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The Show Business – The High School Years – Don’t Get Me Started!

Updated on May 6, 2009


My brother (who is twenty-two months older than I am) is brilliant and such was the case even back in grade school. So it was a struggle that every time a teacher would see my last name on a roster they thought they were getting a smarty but really only got a kid with a smart mouth when it came to me. Nowhere was this more evident than when I got my brother’s old fifth grade teacher. The day I walked into that class he was so excited to have another Rosenzweig that he immediately scheduled me to go to “gifted class” that was every Thursday all day for a chosen few. At the end of that year I was tested and it was discovered that I had about as much business being in a “gifted” class as being a star athlete. So when the time came for me to go to high school I decided on a different public school instead of the one where my brother was currently attending. The school I chose was not a performing arts high school but it may as well have been one. They did six to seven shows a year with two musicals included. Heaven! The Show Business – The High School Years – Don’t Get Me Started!

I had learned that the head of the theatre department at the school had a summer workshop so I made sure that the summer before my freshman year I was a part of it so that I could not only meet some of the kids who went to the high school and would be at the workshop but so I could also meet the man who I was sure would want me to star in everything immediately upon walking on campus my first day. The show for the summer workshop was The Music Man and you paid to get in so everyone was cast. I would have several call backs for the role of Tommy Djilas (who was the young hooligan in the show) but eventually lost it to a boy who I would later be roommates with in Los Angeles. Although I was a bit heartbroken, I put on my overalls and even had a few featured dance bits. I was sure that this was just “paying my dues” and the next show the director did I would most definitely be the star.

The first day of high school I’ve written about before. I made the monumental mistake of wearing a green satin jacket that had the word, “OZ” on the back…yes, as in “The Wizard Of…” As if the kids at the school couldn’t sniff out that I was “different” shall we say, this jacket said, “Please beat me up” all over it, with the “O” in “OZ” creating the perfect bulls eye. And so it began that I started my career in high school in a garbage can…literally. But an amazing thing happened, although I was being called “fag” every day (sometimes several times in the day) and was shoved into lockers, when I would turn down that hall that housed the theatre classrooms, I suddenly was transformed, I was popular. I had been working on stage, television and in movies since the age of six so I had more experience than most kids in the high school on my first day when it came to performing and they wanted to hear all the “real theatre” stories (which I easily embellished for entertainment purposes). The performing arts were a place where I felt safe and that allowed me to find myself. I’m always so sad to hear that art classes are the first to be cut from a school when there’s a need for budget cuts. Sure there are kids who fit in, who are popular, the athletic and/or cheerleader types who can take advantage of those programs that never seem to lose funding but for some of us, we’d never have made it through without a place to express ourselves and be ourselves whether it be the performing or visual arts.

The first show I was cast in at the school was Fiddler On The Roof, I was to be one of the Bottle Dancers in the big wedding scene. But ‘twas not to be because by that time I had an agent who was sending me up for roles in television and movies and I was cast as the stand in for a movie that would become one of the worst films ever made. For four weeks I was “on the set” at all hours of the day and night waiting for them to call for the “second team.” For those of you who don’t know a “stand in” does just that, stands in for the star. They have similar coloring, height, etc. so that the crew can light the scene. You don’t appear in the movie because often you look too much like the actor playing the role. The film was about a young boy who is seduced by his maid or something and then blackmailed by the chauffeur who allows the boy to think he’s killed the maid. It starred Howard Hesseman from WKRP in Cincinnati and Sylvia Kristel. The boy in the movie was fired after a week or so and was replaced with the boy who ended up being fired from the television show Mama’s Family after the first year but thank God I looked enough like both boy 1 and boy 2. I didn’t get fired and I eventually did get one big scene. I got to play the maid’s body in a garment bag that they put in a freezer. So this was show biz? By the time I got back to high school it was time for Fiddler On The Roof to open. I was so jealous sitting out in the audience that night. I should have been on that stage I thought. I thought they should have let me back in at the last moment because of course I was a “quick study” and surely the show needed a pro like me, right? Apparently not and here’s an interesting footnote to my illustrious career, I never ended up doing a production of Fiddler even though it’s probably the show I’m most “right” for being and looking Jewish as I do. Go figure.

High school was a lesson in duality. Trying to keep my being beaten up life and onstage life separate, I would purposely plan to meet people in the theatre hall, not on the campus at large and although I was frightened every time I would step on the stage in high school that someone would scream, “FAG” from the back of the audience, it never happened. But it didn’t matter because the fear was always there. The day I found out I was cast as the lead in George M (a musical about the life of George M. Cohan, a role made famous by my idol, Joel Grey) it was my senior year and I remember that we went off campus for lunch. At the Burger King a boy came up and punched me in the face, I went back to school with my red punched in nose and as the list went up showing I’d been cast as the lead the pain seemed to subside. Ah, Doctor Theatre to the rescue.

Interestingly enough when I went back to my twenty-five year reunion I had a bit of an epiphany. Several men and women came up to me telling me that they were so jealous of my ability to just be myself in high school. For them, this meant that I was “out” in the eighties while on campus. (Funny, I thought I’d hid it all those years.) Some apologized to me for something they had done to me (to be honest with you, I didn’t even recognize the ones who made the big apologies, I guess because most of the time it was just a screamed name as I walked by and I was trying so hard to act as if they must be talking about someone else, complete with turn around and that “Who me? Can’t be.” Look on my face) But perhaps the best comment was made by someone who didn’t even attend the reunion. He has gone on to do some amazing writing including the hit television series Judging Amy. I heard from a mutual friend that he said, “Whatever happened to Scott? I always thought he was going to have Matthew Broderick’s career.” So did I! The Show Business – The High School Years – Don’t Get Me Started!

Tomorrow’s installment – The LA Years!

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