When I was seven I had to perform “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” in a Manhattan condo for a superagent.
For many years I was a child actor and this was like a wound I was trying to heal. This was before my last gig, at seventeen, in a boarding school main stage production of Blithe Spirit, where as the lead I was so bad our largest audience capped out at twenty-three in an auditorium with a thousand seats. I still haven’t figured out why I was so poor at acting, except I remember in auditions my first take was always my best, so maybe knowing the lines hurt me. Or was it that every take was just bad? Still I remember the expression of that guy in New York in the small room with the large camera and no props, that without the camera running somehow I had nailed it, to both of our surprise. I could never love the camera, I could never make the camera my friend, though there is a photo of me at five hosting the Little Miss Peanut pageant, in some kind of weird old-man pose, one hand holding up the elbow of the other, backed by twenty five-year-old girls as if they were all my dates, waving to the camera—a still camera, but a camera still. That was in a Philadelphia TV studio, out on City Line Avenue, in 1966. I had a long, marginally successful career for someone so young and talentless. It’s a little bit like my writing life, only not at all. I did a knob hockey commercial with a kid who didn’t lift the seat when he used our restroom at the shoot, I did Philadelphia Eddie opposite Bill Bixby for a Courtship of Eddie’s Father series promo back when they wouldn’t fly Brandon Cruz across the country for such a thing, I was on Captain Noah and Sally Starr too many times; I dimly recall a check here and a check there, but I never saw any of the money; apparently my best performances were unscripted. So, I couldn’t act if I knew the lines and I couldn’t act if there were lines and I couldn’t act if anything was rehearsed. Years later I wrestled with this when giving readings from novels and stories; to rehearse or not to rehearse? Perhaps my strongest role was as a cast extra on The Warriors, a silent grease monkey who stared yearningly at a sage
screaming, “Can you dig it!” before we were all hurtled into a mob scene from which it was rumored there were actual gashes and fractures. Was that really me up on the big screen or was I on the cutting room floor? What if all acting were unrehearsed and unscripted, and we went about our roles never knowing what would come next? Performing to our purple voices against green screens, with only thumbnail sketches of ourselves to egg us on? “Be the egg,” someone would say, or perhaps they’d hand around three-by-five cards with “five foot nine and a half, hungry, jobless, falls in love easily but never stays around.” What if there were no such thing as television or cinema or live-streaming? And we were always naked, just searching for our god? I ask these questions seriously, I’m not acting or maybe I am, conversing with you on what might be the last days of our pandemic; I just wish there were no screen. All this acting still hurts.
Fred Leebron writes fiction and nonfiction and sometimes little pieces that he calls frictions, which he sees as expressing a tension between fiction and nonfiction. He has published novels, short stories and essays.