Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Fairy godmother's passing means an era's end: long live 'Hannamama'


"The sun will rise and the moon will set
and we learn how to settle for what we get.
It will all go on if we're here or not,
so who cares, so what."
--  "So What?" from the score of "Cabaret"  
Hannelore Carter, left, her longtime companion and "son of the heart,"
Jason Webinger, and Christene Meyers, at a reception following a play.

SHE CALLED herself "your Hannamama." We were devoted to one another and I just received the sad news of her passing.
Although we shared no bloodline, we were connected by a mutual love of theater, travel, animals, literature and nature.  Her joie de vivre was contagious.  Folks said we had the same sparkle to our eyes and we both liked good gin.
I shared her love of the eccentric -- in both humans and animals. We enjoyed gallows humor, puns and the French language.
She loved the score of "Cabaret," in which we both acted, particularly the sardonic song "So What?" which she sang with gusto on and off stage.
Hannelore Carter was my "heart mother." After my mum died seven years ago, I leaned on her. "I shall be your fairy godmother," she said.
During our 47-year friendship, I wrote many stories about "Frau Carter" and her late husband, Constantine Carter.  We performed in plays together -- "Cabaret'' was a highlight, at Billings Studio Theater in 1977.  Hanna played Frau
Romance blooms, then is crushed,
in "Cabaret," in which Hannelore Carter
 played Frau Schneider. Here, the 
 receives a pineapple from Herr Schulz. 
Schneider, who runs a Berlin boarding house and falls in love with a Jewish grocer, Herr Schulz, during the Nazi rise to power. Bullied by the Nazis, the character declines marriage, betraying her heart and a chance for love.
Her heartfelt portrait of the "Cabaret" character was drawn from personal experience. Hanna, born in Germany on Jan. 4, 1926, came to America in 1952. She'd lived through Hitler's hell and knew the sacrifice of war. Her father was killed during an Allied bombing, and she lost friends as an adolescent in Bavaria growing up between two world wars.  Like many of her contemporaries, she was a Hitler Youth, although her parents were quietly "anti-party," and had strong feelings about Hitler's reign of terror. She became a champion of human rights, had many gay friends and a curiosity for all cultures and creeds.
Hannelore Carter's fondness for animals, and her clowning instinct,
came together at "The Chalet," where she received guests, including
Yorkies Nick and Nora.  It was a treasured retreat in the Beartooths.  
HANNA, AS HER American friends called her, loved to tell the story of meeting her future husband, a native New Yorker.  She'd come to America as an au pair girl and nanny, and was crossing a street near Central Park, pushing her young charge in a pram.  "I paused at a street corner, to consult my map," Hanna said.  "A neatly dressed gentleman approached me and said, 'Could I be of assistance?'  It was Con, of course. I said, 'Sir, I am not a pickup.' But I allowed him to walk me home."
They dated, married the next year and remained together nearly 48 years, while Con pursued a long, successful career in the hotel business, from The Big Apple, to Denver, then Billings in 1955. Con was a fixture at the Northern Hotel until the late 1990s. Hanna nursed him through cancer, in the same home on Parkhill Drive in which she passed early Tuesday.  Her 89th birthday was Jan 4.
HANNA COULD clown -- her letters to me often ended with "your sour Kraut" -- but she had a sweet, deeply serious side and won awards for her acting, at BST and other theaters.  Memorable to this reviewer are her leading roles as the eccentric medium, Madame Arcati in "Blithe Spirit," and as the formidable German grandmother in "Lost in Yonkers."  Another favorite role was as the title character in "Mother Courage and her Children," by fellow dramatist and German, Bertolt Brecht. But she ranked her "Cabaret" role as tops and cherished the guidance of director Skip Lundby.
"Hannamama" near Nye, with her hiking stick. From left:
Christene Meyers, Bill Jones and Jason Webinger. 
She was a tireless translator for German guests, including stranded or injured travelers whose lack of English presented a problem during Montana visits.  One middle-aged German tourist had a heart attack a few years ago while visiting Yellowstone Park.  Hanna navigated the red tape of his hospitalization, tended him and his wife daily, helped him recover and return to his homeland.
HANNELORE was an early-day member of Landmarks,  a Billings preservation and beautification society.  She was a talented gardener, terrific German cook, avid hiker, brilliant seamstress (no patterns), devoted swimmer, delightful letter writer and card maker, and creator of a playground of brick walkways and garden paths in her meticulously tended back yard.  She adopted abandoned animals, cultivating a fondness for orange and gray cats, and bestowing whimsical names. She loved our Yorkies, Nick and Nora, whom she referred to as "your fetching children."
Besides acting, translating and volunteer work, Hanna taught for many years at Rocky Mountain College.  She wrote short stories and poetry, including eloquent odes to both of my late husbands, Bruce Meyers and Bill Jones.  She referred to Bruce as "Bruce the Great," (he was the emcee in our beloved "Cabaret" when I was head of the bawdy Kit-Kat Band).  She called Bill "our Billy Boy," and penned a portrait to him for his memorial at High Chaparral in the Beartooths.  Hannelore's moniker for Keller was "your Prince Charming."  She is my only "elder" who knew well all three of my life loves.
Cookie's only photo of herself, her "bio
mum," Ellen, and her "Hannamama."
HER LONGTIME companion and devoted friend was Jason Webinger, who was with her when she passed Tuesday morning. "I promised her I'd be there until the end," he said, with emotion. He held her hand through her last night, administering the morphine hospice prescribed.  She called him "my son of the heart," and he was her confidant, dinner companion, traveling mate, power of attorney and, finally, her loving caretaker.  Jason called Hanna "my soul mate, my dearest friend."  He shared her father's Oct. 15 birthday, which they celebrated with great gusto.
Jason and Hannelore loved their hillside perch at "The Chalet," which they built together in Cathedral Mountain near Nye. There they hung their paintings, artwork and  treasures from lifetimes of travel. She hoisted a red, white and blue banner on the porch, proud of her nearly 63 years on American soil, which she celebrated on her 60th year here with a 2012 party.
Hanna was an only child, as was Con. They had one daughter, Heidi, who kept vigil with her mother and "adopted brother" Jason, these past weeks, traveling from her job in Iowa.
HANNELORE specified there be no obituary, but as Jason told me today, "Of course, she wanted you to write something." As a fitting memorial, I'll make a donation in her name to the Humane Society.
My heart is heavy, Hannamama.  Auf wiedersehen.  You told me, "It doesn't mean good-bye. It
The famed Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia is next up.
We photographed it, sailed under it and climbed up it!
means until we meet again."

COMING UP:  We bumped the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge features to pay tribute to our dear friend Hannelore Carter, who died Tuesday. We'll resume our travel and theater specials WEDNESDAY, giving this eulogy appropriate view time and Cookie a few days to mourn. Remember to enjoy, learn and live, as Hannamama did. Visit us Wednesdays and weekends at www.whereiscookie.com

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