As millions of cable viewers curled up on their couches last month to watch the noir-ish adventures of openly gay Det. Donald Strachey in the latest Here! TV mystery movie, it's unlikely any had the slightest notion the tough-talking private dick played by Chad Allen could trace his origins to a tiny Susquehanna Valley community about 200 miles West of Manhattan.
Richard "Dick" Lipez (aka Richard Stevenson), who now resides in Massachusetts with his longtime companion, the sculptor Joe Wheaton, is one in a long line of Lipez judges, auto mechanics, radio personalities and merchants to call Lock Haven their hometown.
Indeed, the Lipez name stretches back over 100 years in the history of Lock Haven, but few of that august clan have reached the level of national prominence that Richard has achieved (the other nationally-known Lipez being Richard's cousin Kermit, a federal appeals court judge).
This portrait of Judge A.H. Lipez hangs in the Clinton County Courthouse.
Next month, Richard Lipez's ninth Donald Strachey mystery novel, "Death Vows," will be released through MLR Press, which is currently also in the process of re-releasing the other eight novels in the Strachey mystery series, the first of which was published over 25 years ago.
Meantime, the gay-themed cable TV channel Here! continues to produce movies-of-the-week based on the Lipez books, some of which the author kind-of likes, others, frankly, he doesn't.
"They're filming the books, and they've done three so far, with a fourth on the way," Lipez said. "One of them was pretty awful and one of them was so-so and one of them was actually pretty good, the most recent one, 'On the Other Hand, Death.' That just came out. It has a wonderful performance by Margot Kidder, who is really good."
Richard grew up in Lock Haven and resided in the city until joining the Peace Corps after earning his masters' degree from Penn State in 1962. He's the grandson of Max J. Lipez, the Russian immigrant merchant who became a Fourth Ward alderman while raising seven children with his wife Ellen in their South Fairview Street home.
Born in Berestvica, Poland (then a part of Russia) in 1878, Max Lipez arrived in New York City in 1904 and made his living as a peddler. He moved to Lock Haven in 1905 and continued his merchant business, covering Clinton, Tioga and Potter counties on horseback in the pursuit of commerce.
Eventually, he opened a shoe store on Bellefonte Avenue and later went into public service in the positions of health inspector, school board member and alderman.
"My grandfather, Max J. Lipez, came over first," Richard said. "And his wife Ellen followed a few years later with the tots. My father, Harris, and all the others except the two oldest, were born in Lock Haven."
Among the seven children of Max Lipez were Judge Abraham H. Lipez; Goodyear and Dunlop tire store manager Isadore "Izzy" Lipez and local radio legend Harris Lipez. Four daughters, including the darkly beautiful Rae, left town soon after reaching adulthood and marrying.
But the three boys stayed on, and made names for themselves in Clinton County.
Probably the most highly-respected of the Lipez brothers was Abe, who as public defender worked on some of the most sensational criminal cases to pass through the county courthouse.
He represented Harry Mayo, for example, in his trial for the murder of police officer Robert Probst in 1934. Eighteen years later Abe Lipez took office as a county judge in 1952. He served 30 years on the bench, 21 as President Judge of the Common Pleas Court of Clinton County.
Just as well-known as Abe, though, was his brother Harris, the co-founder of the city's first radio station, WBPZ. Harris was a popular broadcaster for over 40 years, beginning with the station's establishment in 1947. He soon became the voice of high school sports in the area, and a beloved figure among radio listeners throughout the region.
"I knew Harris very well. He was one of my best friends," said Hollywood columnist and former Lock Haven resident James Bacon, now 95. "Harris had an old Whippet automobile and we traveled around in that. He was a wonderful guy. He was the only Jewish guy in our gang. I remember playing poker with him up at Aus Candor's house (who later owned Lock Haven Auto Company), and Mrs. Lipez - Harris's mother - was there. At one point she said, 'Harris, don't play the Ace! Don't play the King! Candor's got the Ace!' A little kibitzing going on there."
Bacon and Harris had many adventures in that old Whippet auto, including a memorable jaunt to Asbury Park on the New Jersey shore.
"We had a couple of girlfriends there we wanted to pick up," Bacon related. "It was in the dead of winter, and it was so cold - the car had no heater - that I built a little fire on the floor of the back seat. Otherwise, we would have frozen to death. But then his family bought the radio station and Harris quickly evolved into a top-notch radio announcer."
Harris's son, Richard, also worked at the station, and said one of his most colorful memories of growing up in Lock Haven involves the role WBPZ played in the everyday lives of the citizens of Clinton County.
"I worked at the radio station when I was in my senior year in high school and summers in college," Richard Lipez said. "And I had a canoe that I kept at the boat house at the country club, and somebody stole it. I was really mad because I had just fiberglassed this canoe and spent a lot of time and money on it and it was a really important part of my recreational life. I used to go up and down the river and Bald Eagle Creek with friends.
"So I went down to the radio station and I asked Jim Remick he worked at the radio station for many years as the afternoon DJ if I could go on the air and report my stolen canoe. And I did. I described it - it was easy to describe because I did such a terrible job fiberglassing it that it was all raggedy and really weird looking - and somebody called the station and said, 'I just saw it coming down the river by the Jay Street Bridge!'
"So I raced over there and there it was. Somebody had parked it and had dragged it up onto the riverbank. So I hired two little kids, for 50 cents each, to help me drag it up onto Jay Street. I had to be at work at the radio station at 6 p.m. and time was running out, so I put the canoe in a parking space by a meter in front of the courthouse and put 25 cents in it and tied my canoe to it. And I left it there until I was done with work. That's one of my fond memories of Lock Haven and the Susquehanna River."
Today, Richard Lipez is one of a handful of prominent living authors - the others being Alison Bechdel, Ken Foster and Bacon - to come out of Clinton County. He's the only one, so far, to have had his literary work appear on the screen (though Bacon has made dozens of appearances in film as an actor and there has been some buzz about Bechdel's "Fun Home" being turned into a movie).
"I grew up on Water Street - 118 E. Water St., which is now a city parking lot - and used to play along the riverbank. It was a wonderful place to grow up," Lipez said, adding he still occasionally comes into town to visit his brother, John, the current owner of their late father's radio station and The Record.
Meanwhile, Richard awaits the release of the newest Strachey mystery, in which the cunning detective and his partner, Timothy Callahan, tackle a murder set in the era of gay marriage in Massachusetts.
Local mystery lovers and book retailers are also looking forward to the newest Strachey book, according to Karen Croce, one of the owners of the D.Dashem bookstore in the downtown business district.
"I'd definitely like to have Dick Lipez come do a signing," she said. "We're all about supporting local - and formerly local - talent."