Long before autotune, that Oscar, little baby Apple, and even her duet with Huey Lewis, young miss Gwyneth Paltrow and a few of her chums at the exclusive Spence School on the upper east side of Manhattan planned a small production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown as a senior class project. I, ladies and gentlemen, was cast as Charlie Brown in that production.
Spence was an all-girls school, so just like the all-boys school I attended nearby, they had to recruit from other schools in the area to round out the cast if they put on a show. (This is a big reason why it wasn't considered that faggy to get involved with the theater in single-sex schools: it was an effective way to meet suitors. That also made it good camouflage if you were just a typical teenage musical-theater fag.) After seeing a flyer for auditions at Spance appear in the locker room one day, my pal Neil and I went slightly further uptown and were soon cast as the male leads.
Sadly, the show never made it to the stage. After a few rehearsals held at Spence and in the sprawling 5th Avenue apartment where one of the girls lived, we stopped hearing anything from the girls. One of them had a little brother at our school, and he sheepishly asked us to return our scripts because the show was cancelled.
A lot of the details of this are all very fuzzy now: I can't remember what I sang at the audition, and even though I know Neil was going to be Snoopy, I’m not totally sure what part Gwyneth had. If I’d have known one of us would become famous I might have retained more. But it wasn't until many years later that I connected that chick who was in that movie with the teenager I knew a little who had an actress mother named Blythe Danner whose name only barely rang a bell. I recall Neil saying he wasn't that interested in her, since her classmate Gretchen — the one with the brother in our school — had much more impressive tits. I was convinced all along that I would never see these girls again, anyway, since they were obscenely wealthy and moved in different circles altogether. Spence was, after all, one of the inspirations for the school in Gossip Girl, and I was definitely just a working class art nerd.
Random bits of loosely related trivia that have occurred to me while writing this:
Fellow type designer Jonathan Hoefler — who I only met a couple of years ago — went to another school in the neighborhood at the same time. I don't think he ever met Gwyneth, but he made much better use of his experiences working on the school newspaper and/or yearbook.
Aside from one show my freshman year of college, I never really bothered with performing after that. Neil, however, did go on to try his hand at acting, and it was always funny to see him turn up unexpectedly as a bit character in the occasional film.
I once met Anthony Rapp, who played Charlie Brown on Broadway. It was a totally random handshake sort of meeting, during which I never got the chance to mention that I had been in his apartment earlier that year, helping a mutual friend feed his pets while he was out of town. Anthony was introduced to me by his boyfriend, with whom I had shamelessly flirted some months earlier.
I am not the gayest gay the Jesuits at my high school ever sent forth into the world. That honor belongs to another Oscar winner — Bill Condon, writer/director of Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls, et al.
Do you know who else was a total east-side private-school theater fag who was in a bunch of musicals at my high school (long after my time)? The girl who would one day become Lady Gaga.
1) Darren: You know the part of this story I find most interesting. A fond memory. Josh was pissed I introduced you to the cats first though. (Nov 16, 2010 5:16 AM)
2) sparky: I knew you would appreciate your shadow appearance in the anecdotes above! (Nov 16, 2010 8:02 AM)
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