Remembering Former CFA Dean Warren Sherlock

In Memoriam: Dean to Deans
By Bryant Keith Alexander, CFA Dean

About two years ago, I attended a campus-based event in the Thomas P. Kelly Jr. Student Art Gallery in the Burns Fine Arts Complex at Loyola Marymount University. The gallery is named after a former dean with an illustrious history of service to what is now the College of Communication and Fine Arts. At the event, I was seated at a lunch table with Thomas P. Kelly Jr. himself, and Warren Sherlock, another former dean of the college, and seated a few tables away was Barbara K. Busse, the most immediate dean of the college that I now have the pleasure of serving as dean. Four deans of an ever-evolving college in the same room.

While I had met the ever-effervescent Thomas P. Kelly before that moment, I was meeting Warren Sherlock for the first time. Diminutive and aged with time, he had a sparkle in his eyes, a grin on his face, and a sharp wit that immediately attracted me to him as if we have known each other for ever. Seated next to him was his lovely daughter, Mary Lee Sherlock Howard. Warren commanded the attention of the table not by his presence, but by his charisma.

In December 2016—I had the dis/pleasure of attending Warren Sherlock’s funeral. I write, “dis/pleasure” because while the occasion was sad, I also witnessed an outpouring of love and respect for a man that I only met once; but a man whose legacy I am an inheritor as the current dean of their beloved college. A part of my pleasure was also hearing Thomas P. Kelly Jr. eulogize his dear friend and colleague. Also, a little touched with age, Tom Kelly commanded our attention with both a compelling chronicle of Warren’s care, character and contribution and with an oratorical style that filled American Martyrs Church in Manhattan Beach, touching the hearts of all who were in attendance. I present Thomas P. Kelly Jr’s eulogy for Warren Sherlock here as an act of deep and abiding respect for two men, and their legacy to what is now the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Loyola Marymount University.

Thomas P. Kelly Jr’s eulogy for Warren Sherlock:

The poet William Butler Yeats once wrote: an aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered cloak upon a stick, unless his soul finds its voice and sings!

Warren Sherlock was a singer. Literally, and from an early age. During the height of the depression when he was a young boy, living in the bowels of lower Manhattan, in Hell’s Kitchen, every Sunday his mother would send Warren and his brother Tom up the Westside to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine where they would sing in a prestigious boys’ choir. They would sing two services and were paid $2 per service. Each boy ended up with $4 in his pocket.

Now you have to understand what $4 could buy a seven or eight-year-old boy on the verge of starvation in those days. It could buy you 80 Baby Ruth chocolate bars. It could buy you 40 comic books – original copies of Superman, Batman, the Flash or the Katzenjammer Kids. It could buy 40 movies – double features with a vaudeville show in between or a serial with Buck Jones, or Hopalong Cassidy or, if you were lucky, Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon fighting the evil emperor Ming. But Warren and his brother were not to have any of this largess. Back in Hell’s Kitchen, their $4 went into their mother’s purse so she could feed the family.

It should be noted that his Sundays as a young boy were spent singing the praises of God. And then he would return to the lower depths of Hell’s Kitchen, only to be resurrected the next Sunday to sing those praises again. This was the rhythm of his life in those tough times. Warren sang his praises and survived.

When he was 17, Warren moved to California where he matriculated to the University of California Santa Barbara. He was a music major who wanted to become an operatic singer. He wanted to sing the toreador song from Carmen, or Pagliacci, or Mephistopheles in Faust. But that never happened because at the end of his sophomore year, Uncle Sam drafted him and with unseemly haste dropped him onto the killing fields of Korea. He was a combat photographer, sometimes in the trenches and something overhead in a piper cub, putt-putting over the lines, giving enemy gunners target practice. Somehow, he survived all this and returned to Santa Barbara.

For Warren, 1955 was a significant year. This was his senior year, and he got the leading role in the university’s production of John Carlo Mentti’s opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” His performance was a triumph. Rave reviews and kudos from every corner. But he was unhappy. Something was wrong. The role of Amahl was that of a deaf mute. He had the lead in an opera and yet had not sung a single note! He was filled with an acute case of cognitive dissonance, what were they trying to tell him? He decided that he would change his career track, he would do something special, something significant. He decided to become an actor.

But before he would do that, he married the love of his life, Margaret Lee Felix. Margaret was the prototypical California girl – bright, beautiful, vivacious, and full of grace. And with that great act of faith that a young woman in love with her “rightful man” exhibits, she travelled off with him into the unknown, into an uncertain future to Washington, DC in his persnickety, fussy Volkswagen bus to Catholic University where he would get a Master’s degree in speech and drama.

In those days, Catholic University was the gold standard of drama schools, its graduates spawned theater programs all across the United States. Its actors filled the ranks of working actors on and off Broadway as well as regional theaters. Its playwrights were published and produced from the great white way to amateur theaters far and wide.

At Catholic University, Warren came under the influence of a remarkable teacher. His name Leo Brady. Leo was the resident playwright, and as a young man, he wrote the musical “Yankee Doodle Boy” which was made into a film with James Cagney. He wrote a play “Brother Orchid” which became a film with Edgar G. Robinson. His plays ranged from Oedipus Rex and Aristophanes to adaptations of Shakespeare and Shaw. Three of his students won Pulitzer prizes for drama. At least a dozen others won Tonys. Warren used his time with Leo well. In his second semester he wrote “The Wake of Nellie McCabe” which CBS bought and produced live on network television. He was on his way.

Warren finished his degree at CUA in two quick years and then returned to California. In the early 60s, I would hear from him via Christmas cards. The cards always came with an invitation: “Why don’t you come out here to California, I am at Loyola University and we could do plays together.” That message went on for ten or more years until fate arranged that Ginny and I would move our family almost literally to his doorstep in Manhattan Beach. A few years later came a call asking me to teach a class. And before I knew it, I had spent 28 years at the university as professor and dean. He spent 39 years.

The campus is littered with his handiwork. You won’t find any plagues with his name but his fingerprints are all over the place. Shortly after he was hired, he was called into the AVP’s office about 4:30 in the afternoon. The AVP, Terry Mahan, told him “I need a curriculum for a TV writing program for the graduate division by 10 o’clock tomorrow morning. A donor has said that Jesuits should be teaching students to write for television and that, if we had such a program, he would give us five million dollars. Have it here by ten.” And so it was. Warren delivered the curriculum at ten and at eleven the AVP had his five-million dollar check. That TV program morphed into the internationally famous school of film and television. It now has graduates all over the US and in over 60 countries around the world.

He was then given the task to supervise the design and construction of Foley Hall. He was acting dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts and has had the satisfaction of seeing many of his students have productive careers in film and TV writing. Some of the shows for which they have won awards include: 60 Minutes, All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Golden Girls, the New Price of Beverly Hills, Star Trek, ER and the X-Files. He was a beloved colleague and a much sought-after teacher and advisor.

But with all this, there is something that must be said. Because he was affable and easy-going, it would be very easy to misread the man himself. He had an unerring moral compass that made him very special. He spoke truth to power fearlessly, which was dangerous in the tottering, unpredictable hierarchical environment we inhabited. He also had an acute sense of justice. When he saw something egregiously wrong, he acted. There was a young woman faculty member, the only Ph.D. in her department, who was denied tenure by the vote of mostly male cohort. He thought this was an outrage. He was determined to do something about it – and he did! He not only got her tenure but a promotion and a raise. She went on to an illustrious career as a teacher, dramaturg and playwright.

He did things like that. He was a powerful ally to have in the world of academic intrigue. I like to think of him as our guide, our Dante, guiding us through the fires of academic hell or at very least, they petty inconveniences of our own personal purgatories. His moral compass made all the difference. It set him apart as very special.

He was often best in faculty meetings. Faculty meetings usually don’t accomplish much. But they are extraordinary events, a high form of circus art, byzantine, Machiavellian, kabuki theater in which the eminenti gather to flash their feathers and perform awe-inspiring feats of rhetorical prestidigitation and self-congratulation. As they would begin to moan and groan their troubles, the basic problem would emerge – always the same – “Why doesn’t the world love me as much as I deserve?” Warren would listen to this wailing until it began to sound like a wheezing fugue. Then he would raise him hand and say “let me say a few words.” Everyone would immediately become quiet. Then he would explain to the eminenti what the realities were, what they could do and what they could not do, and especially what they should not do. Then quietly he would suggest what might be done within reason. Then from the back of the pack, usually the eminenti who was most unloved would say, “That’s a great idea” All in favor say “aye!” Then they would all raise their hands and say “aye,” all get up and slap one another on the back, become merry again and go to lunch. I would look across the table at Warren, he would be sitting as still as a stone, a rock! And on the corners of his mouth was the faintest, quivering insinuation of a smile. He looked like a cobra who had just swallowed a maharaja! It was wonderful! Glorious! And best of all, to be continued next week.

As we all know, Warren and Margaret both loved to travel. Margaret was like an aunt of mine who kept a packed suitcase at her front door so she could leave on a moment’s notice. She kept two tickets to their next destination in her purse and produced them at the first hint of Warren’s wanderlust. Here is my wife’s take on their travels from a poem she wrote for his 60th birthday:

Warren does like to travel and explore,
From the Hawaiian Islands to the Monaco shores
It’s dinner and dancing and seeing the sights,
Going on excursions from morning to night.
That’s the itinerary for at least a week,
Then Fang snarls his long tooth and it’s back to sleep.

They took a trip down the beautiful Rhone,
It was a lovely time, no meetings, no phone,
The barge would stop in towns each day
With chances for shopping along the way.
Margaret’s excitement would grow with her plans.
“There are shops and cafes, we can listen to bands.”
And Warren would look at his beautiful wife,
This lovely lady, the pride of his life,
And he would say with his droll Sherlock way
“Hit the barge, Marge! We’re staying right here!
I’ll get the deck chairs and you get beer.”

But Margaret knew better as she smiled and said:
“No! Let’s both be happy and instead,
I’ll go shopping and you stay and sleep,”
And that’s the way it went all week.

So ying and yang happily live,
Each one takes and each one gives,
They’re happily married, they’re actually fine!
And she’s probably relieved when he’s in bed by nine!

As a friend, it was wonderful to watch Warren and Margaret grow into old age. They never lost that special glow they had that bright September day in 1955 when they first arrived at Catholic U. That undercurrent of joy – the sure knowledge that someone loves you deeply, no matter what – never dulled or diminished. It only grew deeper, more certain, sweeter. It was a great love affair.

Finally one last thing.

As Warren lay dying, he tried to whisper his goodbyes. His lips moved but the words never came. I would like to think he might have said this:

My days have run their course and in the twilight dim,
An angel beckons me to follow him
To where the lilies kiss the summer snow
To where the starlight blinds the noonday sun.
But ere I go, three treasures would I leave.
To comfort those of you who grieve this parting.
Three treasure dearly bought from this sad vale of tears,
Simple gifts I’ve shared with you these many years.

The first gift that I would leave is my laughter.
Listen and you will hear my laughter ringing in the chambers of your hearts,
Singing of our old delights,
Mocking back the endless night,
Teasing all our human folly,
Laughing away the melancholy of too much earthly care.
Listen, and you will hear my laughter
‘Ringing in your ears to comfort all your days.

The second gift that I would leave is simple caring.
For I have cared for you like an ardent lover who cresses a desert from afar,
Like a thief to rob you of your grief and make it mine.
Sharing pain is caring’s plight and in this earthly night
I have made all your troubles mine
That one tear less you might shed. The cost?
My silent heart that bled so solace might be thine.
Now let my caring live in your sharing
So God can give you peace.

The last gift I would leave is best- my love for you.
A trembling human thing,
Born in childhood’s wondrous spring,
Sweetened by young love’s desire.
Tempered fast in time’s slow fire.
Hold it to your heart so that,
When your love finds its wing,
My love will rest against your beating heart
And sing.

Farewell. The angel bright is drawing near and must go.
Farewell…in your hearts my treasures keep
Until the day when you must sleep.
Then God will gently place us and embrace us in his arms
And wipe away our tears. Farewell.
The angel’s shadow points the path and I must go at last
To gaze upon the face of God and dance with endless joy.

This last thing know.
I love you still, each one.
I love you now
And I forever will.

When I told my son Joe that Warren had passed, he summed it up perfectly, saying, “He was a great man. A great man.” Yes, he was, in so many ways.

Good night sweet prince,
May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
May God show you his face of mercy and love.

And may God bless and keep all of us, each one!