Garrison Keillor

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Garrison Keillor
GKpress.jpg
Birth name Gary Edward Keillor
Born (1942-08-07) August 7, 1942 (age 76)
Anoka, Minnesota, U.S.
Medium Radio, print
Alma mater University of Minnesota
Years active 1969–present
Genres Observational comedy, storytelling
Subject(s) American culture (especially the Midwest), American politics
Spouse
Mary Guntzel
(m. 1965; div. 1976)

Ulla Skaerved
(m. 1985; div. 1990)

Jenny Lind Nilsson
(m. 1995)
Children 2

Gary Edward "Garrison" Keillor (born August 7, 1942) is an American author, storyteller, humorist, voice actor, and radio personality. He is best known as the creator of the Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) show A Prairie Home Companion (called Garrison Keillor's Radio Show in some international syndication), which he hosted from 1974 to 2016. Keillor created the fictional Minnesota town Lake Wobegon, the setting of many of his books, including Lake Wobegon Days and Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories. Other creations include Guy Noir, a detective voiced by Keillor who appeared in A Prairie Home Companion comic skits. In November 2017, Minnesota Public Radio cut all business ties with Keillor after an allegation of inappropriate behavior with a staff member. On April 13, 2018, MPR and Keillor announced a settlement that will allow archives of A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer's Almanac to be publicly available again.

Early life[edit]

Keillor in 2010, wearing his signature red shoes

Keillor was born in Anoka, Minnesota, the son of Grace Ruth (née Denham) and John Philip Keillor. His father was a carpenter and postal worker[1][2] who was half-Canadian with English ancestry; Keillor's paternal grandfather was from Kingston, Ontario.[3][4] His maternal grandparents were Scottish emigrants from Glasgow.[5][6]

Keillor's family belonged to the Plymouth Brethren, an Evangelical Christian movement that he has since left. In 2006, he told Christianity Today that he was attending the St. John the Evangelist Episcopal church in Saint Paul, Minnesota, after previously attending a Lutheran church in New York.[7][8]

Keillor graduated from Anoka High School in 1960 and from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in English in 1966.[9] During college, he began his broadcasting career on the student-operated radio station known today as Radio K.

In his 2004 book Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America, Keillor mentions some of his noteworthy ancestors, including Joseph Crandall,[10] who was an associate of Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island and the first American Baptist church; and Prudence Crandall, who founded the first African-American women's school in America.[11]

Career[edit]

Radio[edit]

Garrison Keillor started his professional radio career in November 1969 with Minnesota Educational Radio (MER), later Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), which today distributes programs under the American Public Media (APM) brand. He hosted a weekday drive-time broadcast called A Prairie Home Entertainment, on KSJR FM at St. John's University in Collegeville. The show's eclectic music was a major divergence from the station's usual classical fare. During this time he submitted fiction to The New Yorker magazine, where his first story for that publication, "Local Family Keeps Son Happy," appeared in September 1970.[12]

Keillor resigned from The Morning Program in February 1971 in protest of what he considered interference with his musical programming; as part of his protest, he played nothing but the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda" during one broadcast. When he returned to the station in October, the show was dubbed A Prairie Home Companion.[12]

Keillor has attributed the idea for the live Saturday night radio program to his 1973 assignment to write about the Grand Ole Opry for The New Yorker, but he had already begun showcasing local musicians on the morning show, despite limited studio space. In August 1973, MER announced plans to broadcast a Saturday night version of A Prairie Home Companion with live musicians.[12][13]

A Prairie Home Companion (PHC) debuted as an old-style variety show before a live audience on July 6, 1974; it featured guest musicians and a cadre cast doing musical numbers and comic skits replete with elaborate live sound effects. The show is punctuated by spoof commercial spots for PHC fictitious sponsors such as Powdermilk Biscuits, the Ketchup Advisory Board, and the Professional Organization of English Majors (POEM);[14] it presents parodic serial melodramas, such as The Adventures of Guy Noir, Private Eye and The Lives of the Cowboys. Keillor voices Noir, the cowboy Lefty, and other recurring characters, and provides lead or backup vocals for some of the show's musical numbers. The show airs from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

After the show's intermission, Keillor reads clever and often humorous greetings to friends and family at home submitted by members of the theater audience in exchange for an honorarium. Also in the second half of the show, Keillor delivers a monologue called The News from Lake Wobegon, a fictitious town based in part on Keillor's own hometown of Anoka, Minnesota, and on Freeport and other small towns in Stearns County, Minnesota, where he lived in the early 1970s.[15] Lake Wobegon is a quintessentially Minnesota small town characterized by the narrator as a place "... where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

Keillor with Richard Dworsky on the 40th anniversary of A Prairie Home Companion

The original PHC ran until 1987, when Keillor ended it to focus on other projects. In 1989, he launched a new live radio program from New York City, The American Radio Company of the Air, which had essentially the same format as PHC. In 1992, he moved ARC back to St. Paul, and a year later changed the name back to A Prairie Home Companion; it has remained a fixture of Saturday night radio broadcasting ever since.[16]

On a typical broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, Keillor's name is not mentioned unless a guest addresses him by name, although some sketches feature Keillor as his alter ego, Carson Wyler. In the closing credits, which Keillor reads, he gives himself no billing or credit except "written by Sarah Bellum," a joking reference to his own brain.

Keillor regularly takes the radio company on the road to broadcast from popular venues around the United States; the touring production typically features local celebrities and skits incorporating local color. In April 2000, he took the program to Edinburgh, Scotland, producing two performances in the city's Queen's Hall, which were broadcast by BBC Radio. He toured Scotland with the program to celebrate its 25th anniversary. (In the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, the program is known as Garrison Keillor's Radio Show.) Keillor has produced broadcast performances similar to PHC but without the "Prairie Home Companion" brand, as in his 2008 appearance at the Oregon Bach Festival.[17] He was also the host of The Writer's Almanac, from 1993 to 2017, which, like PHC, was produced and distributed by American Public Media.

In a March 2011 interview, Keillor announced that he would be retiring from A Prairie Home Companion in 2013;[18] but in a December 2011 interview with the Sioux City Journal, Keillor said: "The show is going well. I love doing it. Why quit?"[19] During an interview on July 20, 2015, Keillor announced his intent to retire from the show after the 2015–2016 season, saying, "I have a lot of other things that I want to do. I mean, nobody retires anymore. Writers never retire. But this is my last season. This tour this summer is the farewell tour."[20]

Keillor's final episode of the show was recorded live for an audience of 18,000 fans at the Hollywood Bowl in California on July 1, 2016,[21] and broadcast the next day, ending 42 seasons of the show.[22] After the performance, President Barack Obama phoned Keillor to congratulate him.[23] The show continued on October 15, 2016, with Chris Thile as its host.

Writing[edit]

At age thirteen, Keillor adopted the pen name "Garrison" to distinguish his personal life from his professional writing.[24] He commonly uses "Garrison" in public and in other media.

Keillor in 2016

Keillor has been called "[o]ne of the most perceptive and witty commentators about Midwestern life" by Randall Balmer in Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism.[25] He has written numerous magazine and newspaper articles and more than a dozen books for adults as well as children. In addition to writing for The New Yorker, he has written for The Atlantic Monthly and National Geographic.[26] He has also written for Salon.com and authored an advice column there under the name "Mr. Blue." Following a heart operation, he resigned on September 4, 2001, his last column being titled "Every dog has his day":[27]

Illness offers the chance to think long thoughts about the future (praying that we yet have one, dear God), and so I have, and so this is the last column of Mr. Blue, under my authorship, for Salon. Over the years, Mr. Blue's strongest advice has come down on the side of freedom in our personal lives, freedom from crushing obligation and overwork and family expectations and the freedom to walk our own walk and be who we are. And some of the best letters have been addressed to younger readers trapped in jobs like steel suits, advising them to bust loose and go off and have an adventure. Some of the advisees have written back to inform Mr. Blue that the advice was taken and that the adventure changed their lives. This was gratifying.

So now I am simply taking my own advice. Cut back on obligations: Promote a certain elegant looseness in life. Simple as that. Winter and spring, I almost capsized from work, and in the summer I had a week in St. Mary's Hospital to sit and think, and that's the result. Every dog has his day and I've had mine and given whatever advice was mine to give (and a little more). It was exhilarating to get the chance to be useful, which is always an issue for a writer (What good does fiction do?), and Mr. Blue was a way to be useful. Nothing human is beneath a writer's attention; the basic questions about how to attract a lover and what to do with one once you get one and how to deal with disappointment in marriage are the stuff that fiction is made from, so why not try to speak directly? And so I did. And now it's time to move on.

In 2004 Keillor published a collection of political essays, Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America, and in June 2005 he began a column called The Old Scout,[28] which ran at Salon.com and in syndicated newspapers. The column went on hiatus in April 2010 so that he "...[could] finish a screenplay and start writing a novel."

Keillor wrote the screenplay for the 2006 movie A Prairie Home Companion, directed by Robert Altman. He also appears in the movie.

"Common Good Books, G. Keillor, Prop." in St. Paul

Bookselling[edit]

On November 1, 2006, Keillor opened an independent bookstore, "Common Good Books, G. Keillor, Prop." in the Blair Arcade Building at the southwest corner of Selby and N. Western Avenues in the Cathedral Hill area in the Summit-University neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota.[29] Upon opening the bookstore, Keillor wrote this poem:[30]

A bookstore is for people who love books and need
To touch them, open them, browse for a while,
And find some common good – that's why we read.
Readers and writers are two sides of the same gold coin.
You write and I read and in that moment I find
A union more perfect than any club I could join:
The simple intimacy of being one mind.
Here in a book-filled room on a busy street,
Strangers — living and dead — are hoping to meet.

In April 2012, the store moved to a new location on Snelling Avenue across from Macalester College in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood.[31]

Voice-over work[edit]

Probably owing in part to his distinctive North-Central accent, Keillor is often used as a voice-over actor. Some notable appearances include:

  • Voiceover artist for Honda UK's "the Power of Dreams" campaign. The campaign's most memorable advertisement is the 2003 Honda Accord commercial Cog, which features a Heath Robinson contraption (or Rube Goldberg Machine) made entirely of car parts. The commercial ends with Keillor asking, "Isn't it nice when things just work?"[32] Since then, Keillor has voiced the tagline for most if not all UK Honda advertisements, and even sang the voiceover in the 2004 Honda Diesel commercial Grrr.[33] His most recent ad was a reworking of an existing commercial with digitally added England flags to tie in with the World Cup. Keillor's tagline was "Come on, England, keep the dream alive."
  • Voice of the Norse god Odin in an episode of the Disney animated series Hercules
  • Voice of Walt Whitman and other historical figures in Ken Burns's documentary series The Civil War and Baseball
  • Narrator of River Boat Documentary at the Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, Iowa
  • In 1991, Keillor released Songs of the Cat, an album of original and parody songs about cats.

Reception[edit]

In Slate, Sam Anderson called Keillor "very clearly a genius. His range and stamina alone are incredible—after 30 years, he rarely repeats himself—and he has the genuine wisdom of a Cosby or Mark Twain." But Keillor's "willful simplicity," Anderson wrote, "is annoying because, after a while, it starts to feel prescriptive. Being a responsible adult doesn't necessarily mean speaking slowly about tomatoes." Anderson also noted that in 1985, when Time magazine called Keillor the funniest man in America, Bill Cosby said, "That's true if you're a pilgrim."[34]

In popular culture[edit]

Keillor's style, particularly his speaking voice, has often been parodied.

  • The Simpsons parodied him in an episode in which the family is shown watching a Keillor-like monologist on television; they are perplexed at why the studio audience is laughing so much, prompting Homer to ask "What the hell's so funny?" and Bart to suggest "Maybe it's the TV." Homer then hits the set, exclaiming: "Stupid TV! Be more funny!"[35]
  • On the November 19, 2011, episode of Saturday Night Live, cast member Bill Hader impersonated Keillor in a sketch depicting celebrities auditioning to replace Regis Philbin as co-host of Live! with Kelly.[36]
  • One Boston radio critic likens Keillor and his "down-comforter voice" to "a hypnotist intoning, 'You are getting sleepy now'," while noting that Keillor does play to listeners' intelligence.[37]
  • Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter Tom Flannery wrote a song in 2003 titled "I Want a Job Like Garrison Keillor's."[38]
  • Two parody books by "Harrison Geillor": The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten and The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten, were published by Night Shade Books in 2010 and 2011.[39]

Personal life[edit]

Keillor in 2014

Keillor is a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.[40] He is 6 ft 3 in (191 cm) tall.[41] He considers himself a loner and prefers not to make eye contact with people. Though not diagnosed, he also considers himself to be on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.[42] He spoke about his experiences as an autistic person in his keynote address at the 19th Annual Minnesota Autism Conference in 2014.[43][44]

Keillor has been married three times.[45] He was married to Mary Guntzel from 1965 to 1976; they had one son, Jason (born 1969). He was married to Ulla Skaerved, a former exchange student from Denmark at Keillor's high school whom he re-encountered at a class reunion, from 1985 to 1990.[46][47] He married classical string player Jenny Lind Nilsson (born 1957), who is also from Anoka, in 1995.[47] They have one daughter, Maia Grace Keillor (born December 29, 1997).[48]

Between his first and second marriages, Keillor was romantically involved with Margaret Moos, who worked as a producer of A Prairie Home Companion.[49]

On September 7, 2009, Keillor was briefly hospitalized after suffering a minor stroke. He returned to work a few days later.[50]

Controversies[edit]

In 2005, Keillor's attorneys sent a cease-and-desist letter to MNSpeak.com regarding their production of a T-shirt bearing the phrase "A Prairie Ho Companion".[51]

In 2006, after a visit to a United Methodist Church in Highland Park, Texas, Keillor created a local controversy with his remarks about the event,[52] including the rhetorical suggestion of a connection between event participants and supporters of torture and a statement creating an impression of political intimidation: "I walked in, was met by two burly security men ... and within 10 minutes was told by three people that this was the Bushes' church and that it would be better if I didn't talk about politics." In response, the lecture series coordinator said the two "burly security men" were a local policeman and the church's own security supervisor, both present because the agreement with Keillor's publisher specified that the venue provide security. In addition the coordinator said that Mr. Keillor arrived at the church, declined an introduction and took the stage without an opportunity to mingle with the audience, so he did not know when these warnings might have been dispensed. The publicist concurred, saying that Keillor did not have contact with any church members or people in the audience before he spoke.[53] Supposedly, before Keillor's remarks, participants in the event had considered the visit to have been cordial and warm. Asked to respond, Keillor stuck to his story, describing the people who advised him not to discuss politics and saying that he did not have security guards at other stops on the tour.[54]

In 2007, Keillor wrote a column that in part criticized "stereotypical" gay parents, who he said were "sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers."[55] In response to the strong reactions of many readers, Keillor said:

I live in a small world – the world of entertainment, musicians, writers – in which gayness is as common as having brown eyes... And in that small world, we talk openly and we kid each other a lot. But in the larger world, gayness is controversial... and so gay people feel besieged to some degree and rightly so... My column spoke as we would speak in my small world, and it was read by people in the larger world and thus the misunderstanding. And for that, I am sorry. Gay people who set out to be parents can be just as good parents as anybody else, and they know that, and so do I.[56]

In 2008, Keillor created a controversy in St. Paul when he filed a lawsuit against his neighbor's plan to build an addition on her home, citing his need for "light and air" and a view of "open space and beyond". Keillor's home is significantly larger than others in his neighborhood and it would still be significantly larger than his neighbor's with its planned addition.[57] Keillor came to an undisclosed settlement with his neighbor shortly after the story became public.[58]

In 2009, one of Keillor's "Old Scout" columns contained a reference to "lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys" and a complaint about "Silent Night" as rewritten by Unitarians, upsetting some readers.[59] A Unitarian minister named Cynthia Landrum responded, "Listening to him talk about us over the years, it's becoming more and more evident that he isn't laughing with us — he's laughing at us",[60] while Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe called Keillor "cranky and intolerant".[61]

Separation from MPR[edit]

On November 29, 2017, the Star Tribune reported that Minnesota Public Radio was terminating all business relationships with Keillor as a result of "allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him." In January 2018, MPR CEO Jon McTaggart elaborated that they had received allegations of "dozens" of sexually inappropriate incidents, including requests for sexual contact.[62] Keillor has denied any wrongdoing and said his firing stems from an incident when he touched a woman's bare back while trying to console her. He stated he apologized to her soon after, that they had already made up, and that he was surprised to hear the allegations when her lawyer called.

In its statement of termination, MPR announced Keillor would keep his executive credit for the show, but that since he owns the trademark for the phrase "prairie home companion", they would cease rebroadcasting episodes of A Prairie Home Companion featuring Keillor and remove the trademarked phrase from the radio show hosted by Chris Thile. MPR also eliminated its business connections to PrairieHome.org and canceled Keillor's daily program The Writer's Almanac.[63] The Washington Post also canceled Keillor's weekly column when they learned he had continued writing columns, including a controversial piece criticizing Al Franken's resignation because of sexual misconduct allegations, without revealing that he was under investigation at MPR.[64][65] Several fans wrote MPR to protest his firing, and by the end of the year, 153 members had canceled their memberships because of it. In January 2018, Keillor announced he was in mediation with MPR over the firing.[66] On January 23, 2018, MPR reported further on the investigation after interviewing almost 60 people who had worked with Keillor. The story described other alleged sexual misconduct by Keillor, and a $16,000 payment to a woman who was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement to prevent her from talking about her time at MPR (she refused and never deposited the check).[62]

Settlement and access to archived shows[edit]

Keillor received a letter from MPR CEO Jon McTaggart dated April 5, 2018, confirming that both sides wanted archives of A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer's Almanac to be publicly available again. In the letter, McTaggart indicated restoration could occur fairly quickly after a few last details were finalized.[67] According to MPR News, MPR will pay Keillor $275,000, neither side will sue the other, and archives of both shows will be available again toward the end of April 2018 on prairiehome.org and writersalmanac.org, with the possibility of the archives moving elsewhere after three years.[68]

Awards and other recognition[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Keillor during a live broadcast in 2007 in Lanesboro, Minnesota

Keillor's work in print includes:

Lake Wobegon[edit]

Other works[edit]

Poetry[edit]

  • The Selected Verse of Margaret Haskins Durber (1979)
  • 77 Love Sonnets (2009), ISBN 0-14-311527-8
  • O, What a Luxury (2013)

Poetry anthologies[edit]

Contributions to The New Yorker[edit]

Title Department Volume/Part Date Page(s) Subject(s)
Notes and Comment The Talk of the Town 60/47 January 7, 1985 17–18 A friend's visit to San Francisco and Stinson Beach, California.

References[edit]

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  7. ^ "From the Radio to the Big Screen". Christianity Today. 2006-06-05. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
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  10. ^ Keillor, Garrison (2004). Homegrown Democrat. New York: Penguin Books. pp. 39–40, 84. ISBN 0-14-303768-4. 
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]