John B. Ferzacca
Died May 21, 2020
John B. Ferzacca left this world on May 21, 2020, at the age of 79. John passed away peacefully with his trademarked breakfast tray, designer coffee cup, and energy bar resting on his lap.
John was born on July 26, 1940, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to “Frosty” and Marion Ferzacca. He was preceded in death by his parents and will be sadly missed by his loving sister, Mary Sullivan (Ferzacca) Pierce, a niece and nephew, 5 great nieces and nephews, and his many beloved friends.
While our hearts ache with this immense loss, John’s independence, creative spirit, numerous artistic talents, and incomparable sense of humor will live on in all of us.
Drawn to drama and art at an early age, John participated in every theatre and drama class available throughout his grade school and high school years. If John was not acting, he was designing sets, serving as assistant director or producer, or coaching others in learning Cockney accents. He graduated from Shorewood High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with the intent to pursue a theatre major in college. He attended undergraduate school at Northern Michigan University, in Marquette, Michigan, where he majored in drama and art. It was at Northern where his prodigious talent for drama flourished under the mentorship and tutelage of James Rapport, head of the NMU Drama Department. His love of theatre never wavered, so he went on to pursue a Master of Arts Degree in Theatre at Michigan State University in 1971.
An inspiring teacher, he first taught at Lansing Sexton High School, where he continued to direct plays and teach theatre and art classes. From Lansing, he went on to Sunny Hills High School, in Fullerton, California, for 3 years. The remainder of his teaching career, almost 40 years which ended in the fall of 2019, was spent at Orange Coast College where he will be remembered as, “… the coolest teacher you will ever meet, and the best teacher I have ever had. I know he knows what he is talking about. I know he loves what he does. I know he loves his students.” He mounted demanding and rigorous, often first run, musical and theatre productions at OCC which earned the praise, acclaim and recognition from theatre critics from the LA Times.
John was truly a Renaissance man, as comfortable with art and design as he was with football. He loved bulldogs, the Green Bay Packers, cooking, video games, Ed Hardy, books, music and film and cars. At the time of his death, he owned 3 Lincolns. He was known for his amazing array of antiques, art, movie and record collections and his beloved Frank Sinatra and Doris Day memorabilia. John always made each home a welcoming and loving place for every guest where he enjoyed preparing a fine meal and creating a special memory for his loved ones.
In retirement, John never stopped his love for writing, acting, drama and film. During the past year, he completed 5 stage and screenplays. His work is currently being reviewed by critics with whom he has exchanged critiques and revisions, hoping to produce another play or movie by the age of 80.
Actor, artist, author, son, brother, friend, John was a man of many, many talents, all of which he shared with the world. He lived a rich life without regret, and he would want his legacy to carry on through all of us doing the same. John’s own words, from his most recent screenplay, speak most profoundly of his philosophy of life and the legacy he leaves behind:
“I want to thank you for all you’ve brought me. You are trying to create a world that you can fit comfortably in, not conform to one that leaves you no space. That’s not selfish; that’s strong. The world is lonely enough without the added burden of trying to live any life but your own.”
PAUL SAEVIG, ’67:
I TOOK MR. FERZACCA’S CREATIVE WRITING CLASS IN THE 1966-1967 SCHOOL YEAR. MY CLASSMATES INCLUDED RON JACKSON, ’67; BILL SHOCKLEY, ’67; SHARI APOIAN, ’67; CHARITY PERRY, ’69, PHIL LOVATO, ‘69 AND OTHERS I DON’T REMEMBER AT THE MOMENT, MR. FERZACCA WAS 26 YEARS OLD, A HUSKY, MUSCULAR MAN WHO LOOKED LIKE FOOTBALL PLAYER,
HE TAUGHT THE CLASS AS AN IMPROVISED MONOLOGUE AND TOOK LOTS OF QUESTIONS, HE OFTEN SAID FUNNY THINGS, AND HE WAS MASTERFUL STORYTELLER, AT ALL TIMES, HIS SUBJECT WAS HUMAN BEINGS AND LIFE ITSELF, THROUGH A PRISM OF DRAMA, COMEDY AND TRAGEDY, WITH HUNDREDS OF ANECDOTES FROM HIS OWN LIFE AND TIMES, PAST AND PRESENT.
HE LOVED FOOTBALL, ESPECIALLY PRO FOOTBALL, AND TOLD US HE LOOKED FORWARD TO THE ANNUAL THANKSGIVING GAME BETWEEN THE CHICAGO BEARS AND THE DETROIT LIONS, ”BECAUSE IT;S ALWAYS A DIRTY GAME WITH PLENTY OF FIGHTS,” HE ADDED WITH A WICKED GRIN,
HE HAD BEEN A HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYER AT NORTHERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY, AND SPECIALIZED AS A KICKER AND FIELD GOAL KICKER. HE TOLD US A HILARIOUS STORY ABOUT ONE OPPOSING PLAYER WHO WAS DIRTY AND VICIOUS ON THE FIELD, WHEN MR. FERZACCA ATTEMPTED ONE FIELD GOAL, THIS GUY RUSHED THE LINE. MR. FERZACCA WAS ABLE TO KICK THE BALL DIRECTLY INTO THIS GUY’S STOMACH AND KNOCK HIM DOWN. HE REMEMBERED THE INCIDENT WITH DELIGHT!
WHEN MR. FERZACCA TOLD A STORY LIKE THAT, HE WOULD USE GESTURES AND VARIOUS TONES OF VOICE, DRAMATIC PAUSES, AND SOMETIMES HE’D ACT OUT INCIDENTS. HE COULD EVEN DO IMPRESSIONS.
AT THAT TIME IN 1966-1967, HE LIVED IN WEST FULLERTON, NEAR THE RIVERSIDE FREEWAY AND OWNED A MATURE MALE BULLDOG NAMED DITKA, AFTER THE CHICAGO LINEBACKER. HE LOVED DITZKA AND REPORTED ONE DAY THAT THE EXCITED PET HAD USED HIS MASSIVE HEAD TO LIFT HIS HEAVY STEEL MEAL PLATE AND THROW IT UP IN THE AIR, WHERE IT FELL DOWN AND CUT HIS OWN HEAD, MR. FERZACCA RUSHED HIS DEAR PET TO THE VETERINARIAN’S, AND THE CUT WAS NOT SERIOUS.
AT THAT TIME, MR. FERZACCA TOLD US ATE ONLY ONCE A DAY, A BIG DELICIOUS DINNER. THEN WOULD LIE ON HIS STOMACH TO MOAN AND DIGEST IT! USUALLY IT MUST HAVE BEEN STEAKS, BAKED POTATOES WITH SOUR CREAM AND CHIVES, FRESH VEGETABLES, A DINNER ROLL WITH BUTTER, COLD BEER, AND MAYBE DELICIOUS BOYSENBERRY PIE. THAT’S THE WAY HE ENJOYED IT!
MR. FERZACCA DIDN’T HESITATE AT OCCASIONAL SELF-DEPRECATION IN THESE STORIES, HE LOVED TO MAKE FUN OF HIMSELF, TOO. ONE MORNING HE TOLD US HE'D CUT HIMSELF SHAVING, AND WHEN HE PUT ON HIS DRESS SHIRT, HE GOT SOME BLOOD ON IT. HE NARRATED THIS SCENE WITH GROWING COMIC SUSPENSE!
SO HE PUT ON ANOTHER LONG SLEEVED DRESS SHIRT TO WEAR WITH A TIE, AND LO AND BEHOLD! GOT SOME BLOOD ON THAT ONE, TOO,
FINALLY ON THE FIFTH SHIRT, HE PUT IT ON WITHOUT BLOOD STAINS, AND WE WERE LEFT WONDERING HOW MANY DRESS SHIRTS THIS POOR MAN HAD LEFT FOR THE REST OF THE WEEK!
HE TAUGHT US EVERYTHING THAT BEGINNING FICTION WRITERS AND PLAYWRIGHTS NEED TO GET STARTED. HE OFTEN TALKED ABOUT MOVIES AS EXAMPLES: GOOD MOVIES, GREAT ONES, AND TERRIBLE MOVIES.
ONE DAY HE EXPLAINED TO US WHAT A DECADENT, SLEAZY MOVIE “UNDER THE YUM-YUM TREE” WAS. YOU MIGHT REMEMBER THIS 1963 COMEDY WITH JACK LEMMON, CAROL LYNLEY, DEAN JONES, AND EDIE ADAMS, WITH SUPPORTING ROLES BY IMOGENE COCA AND PAUL LYNDE. LEMMON PLAYS A BACHELOR WHO’S A PEEPING TOM AND PEEKS INTO THE APARTMENT WINDOWS OF THE PRETTY YOUNG WOMEN WHERE THEY ALL LIVE. OF COURSE, SUBSEQUENTLY HE TRIES TO SEDUCE THEM, AND THERE IS PLENTY OF DRINKING, JOKES ABOUT SEX, NUBILE FEMALE FLESH AND 1950S PLAYBOY MAGAZINE-STYLE MACHO HUMOR AT THE EXPENSE OF WOMEN AND GIRLS, WHO ARE IN EFFECT DEFINED AS INFERIOR HUMAN CREATURES FOR MEN TO USE SEXUALLY, AND LITTLE ELSE.
MR. FERZACCA SAID, “THAT’S NOT FUNNY AT ALL, THAT KIND OF THING IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM FOR SINGLE WOMEN AND ALL WOMEN.” HIS POINT WAS MADE AND I NEVER LIKED THAT KIND OF MOVIE AGAIN. HE WAS NOT A MORALIST BUT HE HAD CLEAR ETHICS AND STANDARDS. HE ALSO LAUGHED WITH DISDAIN AY THE ABSURDLY HYPER-VIOLENT COWBOY PICTURES THAT WERE POPULAR THEN.
HE EMPHASIZED NOW AND THEN THAT LOUD SCREAMING SCENES WERE EASY FOR ANY ACTOR TO PLAY, BUT NOT MORE SENSITIVE, NUANCED SCENES THAT REVEALED SUBTLE HUMAN EMOTIONS AND RELATIONSHIPS. THEY TOOK MUCH MORE SKILL AND UNDERSTANDING.
WE READ OUR STORIES, SCENES AND DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES OR SOLILOQUIES IN CLASS, AND MR. FERZACCA LISTENED TO EACH ONE OF US WITH AS MUCH ATTENTION AND RESPECT AS IF WE WERE ARTHUR MILLER OR NEIL SIMON. HE GAVE US ALL THE SAME ENCOURAGING TIME AND CONSIDERATION, WITH HELPFUL SUGGESTIONS, WHETHER WE WERE HESITANT STUDENTS WITHOUT MUCH SELF-CONFIDENCE IN OUR WORK OR ABILITIES, OR THE FEW ADVANCED STUDENTS WHO’D ALREADY BEEN WRITING QUITE A WHILE.
ONCE I WROTE A SHORT POEM WITH AN UNUSUALLY HEAVY, EMPHATIC BEAT, AND MR. FERZACCA WAS READING OUR POEMS TO THE CLASS. ON MY POEM, HE STARTED MILDLY ENOUGH, AND SOON BEGAN TO EXAGGERATE HIS VOICE AND MARCHED AROUND THE ROOM READING THE VERSES, WITH A BIG SMILE ON HIS FACE. WE ALL LAUGHED, ME MOST OF ALL, WE MADE CLASS FUN, EVERY DAY.
WE ALL LIKED MR. FERZACCA AND MANY OF US LOVED HIM. HE WAS PASSIONATE ABOUT DRAMA, ACTION, POETRY AND ALL GOOD WRITING. HE SAW THE HUMOR IN MOST SITUATIONS AND SHARED IT WITH US. HE LOVED KIDS, AND HE LOVED PEOPLE.
AT THE TIME I WONDERED HOW LONG SUCH A DYNAMIC, PROFESSIONAL DRAMATIST, ACTOR, DIRECTOR AND TEACHER WOULD REMAIN AT A HIGH SCHOOL, GREAT AS OUR HIGH SCHOOL WAS. SURE ENOUGH IN 1971, HE BEGAN TEACHING AT ORANGE COAST COLLEGE.
I NEVER SAW HIM AGAIN, EXCEPT FOR ONCE IN LAGUNA BEACH WHEN HE DROVE BY IN A SPORTS CAR WITH A PRETTY LADY AT HIS SIDE. NOW AND THEN I’D READ ABOUT PLAYS HE WROTE OR DIRECTED.
IN ABOUT 2010, I NOTICED HIS PAGE ON FACEBOOK,SO I “FRIEND-ED” HIM, HE ACCEPTED ME, ALONG WITH HUNDREDS OF HIS FRIENDS, ACTORS, COLLEAGUES AND FORMER STUDENTS. I DON’T KNOW IF HE ACTUALLY REMEMBERED ME AFTER 42 YEARS, BUT AT LEAST HE PRETENDED TO!
I THANKED HIM SEVERAL TIMES AND EXPLAINED HOW HE’D INSPIRED AND ENCOURAGED ME, HIS REPLY WAS HUMBLE: “I’M GLAD I COULD HELP, PAUL”. ONCE I EVEN SENT HIM ONE OF MY SHORT STORIES, AND HE WROTE BACK “THAT’S A GOOD STORY.” THAT WAS A THRILL, COMING FROM MY FIRST MENTOR.
THE ENERGY IN HIS CLASSES COULD BE ELECTRIC. WE ALWAYS LOOKED FORWARD TO THEM. HE WAS STARTING A WONDERFUL CAREER THEN, AND I WAS ALWAYS PROUD OF MY CREATIVE WRITING TEACHER, MR. J.B. FERZACCA,