“The Adventures Of Little Diego - Former Child Star” Chapter 6 - Part 1 of 3, ‘Growing Up.’
I primarily grew up in a middle class, white, predominantly jewish neighborhood in what was affectionately referred to by those who lived there as the ghetto of Beverly Hills. If you lived below, south of the railroad tracks, that was considered the poor side of town. Of course no one that lived there was actually poor, but poor relatively speaking.
Just to dispel the stereotype, not everyone that grows up in Beverly Hills is filthy stinking rich!
Filthy Stinking Rich Guy
We lived way, WAY down south below the tracks bordering LA. It was a great environment to grow up in. Kids could walk to and from school with their friends without parents fearing for their child's safety. You could run around the neighborhood in the evening without fear of something bad happening to you.
Me & My Friend Gary Skateboarding In Our Hood
I was one of two African Americans in my grade and 1 of a handful in the entire school. I’ve never been particularly out going, but because of my fame it allowed me to make friends easily as the kids would come up and introduce themselves. I never really had to reach out to make friends. People would always come up to me. Perhaps that's why my social skills are somewhat lacking today.
For the longest time the other kids would try to hook me up with our schoolmate Cheryl. Cheryl was also the only other African American in our grade. It was a time where there were still quite a few segregated schools in our nation. It's interesting how people seem to want to pair like colors up. Even at an early age. Our classmates were not trying to pair us up because we had common interests. They wanted to pair us up because we were both black.
Come to think of it, out of the handful of times friends have tried to hook me up in my lifetime, it has always been with an African American female my friends have wanted to set me up with. Don't get me wrong, I do love my African American sistahs, it's just interesting that nobody has ever tried to set me up with a woman outside of my own race. Cheryl was a great gal, and we became very good friends, but nothing more ever developed from our relationship.
Some Of The Other Peeps I Grew Up With And Cheryl
More More Peeps I Grew Up With... And Cheryl
When I was on the show I would be tutored on set with a studio teacher for three hours a day, and when we were on hiatus I would attend public school, so by the time the show ended the kids were used to me and I wasn’t being chased around the playground anymore. I probably learned more when I was on set with my studio teacher Ms. Helen Growkee. She was a wonderful woman who really cared a great deal about what she did, as I believe most people are who teach. Unfortunately, she has since passed.
Marc Copage, Helen Growkee, Michael Link
When I was doing the show I was only required to have three hours a day of schooling, but it was focused learning and pretty much individual attention with just me and my best friend on the show, Michael Link. It was great to spend the other part of the year in public school where I had a chance to be around and make friends with more kids my own age. Don’t get me wrong, my public school teachers were great too! 'Sarge' aka Mrs, Kramer the art teacher, Ms. Trafton. Mr. Phipps and Mr. Brown who would shoot hoops with us at recess and lunch break along with Leon the school custodian. It gave us kids great pleasure when they would join us! For some reason it made us feel more like men. And I think it also made the adults feel more like kids again.
Myself, Michael Link And Hank Brandt Who Played Michaels Father On The Show Taking A Basketball Break On Set Between Shots
It’s hard to beat teaching a student pretty much on an individual bases versus teaching a whole roomful of students where everyone has a different level of knowledge and capacity for learning.
So now I was back in school. Not just for part of the year, but full time with the exception of when I would book acting work. I was pretty much now just another one of the kids.
Page 2 - 8th Grade Class Photo
And More Peeps I Grew Up With... And Cheryl
There were a lot of families around me while growing up that had kids my age. The Kaplan’s, Weiss's, Schur’s, Jacobson’s, Salzberg’s, Aronson’s, Schoenfield’s, Berman's, Brien's, Berson's, Baum’s, Barnow's,Weiss's and Spitz’s. All within a 1 Block radius. Needless to say, there were a lot of kids to play with in our neighborhood. And directly across the street were the Bonofiglios’ an Italian American family in this predominantly jewish neighborhood. The Bonofiglios children consisted of two girls and four boys.
Italian American Family At Dinner Time
Maria was the eldest daughter and Mia was the youngest. Mia was the first, and perhaps only, baby I have ever held in my arms. I remember when her parents brought her home. She was the most precious thing. And Maria was beautiful. Michael, the eldest son, was my second best friend ever, the first being the Michael who co-starred with me on the “Julia” show.
Marc Copage and Michael Link
There was a period of time I ate dinner at The Bonofiglio's house just about every other evening. They were the big loving family I had always wanted in my life. Eventually the mother grew tired of it. I once heard her sarcastically say, thinking that I was out of ear shot, “doesn’t he have a home?” And who could blame her. I was literally there every day!
One of the perks of celebrity is that girls will come up and introduce themselves to you.
Some More Peeps From My Hood
Maria was no different. The day we moved in Maria came over and introduced herself. Everybody in the neighborhood knew that one of the stars of a popular television show had moved in. All I remember is that when I was called to the door she was standing there in these blue shorts with white roller skates on. She had great legs and a beautiful smile! She may have had two of her brothers with her, I can't remember for certain.
We must have been around 6 or 7 at the time. She invited me to come over and jump with her in her back yard on the families trampoline since I had told her I had no knack for skating. To this day I’ve never been any good on skates. Roller skates, ice skates, skateboards. I’m the one that’s always heading into a wall or fence with arms extended looking like a dear getting caught in the headlights. We'd jump on the families trampoline in the back yard and I would try to find ways to jump really, really close where we’d collide, tumble down, and roll around on the trampoline together. Of course when I’d catch her father peaking through the back screen door to check in on us, we’d quickly separate. But as soon as he left more jumping, tumbling, and rolling around would ensue. It was all quite innocent and playful.
You didn’t mess around with Papa Bonofiglio. The Bonofiglio’s ran a pretty strict catholic household. Every one of the kids had chores. Like clockwork dinner would be served at 6PM and when you heard Papa Bonofiglio’s very distinct whistle that could be heard throughout the entire neighborhood. If your last name was Bonofiglio you would drop what ever it was you were doing and get your behind home immediately! Capisce? I loved Papa Bonofiglio!
I don't know why I never tried to kiss Maria. Maybe too shy or intimidated. I don't know. She certainly would have made a nice little girlfriend. Maybe because I still wasn’t really used to the idea of women and intimacy in my life and I guess there’s a part of me that felt if I were to get too close to any female they would one day leave me. That much I felt I knew for certain.
Anyway, I had some great times growing up. Stopping to get fresh baked warm cinnamon rolls with Randy and Ray after little league practice at this wonderful place on La Cienega that was near the park where we had our baseball practice. Of course that place is now long gone. Accompanying my friends Larry and Michael on their paper routes and afterwards stopping by Foster Freezes for a chocolate dipped vanilla soft swirl. Those things were delicious!
Riding bikes through the neighborhood at night with my friends John, Michael, and Gary, and stealing tire valve stem caps off of cars to put on our bikes. I feel kind of bad about that as those caps cost somebody money. The rocket caps were the real find! Jumping the wall of the Academy on Wilshire to sneak in to see the movies they'd screen each week. Rendezvousing with the girls to meet up at Swensens Ice Cream Parlor on Cannon Drive. Thrifty's, for 10 cent ice cream cones and Factors Deli. Games of tag, hide & seek, truth or dare, and touch football with the other kids that lived on our block. I just wish I had chosen dare instead of truth all the time. Looking back, It certainly would have made things much more interesting.