A truly great inspirational lady

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

Today marks the 10th anniversary of my mother’s passing, amazing that the time went by so quickly, and even more amazing that my dad, who was older than her, is still around, though he seems to have forgotten that she’s gone. I got to see her four days before she died, at which time her bladder cancer had spread throughout her entire body, and she was unable to swallow. Her weight was down to about 80 pounds, or less than six stone, for any Brits reading.

My mother is unquestionably the reason I got into show business, though she never went professional in any capacity. She was a very talented pianist, violinist, writer, and actress, but was content to just treat those skills as hobbies. She was more content either working in libraries or teaching, which she did up until about five years before her death at age 81. Highly intelligent, she graduated high school at age 15, and got her B.A. by age 19, despite being raised in a rural village in West Virginia where there was little outside culture to absorb. Interesting too, that she never learned to do certain basic things, like ride a bike, swim, snap her fingers, or whistle. She was also a terrible driver.

As a mom, she was certainly a guiding force, but as a kid, I often felt what she put forward for me was creating the consummate nerd. In most of my primary school years, she had me involved in church boys’choir, Cub Scouts, and school orchestra playing the cello. Incredible that I was never beaten up for any or all of the above. In all three cases, I was truly into them at first, but my interest level would wane after a year or so. Scouts I was able to quit by age ten, but boys choir, which I started hating the first year, was stuck with me for five years, only remedied by our family switching churches.

The cello was the toughest nut to crack, hanging onto it continually until I started high school at age 14. By then I’d been playing it six years, and was becoming more aware of how hard it was to convince your peers that you’re cool when they see you playing cello at school assemblies. If I hadn’t been fairly good at it, I’m sure she’d have let me give it up sooner. It was only when I decided I wanted to try studying drama that she let me put the cello aside.

Well, I took a drama class, and toward the end of the school year our class put on a couple of one-act plays. My shyness didn’t help me at all, as I could only land the part known as “Young Boy,” with all of four lines. The amount of ribbing my dad gave me over the next few months was pretty constant, often mimicking my wooden delivery of such profound words as “How do you do.” So the acting aspirations were pretty well stymied, even though I learned a lot in the class, and one semester, even got an A.

Coming to my second year of high school, my mom was able to have a chance to work with my curriculum, and once she told me that, I immediately guessed that she’d signed me back into the orchestra playing the cello again after a year off. This was not a good time to be bringing that back into my life, as I was skinny with a big nose and bad acne, being enough of a target for verbal abuse as it was. I sure didn’t need any further reasons to be messed with in gym class, but whatever ill feelings the young dudes had for me were exemplified by that cumbersome instrument. Plus there was only one other boy cellist in the orchestra, one pre-pubescent boy named Bernie Feldman (the name pretty much sums it up) who looked about ten.

My musical salvation came when a friend of the family was at the house, and noticed a guitar that my parents had gotten me the previous Christmas, but I hadn’t settled into really playing it yet. He showed me how to play a few chords, and encouraged me to sing as I played. It dawned on me that from playing the cello and singing in the choir, I knew a whole shitload about music that I hadn’t really applied yet. Just from three chords, I realized I could play half the songs on the radio, as I had near perfect pitch, so I could tell if a song was in A or C or whatever. I formed my first band within three months of picking up the guitar for the first time.

With that, I was fulfilling some of the musical ambitions my mother had for me, and the next year, we left Tucson for Redlands, California, where I could have a fresh start on my remaining two years of high school. As we were working out my schedule, I told her the cello was not in the mix, that I in fact wanted to pursue a career with the guitar. She complied, and actually took me to the local guitar shop and bought me a decent Gibson guitar and a Fender Vibrolux amplifier. She agreed that, while I wasn’t playing the music she was hoping I’d be playing, at least I wasn’t wasting the musical ability I’d inherited. And to appease her a bit, I also willingly joined a church choir!

Within two years after high school graduation, I was making a living with that same guitar and amp she bought me. It may have been an awkward road to travel, but I found a career in show biz that I don’t think I’d have aspired to had it not been for my mom believing I had some smidgen of talent. I even got to act on a couple of TV shows, and though my acting still sucked, I got paid, and continue to get paid for a couple of them. When I arrived in San Francisco last week, there was a residual check for $8.94 (after tax) for my share of royalties on sales of a DVD box set of “Mork & Mindy,” even though I only appeared in one of the 80 or so episodes. And when I taped that episode 34 1/2 years ago, my mom was most proudly in the studio audience.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.