Many a time a man cannot be such as he would be,
if circumstances do not admit of it.
I was born into an upper middle class family. We had a big house with an acre and a half of land in a New York City suburb. My father was an officer in the U.S. Army. He had seen action in France during the First World War, had been wounded and decorated. After the war he stayed in the Army Reserves and worked as a writer and publicist. He wanted very much to go back on active duty when the Second World War started but he couldn't pass the physical. His wound had given him a heart condition. In 1943 he died. The government decided that since hw wasn't on active duty when he died they were under no obligation to give his widow his Army pension, in spite of his years of service and citation for bravery under fire.
My mother tried to keep the house by taking in borders, but two years later she sold it and we started moving. I was six years old.
My much older brother and sister were off to college. Hers was already paid for by my father. My brother joined the Navy ROTC which paid for his education.
My mother tried vainly to hold on to her possessions under the false belief that somehow she would regain the life she had lost: the fine china, the silverware, the pictures the books, etc. But we were slowly sinking into poverty and things had to be sold or discarded. One time the house we were renting burned down and many things were destroyed. By the time I was in high school we were living in a miserable shack with no central heating and sometimes no electricity. I literally often did my homework by the light of a kerosene lamp. Mother would cook on a Sterno can.
I had a job delivering papers after school. And I saw my mother go off to a typing job every day with arthritic fingers.
Some times people would help us out, but frequently in inappropriate ways. Some one gave me a violin. I tried like hell to learn to play it but we couldn't afford lessons. A fellow we knew sent me to Boy Scout Camp. I strongly disliked it. A well known singing teacher heard my voice and said that I could be a great singer. He wanted to teach me. We couldn't afford it.
I had an interest in drawing and painting but it was squelched by my family. I didn't return to it until 30 years later. Then my paintings won some awards in exhibits.
I got a one year scholarship to college to study music. During that year I acted in several shows for the Drama Department. I was the only one in the history of that college up to that time who won Best Actor Of The Year and Best Freshman Actor Of The Year in the same year, and I wasn't even a drama major.
The summer following that first and only year at college, my life changed. From the time my father died until I was 18 I had no proper guidance from any source. Decisions were being made for me and they were usually wrong ones. But that summer I took a very low paying job as an actor in a summer stock theatre and met the man who would teach me, or rather show me, that I was an actor. I never took a class in acting. I learned it on my feet.
And so my real life began. But one day, after working steadily as an actor for three years in southern New England, I found myself without a job. So I walked into the local radio station and took an audition. They gave me a part time job in a combo studio, where you had to be both the announcer and the engineer. When I first sat down at the board I didn't even know how to turn the microphone on. I did that job for the summer and in the Fall they gave me a full time staff position. So now I was a broadcaster, for a while.
Many years later after I left radio to work full time as an actor I was out of work one day and a friend suggested I try proofreading. He got me an appointment for a test and an interview at a big law firm. I didn't know anything about proofreading. But I went to a bookstore and bought a book on it, read the book, aced the test and the interview and went to work the next day. Thankfully I could learn the finer points by asking around. And so that became my in between work when I wasn't under contract as an actor.
Now I'm retired and live in a place where, after looking around for 7 years, I have no opportunities. There's no point in being ashamed of my life. There's no use thinking about what I might have been: a great singer, a great painter, a famous actor. I can think instead of all the other men and women in the world who will never achieve their potential because of improper guidance and lack of money and opportunities. And I can wish I could do something for them.
DB - The Vagabond