Growing up in a city like New York, an entertainment capital, there was always the opportunity of running into a celebrity. I used to like to go to be part of live studio audiences when they were shooting a game show, or variety show. It was how I got to meet some pretty interesting people like Alan Alda, Bob Hope, Rosey Grier and others.Then there were the times when I just literally ran into actors on the street–mostly character actors like Mark Lenard (Spock’s father), or Robert Lansing. Then there were the times when I basically stalked people I really liked. Frank Sinatra was shooting a movie called Contract on Cherry Street in Manhattan one summer, and my girlfriend and I made friends with a staffer on the set who would tell us where they were going to be shooting the next day. We spent a whole summer going to the set every day, watching them shoot the scenes, and of course trying to get to meet Frank. Well that never happened, but by the end of the summer, if someone had shown him a photo of me, I am almost positive he would have said something like…”yea…that kid…that’s the kid that was always hanging around the set”. At least I would like to think he would anyway.And of course there were the times I hung out at the Stage Door after a play or concert and meet Broadway actors and singers I really liked (Diana Rigg (the divine Mrs. Peel), Art Carney, Lou Reed, and Johnny Cash (God).
But a really fun thing is that I knew a couple of people from the neighborhood or school who would grow up and become stars, or at least performers you would recognize. And that is saying a lot considering the neighborhoods and schools I frequented. Now I suppose lots of people knew people as kids who grew up to have important jobs in media or entertainment or just business in general, and I had a few of those; one kid I went to IS70 with is now the National Editor at National Public Radio. But it is extra fun when someone you hung out with as a kid then grows up to be on the big (and little) screen.
Now I am not talking Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise level here, but just a solid career in film and television. So case number one: Luis Guzman and I were friends at PS41, and I have a very distinct memory of being in a school play with him where we had to play trapeze artists so we had to wear black tights. I remember how embarrassed we were to have to go out there in front of our peers and our parents dressed in tights. This was a long way before such things were put in their proper perspective, but to a kid in the 1960’s in New York City it was a case of “I should have volunteered to be the tree” in the play kind of thing. Now if by some chance you don’t know who Luis Guzman is,you will recognize
him from his photo. He has been in countless movies and television shows (and still is today). I first saw him in a film called Carlito’s Way with Al Pacino and I remember turning to Les and saying “Hey I know that guy”. And I did. We even reconnected via e-mail a couple of times and at least he said he remembered me. Who knows?
See the thing is you don’t want to come off like you are looking for something from them when you try to connect with someone you knew. I just honestly wanted to say hello and tell him how cool it was that he had made it like he had. Lord knows from our experience with that play at PS41, I would have thought the last thing he would go into was acting. But thankfully he did, and he is wonderful at it.
So, case number two. After leaving West 12th street we moved to a city housing project called the Robert Fulton Houses on Ninth Avenue. They were specifically for lower income families and part of President Johnson’s (God Bless Him) Great Society. One of my close friends there and in school was a kid named Dwayne Wayans. We got along great and shared afternoons at each other’s apartments. His family lived in one of the smaller buildings as they were a big family with his many brothers and sisters. I would have dinner there sometime and enjoyed the laughter around the table, courtesy of his brothers and sisters. And in case you haven’t figured it out yet, his brothers were Keenan Ivory Wayans and Damon Wayans of the very obviously talented Wayans family. I used to watch their show In Living Color (which introduced Jim Carrey to the world) and enjoyed it every week, and then one week there was Dwayne in a bit part in a sketch. I had never put two and two together and figured out that is who my friend’s family were.I wrote him in care of the show, but never heard back. Oh well.
Case number three: in adulthood I would work with someone at Capezios in the Village,another amazing spot where I would meet the likes of Rod Steiger, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie. She came all the way from Lubbock Texas to make it on Broadway and guess what–she did. I discovered that when I watched a television special on the making of the Broadway hit, The Producers. And there she was, Jennifer Smith. She is an amazing talent and is still going strong, production after production. When we went to see the show on Broadway, we got back stage passes so we could say hello after the curtain came down. And thanks to Facebook, we keep in touch. She is a gem.
So, there you have it. Another chapter in the book that could be called The Magic of Growing up in New York City.
I am sure everyone has stories like these. I just wanted to share mine. I feel very lucky to have met these talented people and wish them all the success in the world. I also wish I had had the talent to do what they do..
But you know, if you can’t be on stage, the next best place is the front row. That’s whereyou will find me.