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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jul. 25, 2012 5 years ago

Neighbors: Don Wallace

by: Mallory Gnaegy A&E Editor

The 17th floor of Puritan Cove has had a lot of drama in the past few years: There has been a “Dog on the Seventeenth Floor,” “A Ghost on the Seventeenth Floor,” and this February — “A Scam on the Seventeenth Floor.”

The 17th floor of Puritan Cove is the fictional location where a series of one-act plays written by Don Wallace take place. Puritan Cove is loosely based on his current residence, an upscale retirement community — Plymouth Harbor.

In real life, Wallace lives on the 12th floor, where for the past three years he has written his one-act plays.
Wallace writes and directs the comedies that are performed by a cast of about 11 Plymouth Harbor residents; another half-dozen people work backstage.

“It’s the first writing I’ve done since I retired,” he says referring to his long entertainment career that ended in 1989.

Wallace started out directing, writing and producing soap operas such as “The Edge of Night,” “One Life to Live” and “All My Children.” He’s still an active member of the Directors and Writers guilds of America.

“I’ve found that working with amateurs isn’t that different from working with pros,” Wallace says.

In the ’50s, he started as a director, then wrote write for CBS’s “The Edge of Night.” Ironically, he was working with late Sarasotan Irving Vendig, who wrote episodes as well. Meetings with Vindig in Sarasota are what prompted Wallace and his family to move in 1992 from Long Island, N.Y., first as snowbirds and then full time in ’98.

Wallace worked with some pretty big names early in his career. He says Judith Light (“Who’s the Boss”) went without a job for eight months before she found work on “One Life to Live,” and it was a scene Wallace wrote that won her her first Emmy. He’s also worked with Larry Hagman (“Dallas”), Jack Lemmon (“Some Like it Hot”), Tony Randall (“Odd Couple”), Tommy Lee Jones (“Men In Black”), Tom Berenger (“The Big Chill”) and Laurence Fishburne (“Boyz ’n’ the Hood”).

Wallace refers to Fishburne as “Larry.” He remembers him as an independent 10-year-old whom he’d find hanging upside-down by his knees on streetlights.

His stories are numerous: He once had a parking spot next to Jane Fonda’s, he has had Mary Tyler Moore as a guest in his office; he remembers Mary Martin sneaking into the studio to watch her son, Hagman, on-set; and Andy Griffith’s first wife, Barbara, sang at Wallace’s wedding.

Wallace was nominated for three Emmy awards for three different episodes of “One Life to Live.” He also won a Writer’s Guild of America award for an episode of “One Life to Live.”

But he’s also received accolades closer to home: The annual performances of his plays have filled Plymouth Harbor’s theater to capacity each time.

“It’s been very good,” he says. “Maybe people are just being kind, but they always ask, ‘What are you doing this year?’”

He’s toying with the idea of courtroom drama — set on the 17th floor, of course.


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