Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Daytime TV and Dynasty

As I grew older, my interest in Gary Coleman dissipated (the attraction wore off) and my attention turned toward the seductive and sultry world of soap operas.

With three older sisters, it was difficult not to become influenced by or involved in their interests (see below…Barbie dolls, batons and basketball cheers!) Anyway, when I was in the first grade, my sister Christine decided one day to pay a visit to Port Charles and the entire family soon followed, quickly becoming addicted to “General Hospital.” I was captivated day one and from that point on, I could not cope without my soap. It was the late 70’s; Laura Webber had recently been accused of accidentally killing her boyfriend, but in an attempt to protect her daughter, Dr. Leslie Webber took the blame and went to jail for the crime. While Leslie sat in the slammer, Laura fell in love with Scotty Baldwin, who was slammin! (At least that was my point of view.)

Scotty was an all-American blonde haired, blue-eyed boy from a good family, his mother Gail was a doctor and his father Lee was an attorney. Scotty had just passed the bar exam himself when he asked Laura to marry him one fateful Christmas Eve as they decorated the Webber’s Christmas tree. Scotty placed the star atop the tree and a ring on Laura’s finger. It was incredibly romantic as Laura began shedding tears of joy expressing how she had always dreamed of this moment; decorating the tree with the man she loved and who she would spend the rest of her life with.

However, true to soap opera form, their love would inevitably die much like that once fresh Christmas tree they decorated that afternoon. Shortly after they were married, bad-boy Luke Spencer came to town, opened a disco, hired Laura to work for him and then one nefarious night decided to rape her right there on the dance floor. They soon fell madly in love (but of course), running off together to escape Frank Smith, the local mob boss, who they would eventually take down, only to triumphantly return to Port Charles for the wedding of the century (30 million viewers watched that afternoon in November of 1981.) Luke and Laura would later save the town of Port Charles from the evil Cassadine family and the Ice Princess, which threatened to freeze the entire city. Talk about excitement, nothing like that ever happened in Queens!

By the time I was in the fourth grade, I was a soap fanatic with my “General Hospital” t-shirt, notebook and scrapbook, which tracked every single character and cast member. I dreamed of one day being on “General Hospital” arriving in Port Charles as a distant relative of the wealthy Quartermaine family. Then I discovered the lavish lives of the Carrington clan on “Dynasty” and that became my newest obsession and escape from the common, narrow-minded world of Queens.

“Dynasty” was pure decadence and debauchery and I loved every minute of it! The Carrington’s lives were full of murder and mayhem, catfights and caviar, and hookers and homosexuals. The later of which peeked my interest the most.

Steven Carrington was the first gay man I ever knew. He was sensitive yet seductive with his blonde hair and blue eyes, tall yet timid, conflicted yet courageous, wealthy and hot as hell. HELLO! Forget Arnold Jackson, I wanted to be just like Steven Carrington; wealthy, blonde, beautiful and gay…or at least find a boyfriend just like him.

Steven’s life, much like my own, was met with difficulty due to the fact that he was the only son, gay, and the heir to the “Dynasty” fortune. (Okay, so maybe there’s no fortune for me to inherit, but can’t a boy dream?)

Steven was the outcast of the family wanting little to do with the family oil business while his father, Blake, wanted nothing to do with his homosexual ways. Their relationship was strained to say the least, but became much worse when Blake accidentally killed Steven’s lover, Ted Dinard. After discovering Ted in Steven's bedroom, Blake pushed him away from his son, sending him crashing into the fireplace and smashing his head on the base. Poor Steven, could you imagine?

Steven would later succumb to his father’s demands and marry his step-mother Krystle’s low-class, common, money hungry whore of niece Sammy Jo (expertly portrayed by Heather Locklear), then ended up with crazy Claudia when Sammy Jo left town to become and actress, before finally settling down with men again and dating Luke Fuller, (actor Billy Campbell) who was even dreamer than Steven. However, much like Ted, Luke met an untimely demise as well at the wedding of Steven’s sister Amanda during the now infamous Moldavian massacre.

Steven’s life may have looked glamorous from the outside, but it was pure drama on the inside. No thanks.

Two years ago, I actually visited Filoli, the mansion used in the opening credits of “Dynasty” and where they shot the first three episodes, in northern California with my ex-boyfriend. (Who come to think of it, was somewhat like Steven.) As we roamed the halls and grounds of Filoli, it was a dream come true. I ran up and down the staircase giving my best Carrington impersonation and posed for photos in the ballroom where Blake married Krystle. It was amazing. I felt like a kid in a candy store, reliving a portion of my childhood and all those fantasies I had of one day growing up to become rich and famous like a Carringtion. Well, I may never be a Carrington, but I think I still have plenty of time to become rich and famous.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Whatchoo talkin' bout Vincent?

Growing up I had plenty of friends, but my best friend of all was the television set. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by that little box my parents referred to as the “boob tube”. It all just seemed so magical to me, the way these people came to life inside that set and inside our home. It was a world I desperately wanted to be a part of, one that seemed larger than life and so extraordinary.

Back in the late seventies when I was growing up, we only had three major networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS. Well, I was literally the walking TV Guide. I knew every show on every channel, every night of the week in every time slot. When my parents or sisters wanted to know what was on TV, I’d ramble off all their viewing options as if I were reciting my own name. It was quite a talent, and considering this was before the advent of the remote control; I saved them plenty of time from standing around turning the dial and adjusting the rabbit ears just to see what was on.

While most young boys my age spent endless hours watching “Starsky & Hutch”, “Chips” or “The Dukes of Hazard” my favorite TV shows were “I Love Lucy”, “Laverne & Shirley” and “Different Strokes.” I loved the comedies and I loved Gary Coleman, I wanted to be just like him! (Yes, at eight I dreamt of growing up to be a short black man.)

Honestly though, there was something about Gary Coleman (a.k.a. Arnold Jackson) that just resonated with me. I wanted to be him. I wanted to be the center of attention, the one who always made everyone laugh, who always had the funniest line, the one who was always trouble but never “got in” trouble. I wanted to be the kid who lived in a penthouse apartment and dropped water bombs off the balcony or stole cookies from the bottomless cookie jar, who hung with the housekeeper and who always had an exciting adventure or trick up his sleeve. Arnold Jackson was my peer, my colleague and my roll model.

Arnold always put a smile on my face and made me laugh. We got along splendidly and always had fun together and whenever he uttered that infamous phrase; “Whatchoo talkin’ bout?” I just loved it and I loved him! (Come on, admit it…you wanted to squeeze those cherubic cheeks of his as well!) After seeing Gary on TV, I begged my mother to take me into Manhattan for auditions so I could become an actor just like Gary Coleman. I called information asking for a listing in Burbank, California (I knew that’s where NBC was located) under the name Coleman, Gary. I never got the number, but my father located an address at NBC and the letter writing began.

I wrote to Gary asking for an autographed photo, telling him I wanted to grow up to be just like him and asking for career advice. Each time I wrote, I’d receive the same standard black and white postcard with a note from Gary on the back. When I received the first one I was convinced it was for real, but as the others began to arrive, I realized it was just a form letter.

Each postcard was addressed “Dear Fan, ” Gary would thank me for my support and for watching his show and then signed it “Sincerely Yours, Gary Coleman.” I didn’t even care that the cards weren't original, personally signed cards. I was just thrilled to receive something from Gary, delighted in knowing that he received my letter and kindly asked his assistant to mail me a postcard, which I hung on my bedroom wall and admired daily.

My sister Jacqueline and I shared a bedroom back then. While the walls on her side of the room were covered with photos of Scott Baio and Leif Garrett, the walls on my side of the room were covered with photos of Gary Coleman!

About six years ago during a commercial audition, the casting director explained the audition process, she was just going to ask a simple question. As she pulled four of us into the room, she lined us up in chairs, I was last in line. She started on the left side of the room and asked the first guy a question: “What’s your favorite band?” I thought about it and immediately had my own answer – REM. The second guy’s question was: “When was your first kiss?” I thought this is easy, the sixth grade, a girl named Michelle. The third guy’s question was: “What’s your favorite sport?” Again, I thought how easy – baseball, the New York Mets. Then my question came: “Who was your hero growing up?”


I was completely dumbfounded, thoroughly shocked and for once in my life rendered speechless. “My hero? What do you mean by hero? How old are we talking? My hero at five or my hero at ten?” I asked completely perplexed.

The casting director repeated the question once again and I still had no answer. The other three guys just sat there staring at me like I was an idiot with an expression on their faces that read; “Dude, you blew it.” Then she rephrased the question in an attempt to make it easier for me and inquired; “Whose poster was above your bed growing up?” Without hesitation, I erupted with my answer. "Gary Coleman!”

She looked at me in horror and mockingly said; “Whatchoo talkin’ bout Vincent?” I knew immediately my competition was right, I blew it. She thought I was pulling a fast one on her, but I assured her I wasn’t kidding. Growing up, I did have a big blue poster above my bed with the full-length image of Gary Coleman on it. The audition ended, and although I never booked the job, I walked out of there thinking at least I gave an honest and authentic answer, and at the very least they would remember me. After all, what other white boy from Queens would admit Gary Coleman was his childhood hero? March 1980, my 9th birthday celebrated with a Gary Coleman cake!