65 – March 6
“Did you ever feel like the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?”—George Gobel
After high school, I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara to major in Dramatic Art, joining other ambitious students eager to create their dreams out of the raw material of talent. One of those students was Michael Douglas. He was a couple of years ahead of me, beautiful and talented. Oh, yes, and rich, too. Unlike the others of us, unknown and unknowing of future fortune, he represented the assurance of dreams fulfilled. We knew he was going to be a star. I couldn’t help being enamored of him.
My sophomore year, we were cast in a play together: Pirandello’s Henry IV. Michael played Henry, and I had one of the two women’s roles, Frieda. It was quite a coup to have been chosen from the hundreds of students who auditioned for roles in the play, and I was delirious with joy. I was now a part of the in-group, the A-team, my abilities and potential acknowledged. I was going to get to work with Michael. A little star-dust glittered in my eye.
One evening, the director was rehearsing a scene that neither Michael nor I were in. Michael lounged in one of the theater seats, wearing a beautiful leather jacket. Now was my chance to talk to him. Hesitantly, I walked over to him and commented, “Great jacket, Michael. Where’d you get it?” He smiled up at me and said, “Switzerland.”
He might as well have said, “The Moon.” The gap between us yawned before me with that one word. I had never been to Switzerland. I hadn’t even been out of the country. The only vacations my family had ever taken were car trips—alternating visits to mom’s relatives in Mississippi and dad’s in Oregon and Washington. His dad was a movie star. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t feel adequate. Not because he thought he was better than I was. But because I thought he was. This was tuna thinking at its worst. “Oh,” I mumbled and walked away. I vowed that someday, I was going to be somebody and travel the world, too.
Poor Chellie! I didn’t know I already was somebody. The poverty consciousness and the inadequacies I felt were products of my own mind. They had to be rooted out before I could get the things I wanted. Years later I started reading philosophy and self-help books. Then I got some therapy. I developed quality friendships with wonderful people, who loved me and supported me in my goals. And slowly, I learned to love myself. I still haven’t been to Switzerland. But I got a suede jacket in Hong Kong. And a gold bracelet in Santorini, a necklace in Athens, a painting in Paris…and self-esteem right here at home.
You, too, can travel, prosper, collect treasures, enjoy experiences. It all starts with loving yourself. You deserve it. You are good enough. Think like a dolphin. And if someone tells you his jacket came from Switzerland, just say, “Great! I haven’t been there yet. Tell me about it!”
“Great riches are heaped upon me just because I’m me!”
I have always followed Michael’s career fondly, cheering when he won his Oscar for producing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and his Best Actor Oscar for “Wall Street”. I was devastated at the news of his bout with throat cancer, and was relieved and delighted along with the other multi-millions of his fans when he made it through the harsh treatment to recovery.
When he was the featured guest on one of my favorite shows “Inside the Actors Studio”, I eagerly tuned in to watch, knowing they always talk about the actor’s early life and beginnings in the theater. I was interested to hear what he recalled of his Santa Barbara days (his beautiful wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones wasn’t born yet.)
He did talk about his experiences in the drama department at UCSB, and then they showed photos from some of the plays. Lo and behold! They showed a photo from the Pirandello play with me and Michael! How fun is that? Now I get to say I’ve appeared on “Inside the Actors Studio” with Michael Douglas. Hee.
The last time I saw him was on the steps of Campbell Hall after an anthropology final. We smiled at each other and he gave me a big hug. We waved goodbye shouting “Good luck! Have a great life!” as he ran to his little red MG and off to star in his first Broadway play, “Summertree.”
We never met again. He’s one of the many people that I knew only for a short time as our lives touched briefly, then diverged. But thinking of him brings me back to those halcyon days when the future loomed large and inviting, with many possible roads to travel; every path with its own turnings, peaks, valleys, bogs, and meadows full of sunlight. I remember the girl I was, breathless, excited, and a bit nervous, looking forward where the future lay shrouded in the mists of what would be and who I was becoming.
The road has more miles behind me than in front of me, now. I look back fondly over my loves, wins, and losses, and the adventures I had along the way. I still look forward, breathless and excited.
But I’m not nervous anymore.