Marlene Rasnick — actor, singer, teacher, gardener, activist and ”ultimate bohemian“ — was a born-and-bred Los Angeles institution. All her roles were animated by a commitment to social justice and an ebullient personality, and seasoned with a rapid-fire laugh. ”She was able to focus on each individual talent and bring the best out of them. Her students were devoted and would follow her for decades,“ remembers longtime friend and improv partner Dale (Morse) Eunson.
Co-founding the Public Works Improvisational Theater Company in the early ‘70s, Marlene co-created and performed in guerrilla-theatercommedia dell’arte works. She met her soon-to-be husband, Lee Boek, in 1977 in a workshop in which she asked him to roll across the floor with her, ostensibly as an improvisational exercise. ”There turned out to be more to it than that,“ notes Boek. The two remained artistic — as well as life — partners until her death last month.
”Medical marijuana made it possible for me to sit in my garden and enjoy my friends. To enjoy music. To be able to sing again. To stretch my body. To be able to embrace life and to be able to say, ‘Life’s not over.‘ So if this government wants to tell seriously ill people that life is over for them, we don’t want to accept it. And we‘ll do all we can to say, ’Life‘s not over.’“
So said a gaunt yet defiant Rasnick at a packed press conference at the West Hollywood City Hall on October 26, one day after 30 DEA agents raided the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center. Twenty-five days later, on November 18, at her Silver Lake home with her husband by her side, Marlene lost her five-year battle against ovarian cancer. ”I pray the federal officials responsible for this raid never personally endure the suffering they‘ve caused for Marlene and the other members,“ says LACRC director Scott Imler.
Marlene and Lee became a hub of socializing and social activism, surrounded by actors, folk singers, radicals, union activists and sushi chefs. They mentored neighborhood kids — many of whom spoke little or no English — in theater games. They did the same for the elderly, particularly the aging rads of Sunset Hall. When that unique retirement home was threatened with extinction in 1990, the two were part of the successful fight to save it. And when Jackie Goldberg ran for City Council in 1993, Marlene and Lee sang at campaign events and at her inauguration.
Marlene was diagnosed with cancer in 1997 and became an active member and co-chairperson of the board of directors of the LACRC. Though in and out of hospitals for the remainder of her life, she was always available for a speech, meeting or interview to advance the cause of medical marijuana. She gave a rousing pep talk at a vigil in front of the center on November 6 — her last public performance.