Digest>Archives> May 2002

Vivian Farrell and Her “Tall Friend” Continue to Inspire

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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Actress and author Vivian Farrell’s home in Lindenhurst on Long Island, New York is a short walk away from a dock with a great view of the Fire Island Lighthouse. Her fascination with its history led her to write the popular children’s book Robert’s Tall Friend: A Story of the Fire Island Lighthouse, originally published in 1987. The New York Times praised her book, calling it “a wonderful blend of fact and whimsy . . . a find for children of all ages.” Fifteen years later, Vivian’s work continues to inspire young people to become interested in lighthouses and their preservation.

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Ms. Farrell’s writing for children began in her college years at Syracuse University, where she wrote radio and television programs. She has a Master’s degree in Educational Theatre from New York University, and she taught elementary school and kindergarten for a number of years. Vivian says she loved the fact that young children are “free to be creative.”

Ms. Farrell’s long list of acting credits includes films, TV commercials and soap operas, dinner theatre, summer stock, children’s theatre and touring companies. She has performed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Recital Hall, and her recording The Musical Storyteller sells worldwide. Vivian sees her writing and acting as complementary. “I’m primarily an actress, but I write because there’s a need for me to write. Everything I perform I have written myself,” she explains.

For several years Vivian has been performing a dramatic version of Robert’s Tall Friend at schools (first through sixth grades), libraries, theatres, colleges and conferences. In the 45-minute presentation she plays all the characters, including the lighthouse. Both the book and her live performance of its story have received widespread praise.

Robert’s Tall Friend was inspired by the experiences of Robert Norris, who lived at the lighthouse from age seven to twelve in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Robert’s father, Rockwell Norris, was a National Park Service Ranger. At the time that Robert moved into the lightkeeper’s cottage with his mother and father, the station had been closed for years and the inactive lighthouse was falling into disrepair. Young Robert, living at the isolated lighthouse far from other children, grew lonely.

Robert “felt as empty as the useless, crumbling old lighthouse,” wrote Ms. Farrell. That all changed for Robert when the voice of the lighthouse called to him, “Help me!”

“Lighthouse, don’t cry. I’m here and I care about you,” answered Robert. As Robert proceeded to sweep out the lighthouse and clean her windows, she told him of her proud history and about her “father” lighthouse, the previous tower that once stood nearby.

Robert’s concern for his friend the lighthouse inspired his father to speak to others about restoring the tower, and before long the dream became reality. In 1986, the restored Fire Island Lighthouse was relighted as an aid to navigation as thousands cheered.

In 1997, Robert’s Tall Friend: A Story of the Fire Island Lighthouse was re-released in a special 10th anniversary edition, with illustrations by Frank Daniel. The color drawings contain much accurate information on the flora and fauna of the area, and there is also an extensive history of the Fire Island Lighthouse at the back of the book.

Ms. Farrell is also a licensed pilot, and this interest led her to write another one-woman show called Amelia, My Courageous Sister, about aviator Amelia Earheart. Rounding out Ms. Farrell’s offerings is The Musical Storyteller, a live performance that is an introduction to classical music through storytelling, inspired by and set to the music of great composers. Vivian accompanies herself on piano and also performs a special holiday version of the show.

Vivian Farrell will be performing a special version of her lighthouse presentation at the International Lighthouse Conference in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in September of 2002. The conference theme, “Kids on the Beam: Education for Preservation,” fits right in with Vivian’s intent to inspire young people.

Children often ask Vivian, “Did the lighthouse really talk to Robert?” She answers by referring them to the introduction of her book: “In this story I cannot promise that all the adventures in Robert’s life did indeed take place as I have written them. What is real and what is fantasy is up to you, the reader, to decide. But one thing is true and important: the need for us to keep forever the beauty and majesty of our past that the Fire Island Lighthouse represents.”

Each booking of Ms. Farrell’s performance of Robert’s Tall Friend includes a Teacher’s Study Guide by Gayle Haines, Ed. D., with games, puzzles and maps, culminating in a field trip to the Fire Island Lighthouse. If you’d like to order Robert’s Tall Friend from the author, or if you’d like to arrange for a performance of one of Ms. Farrell’s presentations, contact: Vivian Farrell, Tracy Logan Productions, P.O. Box 734, Lindenhurst, NY 11757-0734. Or call her at 631-226-2724.

For more information on the International Lighthouse Conference being hosted by the American Lighthouse Foundation and the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts, September 17-21, 2002, check out the American Lighthouse Foundation website: www.lighthousefoundation.org. Or call 207-646-0245.

This story appeared in the May 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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