Blending a candid confessional with a sense of humor, Rebel Without A Clue – A Way-Off Broadway Memoir illustrates how, with persistence, patience and pluck, I became an expert on survival. My memoir describes my turbulent, often farcical, journey in a desperate search for a career in the theater. After suffering countless heartbreaking disappointments, I discovered the bright lights of Broadway became littered with burned-out bulbs and the drama, on stage and off, made a not-so-funny second act. Never giving up, my story also reveals how I managed to carry on and achieve a few surprising triumphs along the way – most important, a marriage of 51 years, three remarkable children and a wonderful grandson.
In 27 crisp chapters, a spirited road map unfolds of the zigzag route I wandered, confident my big theatrical break loomed over the next speed bump or just around a hidden corner.
Although I was clueless of my rebellion at the time, looking back, I realize my contrariness started at a young age. I knew my parents loved and cared for me, but somewhere I lost confidence in them and we drifted apart. My father was a hard-working, stern man who I never connected with. My mother was a gentle woman who served as the peacemaker of the household. My parents and older sister and brother were born in what was then Czechoslovakia, near the Russian border. My father hoped to move the family to the United States, but because of quotas he diverted us to Canada where I was born in 1938.
The acting bug hit me early, so I became a theater major at Rutgers University, the University of Miami and in the graduate program at Catholic University. I even earned the “Best Actor Award” while at Miami, so my ego got an unrealistic boost to forge ahead. Could my name on a Broadway marquee be far away?
In a laughable way, major decisions about my future happened in a haphazard clueless manner. If not for the urging of a friend I would never have attended college. Another time, an accidental visit with a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) recruiter at Miami led to a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
To my surprise, this uncharted course also revealed some improbable discoveries. When acting roles didn’t materialize and desperate for a paying job, I learned I had an innate flair as a copywriter. This writing skill would serve me well in future jobs, in particular, as a freelance writer. Not every experience had an upside. My lack of awareness put me in serious jeopardy when I almost landed in jail for not having a Green Card since I was a Canadian citizen.
On paper, my theater resume looked impressive: actor, writer, director, producer, stage manager, set and costume designer, lighting technician, publicity and marketing manager, as well as gofer – “go for coffee and other sundries.” Yet all these theater experiences never amounted to less than a footnote in show business playbill.
There’s a theater expression “Once an actor, always a waiter.” While I never held a waiter’s job, to support my family I stumbled onto a number of careers. Often the ad-libbing skills I learned as a performer helped me “audition” for a job. I worked as a copywriter, product and packaging designer, advertising executive, sales professional, business owner, freelance writer and artist, even a night shift gas station attendant while looking for more lucrative employment. While many of these jobs had a decent pay and promising career path, when tempted by a theater job, I’d quit and chase another illusive rainbow.
I held these jobs in New Jersey, Florida, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine - and if I include my “employment” with the U.S. Army - Georgia, Maryland and South Korea.
For those who struggle to forge ahead against overwhelming obstacles, Rebel Without A Clue may provide the jump-start to find the courage to press on. Or, it could just be entertaining to read. For fun, I also include cartoons after each chapter.