After show canceled, Keillor says firing 'kind of bewildering to me'
This story has been corrected to include reference to the news breaking in The New York Times about allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
PITTSFIELD — Garrison Keillor wore a pinstripe jacket, his signature spectacles and a stoic expression as he and others occupied a corner table at Eat on North around 6 p.m. on Wednesday night. Less than two hours earlier, his appearance with Linda and Robin Williams at The Colonial Theatre had been canceled. The announcement followed his firing from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) due to allegations of improper workplace conduct.
"It's all kind of bewildering to me," Keillor said later, while settling his bill at the bar.
Earlier in the day, Keillor had emailed the Minneapolis Star Tribune detailing his side of the story after telling The Associated Press that it "is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard."
"I put my hand on a woman's bare back. I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called," Keillor wrote.
News of Keillor's firing came on a day that began with the dismissal of NBC's Matt Lauer in response to allegations from colleagues that he engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior at work. This is amid a flurry of sexual harassment allegations coming to light across industries in recent weeks after the news of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's history of harassment and intimidation that was first reported by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in The New York Times, with further coverage by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker.
At Eat on North, Keillor said: "I don't think that people should talk out of bewilderment. My situation is that I've worked extremely hard on a show that I love for almost 50 years, and somebody else can torch it in one morning, and so it's all gone. And it's a difficult thing to discuss."
MPR released a statement Wednesday midday, saying, "Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) is terminating its contracts with Garrison Keillor and his private media companies after recently learning of allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him."
MPR was notified of allegations last month, the statement said. The allegations stem from when Keillor was responsible for the production of "A Prairie Home Companion," which he created in 1974 and stopped hosting in 2016. His penultimate show was held at Tanglewood.
Keillor found out for certain that his latest Berkshires gig was canceled around 4:30 p.m.
"It was a mutual thing. It seemed like the audience may not be in the mood for [it] ... troublesome day," Keillor said.
At about 4:35 p.m., Berkshire Theatre Group Artistic Director and CEO Kate Maguire told The Eagle that the show had been canceled.
"This theater finds this alleged behavior deplorable!" she said, rising out of her seat. She recognized that the late cancellation would inconvenience ticket holders, but it wasn't her decision to make.
Though the performance was hosted at a Berkshire Theatre Group venue, the organization was renting the space to DSP Shows. Berkshire Theatre Group was in contact with the booking company during the day but didn't hear that the show was canceled until minutes before Maguire's comments. The booking company declined to comment for this story.
"We are very sorry for all of the upset this is going to cause," Maguire said. She later returned to the accusations against Keillor, yet another public figure to recently face allegations of misconduct.
"The point is, this behavior is getting in the way of the good work [we do]," Maguire said.
At Eat on North, some people stopped at Keillor's table during dinner, and during a brief interview, two well-wishers approached him.
"Listen, I think you're amazing," one said.
"I just want to say: Don't stop telling your stories," Lanesborough resident Linda Dulye said. She explained her comment later on, from a seat at the bar.
"I was raised with the guy. My dad was a radio guy, so I love radio guys. ... I don't know whatever [Keillor] did, but he's a radio guy, and there are not too many more radio guys. That's the power of radio. He's a storyteller, and that's a great art," said Duyle, who owns a consulting business and runs The Dulye Leadership Experience, a program for young professionals.
The sentiments were similar among ticket holders huddling outside Berkshire Theatre Group's box office just before the show's scheduled 7:30 p.m start time. Some had heard the news but just wanted to come check out the scene; others weren't aware the show had been canceled until they saw signs on the box office doors. Nearly all were ardent Keillor fans.
"We've followed him since" the early days of the show in the 1970s, said Claudia Hartmark, who had traveled from Albany with her husband, Leif, for the performance.
"You'd have to be [a big fan] to drive out," said Bob Gumson, who also came from Albany with his wife, Pat.
"I don't blame them," said Pittsfield resident Thomas Hardy of Berkshire Theatre Group after learning about the agreement with DSP Shows, though he acknowledged that he and his wife, Joanne, had a shorter drive than many.
Lyal and Eileen Hood had ventured to the Colonial from Worcester, arriving at 3 p.m. The two are originally from Staunton, Va., where the show's other performers, Linda and Robin Williams, once lived. They've traveled to see them and Keillor on numerous occasions, but they wouldn't be on this night.
"We're pissed off," Lyal Hood said.
"It just seems totally absurd," Eileen Hood said before clarifying that she was talking about the accusation made against Keillor, not the late cancellation.
Earlier in the night, Keillor offered a message to his supporters. "If they have listened to the show, they know me better than most of my relatives do, and that's just the case," he said. "All those stories and all of that was told from the heart, and so that's who I am."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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