Ross Perot didn’t win the election, of course. It was at that point that I think I began to first question the logic of Mom’s worldview. If this shadowy organization was so powerful, and they “chose” Ross Perot to be President, why wasn’t he? I brought this up to her a few times – mostly, it was outright ignored, as if I didn’t say anything at all. Sometimes it just pissed her off, and that wasn’t a good thing for anybody. So I kept my opinions to myself.

I auditioned for the Paper Mill Playhouse several times (it was the place I played Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird), and each time Mom was always annoyed when I wouldn’t get the part. I think she began to feel slighted and take it personally, but you can’t do that in this business. Regardless of how much someone may like you, if you’re not right for the part, you’re not right for the part. Anyway, I got called in to a last minute call to audition for the Wizard of Oz there – they needed someone to step into the role of the Mayor of Munchkin City. The current Mayor had gotten a gig in the new Twin Peaks movie and couldn’t turn it down. I auditioned, and they gave me the role. It was the same great director that I had worked with before, and I was thrilled. I think I got it in part because I was a quick study – they knew I’d do a good job and jump right in.

After the audition, Mom pumped me for information as per usual.

Mom: What did they say? How did they react to your performance? Did they laugh? Did they smile? Did they remember you? Do it for me just how you did it in there!

Her questions were normally exhausting, but I was on a high from doing so well on the audition.

There were quite a few kids in the production, and most were really nice. There was one kid who was rather rotund and had warts on his hands – the other kids called him Porky (yes, very original). I don’t remember his real name, I think it was Brian or something. Anyway, I was the only person who would talk to him and I took a lot of flak for it. For some reason I never understood, the other kids really didn’t like him. He was a little awkward, maybe, but he was nice. Regardless, Uncle Richard taught me to treat everybody the same and this kid was no exception. One day after a  matinée we all went to a diner  – the stage manager took us all to lunch pretty regularly. We all sat together except Brian – for some reason, whether of his own accord or because the other kids made him, he sat a booth away by himself. I decided to ask one of the more popular kids what the deal was.

Me: Why is Brian sitting alone?

Popular Kid: He’s gross, dude. He’s got warts on his hands.

Me: That’s it?

Popular Kid: He’s disgusting. He covers his food in cheese and ketchup. He’s a little pig.

Me: Well. What if I said I didn’t like you because of the fact that you’re tall?

Popular Kid: That’d be dumb.

Me: I know, right? It’s the same thing. We should all give him a chance.
The table got mostly quiet (or as quiet as a group of 10 year olds can get) and someone invited Brian over. The kid was thrilled. They started to include him in more and more things, and I was happy to see that by the end of the play he was part of the group.

I had to wear a blue wig, which I wasn’t very fond of – it was tight on my head and kind of stunk. I think mostly it was because I sweated a lot on stage (the costume was rather heavy and the lights were pretty hot), but it was still pretty gross. I also had to wear a blue mustache that they taped on – it kept falling off my face. I can’t tell you how often I either had to sing my part with my hand holding the tape firmly in place or just let it fall off altogether. The makeup guy would press it on my face back stage and sigh.
Makeup Guy: Try to keep it on today?

I told him I’d try. I’d say on a good day, there was a 50/50 shot of it falling off.

I think of all the plays I did, I was most attached to this one – I was older than I had been in the last play and I made a lot more friends. I worked with a lot of short people (I once called them dwarves and got corrected) who played munchkins. There was one older lady who was really sweet – I remember we always exited the stage together, arm and arm. I wasn’t very tall at that point, but she probably came up to my shoulder. She talked a lot about how there weren’t any “real roles” for short people, so when a play like this came along it was a big opportunity. The last night of the play, whenever something would happen I’d tell her “Well…that’s the last time we’re in Munchkin City.” or “Well, that’s the last time the corn pops up.” She’d nod a little sadly and pat me on the back.

Mom told everybody who would listen that we were related to Arthur Freed – the guy who produced Singin’ In The Rain and actually chose Judy Garland for The Wizard of Oz. I have no idea if any of this was true or not, but she claimed it was the case. She actually even got into a hot debate with an author who was doing a book on the making of the Wizard of Oz (the movie, I mean).
Author: Well, the Freeds were art dealers.

Mom: No, they were junk dealers! Nobody wanted their stuff!

Author: Well, everything I’ve ever read said they were art dealers. That’s interesting…

Mom: Well, those people are wrong.
The guy was gracious enough to give us a signed first edition of his book –  Mom lent him pictures (which I’m not sure he used) which supposedly had Arthur Freed in them.

 

 

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