BY PATRICK PISCITELLI
Gordon Greene has developed quite the repertoire throughout his life, being an accomplished author, interviewer, researcher, actor and professor. Greene also is one of OLLI’s best and favorite instructors, as he has been with the program for close to 20 years. The content he chooses to discuss and the way he presents it, makes for a terrific combination for our members and supports why most of his sessions have nearly 100 attendees. We had the opportunity to talk to Gordon about his illustrious career and why he loves being one of the most popular instructors in the OLLI program.
You have played an integral role with OU’s broadcasting and radio, what are some accomplishments or breakthroughs that you have achieved?
Gordon: My principal job at OU was writing and producing videos promoting the university and hosting a weekly radio program, OU TODAY. At its height, my radio program—which featured interviews with faculty members and important visitors to campus (former senator and presidential candidate George McGovern, former ambassador to the UN Jeanne Kirkpatrick, film star and screenwriter Buck Henry, novelist Tony Hillerman and many more)—was carried by 36 stations all over Oklahoma.
"I’ve always been fascinated with the little twists of fate that affect the outcome of historical events"
Your main line of expertise is in the arts. Tell us about your experience in acting and other professional avenues that contribute to you being a well-liked OLLI instructor.
Gordon: My first career was theatre. It was my undergraduate major, and I earned a graduate degree in theatre from Northwestern University. I also worked professionally as an actor in several regional theaters—Barter Theatre, Theatre Atlanta, a summer theatre in Iowa, and did a year of Shakespearean repertory in Detroit. Along the way I did major roles on two national tours, one with Ned Beatty and the other with Morgan Freeman. For three years, I was managing director of the Parkway Playhouse in North Carolina, and it was there that I got to play my all-time favorite role, Cyrano de Bergerac. After that, I returned to academic theatre, where I taught acting, directing, theatre history and theatre management at UNC-Greensboro and later at Northern Arizona University, where I served as chairman of theatre. I’m also past-president and Honorary Life Member of the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, and I served two terms as president of Oklahoma City Writers. I’m the author of six books and have won awards for my short stories, essays, columns, poetry and articles.
Tells us about how you became involved with OLLI at OU?
Gordon: When I worked at OU, I was the head writer-producer for Electronic Media Services. At some point, we moved our offices right next door to the OLLI headquarters, and the main lecture room was within earshot of my office. One time, I got so caught up in a lecture by the late J. Rufus Fears that I pulled a chair up to the door of his lecture room and listened. Soon after, I arranged to interview Dr. Fears for OU TODAY. I also made it my business to learn about OLLI. I think it’s a terrific learning program.
What interested/motivated you to lead an OLLI course?
Gordon: Well, for one thing, I get to choose topics in which I’m particularly interested—not just those that were a part of my own academic discipline. For example, my primary academic fields were theatre arts, speech and television production, so I have lectures on “The Origins of Theatre & Drama” and “The Mystery of Shakespeare”—both of which take a somewhat unorthodox approach. In the latter, for instance, I explain why dozens of theatre scholars are now questioning the very authorship of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. It’s a fascinating alternative view. But I also have a life-long passion for American history, so I have several lectures in that field. Three of my favorites are “Great Ironies & Little-Known Facts in American History,” “The Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial: What Really Happened,” and “The History, Humor and Culture of the American Cowboy."
Tell us about the lecture you will be presenting in OKC?
Gordon: I’ll be doing one from my series of “Great Ironies & Little-Known Facts in American History.” I’ve always been fascinated with the little twists of fate that affect the outcome of historical events. The lecture will address questions like: Why did the Pilgrims set up shop in Massachusetts, when their charter was for land in Virginia? What two former U.S. presidents died on the very same ironic day? What famous battle occurred weeks after the peace treaty that ended the war was signed? What war virtually began in a man’s yard and ended four years later in his parlor? Who was the man named Booth who saved the life of Lincoln?
What do you like most about OLLI at OU?
Gordon: I very much like the fact that I’m presenting material for an audience made up of mature, intellectually curious folks—many of whom are retired, like me. Unlike many of the traditional 18-22 year-old students who are there because they need this or that course to graduate, OLLI students are there because they want to keep learning. And if I have a senior moment, they know exactly what that feels like and are able to help me find the word or phrase for which I’m groping. So there’s a symbiotic relationship that adds to the experience.
OLLI at OU increased its OKC course offerings by 50 percent with over 15 courses and lectures being presented throughout the spring semester. We are excited to have Gordon at our OKC location in the spring semester, as he will present “Great Ironies & Little-known Facts” March 29 at 9:30 a.m. at the PHF Conference Center. Call the OLLI office at (405) 325-3488 or visit our website (www.ou.edu/olli) to register for Gordon’s class and other OLLI courses.