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“The Adventures Of Little Diego - Former Child Star” Chapter 3 - Part 2 of 2 - 'Child Star!'
I’d get chased around quite a bit when I went out in public. People constantly wanting autographs. It was difficult for me to eat when I went out. Sometimes it would turn into a mob scene particularly when visiting the Black communities. I remember visiting this one Sears store and I was literally chased around the entire store from floor to floor. It was like a bizarre game of hide and seek. I understand it better now as there weren't a lot of black kids on TV, particularly that were being portrayed in non-stereotypical roles so I guess I was a sort of role model for a lot of black kids of the era. Yes, I was a kind of rockstar!
During our hiatus I would attend public school. I would still do some promotion for the show on weekends. It was a bit embarrassing when the studio limousine would drop me off at school on a Monday after a promotional stint. Sometimes we would be coming straight from the airport. I would tend to want the limo to drop me off a block or so from school so the kids wouldn’t see me getting out of this big limo. At recess, the girls would chase me all around the playground. I did enjoy being chased around by the girls.
I met quite a few top celebrities at that time. Living legends like Carol Burnett, great lady, fond memories! Bill Cosby, uhm, not so fond memories. Sammy Davis Jr. who taught me how to tap dance the Times Step. Tommy and Dick Smothers, Buddy Hackett, Steve Allen, Dick Van Dyke all with whom I worked with! Great people and all big stars of their times!
The Smothers Brothers
Sammy Davis Jr.
Carol Burnett and myself
Diana Ross and myself
I nearly fell off the stage ducking from a kiss Diana Ross was trying to give me as I was presenting her an award at an NAACP awards show one year. I later got beat for that. I was asked to present an award to Ms Ross. It was nothing personal against Ms Ross, but I was at that age where I was uncomfortable being kissed by a woman I didn't know. It even took some time for me to warm up to Ms Carroll who played my mother on the show. In the beginning I would duck and run away from her kisses too. One, because I was at that age when boys didn’t particularly like girls, and two because there had been such an absence of female energy in my life it was just something I was not used to and made me a bit uncomfortable. The producers thought it would be a good idea for me to spend some time on the weekends at Ms Carrolls house so I’d get used to her and portraying her son would be believable. Their plan worked!
Diahann Carroll and myself
My father was furious with me over the Diana Ross incident and he beat me all the way home for it. It really put a damper on what otherwise would have been a wonderful and memorable evening. Something that could have been fondly remembered and laughed about in hindsight. How I almost fell off the stage trying to get away from a kiss from Diana Ross! That’s kind of funny. She was in the prime of her career. I’m sure there are a countless number of men who would have loved to have been in my shoes at that moment in time! Heck, I’d love to be back in my shoes at that moment in time!
I met Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five that evening! They were sitting a few tables over from us and this very quiet and non assuming boy comes over to me and asks me for my autograph. Michael Jackson and The Jacksons were my absolute idols! I had sung ‘ABC’ and ‘I Want You Back’ countless times around the house, along with many of their other hits, using an afro pick as my microphone. Those were also the very first two albums I ever owned!
Jackson 5 - "ABC"
Jackson 5 - "I Want You Back"
Michael Jackson was coming up to me and asking for my autograph and I hadn’t even noticed him in that moment because I was so distracted by my father talking in my ear, coaching me on what I should say when presenting the award to Diana Ross. When it was brought to my attention who it was that just came up to me and asked for my autograph I nearly peed my pants! I quickly ran over to their table and asked them all for autographs! Sad to say, I don’t have any of those autographs today. I’ve never really been one to collect autographs. Perhaps because I was asked for mine so much at such an early age. Autograph collecting just hasn’t been something I’ve ever particularly been interested in. With the exception of Michael Jackson it was always the sports figures I met that excited me the most anyway. Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali, Wilt 'The Stilt' Chamberlain! Meeting those guys really meant something to me! Don't get me wrong. When I got older I came to understand and realize how lucky I was to have worked with and met some incredible talents, but I was more into sports. Muhammad Ali showed me some really cool magic tricks and Wilt Chamberlain was the tallest human being I’d ever met in my life! It felt like I was looking down from the Empire State Building when I looked down sitting on his shoulders.
Muhammad Ali and Wilt Chamberlain
Me With Heavyweight Boxing Champion George Foreman
BTW, I don’t think I got what my father wanted me to say to Ms Ross right when presenting the award to her which may have irritated him as well.
I was also invited to the White House by President Nixon as a Christmas Seals Ambassador. That was very exciting!
Tricia Nixon gave my co-star and side kick on the show Michael Link and I a personal tour of The White House! She told me what a big fan she was of the show. I don’t know if she was just saying that or not, but she was quite enchanting all the same!
Pat Nixon, Richard Nixon, Tricia Nixon
As I mentioned, the producers of the show thought it would be a good idea for me to spend some time on the weekends at Ms Carrolls house to give the relationship believability. After all, kids don’t generally duck from kisses coming from their own mother.
Well it was quite a house she had! The first time I had ever been around such a palatial environment. Or at least it seemed palatial to me at the time. Though the success of the show allowed us to move into a middle class neighborhood in Beverly Hills, our home was nothing that could be compared to hers. Ms Carroll had quite a successful career already on Broadway, in films, and was also a popular recording artists that sold out shows in Vegas on a regular bases.
Nobody Sees Me Cry
She also owned part of the "Julia" TV series. I'm sure that was another first. For an African American actress to be part owner of a nationally syndicated TV show. 20th Century Fox owned 25%. NBC owned 25%. Hal Kanter the creator owned 25%. And Diahann Carroll owned 25% of the "Julia" TV show!
When we pulled up into the driveway there was a Rolls Royce, Bentley, and Mercedes in it and many other exotic cars in the garage. We rang the doorbell and her long time personal assistant answered the door. Great lady. It’s a shame I’m forgetting her name. Maybe it will come to me later. She really was such a sweet, kind, and wonderful person and I have such very fond memories of her! So her assistant escorts my father and I around towards the back of the house where Ms Carroll was receiving a facial and massage. Ms Carroll has always been one to take extremely good care of herself. She was aware of the importance of maintaining a good diet and exercise before that kind of knowledge and information became so mainstream. So my father dropped me off to stay for my first weekend with her.
Diahann and Me
I spent a lot of time with Ms Carroll and her daughter Suzanne during the taping of our first season of “Julia”. We’d go on all kinds of outings together. Picnics, BBQ’s. and pool parties. It was a different lifestyle. Much different than the middle class environments I was accustomed to. I was in the lap of luxury! More importantly, I wasn’t living with a lot of clutter all around me. It was the first time I felt like I was living in a home and not just residing in a house filled with a lot of clutter. Even if it was just on weekends.
Diahann's daughter, Suzanne, and Me.
Over the course of time I started to actually believe that Diahann was my real mother. During the week I would stay with my father and the weekends with Ms Carroll. I started to look at Ms Carrolls daughter, Suzanne, as my real sister. Unfortunately, the feeling was not mutual. Suzanne began to see me as a threat and didn't want me around. She wanted her mother all to herself. And who could blame her? If I were in her position perhaps I wouldn't want to share my mother with anybody either.
Diahann Carroll, her daughter Suzanne and Me
As the show progressed and my fan mail increased my father would get me to the set later and later. The AD’s (assistant directors) on the show would all be standing in front of the sound stage looking at their watches as we pulled up late. There were two or three episodes that I was written out of the show. Or perhaps I should say my character wasn’t included in that weeks episode. Each time the fans immediately responded. I was greatly missed. My role was integral to the shows success and my father new that. I think he got a bit of pleasure making everyone wait with my increasing tardiness the last year of the show. It made me very uncomfortable to see how this effected everyone. Our first AD, Richard Lang, used to be this bright red when we pulled up late and I'm sure that's what contributed to his ulcers. To this day I get physically sick whenever I’m late for anything. I generally will leave way early giving myself plenty of time to get to wherever I need to be.
I will add that perhaps I started to become a bit of a brat that last year of the show as well. I can vividly recall getting out of a limo one day greeted by adoring fans. I was wearing a suit that had been custom made and hand tailored for me by a designer and sporting some name brand sunglasses as an accessory. I can vividly recall that moment. I got out of the limousine, looked around and out at the crowd and thought to myself, 'I am Da Shitz!' It was at that moment I thought I owned the world!