived; with courage and humor.

Annabel Scott said...

I love to read you this story: Since that day at Northwestern, I cry at the drop of a hat. I think that's a good thing.

God Bless You,

Annabel, UK