California Dreamin’

 My Real Memoir

During my sophomore year at our SoCal suburban high school, influenced by the star of my favorite TV show, I became our school’s unofficial Dick Van Dyke, its most prodigious practitioner of pratfalls and double-takes. But was I a “real actor?” Music alone brought out my serious side. Moody Mitch would emerge every time, between-classes, the school PA would play “The Sounds of Silence” or “California Dreamin’.”

I was, after all, a dreamer.

Blind Alley, our winter Drama production about a college professor whose family is taken hostage by a mentally unstable gang leader, starred our real actors, all of whom I admired immensely. Dan, who played the professor, oozed humanity (years later I ran into him serving as a much-loved high school principal). Paula, who played his wife, was my intellectual, if not romantic, soul mate, and one of the most gifted actors I’ve ever known. And Mike, who played the unbalanced killer, was a talented but thoroughly undomesticatable fellow who seemed unlikely to pursue any “normal” profession; to my great surprise, I learned he eventually became a successful brain surgeon (perish the thought of being treated by an “unsucessful” brain surgeon)!

Still, my love of satire abided. I was, after all, the guy whose first foray into writing and directing was a spoof of a casket commercial for the Sixth Grade Talent Show. So it’s not surprising that, along with the Dick Van Dyke Show, my other favorites, Batman, The Addams Family and Get Smart, were all parodies (interestingly, some years later I became close friends with Get Smart star Don Adams’s daughter).

And so I was thrilled when Mr. Baker cast me as the leprechaun Og in Finian’s Rainbow, Broadway’s famous anti-racism musical satire. Ironically, since our school had no African American students, white kids played the Black roles in wigs and make-up (what can I say, it was the 60s). Mike from Blind Alley, with his own Greek features and tight black curls, was particularly convincing.

Despite catching walking pneumonia and passing out cold during a rehearsal (it seemed I was destined to lose consciousness at least once during every musical I did), I loved the experience. I loved doing cast and crew sandwich runs to our little burb’s surprisingly authentic German and Italian delis. I loved helping our talented art teacher Miss DeJulio, “DJ,” build a massive oak tree that dominated the stage and got its own round of applause every night. This included a heavily reinforced tree limb from which, at first blending unseen into the leaves, I would suddenly appear in a backward death drop. Thinking I’d fallen, the audience would gasp, and then applaud as I went straight into my opening line. This scene inspired DJ’s beautiful program design (above).

I also loved walking into Shakey’s pizza parlor in our little all-white suburb, after the opening night performance. I entered, still wearing sparkly green eye shadow, arm-in-arm with a Black man (thoroughly-undomesticatable Mike). Somehow, it felt like an extension of the play’s message.

When I received my Best Supporting Actor award at our end-of-the-year Drama banquet, I said, “Even if I get an Oscar or a Tony, it won’t mean more to me than this!” And it wouldn’t have, if I’d ever gotten either of those awards, much less the full EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). I apparently did have a full EGO, however. Mr. B informed me a short time later that he’d be casting me in some small unshowy roles, just to keep me humble…

And dreaming.

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to California Dreamin’

  1. Pingback: Learning How to Kiss | Mitch Teemley

  2. Ana Daksina says:

    Casket ad? I believe we memorized something similar in my High School forensics team (Theater Department minus a little sparkle and plus all the potentials for soulless corporate lethality)… Let’s see…

    “Learn to become DEAD, in your own home, in your own spare time! Yes, folks, you’ll join millions of satisfied customers who’ll never worry about a headache again! So remember ~ order before midnight tonight and we’ll include our free, special, two page pamphlet on how to commit SEWERCIDE by flushing yourself DOWN THE TOILET!!!…”

    Liked by 3 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      Clever sketch, Ana! Our sixth grade commercial was a strictly slapstick ad for coffins, with a “dead person” chasing someone around the stage, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ana Daksina says:

        Haha, in my thirties I hung out sometimes with the happy weirdos of Sacramento’s Trash Film Orgy. They’d always make the midnight feature some total classic like “Faster, Pussy Cats, Kill, Kill!” ~ during which the prevailing art form was actually creative audience heckling. Lobby features included the guy kneeling under the table cloth with just his head sticking up through the lettuce on a platter, a live-body version of that old game “Operation,” that sort of thing. They were famous for putting their live stage pre-show together in an hour or less, right there before opening up. LOTS of blood bags, mad scientists and, yes, homicidal zombified corpses… 🤣

        Liked by 2 people

      • mitchteemley says:

        Sounds like a hoot!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Now that I think about it, yes, you’d make a perfect Og.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gary Fultz says:

    I marvel at what becomes of our “least likely to…” high school friends.
    I was least likely to say 10 words in public by my teachers. Im glad God uses us in ways beyond

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Love these memoirs, Mitch. Your memory for details astounds me. But once you mention the best actors of your H.S. drama department, the most/least likely to succeed, the best deli in town, etc., names and places from my own high school years come to mind. Thanks for the memories! (I just might have to drag out MY yearbooks!)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Jeff Cann says:

    I thought you were far younger than the Dick Van Dyke show and Get Smart, Clearly I botched your age big time. I worked 6 summers in HS and college at Shakeys Pizza. Formative years. It was *the place to go* in Rockville MD in the 70s.

    Liked by 2 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      Like the KFC chicken recipe, my age is a closely guarded secret, Jeff.
      And, yep, Shakey’s was a pretty swingin’ place back then. I mean, long tables full of people singing “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do…” to the accompaniment of a tack piano. How groovy can you get! ;>)

      Liked by 2 people

  7. The first award is always the one you will remember. The first achievement acknowledged but others, means the world to us, no matter how old we are.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I really wish I would’ve been a student at your school back then. You must have been such a character. Well, maybe not much has changed… Love your stuff, Mitch!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Ann Coleman says:

    Apparently, we had the same taste in TV shows back in the day….. But good for you for recognizing the importance of the need for change, and how a good satire can be both funny and educational. And for having the courage to get on stage and act! (Something I would never have done.)

    Liked by 2 people

  10. You had the discipline to write your pen pal a letter even when you thought you didn’t have much to report-but you wrote about the “not much” for two full pages. That ability must come from ad-libbing. Good job, Mitch!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Discover and Explore says:

    Wow, another great trip to your past. Your ability to write so well, is like a magic Time Machine that allows us and you to relive a piece of your sensational past! Thank you

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Pingback: Disneyland: My Second Home | Mitch Teemley

  13. Jennie says:

    I always enjoy your memoirs, Mitch.

    Liked by 1 person

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