Fred Becker – First Cruise

Columnist:
Fred Becker

In my last article I told you how my first cruise job came about and told you about my first night on the ship.

Things went smoother once I got into the swing of things. However, on this first job I was not considered a headline entertainer. I was Cruise Staff/Entertainer. And the cruise staff position definitely came first in the eyes of the company.

Pool Games When I was contacted for the job, I had little understanding what it meant to be “cruise staff.” It turned out that this meant I was to: direct and assist passengers during embarkation and disembarkation (called gangway duty); socialize and mingle with passengers daily; conduct daily events such as; Ping-Pong, shuffleboard, golf, basketball, horseracing (cutouts powered by the roll of dice), bingo, cocktail & singles parties; assist in producing evening shows with lights, props and sound; host game shows, i.e., newlywed game, talent show; act and host for Captain’s reception, dancing with passengers; and selling shore excursions.

That my friends, is quite a work load (plus performances) seven days a week. Although the work is not hard, it does have a number of negative facets. Foremost, I believe it cheapens the image of the performers. When the passengers see you standing at the gangway at 7:30 AM saying, “watch your step,” in the afternoon running a shuffleboard tournament and selling bingo cards, they really don’t see a professional entertainer when you take the stage. They see a gopher that knows “some nice little tricks.” It is about perceived value.

As you can tell I don’t agree with the staff/entertainer combination. Fortunately, I didn’t work that way very long. Nevertheless, it was a great training ground for me as a young person. I was on a microphone daily, in many situations, wearing many hats. I learned to think on my feet, and learn to be comfortable in any public speaking arena, from the serious to the absurd.

The only way I’d encourage someone to take a job, as cruise staff/entertainer is if they wished to one day be a Cruise Director or work in a cruise line management office. Both of these positions would benefit from a solid background on shipboard activities.

My real experience in the world of professional entertaining was limited. I had to learn fast during the first week onboard. I was expected to know how to use the ship’s orchestra, map out my light and sound cues to the tech crew, take curtain calls and all the logistics of my show in a full-size theatre.

Americana Showroom My act was fairly modest then. My main show was twenty-five minutes long and appeared in the Americana Showroom and sat 900 people. Two shows in one evening. If I remember correctly, it consisted of a split-fan routine, vanishing stereo, the cigarette in coat, linking rings, an in again/out again routine with a watch steal, and the misers dream. As I always shared the stage with other acts I had to cut out many of my other routines that tended to be messy. I had a real thing for the long-salt-pour back then but obviously couldn’t leave the stage all seasoned with sodium!

The Blue Lagoon Lounge I also had a thirty-five minute show in a smaller room, “The Blue Lagoon Lounge.” (Yuck!) The show started at 11:30 PM. The room accommodated about 500 or so. I don’t remember much of the original act. This was the spot that I used to try new material. It was a harder room to work as the stage was mostly surrounded. This was actually beneficial, as I had to find or create routines that could be worked anywhere. This paid off in the long run, as many of my bread and butter routines developed there.

Now let me tell you the unusual story of my greatest trick to date: Snagging Kellie Williams in my tangled web of magic and mayhem. Or did she snag me???

Kellie in Purser uniform On the days that the tour excursions were sold, it was my job to make announcements to the 1800 people coming in to the room on how to purchase their tickets. I was basically crowd control and I just stood at a microphone repeating the same instructions and throwing in some wisecracks for fun. Kellie, being a purser (financial and hotel personnel) sat directly behind me and actually sold the tickets. Once the crush of ticket buyers subsided I could leave.

On one occasion, there were only a few people left in the room and I turned to Kellie and said, “Well, it looks like I can go.” She breezed, “Sure, bye.” And I was off.

What I didn’t know was as I walked away, she told the man at the desk buying tickets, “Do you see that guy that just left?” “I’ve asked him out three times and he keeps turning me down.”

Now, I have no idea what made her say this. We had barely spoken to each other at all. She was just being silly to this guy. Well he says, “Don’t go anywhere!” And he takes off after me.

I’m standing in the elevator. I have just pressed the button to go down to my room when an arm thrusts into the closing elevator door. This man, (his name was John) pries the doors open and says, “COME WITH ME.”

He marches me right back into Kellie, who is desperately trying to hide under her desk. John says, “This beautiful young lady just told me that she has asked you out THREE times and you’ve turned her down.” “Are you nuts, man?”

I could see how embarrassed Kellie was getting so I interjected, “No sir, you have it backwards, I’ve asked her out three times and she’s turned me down.”

John replied, “Okay, before this cruise is over I want the two of you to go out on a date.”

First date at Tulum in the Yucatan

And we did. We went on a tour of the Tulum ruins of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico as a first date. It was love at first sight really. We both knew right away that we would stay together forever.

Not long after, Kellie hung up her pursers uniform to become my partner in the wild and often wacky world of magic!

Show Biz Kellie