Two years of jottings result in a novel

Monday, February 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Woodward News

WOODWARD, Okla. (AP) -- For two and a half years Woody Leonard opened his notebook and opened his mind.

At his downtown hair salon, which is trucked away in an alley off Main Street -- between perms and haircuts -- he wrote a few pages here and there.

Those pages have turned into a full-length novel.

"I wrote it out in longhand in the salon between clients and then I'd go home at night and type it up on a computer," Leonard said about his recently published novel.

"It is amazing. Sometimes, eight to 10 pages would come. I could always pick up where I left off."

Leonard's book titled "Forgotten Star: The Margot Durning Story," is 265 pages of fiction. In the story Durning, an actress in 1937, leaves Hollywood at the zenith of her career to return to the Oklahoma Panhandle to live out her life in a magnificent compound she built. Leonard said her compound serves as a sharp contrast to the Panhandle area. The "walled compound with iron gates and lush gardens" is juxtaposed against the stark Panhandle.

Leonard said he began the project after watching an OETA television special about a couple who lived in the middle of nowhere in Arizona. They had a motel with a stage and a woman would perform her ballerina act every night to an empty theater. He said it had a "Twilight Zone" feel to it and it planted the seed for his story.

OETA served as a seed but Dora Golden and Robert Barron served as his inspiration.

"(Dora Golden) read the new pages every Friday when she came for her appointment," Leonard said. "She read it from the roughest stages and I had to keep writing so she'd have something to read."

Leonard's friend Barron, also a writer, pushed him to write with some very simple advice.

"Just write," Leonard said Barron told him.

"I just started writing and the characters evolved," Leonard said.

Between writing and cutting hair. Leonard has been involved in the Woodward theater scene for over 20 years. Leonard wrote four plays, two comedies and two murder mysteries, which were performed by OnStage Woodward.

In addition, Leonard has directed 18 musicals for OnStage Woodward since 1980 and he is directing another one this year.

Leonard is proud of Woodward's community theater.

"Most community theater is not good," he said with a laugh.

"Ours is really fine."

As a result Leonard thinks the town takes it for granted. When he started working in Woodward's community theater 20 years ago he said, "throngs of people" attended the shows and more the 150 auditioned for "South Pacific," the first musical he directed.

These numbers have fallen considerably. Also, OnStage used to perform four shows per year, but now they perform only two.

"It is sad to see the cultural part of our town fall" he said.

Woodward High School also eliminated its drama department this term but students have rallied for an extracurricular program.

Leonard, who has won several awards for his theater talents, including the Governor's Arts Award in 1995 sees a revival.

He said he wants OnStage Woodward and the resurgent high school drama club which now includes 40 members to work on a collaborative effort.

Leonard spent eight years teaching music in high school, four at Woodward and he feels children today are not exposed sufficiently to creativity. Leonard, a huge fan of the popular Harry Potter children's books is angered by the books' critics.

"At least kids are reading, thinking and creating," he said.

And creating is a great way to develop the mind of youngsters, he said.

"There is such joy in creating," he said with passion. "There is no creative play for kids anymore -- all the new toys are electronic. It is from creation that our soul gets satisfaction. We must create to get satisfied."

Leonard, a 51-year-old Cushing native, moved to Woodward in 1976 to teach music. Leonard obtained his associate's degree is music from Tonkawa and then moved to Weatherford where he received bachelor's and master's degrees in music education. He spent eight years teaching before opening his hair salon. He quit teaching simply because he enjoyed cutting hair, he said.

Leonard admits he has some regrets.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would," he said. "I'd get a degree in drama."

Leonard's hair salon is atypical in many ways. Leonard does not accept walk-ins and contrary to the stereotypical salon, it is free of gossip.

"My customers don't gossip. They really, truly don't," he said. "I don't hear anything really. We talk about how choices affect our destiny and the issues that affect (the clients).

Leonard, who describes himself as a private person, said his hidden salon reflects his own personal nature. He schedules appointments so only one client at a time is in the shop and whatever discussion does occur is confidential.

"Whatever is said doesn't leave here," he said.

His plans for the future are modest and simple. Leonard hopes "to grow old and die in Woodward" and possibly write a prequel to "Forgotten Star," He is working on a new book titled, "Blue Haired Belles of the Burger Bar," which he says is "funny in spots and poignant."