Editors' Note: Robert Ganshorn was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front at Purdue University before creating one of the first Public Television documentaries on gay lifestyles broadcast during his graduate studies at Indiana University. Failing to become the Gay Walter Cronkite, he is retired from Ganshorn & Associates in Chicago and now lives in Thailand with his loving partner of 31 years.
Alan Shalleck was a man of 77 when I met him, but you would never know it from his energy level and enthusiasm. After "retiring" to Florida I quickly went crazy until I found a job in an Art Gallery. It was in an upscale consumer mall and I arranged at the start to work what they called "the graveyard shift" of 1:00 PM to 9:00 PM five days a week. In this manner I could have the mornings for any errands or projects, doctors appointments for myself or my partner.
Alan had worked for fifteen years at J C Penny until they changed the computer checkout system. When he had to learn a new way he left the store in frustration. He came to our store, interviewed and was hired by our area manager. I got to work with him a great deal in that he would come in from 11:00 to 7:00. I knew he was gay after 5:00 PM on the evening of the first night we were alone in the gallery on a dead Tuesday night. He was an excellent conversationalist and told me about his television past, working with Margret Rey creating over 100 "Curious George" episodes. He worked from the heart.
He also frankly admitted that he had never been a good financial planner and truly needed to work. He was bitter that the 100 plus episodes of Curious George" he had co wrote and directed were without any residuals to him. "I was paid $500.00 per episode I directed, try and have a wife and kids in New York with that." he told me. And the "Curious George" movie was about to be released without a penny to him.
This was mid November, but shortly after Christmas, and while I was not in the store, Alan was dismissed. He was not able to grasp the computer system well enough to either open or close the store and the manager would have no more. I had Alan's home phone and spoke with him reassuringly. He did not like being dismissed at age 77 by someone 40 years younger than himself. We kept in contact and spent New Years Eve together. He met my friend at our home who was only a few months older than he at the time and they got on well. We then went out to dinner and returned to the mobile home court on King Theodore Rd where he lived and would later die.
That was the last time I saw Alan Shalleck alive, although we kept in touch over the phone for the next month. He was thrilled that he had found another job, this time, in a Border's Book store in Boynton Beach. He was also doing a reprise of his "Reading by Gramps" series that he had selflessly shared with libraries, charities and schools in the past. Attributed to him by The Palm Beach Post was this statement: "The most important this is to try to excite children to want to read."
He had long ago left his wife, and was a vital and sexually active man. He had known his murderers before and been intimate with them, but on this night they came with a darker purpose. Rex Ditto likely did the most damage to Alan being just 31, There were 83 blunt force trauma injuries and three dozen stab wounds with evidence of "defensive wounds" by Alan trying to protect himself. Rex Ditto has been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, his lover Vincent Puglisi is 56 and will be sentenced in July. Two Gay men who killed an old good Gay man for a few hundred dollars and whatever trinkets they could find in his mobile home.
From here I could talk about ageism, I could talk about violent crime, I could certainly talk about Gay on Gay violence, but rather I think about the obvious joy Alan brought into the lives of many and all I can think is: "Thanks Alan, and this time you were not marginalized."