A FORK IN THE ROAD
A fork in the road of life. How many times have we become aware of an event that changed the direction of our life? My family did a lot of moving around when I was a teen-ager. Dad would take a new job on his climb up the corporate ladder. The direct effect on me was I went to a different high school, 10th to 12th grade. I did my junior year in Anaheim High School. My English teacher was Beulah B. Bayless, she was also the school’s drama coach. That year, 1959, the senior play was You Can't Take It with You, a Pulitzer Prize-winning comedic play in three acts by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Miss Bayless came to me and asked if I would like to be in the cast. I had been active in school talent shows most of my school life and now had the opportunity to be the only junior in the senior play, to be performing on the stage was a strong magnet to the iron fillings’of my heart.
I read the script and had a laughing fit at the part of the IRS agent trying to deal with grandpa. I told Miss Bayless I would like that part. She said no. The part she wanted me to play was Boris Kolenkhov the Russian ballet instructor. This is a major role. The Play was a big success and I became addicted to show business.
Anaheim, California is the location of one of the oldest theme parks in the nation, Knott’s Berry Farm. The locals called it, “The berry farm,” or “Knott’s.” The theme was the old west. In the 1950’s the berry farm was free. Free parking, free admission, free street performance like the traditional gun fight. The only things you had to pay for were the rides, the restaurants and the little “Bird Cage” theater. They would have old time melodramas three times a day. Old time means audience gets involved. You would Yell and boo the villain, cheer the hero, who was always in a white costume, and sigh with the heroine when she was saved. It was a lot of fun.
Miss Bayless was also my 11th grade English teacher. One of the assignments that year was, in preparation for real life, we had to write a letter of application to an employer. The employer could be imaginary we were looking for employment.
Most students wrote to make believe CEOs. This was an high school English class assignment. Just for fun I wrote my letter to the director of the Bird Cage Theater. I handed the letter in and got an “A,” then Miss Bayless said, “You like to act why don’t you go ahead and mail it. You might get a summer job.” I made a nice, clean copy of the letter and mailed it. The semester came to an end and I hoped daily for a reply. A few weeks in to the summer vacation I received an answer. The director had seen the High School play and my performance and would like for me to make an appointment a come in and audition to become staff.
That weekend my family moved to Hemet, and I was not able to follow up. To this day some 50 years later I still wonder where and what I would be if had made that audition.
I did my Senior year at South Gate High School. We had moved twice that summer because of Dad's jobs. I joined a night class and at the age of 18 was the youngest member of the Southeast Civic Light Opera. This was almost a form of therapy for me. I had a place to act! We did Gillbert & Sullivan and I learned subtle English Humor. G & S is more fun for the preformers than the ticket buying public.