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Randall Beach Is a (Connecticut) People Person

Veteran columnist brings some of his favorite state characters together in book




Randall Beach is a character witness. For more than 40 years, the veteran journalist has chronicled some of Connecticut’s most colorful, passionate and often unsung people in his columns for The New Haven Register and Connecticut magazine.


Beach follows in the tradition of other great city columnists who write about the local sui generis characters who may not make the headlines but nevertheless contribute to the character of a city, a region and a state, including columnists such as San Francisco’s Herb Caen, Boston’s George Frazier, Chicago’s Mike Royko and New York City’s Jimmy Breslin.


“Connecticut Characters: Profiles of Rascals and Renegades” (Globe Pequot; 242 pages) is a collection of his favorite pieces about some of the most memorable folks he has written about over the decades, many who are no longer with us but, thanks to Beach, have been given their due and their place in the Connecticut landscape.


In Beach’s collection, they include a woman who created a nut museum in Old Lyme, a Good Humor man in Madison, a hot dog vender in New Haven, Babe Ruth’s granddaughters in Durham and Wallingford, one of the last elevator operators in the state, and an obsessive Muhammad Ali fan in Bethany.


They also include celebrities who pass through Connecticut or native Nutmeggers who have returned: folks such as Hamden’s Donald Hall who was a U.S. poet laureate; gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson who dropped by the University of Hartford; author Kurt Vonngegut speaking at Hartford’s Mark Twain House; Spanky Mcfarland from “Our Gang” visiting Southern Connecticut State University; Little Richard wowing a crowd at the Faith Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Hartford; Charles Webb in Bethel, who wrote the book in which the film “The Graduate” was based; and Waterbury’s Nick Apollo Forte, a Connecticut lounge singer who co-starred in a Woody Allen movie.


Sometimes the columns are simply touching tributes to those who have died: Yale President A. Bartlett Giamatti; Maurice Bailey who ran New Haven’s Shubert Theater during its golden years as a try-out house for Broadway shows; Simcha, the dog who was a fixture at the cinemas in New Haven and Madison; and most movingly, Margaret Holloway, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama who recited Shakespeare on the streets of New Haven “for therapy and spare change,” and whom Beach called, “our greatest street thespian.”


How It Began

When Beach arrived at the New Haven Register in 1977 as a reporter, he soon took notice of the newspaper’s resident columnist, Bill Ryan. “That was his whole job, writing about people,” said Beach, “and he seemed to be having a lot of fun doing it.”

When Ryan retired, Beach approached the newspaper’s managing editor who agreed to give the young journalist a chance to do a weekly column in addition to his other reporting duties and for no extra pay.


And so began Beach’s parallel career as chronicler of Connecticut characters, and places, too. He co-authored  “The Legendary Toad’s Place: Stories from New Haven’s Famed Music Venue.” Writing seems to be in the family genes. Internet sensation Natalie Beach, his daughter with wife Jennifer Kaylin, is the author of the recent “Adult Drama and Other Stories.”


Though one newspaper colleague referred to Beach’s colorful subjects as “freak of the week,” the columnist felt otherwise.


“I’m giving these people dignity as I tell their story in a different way,” he said. “Their stories deserve to be told.”


Beach’s sense of empathy comes naturally, added Beach, a gentle man with kind eyes and a soft, inviting voice. “My father worked for Norman Vincent Peale for Guidebooks magazine so this sense of positive thinking has been in my DNA from the beginning.”


Beach was raised in Mt. Kisco, N.Y.; it was a good place to grow up, he said. His interests in writing began at an early age, creating a neighborhood newspaper with his brother. “I was noticing interesting characters even then,” he noted. He later wrote for his high school newspaper and had a column in the newspaper at Lafayette College where he was an English major, before transferring to Boston University.


After a stint working for the George McGovern presidential campaign in 1972, he got a job at U.P.I., first in Washington, D.C. during the Watergate scandal; that was an exciting time, Beach remembered. After a transfer to the Nashville desk where he felt unfulfilled, he quit and got a news writing job at what is now the Record Journal of Meriden. His job at the New Haven newspaper soon followed, where he began first covering Branford, then West Haven, then Yale and finally the city at large.


Drawn to Passion

It was his role as columnist that most defined his career. Some of his early column subjects came about from his local reporting, like when Beach was covering courts and he noticed a fellow who he would always see attending trials, as if he was a member of an audience in a theater. As his column became more popular, people would suggest folks in the community or around the state that Beach might find interesting to write about, especially those who might be overlooked.


“They suggested some great people,” he said, “because they knew I wouldn’t make fun of these people but rather simply shine a light on them in a positive way.”


Beach was most drawn to people who had a passion for a particular interest, whether it be the Hamden man who had an extraordinary train collection in his basement, or the car washer by day and an Elvis impersonator by night whom he talked to at a Milford diner. Other examples include the man who cared for the Sicilian puppets in Branford’s Stony Creek Puppet House or the gentleman who operated a typewriter repair shop in New Haven.


“They weren’t necessarily wild and crazy people,” explained Beach. “Many were quite reserved, but you saw a fire within them. That was something I wanted to explore it and bring it out of them.”


As an example, Beach fondly remembers Vinny Mazzetta, “a wonderful saxophonist who had this amazing solo on the record ‘In the Still of the Night.’ He never talked about it and only his family knew about it and finally late in his life, the family urged him to go public with it, saying to him, ‘You’ve been overlooked all these years.’

“Vinny was the one in 1956 who got the St. Bernadette Church basement in the Morris Cover section of New Haven for The Five Satins. He was never a member of the group; he was simply a good sax player who was more interested in jazz—and who played that fabulous solo. He did it off the cuff, it was recorded, and he walked away. He says he was paid $42.50.”

Mazzetta told Beach he had to pay $40 for the union recording fee so he actually only made $2.50. “I felt he deserved the recognition and for the 2010 column, we went back to that church basement when he was 75 and he played the solo for me again. He did so, and it was beautiful.”


After all these years of column writing about these folks from all walks of life, with all sorts of passions, does Beach, now a freelancer who writes for, think of himself as a Connecticut character?


“Well, as I talk to all of these people for the columns, I bring myself into it as a character who talks to them, so I guess, in a way, I am.”


Frank Rizzo is a freelance journalist who writes for Variety, The New York Times, American Theatre, Connecticut Magazine, and other periodicals and outlets, including He lives in New Haven and New York City. Follow Frank at ShowRiz@Twitter.