Newsletter 050 – November 10, 2023
Disclaimer: This newsletter and the one that will follow it (and the eight that preceded them) were written in advance. This was done to allow me to focus on tasks I have to complete before I can publish my next books (Flood and Fire and Jagged Man).
Today’s newsletter is about the work I did as an actor (some for free, some for pay). Of course, I did the usual grade school acting. A holiday play of some sort (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) in the first grade. A lip-sync to Elvis’ “Hound Dog” in second or third. That sort of thing. A year or two later I tried to rewrite a Classics Illustrated comic book of Helen of Troy so I could cast myself as Paris and a cute, freckle-faced classmate as Helen. Several of us practiced and staged it during recesses on a sandy El Paso playground. The play never happened, but I found out that I liked performing and writing. During a visit to Deep Springs I watched my cousin play Dorothy in a junior high performance of the Wizard of Oz. A few years later I tried out for the Sophomore play at Deep Springs High, and was cast as Professor Bhaer in Little Women. I was apparently the only Texas male in my class who could come reasonably close to doing a German accent. Several of the incidents mentioned above found their way into the first draft of The Lives of Franklin Roosevelt Jones.
I continued acting throughout high school and college. In Newsletter 044, I mentioned playing Hamlet. Getting ready for that performance consumed most of that school year, and it was worth it. It stretched me as an actor in ways that none of my previous performances had done (Shakespeare has a tendency to do that). It also placed me in potential peril. Just before I started college the Vietnam War began. I was taking more than twelve hours each semester, which would normally have kept me exempt from the draft, but I only took a couple of courses the semester we did Hamlet because I was concerned about being able to handle the role. Just a few weeks after our final performance I received my draft notice, and was required to appear for a physical.
My mother spoke to our family doctor and asked him if he would write me a note about my allergy to bee and wasp stings. About six years earlier, I was playing at my grandparents’ farm and dislodged a wasp nest from a clothes pole. I got stung on the back of the neck by several of them and nearly died. When the military doctor read the note he said, “Well, we can’t take you. Vietnam’s a jungle area. We would waste thousands of dollars training you, and you wouldn’t last five minutes off the plane.” I was classified as 1-Y, which the Selective Service system lists as someone who is “qualified for service only in time of war or national emergency.” The doctor told me the 1-Y classification meant they would only call me up if there was no one else to draft, and I would probably be assigned to a desk job here in the United States. I was never called up. Later, when I read the classification document, I wondered, “Was the doctor right about the 1-Y classification? We were at war, weren’t we?” Apparently not. North Vietnam never declared war on us, and we never declared war on them.
But I digress. Between my high school graduation (1965) and the mid-1990s (when I stopped acting), I did over fifty live local theater productions, plus some film, TV, and commercial jobs. The commercials were for print ads, TV commercials, and voiceovers. Most of the film work I did was for TV or for industrial films (corporations use them for in-house training). For TV I played a party guest in a Matt Houston episode, and an engineer in the movie Challenger, about the space shuttle accident. I played a hippie in the movie A Falling of Bells (which I don’t believe was ever released), and a detective in the TV movie, Dalton: Code of Vengeance II. They were all minor roles.
A Side Note: Speaking of the Challenger movie, I have been describing the If a Butterfly series as being something like the game, Six Degrees of Separation From Kevin Bacon, if Kevin happened to be a butterfly. I have a Bacon Number of 2 (the same as Harrison Ford). Your Bacon Number is determined by how far you are separated from (or how closely you are connected to) Kevin. Anyone who had been in a movie with someone else, who had been in a movie with someone else, who had been in a movie with someone else who had been in a movie with Kevin Bacon would be four movies removed from being in a movie with Kevin, so their Bacon Number would be 4. I was in Challenger with Karen Allen (had no scenes with her, but was in the same movie), and she was in Animal House with Kevin. So, she has a Bacon Number of 1, and I have a 2. Harrison Ford was in Raiders of the Lost Ark with Karen, so he also has a Bacon Number of 2.
Probably the most important thing I learned from my years as an actor was that each of us have the potential for innumerable human experiences within us. Being able to create a character from words in a script has been extremely helpful to me in fleshing out characters for my stories.
We’re coming close to the end of these pre-written newsletters. Just one more to go. It will be about some of my writing that may or may not see the light of day. Some of it is finished but not published, and a lot of it is unfinished.
See you then,
[“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,”
As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7.]
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