Thursday, April 05, 2007

XO - The Formative Years - Part 1

Let's see. I've already told you about my first real job as an usher at a movie theatre and my work as a Hollywood Extra.

This picture is from an entirely different job as an Ice Cream Truck Driver.

More on that later.

But my real start in show bidnis came much earlier.

I mentioned in a previous post that my 8th grade English teacher was Holmes Osborne.

As a pretentious, proto-goth, know-it-all, 8th grader, I had attended some H.S. plays and found them to be pretty lame.

I took notes. Not just to record my thoughts, but because I thought it made me look intelligent and intimidating. I doubt that anyone noticed.

At some point, I approached Mr. Osborne and told him how much the H.S. drama productions sucked ass. He suggested that I take the subject up with the new H.S. Drama teacher, Mr. Campbell.

So I did.

The very first thing that Mr. Campbell did when I introduced myself to him was to bum a cigarette from me. I knew at that point that this would be a productive relationship.

I presented my suggestions for improving the quality of the high school theatrical productions to Mr. Campbell as we shared my smokes and he listened attentively. My criticism ranged from make-up, to sets, to costumes, to lighting...there wasn't ANYTHING that I didn't know EVERYTHING about. After all, I was in EIGHTH FUCKING GRADE!!!

He was very respectful and generous. This was, after all, his very first teaching gig after getting his degree. Maybe this pudgy, arrogant, long-haired, hippy-wannabe-fuck dressed in black with a full pack of Camel straights actually had a valid point buried DEEP in the midst of the bullshit he was spewing.

It could happen. It was possible.

When I was finished, he said "So, you really think that you could improve all those things?" Absolutely!, I said. "Okay. Well we are putting on a play this fall called "The Night Of January 16th" and you are now in charge of all of that shit. Give me another cigarette. You got a light?"

I learned the art of delegation at a very young age.

But I still found myself going to the Police Department and the local courthouse to beg for Police uniforms and Judge's robes (the play was a courtroom drama).

I was the make-up artist for the production, making 9th graders look like mature adults. I painted sets. I gathered props. I wasn't cast in a role so I was free to work the lights. I picked up Purchase Orders from the principal's office, got a friend with a driver's license excused from class so they could drive me over to Associated Theatrical Contractors at 87th & Wornall (no longer around) so I could buy make-up, rent costumes, etc.

That first play was pretty cool. We picked a 12 person jury from the audience each night. The play had two different endings depending on what the jury decided.

I went on to play social worker Albert Amundsen (the William Daniels role) in Herb Gardner's "A Thousand Clowns". That was my first on stage experience.

Followed by "TOM JONES", by Henry Fielding in which I played Squire Western, father of Sophia.

"A sweet girl, I wouldn't trade her for the best pack of hounds in England!"

We also did a production of "I Never Saw Another Butterfly". This was a play about Jewish children sent to the Terezin death camp by the Nazis during WWII, punctuated by projected slides of the site taken by Mr. Campbell while he was stationed in Germany during his tour in the Army. I was The Voice on the loudspeaker announcing the names of the children executed and I also played the rabbi who performed the marriage for two of the teenagers who were about to die. Very fucking edgy for a high school drama production in 1972. Not a dry eye in the place.

But my favorite play was Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" (a.k.a And Then There Were None) in which I played Justice Lawrence Wargrave. Absolutely my favorite roll.

But all of this high school theatrical work bled over into my job as an usher and projectionist at the movie theatre.

How, you ask? (glad I still have your attention).

On Halloween, Friday the 13th or other such morbid occasions, the movie theatres I worked at would have marathon monster movies! "I Was a Teenage Werewolf", "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein", Gorgo". The movie owner would hire me to dress up as the Wolfman, Dracula, or Frankenstein, and jump out and scare the customers.

My specialty was the Wolfman. It took about 4 and a half hours to apply the layers of liquid latex, yak's hair, nose putty and pan cake to get to this:

I was dressed as Dracula and laid out in the lobby in a casket borrowed from local funeral parlor from which I would arise and grab movie goers as they entered the theatre.

I would prowl the aisles as Frankenstein's monster during the scariest parts of the movie. Sometimes I would surreptitiously seat myself next to patrons during calm, dark parts of the movie only to turn, growl and grab them during the scary parts.

God, that was fun!

I did some zombie stuff too.

It was a blast.

Halloween became my favorite holiday.

There's no business like show business!


crse said...

do you have no limits man? I LOVE that agatha christie story! Why did you leave the theater? Too much too soon? Some sort of well publicized scandal sent you spiraling down into oblivion? Decide to leave that life behind and sell moose burgers in montana? or missouri? Was it the drink xo? seriously enjoyable story buddy!

Xavier Onassis said...

crse - LOL! You read a prematurely published draft. This is a somewhat less premature and more polished version with a bit more detail (and pictures).

More later.

Spyder said...

Halloween was my favorite holiday too! I've had some fun costumes over the years.

Love the photo of you & your sword!