The following is a rough draft of my memoire, “Confessions of a late bloomer” , “My life off off Broadway”
As my plane banked into the traffic pattern and approach to La Guardia, I felt a sense of excitement I had never before experienced. I was by myself and flying into New York City for the first time ever! This was a huge deal for me, a part of my dreams since childhood growing up in Louisville, Kentucky in a small brick cottage on Standard Avenue. The towering buildings, sky scrapers, as we used to call them, were looking like a 3-D moving picture that I could have jumped right into and become one with. It was late afternoon in September of 1962. I had just finished working the last three months as an actor/singer under contract with the St Louis Muny Opera. I performed in 9 Broadway shows in the ensemble, along with pulling down some small roles. Amongst the leading players from Broadway were Delores Gray starring in Annie Get your Gun, opposite big band singer Art Lund as Frank Butler. (I would later end up playing Frank Butler in a production in Sacramento, Ca. , which I was invited to play without an audition)
I was coming to New York City as a member of Actor’s Equity from my time at the Muny. There is no designation for a young, 21 year old performer better than this one to enter the fast paced world of New York show business. Mind you, at this point, I had been in professional show business about a year or less, and I was looking to conquer New York?? Don’t worry about it! I had no second thoughts. I was arriving in New York to make my own splash in the business, and thinking that I wouldn’t be successful was not part of my thoughts. My head was not enlarged. I was just extremely excited to find those opportunities that might be there for me in the “Big Apple”. I knew that I would be looking for a voice teacher as well as acting classes,but first things first. I needed to find a job immediately, of any kind, so I could pay the bills, feed myself, and pave the way for my dreams. Yes, I saved a couple of bucks from my summer at the Muny Opera, so I wasn’t desperate.
So you say, hold the phone. Wait a minute! What happened leading up to this moment before the Muny Opera experience? Flying into New York as I did, with a lot of crazy thoughts, I was stunned by the experience I was having. In one fell swoop, I was looking at the face of a dream that started quietly as a kid in a big family that was very musical, very religious, and not an atmosphere conducive to wild show business dreams. I was the only one of four kids with this rare dream. After my older brother and sister left home after high school, I was kind of left as the oldest in a family of two kids. It also left me with a very strong independent streak, and a yearning to be a part of the music and show business world. My outlet at home was watching the Ed Sullivan show on tv and any other of the variety shows at the time that featured comedy, often left over Vaudeville acts, acting, musical performers, magicians, ventriloquists, and jugglers. Fire eaters were pretty cool to watch. I’m not sure what category they fall into. One of my favorite acts was the one where the juggler tries to get the most plates spinning on sticks at the same time. This was totally crazy with music in the background that added to the insanity! I loved that kind of stuff! There were also a couple of local variety tv shows in Louisville that featured some good performers. I caught all of those acts. Once again, the atmosphere at home wasn’t one of partying down. Yes, we gathered at the piano sometimes to sing along with my mother playing, but those times were few because my mother didn’t want to find herself being front and center with anything that looked like performing. She was a very quiet, demure lady who was uncomfortable being in the limelight. Dad was more the outgoing parent, but he was not around much. He worked a lot.
The genesis of my music really started when I was around 11 years old. My brother was headed off to college at the University of Kentucky and I would inherit the upstairs bedroom of our small brick cottage on Standard Avenue.Dad had fixed up the upstairs into a nice living space before my brother left town for good, and that space became mine. Hooray! Not because my brother was leaving, but because I got to have my own space. Yeah! It was wonderful! I could pretent that I was alone in my own world, dreaming of some exciting possibilities in the distant future. My room was small, because it was once the unfinished attic in a very small house to begin with. The ceilings were defined by the sloping roof on the left and right side of the bedroom. Since I was already the tallest in the family, I had to bend under the ceiling when I was making up my bed and had to walk around the slanting side. Despite all of this, I saw my space as a little kingdom, very unique, and like a penthouse suite. You’ve got to understand, for some naive reason, I thought I lived in a pretty big house with my area very spacious.
My focal point was my gray plastic Westinghouse AM radio that was my outlet to the world.Ok, to the mid-west, but don’t tell me that. What I heard on that radio was a choice ofmusic that I enjoyed that helped me mold my musical tastes. I would listen to the City Service Band of America where marches and symphonic music was played. I listened to jazz swing and American standards, with the star singers of the day performing for me. I would sing along and learn those songs by heart. There was opera and classical, and I tasted all of it. My favorite was swing. It still is today. I also listened to drama and comedy shows. Comedy has always been my mainstay. I love COMEDY! Sketch comedy, stand-up comedy, comedy acting, comedy anything! Throw in little slapstick. That works.How about the Marx Brothers or W. C. Fields? I’m rolling on the floor. And this was before mood enhancing drugs were available. I didn’t need any of that. I simply liked to be entertained.
To be continued!!