Jacqui (jacqui) wrote,

Jon Ritter Gone Too Young, Art Parks, and My Parents Attitude Towards Acting and the Regans

When I was in college and taking my love of acting oh soooo seriously my parents used to like to take pot shots at me, try to bring me down a peg or two. Dad would compare me to sitcom actors on TV and tell me I would never achieve their levels of greatness, and Mom would tell me I would never be a Grace Kelly. Actors didn't cross over between television and film as easily as they do now and of course Grace Kelly was the greatest and this hurt. It hurt a lot.

But they are/were much older than I am by about a whole generation, (so there really should have been a buffer-parent in between us), and they could easily have been my grandparents. Which explains their attitude towards my love of theatre and film and their hatred of all things theatrical. The further back in time you go, the more disdain you'll find for actors. We were once considered extremely disreputable and on a par with prostitution, although that didn't stop King Edward VII from spending lots of time with Lilly Langtree, but it did stop Andrew from marrying Koo Stark.

The ironic part about this is that they've spent some of the best parts of their lives being entertained by these same "movie people" that their friends, colleagues, and country clubs, and they themselves have shunned. The only way that they could explain their love for Ron and Nancy Reagan, and to a lessor degree Jimmy and Gloria Stewart, is that they had set themselves apart from the "movie business" in some ways while their friends had not. Basically this meant they knew how to comport themselves in conservative society, to not dress or laugh too loudly, (and this shames me no end, and please remember that my boyfriend is Jewish, and I have African American friends), or bring along too many Jewish and never any black friends, unless they were Sidney Poitier.

When I think of my parents, my Father in particular, the first image that comes to mind is not of him playing golf at The LA Country Club, or making calls in his office, but of him laying on that uncomfortable couch in den, with our cat Jake laying across him, watching television. When I think of my Mother her face is either buried in a newspaper or doing the same thing as Dad, watching TV. Growing up there were nights when I was desperate for their support and comfort and would frequently be rebuffed with a curt, "Not now, we're watching Dallas." Which almost brings me to the reason I started this post which is John Ritter.

One of my Father's best friend's, and this is another irony, was that Art Park, (who was just about as famous of a theatrical agent as you could get back in the day, and who had cofounded the talent arm of MCA with Lew Wasserman and mentored Mike Ovitz), once asked about me, which to my mind would have been like the Queen inviting you over for tea at the palace, but my Dad shut that door by saying I didn't have the "figure" for it. My Dad was a very modest and humble man and would never have put out his friend by mentioning me on his own, meanwhile people who hardly knew Art were imposing pictures of their bucktoothed no-talent daughters on him on a regular basis. Eventually word got to Art that Dad had a daughter who had had the lead in every play since grade school, had studied acting with Lee Strasberg, had studied acting in London for a brief time, and was now at UCLA acting with the likes of Tim Robbins, (who obviously wasn't famous then, but was just as charismatic and fun to be around), and Richard Olivier, (Sir Larry and Dame Joan Plowright's son, who I miss very much, and will someday find the courage to write to. I should also write to his Mom because she kindly had me to tea backstage after a play of hers, and I was completely oblivious to the fact that she was Richard's Mother, something I will forever kick myself for). Art brought it up over golf one day and Dad blew my chance with him by telling him I was a little on the heavy side, sigh, (God I was probably only about twenty pounds overweight then and would have lost it for a shot like this), this was before the days of Roseanne Barr busting the weight barrier.

Years later I tracked down Art's phone number on my own and began a phone and computer correspondence with him that was a lot of fun. Something that I am grateful I finally took the initiative to pursue but that led nowhere because by the time I called him he had long been in retirement and there was really nothing he could do for me except tell stories, which I will always be grateful for.

Finally the John Ritter story -- So one day when Dad hadn't needled me enough for the day, he looked up from a repeat of one of his favorite show's, Three's Company, and said something like, "You're not a real actor. I know real acting. Now this John Ritter fellow, now that's an actor." I thought he was completely out of his mind. Laurence Olivier was an actor. Peter O'Toole was an actor. But John Rittter? He was that guy from that cornball show, what did he know from acting? I was so wrong and so unfair, and it won't be last time.

I was so arrogant and full of myself that I took this as a major insult from my Father. That he thought I wasn't anything compared to John Ritter. John Ritter, the lead actor in this already dated sitcom that I wouldn't deem worthy of dipping my smallest toe in. Then as the years went by I came to respect him, and this was long before his amazing turn as Vaughan Cunningham in Sling Blade, and eventually learned that comedy is the hardest form of acting and something that I have tremendous respect for.

Also having seen so much of his work in the intervening years, and having heard that he is a consummate journeyman actor on the mode of say a Tom Hanks, I am sorry and embarrassed that I ever allowed myself to think less of him because of this comment of my Dad's. My Dad was just trying to hurt me, or just being insensitive and this had nothing to do with John Ritter. And at the same time, who was I, who am I to ever judge anyone else? Especially a successful working actor who everyone with whom he came into contact loved. I am truly saddened to learn of his loss, I had learned to respect his work and to admire him. And he was young, at least from my aging perspective. My love and prayers go out to his family and friends.

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