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“The Adventures Of Little Diego - Former Child Star” Chapter 6 - Part 3 of 3, ‘Growing Up.’
My father favored sports for me like golf and tennis where you could meet people who could help you in your career. Great idea, but an angle that never really worked for me as I’m not one of the most out going or social people by nature. I played in several celebrity tennis tournaments and even got sponsored by Adidas and Dunlap. It was pretty cool to be able to get free stuff!
I did get to hang out with Gladys Knight, her daughter Kenya, and Glady’s brother Bubba for about six days in Arizona at a celebrity tennis tournament. It didn’t lead to any work, but I had a great time with them! Bubba was a riot! We played a lot of tennis together. I had recently gotten my drivers license so Kenya and I would cruise the town. I think someone from their family was trying to get us together but I'm not certain. Kenya was a great gal! We had a lot of fun though it was never more than platonic.
Glady's Knight With Son Jimmy And Daughter Kenya
I grew up listening to Billy Joel, Elton John, and Barry Manilow. They were all major influences in motivating me to learn to play the piano. I wanted to play and sing like them! If I could just learn do that, then maybe I could get the girl!
Barry Manilow - Weekend In New England Live Performance
However, most of the bruthus around my age, that didn't grow up in Beverly Hills, were listening to Parliament, Graham Central Station, and The Isley Brothers.
Larry Graham & Graham Central Station - POW Live Performance
As I grew older and was exposed to more of this music, I loved and appreciated these groups just as much. As I mentioned, I grew up in a predominantly white, jewish environment. When I got to high school there were a lot more African Americans that came in from other districts. I’m not sure of the reasoning behind that, but it certainly did improve the schools chances for success in their athletic programs.
Beverly Hills High School Basketball - Go Normans!
The African Americans that came in would mostly all sit in the same area of tables together during lunchtime and breaks. Kind of a self inflicted segregation, or separation. I felt like an outcast amongst them as I grew up in a completely different environment. I will say that I’ve also felt somewhat of an outcast with my caucasian schoolmates as well, never feeling totally accepted while growing up. Having been a former television star made it easier to be liked, but truth be told, there were very few parents that would have supported my marrying their daughters when I grew up, thus I never felt totally accepted.
I remember this one girl, Lisa, one of the many gals I've had crushes on over the course of my lifetime. Boy, did I have a thing for her! She was Jewish and I think she may have had some Latina in her as well. I'm not certain, but she had the most beautiful skin and complexion and these beautiful green eyes! Or maybe they were hazel? I could talk to her hours upon hours.
Me And Lisa On Our High School Graduation Day
We were about 16 or 17 and we’d talk about everything under the sun. She had a boyfriend for the majority of the time that I knew her. He went to another school and was from a different part of town. A blond hair, blue eyed, white guy that reminded me of a younger, but better looking, version of Tom Petty from the band 'Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers'. Not that Tom Petty is a bad looking chap, but this kid was a very good looking kid that physically reminded me of Tom Petty. Just a younger and better looking version. If memory serves me correctly, he had a job working at Tail Of The Pup hotdog stand by The Beverly Center.
Tail Of The Pup
At some point I’d gotten word they had broken up and I thought this could be my opportunity. We were in her bedroom talking one afternoon as we had done on many occasions, and I thought I saw my opportunity to make a move. However, I was shot down cold! She did it in a very nice way and we remained friends. In the kindest, sweetest way you could tell something like this to someone, she said that she just couldn’t see herself dating a Black guy. “I hope that doesn’t make me a racist?” You could see in her eyes she was actually questioning this and thinking about it on a deep level. I told her no. It didn’t mean that at all. We remained friends, but I think in fact it does mean you’re a racist to an ex-tint. If you get along with somebody as fabulously as we did, and the only reason you wouldn’t date them is because they are Black, or from whatever culture that you wouldn’t consider dating from, I guess that does make you racist to an ex-tint. I did love her. I’ve had other friends I grew up with say to me as we were adults, that they could never imagine dating outside of their race or religion. It was interesting how they could be friends with me, but that they would never date me or anyone of my color. How they would never cross that line. And they’re all very good people! Racism is really a bitch! I find it quite limiting for all parties involved.
I can remember wanting to look like my white friends so badly growing up. When you grow up around a certain ethnicity of people you kind of want to look like the people around you. I wanted to have straight hair like them. I wanted to have thinner lips like them. I’d even try to tuck my lips inside my mouth so that they would appear thinner. I later found out that it was they that were so fascinated with me. They often liked to touch my hair because of its kinkiness. It was so different to them. I later found out the girls loved my full lips.
Though I continued to go out on auditions as they presented themselves, I really didn’t take much of an interest in getting back into acting again until near the end of my junior year in high school. I was given a piece to perform from the play “Slow Dance On The Killing Ground”, written by William Hanley, by one of my high school mentors and teachers, John Ingle, a much loved teacher and mentor to many who attended Beverly Hills High School during his tenure. John is probably best known for having portrayed Edward Quartermain on the ABC soap opera “General Hospital” from 1993 thru 2012. Unfortunately, our beloved Mr. Ingle has since passed on. So the monologue he assigned to me was that of the character Randall. When I performed it, I felt I wasn’t as prepared as perhaps I could have been, but Mr. Ingle just went on and on about my performance. I don’t know what it was, but I guess he saw something and it totally lit a fire in me to really try to become good at this acting thing! Mr. Ingle had this way of motivating you to be the very best you could be without so much telling you in words. He just expected it of you and he was someone you didn't want to disappoint. It was at that moment Sports took a back seat and acting became a focus.
John Houston Ingle May 7, 1928 – September 16, 2012 - In The Background, Classmate Michael Lawrence, son to Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Michael Was A Wonder
I went to school with quite a number of celebrities and children of celebrities. Just to name a handful, Nicholas Cage, Gina Gershon, Crispin Glover, Lenny Kravitz, Patrick Cassidy, brother to Shawn and David, and son to Academy Award winner Shirley Jones who also starred in "The Partridge Family" alongside her stepson David.
Academy Award winner Shirley Jones with son's Shawn, David, Patrick, and Ryan Cassidy
To have a mother like Shirley Jones must be quite spectacular! She is everything you would imagine that a great mom should be! Pat and I played on the same sports teams together in high school. I remember how his mother, Shirley, would attend every one of our games. On our away games she would follow the school bus in her Excalibur and watch from the stands cheering Patrick and the team on! She wasn’t quite in the prime of her career at that point, but still a much sought out after actress. For her to make the time in her schedule to be sure to attend every one of her son's home and away games was quite impressive. She to me was the quintessential mother figure. If I'd had someone like her! I sometimes wonder how that might have impacted or changed my life.