03/18/07 — Wooten honored for his achievements with homestyle fete

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Wooten honored for his achievements with homestyle fete

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on March 18, 2007 2:06 AM

Fremont native Jamie Wooten laughed as he listened to letters from Hollywood celebrities and old friends. He watched with joy as local performers sang and danced.

And he couldn't believe it was all for him.

A tribute to Wooten was held Friday night at the Arts Council, followed by a viewing of his play "Dearly Beloved" at Wayne Community College. Wooten is a successul playwright, songwriter, television writer and producer. In his youth he also sang and danced as part of the Young Americans.

Going along with the theme of the play -- a southern wedding gone awry with a little tackiness -- tables were decorated with pink tablecloths with pink and teal napkins. A single bottle of champagne adorned the center of each table, with two plastic champagne glasses tied to the bottle with pink tulle.

A table beside the piano featured a white tiered wedding cake with teal and pink decorations.

All this set the mood for some down home southern food from McCalls and cake from Mickey's Pastry.

The tribute was filled with memories from Wooten's past -- from fellow writers, actors he worked with and friends from home.

One of these was his friend since seventh grade, Robert Montague. He recalls Wooten's early days as a writer.

"While at the house on Pine Street in Fremont, one of our favorite projects was taking Jamie's old records, extracting lines from a song using a tape recorder and then creating a comedy compilation of news reports using the snippets of the songs," Montague said.

Although Montague was glad to see Wooten closer to home, director Ellen Gittelsohn lamented Wooten's exit from Hollywood in her letter: "I know you are happy there, but I really don't care. Come back. I need you. My therapist says I need you."

And no tribute to Wooten would be complete without comments from one of the "Golden Girls," for which he wrote many a script. A letter from Rue McClanahan (aka Blanche Devereaux) stated "A man's reputation is that which is not found out about him. Don't worry, Jamie, I'm not going to spill the beans." And she didn't. Instead she congratulated him on the "celebration of Home Town Boy Makes Good."

The tribute continued with song and dance as members of the Aycock High School Show Choir performed "Respect" and John Stutts and members of Center Stage Theater's outreach group, Encore, did "Love Boat." As Stutts, dressed in a white jacket and captain's hat, escorted each lovely lady on board the "ship," they all sang the theme from the popular TV show. It took Wooten back to his days as a performer on a Princess Lines cruise ship.

A poignant moment came when a letter was read from Wooten's mother, Eva. She had been part of the surprise tribute for her son until her death last October from leukemia.

"I think I knew from the very start that you would end up in the entertainment business. You are successful at it, and it makes you happy. And your happiness has always made me happy."

Wooten said he was surprised at the turnout of about 125 people at the tribute. He thought there might be about 20 people in attendance -- 10 family members and 10 friends.

"I wasn't expecting anything that fantastic," he said. "I was very moved by the entire experience. It made me feel really great about being from here and what I've done."

After sitting through a performance of the play he wrote with friends Nicholas Hope and Jessie Jones, Wooten was even more ecstatic about being home.

He said seeing his play performed for people he grew up with was a "kind of surreal experience. When you hear words like Fayro and Dub Dubberly and to hear people laugh because they recognize it, I'll never get that anywhere else. It's a very unique experience and I treasure it."

Wooten, who is in his mid-40s, said he is living totally different dreams than those he had while growing up. "I wanted to be a singer and I did it for 10 years. Then you get to a point where you can only make a living singing to a certain age. And I really never thought that far. So the whole writing thing has been a big adventure I never saw coming."

He said he's just as happy with what he's doing now as when he was working in the tobacco fields for his Uncle Elton.

The only real challenge Wooten had in his life was when he hurt his knee on a cruise ship. "I was really depressed, which is unnatural for me because I'm a very joy-filled person. I knew I was in trouble. I had never considered that I couldn't keep doing that.

"I thought what do I do now?"

That's when he decided to try his hand at script writing for television. "And it just happened that the thing I chose worked," he said.

What are his plans now that he's moved to Asheville?

He wants to write more plays with Ms. Jones and Hope, all of them having something to do with the South.

"Then I think I have a couple of books in me," Wooten said.