“The Adventures Of Little Diego - Former Child Star” Chapter 2 - 'Look Ma, I'm On TV!'
Look Ma, I'm On TV!
In spite of my early, but brief appearance in the movie “Tammy And The Doctor” at six weeks of age, my next gig in the biz didn’t come until some five years later. I really wasn’t some kid trying to break into show-business who had been going out on auditions at that point. My next gig did however turn out to be a really big one! My father was an actor.
I was with him when he stopped by to see his agent one day to drop off some new head shots. The agent saw me and thought I would be perfect for the role of the son in a new pilot that was being cast for 20th Century Fox Studios that was to be aired over the NBC television network.
At first, I didn't want to audition for the role. There were quite a number of kids auditioning for this role, but I just wasn't interested in being on TV.
All those who were involved knew the show was going to have quite an impact! "Julia" was going to be the first television show to star a non-stereotypical, independent African American female in the title role! Up until this point, African American women were primarily portrayed in the media playing subservient roles as Mammy’s and domestic servants.
This show was going to be ground breaking television! however, I had no idea and really was not interested in being on TV. I was quite happy just being a kid. I didn't need to be a kid on television.
With some gentle prodding from both the agent and my father, I was convinced to go out on the audition.
Marc Copage John Copage
The show was written, created and produced by one man at a time when shows were not written, produced and created by committees. A man that had written and produced shows for many of Hollywoods greatest entertainers during their prime. Bob Hope, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lewis, Lucille Ball. Legendary entertainment figures.
Hal Kanter Directing Elvis Presley
The man who created the show would turn out to be a Hollywood legend himself. He's had a long and very successful career in hollywood with producing and writing credits that have spanned over 60 years. Some of these people and shows may not mean anything to some of my readers, but they were huge and very popular in their time. "The George Gobel Show", "The Jimmy Stewart Show", "The Milton Berle Show", "Chico And The Man", "All In The Family". He was also one of the head writers for the Academy Awards show for over thirty years. ironically enough, he wrote for the ever so popular "Amos 'N Andy" television show.
Amos 'N Andy
I affectionately came to refer to him as “Uncle Hal”. He was a very sweet and dear soul who has since passed on.
From the moment I first met him, I’m told I was his choice for the role of the son. Once again, at first I didn't want to do it. I just wasn't interested in being on TV! Prior to this job, I was a non-actor with no acting credits other than my brief appearance in the movie “Tammy and The Doctor” as an infant. I had no ambitions or desires what so ever of entering the entertainment arena. Perhaps that is what he was looking for. With some gentle prodding, once again, I was convinced into doing it. For whatever reasons it seems to have been my destiny. It seems to have been my fate.
There was a lot going on in the country around the time “Julia” premiered. It was a very turbulent period in our nations history. A whole social revolution was going on. A demand for more freedom and rights for minorities and women. The Vietnam War. An anti-war movement. Marches, protests, riots, hippies, a sexual revolution, a questioning of authority and the government, and the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Emerging groups like The Black Panthers that reflected a growing militancy within numerous segments of African American communities.
The Black Panther Party For Self Defense
Martin Luther King Jr.
Film and television have always been safe ways for Americans to deal with race. A way for mainstream society to have ‘a conversation’ about race in a non threatening way.
Sydney Portier with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Houghton
“Julia” premiered at a time you had a very minimal amount of Blacks represented on television and film in general. Predominantly they were images of ‘The Magic Negro’. Negros that appeared to be quite happy cast in their roles of servitude.
Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson with Shirley Temple
It was a year of turmoil, a year of tragedy, and a year of change. Just prior to the shows premiere 67% of all African American children still attended segregated schools.
“Julia” represented hope. “Julia” represented change. Yet, Julia was still a non-threatening enough role model to be consumed by the american public.
The whole thing was a bit odd and rather ironic. Here I was cast in the role of a child being brought up solely by his mother without a father, who was in reality being brought up solely by his father without a mother.
I sometimes wonder if my real mother ever knew that I was a famous TV star? Upon my mother and father's divorce, a good three years before the premiere of “Julia”, I'm told my mother moved to live in Italy. I wonder if she ever knew that I was on a hit television show that was watched by millions? That the show debuted at #1 in the Neilson ratings and for a period of time was one of the nations most watched television shows? There are not a lot of people on the planet who can say that. I wonder if my real mother ever knew?