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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Late Show with Mr. Sandman
Top Ten reasons a well-known sand sculptor appears on national television.
By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS, Times Staff Writer
Published September 15, 2007
Larry Hudson, a member of Team Sandtastic, a sand sculpting group, created an intricate bust of Late Show with David Letterman stage manager Biff Henderson (shown) within 30 minutes on an episode of Late Show.
[Courtesy of Larry Hudson]
[Ken Helle | Times]
Larry Hudson is also the owner of the popular SoHo restaurant lounge Mangroves, 208 S. Howard Ave.
TAMPA - It was an ordinary Friday afternoon in Larry Hudson's Palma Ceia home until the phone rang.
"Hey." It was his best friend since high school, Mark Mason. "Do you want to be on the David Letterman show?"
"Uh, no." Hudson has a phobia of being on TV.
Mason explained: Letterman's people had called him, wondering if a member of Team Sandtastic could create a sand sculpture of stage manager Biff Henderson.
The rest of the crew was on a project in Bermuda, but Hudson had stayed home that weekend. Letterman's folks wanted the sculpture done within30 minutes on the Late Show that Monday.
But first, they wanted to see what Hudson could do.
"I know you've got some sand in your garage," Mason told him. "Put it on your table. Bang out a sculpture of Biff."
Fifty minutes and a digital snapshot later, Hudson was hired. That Sunday, he packed two 100-pound tote bags full of sand and boarded a plane to New York.
Twelve years ago, Hudson agreed to help Mason, who was already a professional sand sculptor, create a statue of MTV cartoon characters Beavis and Butt-head for a contest at the Don CeSar Beach Resort in St. Petersburg.
"Initially, I wasn't very good," Hudson said. "But I had a strong back and I could shovel very well."
Mason offered to teach him how to sculpt. Now, Hudson is a pro, getting paid for his creativity. He and Mason have traveled the world on Team Sandtastic, which consists of four full-timers and five to 10 part-timers.
Sand sculpting has taken Hudson to South Africa, Malasia, Switzerland, Germany, Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean.
He once created a 50-foot-high, 2,000-ton sand castle, complete with a sand dragon and knight. And for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Team Sandtastic built a 12,100-square-foot snow maze.
Before he started sculpting, Hudson never thought ofhimself as an artist.
"This was kind of out-of-the- box thinking for him to say, 'Hey, I can be crafty,'" Mason said. "It's really opened up something. He's grown tremendously."
About the same time he started sand sculpting, Hudson decided to give another project a try.
He had put himself through the University of South Florida by bartending and waiting tables, rose to bar manager at Bennigan's and went on to become the general manager of nightclubs in Tampa and Clearwater.
Now he wanted his own restaurant. In 1996, he bought a former Greek restaurant at 208 S Howard Ave., gave it a laid-back Florida-style atmosphere and called it Mangroves Seafood Grille and Bar.
It was at the very end of restaurant row, in a very different SoHo. "I don't even want to describe the housing that was around here back then," Hudson said.
The neighborhood began to evolve, and so did the restaurant. People started demanding the most expensive liquor, the finest fish.
In Mangroves' first year, it served conch fritters. Now, seared Hawaiian ahi tuna, duck, lamb, foie gras and filet mignon grace the menu.
Hudson's wife, Debbie, redesigned the restaurant three years ago to give it a funky, art deco lounge feel. And with his newfound skills as an artist, Hudson built the 60-foot handmade stained glass bar.
On Monday, Aug. 27, Letterman announced the night's celebrity lineup: author Rick Reilly, singer Feist, actor Susan Sarandon and now ...
"Biff is such a lovely, nice fellow that over the years, people have wanted to do his likeness," Letterman said.
Cue the slideshow of artistic depictions of the stage manager: his face on a leg tattoo, an ice sculpture, Legos, dominoes, cheese, Post-it notes, bubblegum, ketchup and chalk on the sidewalk.
"Well, tonight, we're continuing," Letterman said. "Meet the gentleman who will be doing it for us. Larry, welcome to the show."
Larry stood over the amorphous pile of sand he brought from Florida.
"How did you get that on the plane?" Letterman asked. "I can't bring chewing gum on a plane."
In the half-hour to follow, Letterman's cameras would cut back to Hudson four times. Somehow Letterman would work him into a Top 10 list about Alberto Gonzales' resignation. Hudson would transform the pile into an intricate 18-foot bust of Biff that Letterman would comment looked a little like Chairman Mao.
Before all of that, Hudson picked up a bucket, poised to start.
People crowded around the televisions at Mangroves. Mason watched from his Bermuda hotel room. Debbie watched from a few feet away, on 53rd street in Manhattan. She was more nervous than he was.
"Any time you're ready," Letterman told him. "Take it away."
Gigs: sand sculptor, owner of Mangroves Seafood Grille & Bar
Digs: a home in Palma Ceia
Family: wife Debbie and son Garrett, who is 21/2. "He is what we call a destroyer of sand sculptures," Hudson said. "Eventually, I'll teach him to make, not break."
His New York weekend: Letterman's folks put Hudson and his wife up at the luxurious Dream Hotel. On Sunday, after a rehearsal, they ate at Asia de Cuba, and on Monday, after the show's afternoon taping, they ate at a celebrity favorite, Butter Restaurant.
His first love: Sports. In high school, Hudson played on the basketball, water polo, cross country and track teams. His running talent got him a scholarship to Florida International University. These days, he plays lots of tennis and golf.
On art: "The more art you do, the more art you feel you can do," Hudson said. "It's how much patience you have and how much you want to develop your skill. I think everybody has it in them."
The next step: Hudson is working to open a Mangroves in Carrollwood.