In St. Francis De Sales elementary school’s 1970 production of Oliver!, when I was in 6th grade, I made my one and only stage appearance as Oliver Twist’s grandfather, Mr. Brownlow, utilizing my sole performing talent, tallness.
During the rehearsals, I overheard a conversation between the teacher who was directing and a parent. Mr. Galli explained that the only way a bunch of first to eighth graders could pull off mounting a complex musical normally reserved for high school students was because Nancy, the leading lady, was being played by Mary Tyler Moore’s niece, and even as an eighth grader, this chip off the old block was such a professional trouper that she could carry a mob of random children in her wake.
I personally experienced the Moore family’s Nature/Nurture Umbrella on opening night when my first scene involved Mr. Brownlow’s few lines of dialogue with Nancy. Here are my mental reactions after the crowd roared with appreciation at my first line:
“The audience loves me!”
A wave of megalomania washed over me. “I’m a genius actor!” I concluded.
But then: “Uh-oh, I can’t remember anymore of my lines.”
“Who cares? I’m a genius, remember? I’ll just make up some better lines.”
“Good thinking … but … I can’t think of any better lines than whatever it was I’ve forgotten.”
“Wait … Mary Tyler Moore’s niece is whispering my lines to me without moving her lips.”
“That’s rather condescending of her, isn’t it? To assume that I can’t make up better lines off the top of my head than the ones I’ve forgotten?”
“But maybe she’s worried that my improvised lines would be too brilliant for her to respond to. Well, as a favor to her, I’ll just repeat out loud whatever she’s whispering to me.”
And that worked fine and we got off stage without derailing the show.
My triumph as Mr. Brownlow left me feeling I had no more worlds left to conquer on the stage. Thus ended my acting career and my contact with the lovely and talented Moore family.