Ray Duckler: The Wolfman cometh, once a winner is chosen

  • Larry Vigus wows the crowd during his audition for the Wolfman on Saturday night in Lincoln. Vigus is a trained actor and props master at Boston College. BELOW: Wolfman audition candidates Arthur Lapalme (right), Joe Gaudet (bottom left), and Sam Gregory (top left), warm up with a roar before the crowd came in Saturday night in Lincoln. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/10/2016 12:30:31 AM

Larry Vigus, a props master at Boston College, had small parts in the movie Underdog and shows like All in the Family and Lou Grant.

He’s a member of the Screen Actors Guild and has been acting for more than 40 years.

So what did many in the full house of 260 say to Vigus, in unison, during an audition Saturday at Jean’s Playhouse in Lincoln?

“Scram, you old goat.”

Ouch.

Actually, that was fine with Vigus, one of eight candidates vying to become the next Wolfman at Clark’s Trading Post. The winner will be posted on Facebook in a few days, but you heard it here first, folks: I’ve got my money on Vigus.

“I hoped I’d get a little audience involvement,” Vigus said backstage, shortly after the show.

Vigus pulled a fake hand from his pocket, brought from Boston College, after asking the audience if someone could lend a hand. He had a skull, also borrowed from BC, on the end of his wooden walking stick.

Or maybe it was a club for hunting.

A little girl climbed on stage, bold and laughing. And a little red-haired boy, 5-year-old Jesse Corey of Lincoln, hopped on stage, too, hands on his hips, a big smile on his face that never left during the hourlong presentation.

In essence, it was a job interview in which each of the eight candidates resembled counterculture versions of Fred Flintstone.

No jackets or ties or grooming for this bunch. Instead, we saw scraggly hair and long beards and faux fur outfits and eye patches and rope belts and coonskin caps.

And lots of howling and growling and finger pointing at people who came to yell and taunt the Wolfmen, free of charge.

If you grew up in New Hampshire or have spent time here, the Wolfman is part of the landscape, like the Old Man of the Mountain used to be.

These guys yelled legendary phrases, like, “Get off my turf, you no good city-slickin’, pigeon-lickin’ ho dogs.”

Arthur Lapalme of Manchester fit right in. He pulled off his furry hat and shook his head, revealing long, wispy, disheveled silver hair to go with his foot-long silver beard. He once worked in human services, with kids who had emotional disabilities.

Now he wants to be the Wolfman.

“I see it as a brand,” Lapalme said before the audition. “Everyone knows about the Wolfman. It’s a privilege to do it.”

The Wolfman lives in the woods, a hermit protecting his valuable mine from customers at Clark’s. He represents one of the state’s great attractions, working 40 to 48 hours a week, five days a week, staying in character, signing autographs, having his photo taken with kids and families.

The Wolfman is gruff on the outside, tender on the inside, striking a balance between frightening children and earning their trust, making kids fear him, then love him.

More than most careers, the Wolfman is identified with his job, like the five Wolfmen who’ve owned the title thus far, dating back to the early 1970s.

The Wall Street Journal once did a feature on the Wolfman. State brochures feature his picture and information.

Jean’s Playhouse was the equivalent of the Wolfman Hall of Fame, featuring stars from the past and a sneak-peek of the future.

Leon Noel, the original Wolfman who created the role by accident, was there to guide candidates before the show, help them cut their teeth, if you will.

In 1969, just a few years following his graduation from Berlin High School, Noel worked at Clark’s as a laborer, digging ditches, running the locomotive, anything his bosses needed.

Four years later, after discovering that bear trainer Murray Clark was ill, Noel knew the company’s feature presentation quite possibly would be canceled that day.

So he ventured into the woods to cut trees and bring the lumber back as the train rode by, trying to bring a natural flavor to the day. He’d play a role, the woodsman who lived in the forest and provided fuel for the locomotive.

Soon, when he ran out of dead wood to cut, Noel morphed into something else. He was the Wolfman, a sporadic attraction, riding alongside the locomotive in his Model T snowmobile, yelling at the passengers, swinging his whiskey bottle (filled with water), shooting his gun into the air.

“I’m bearded, hair in all directions, hairy chest, and I was young and foolish,” said Noel, 64, who remained a full-time staff member through 2014. “I said what the heck. The boss said he was looking at the people and they were pointing and laughing and having a good time, more fun than if we hadn’t done it.”

Ann Clark Englert, one of the owners, was a teen in those days. She became part of the show.

“After he was doing it for a little while, we thought we’d take it to the next level,” Englert said. “He would steal me off the train. Everyone thought, poor girl. On the way back, the handsome conductor would steal me away from Wolfman and bring me back to safety.

“We learned, though, that stealing anyone off the train was a little too much for the children. They were afraid the man was going to come back and get them too.”

Since then, there’s been Frank the Wolfman and Tony the Wolfman and Bill the Wolfman, the predecessor to the retiring Tim Ryan of Chichester. I wrote about Bill, whose last name is Farrand, when he retired because of health problems a few years back.

Years of smoking and cleaning ovens in the restaurant business gave him a lung infection, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was unable to chase the train, scream at people, be the Wolfman everyone had known.

Farrand made it to the audition, using his electronic wheelchair to get there. He had an oxygen tank and a tube in his nose to help him breathe.

He lives a quarter-mile from the playhouse and Clark’s. He can still hear the locomotive’s whistle from home on warm summer days.

“I think about it a lot,” said Farrand, 58. “I miss it every time I hear that whistle. I wish I was doing it again.”

He saw people he used to entertain through the ’90s, kids then, parents now, bringing their own kids to the audition. He loved the kids, perhaps the most important part of the job description.

“A lot of fun,” Farrand said.

Once, Jesse Corey, the boy with the red hair and never-ending smile who was on stage with Vigus, feared the Wolfman. He said he’d bury his face, cupped in both hands, in his father’s lap.

“When I was 4 I was scared of him,” Corey said. “Now I’m 5.”

And what will he do this time, beginning Memorial Day Weekend, when the new Wolfman rushes out from the woods in his sporty, cigar-shaped roadster?

“I won’t be afraid,” Corey said. “I’ll tell him, ‘Scram, you old goat.’ ”




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