John Cusack and the Hollywood Redemption

My story of Hollywood failure begins long before I ever tread The Walk of Fame or worked background on a TV show; it begins with me as a lonely only child watching one old movie after another and dreaming of a day when I would escape the constant bickering of my paranoid parents.

I would watch Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, I knew the lyrics to every song in every musical. I tried to teach myself to dance.  I went through a period of wanting to be a boy, it wasn’t a gay thing; boys got all the meaty parts. I watched The Graduate over and over again and imagined a day when I would play someone just like Benjamin Braddock.

It is not unusual for a child (or anyone else) to want to be an actor. Almost everyone has at one time or another wanted to be somebody else. Who wouldn’t want a job where you have the rapt attention of an audience? Who wouldn’t want someone to cheer for them when they performed their job correctly? But, to me there was a deeper appeal; acting offered something that life didn’t – a resolution.  Oh, I’m not talking about a happy ending. I grew up in the seventies and few films or plays offered the happy ending.  I just longed for some kind closure as a kid.

Although my parents fought endlessly they never got divorced. When the other kids at school taunted me, I wanted the director to yell cut so I could wipe the tears away and take a bow for my heartfelt performance. I had just enough interest in science to want to play a doctor. I had enough passion for justice to want to play a lawyer, although I would never have the intelligence or patience to be one in real life.   I wanted that harrowing scene in the courtroom where everything was changed by my words. I wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein, I wanted the glory of exposing the bad guy, but I didn’t want to have to do all the leg work and research it would take to accomplish this – I didn’t have enough interest in anything for that. I wanted the thrill of the catch!

Growing up in Chicago offered a wealth of opportunities for a young acting hopeful. My parents grudgingly enrolled me in The Jack and Jill school of Acting. It was pretty well know as Harvey Korman from The Carol Burnett show had studied there as a child. I played a lost boy in the production of Peter Pan. The teacher seemed to think I had potential and I was good at line memorization. When we moved to Evanston I enrolled in the famed, Piven Theater Workshop (Jeremy’s dad owned it). Where I took improv classes. The teacher always seemed to like what I did, but I was never picked to be in any of their shows. You see I looked just a bit different than a typical actress looked.

I grew into a rather unfortunate physic. Although blonde and blue eyed my head had grown into a strange square shape. I was chubby and flat-chested. At the age of twelve I had child bearing hips and hair that was baby fine and riddled with cowlicks. I just wasn’t believable as a leading lady. Leading ladies tended to be the romantic interest of the leading man. The seventies open the door for unconventional looking actors as long as they were male.

A man could be interesting and attractive if he was funny and smart. So long as one possessed these qualities, one could obtain the virtually interchangeable “girl”. Think I’ve being glib? I give you The Paper Chase, The Graduate, The Verdict, Annie Hall ,  Atlantic City, The Conversation, The Godfather and on and on. They were all masterpieces and they were all had unconventional looking male anti-hero’s.

I wasted a good amount of my time wishing I were pretty and trying to make the transformation happen – it never did. In high-school my classmates included Jeremy Piven, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, and Steve Pink.  John was Jeremy’s best friend and a star in Piven Theater Workshop Productions. John Hughes discovered John and John and his sister got parts in all his movies. John secured parts for several of his friends in these films. Eventually they would follow him to Hollywood where Jeremy and Joan would appear in his films and Steve would act as a producer.

So if I was so interested in acting and I knew John Cusack, an actor famous for making his friends stars , why didn’t I simply befriend Mr. Cusack? Well tall, dark handsome boys don’t generally hang with goofy looking chicks, who have learning disabilities and two friends; Jeremy would occasionally even taunt me. I got to watch as John and his crew became more famous and live out my dream.

I moved to Denver and went to college for a bit, but I could never really feign an interest in my studies. As an adult I took to writing screenplays. It was my goal to write roles for female characters who were not pretty. I wrote one about an unattractive young woman who gets revenge on her cruel classmates. I sent it around and managed to get an agent, but she dumped me when she couldn’t sell it.

Eventually, I would decide to head to Los Angeles, in spite of everything I still had to try and see if I could change things in a way that might benefit women like me. On my strange journey I would encounter an illiterate producer who would option a screenplay of mine for no money and an indefinite period of time, a theater owner who resembled comic bookstore guy on The Simpsons, a Willy Lomanesque porn star, the dumbest “intellectual” I ever met, a delusional Script Analyst, two slumlords, a plethra of incompotent but cute business people, a real life Broadway Danny Rose, the worst actress in the world and many, many a religious zelot.  I would  be taken advantage of in a way I thought only happened in the movies and lied to by people who considered lying a sport.

In spite of everything I don’t regret my time in LA, it gave me a great story to tell, so sit back and get ready for a tale that gets curiouser or and curiouser.

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