The first time I made a guy perform in drag was in the fourth grade. Our teacher let us perform skits in class. And we always got bigger laughs if I made my best friend David wear a wig and play a girl.
After school, David and I would ride our psychedelic skateboards down a bumpy hill on his street. Then we'd go inside and play Pong (before it was retro), occasionally switching the TV back to Showtime, hoping to see some nudity or violence. Then we'd go into his bedroom and play his pachinko machine while listening to the Bay City Rollers on 7" vinyl.
By the sixth grade, for the Bicentennial, I starred in a frothy propaganda piece called This Is Your Life, Uncle Sam. I'd originally been cast as one of the Charleston dancers, but maneuvered my way into the lead role. I was only twelve, so I don't think it involved a casting couch. Maybe it was my good reviews playing the head elf in the Christmas play.
They made me sit in the audience with the parents. And they tried to make me look like the classic I WANT YOU FOR U.S. ARMY poster. Dressed from head to toe in red, white, and blue, with a fake beard even. And I had to act surprised when the emcee called me to the stage, recreating the old show where they cart out “celebrities” and review their illustrious careers. Except in this case, we recounted America’s history in song and dance.
I was a little self-conscious on opening night because I’d chipped my front tooth playing baseball, and that afternoon, my crown came off, and there wasn’t time to go to the dentist. Looking back, I should have dabbed a little library paste on it, and pushed it back in. So for most of my performance, especially when I sang with the barbershop quartet, I kept it down a notch so my tooth wouldn’t fly out.
I rounded out that school year as host of Parkwood Elementary’s talent show. The PTA ladies were almost as ambitious as I was, tacking an International Fashion Show onto the ticket. And I endured modeling a kimono because I was allowed to present my original play as the grand finale.
My stage version of Superman debuted two years before the Christopher Reeve movie. But our special effects were no less spectacular. After school, I gathered my cast (all three of us) to build props. The guy who played the villain had a refrigerator carton (his dad worked at an appliance store) which we turned into a phone booth. Another carton became a cage. We cut out a window, and added steel bars—sections of garden hose we sprayed with metallic paint. And with gray paint, and lots of paper maché, we created a realistic looking boulder.
In ACT ONE, Lois Lane comes into Clark Kent’s office at the newspaper and tries to seduce him. So of course, I put David Parker back in a wig so he could play Lois. And it’s funny that I felt self-conscious in a kimono, but had no problem letting parents see me let a male classmate give me a sexy neck rub.
In ACT TWO, David got to play a second character, again in drag. But this time, it’s a boozy old lady who talks endlessly on the pay phone. Clark needs the phone booth to change into Superman so he can save the abducted Lois Lane. So he yanks the old lady out of the booth, pulling big laughs out of the audience.
In ACT THREE, I got to tear the garden hose metal bars off our cage, making a big show of bending them like iron rods. And then I picked up the boulder, crushed the villain, and lived happily ever after with Ms. Lane.
After the show David’s mother said she overheard someone in the audience say, “I think that was the same girl who played both parts.”
So, Everything I Needed To Learn About Show Business I Learned, not in Kindergarten, but In The Sixth Grade. And who would guess, twenty years later, when I made my feature film, La Cage Aux Zombies, that the budget and production values wouldn’t be much different.
[from the upcoming Videoteur.]