And I Felt…Something

Let me start this story exactly where it begins.  My best friend Kimberly had been taking a few different acting classes.  I audited them but didn’t spark to any for myself.  They seemed cultish.  As if the whole thing had to do with admiring the teacher.  The students were like followers.  And I didn’t like all the “acting” exercises.

I remember watching Arnold Schwarzenegger do a scene in Eric Morris’s acting class.  Arnold was then just starting out and known only as a body builder.

Kimberly guided me to a class deep in the Valley. Though you could take the same class in Point Dume at the teacher’s house, I chose the Valley.  The class was taught by a famous acting teacher named Jeff Corey.

Jeff Corey

For those who don’t know the name, Corey had been an actor in such films as “The Killers,” “Brute Force,” and “Home of the Brave.” But he refused to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee—and, according to the NY Times, “he offered an acting critique of the previous witnesses.”  That got him blacklisted for 12 years, so he turned to teaching.  His students included James Dean, Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, and Carol Burnett.

So this wasn’t just any acting class.  They told me to come prepared with a memorized monologue.

I lived on Spalding Drive in Beverly Hills and one of my newest, closest friends was my 15-year-old next door neighbor Jennifer Green.  I was twenty-six.  She was very mature, so it evened out.  We’d met when she was walking down the hallway with a huge load of laundry.  “Why are you doing your own wash?” I was horrified, since I had never seen the inside of the laundry room. “Where are your parents??”

“Oh, I don’t live with them anymore,” she said.  It was a different era.

Anyway, Jennifer and I putzed around all day, imagining we were being filmed for a reality show – decades before actual reality shows. We were always camera-ready with multiple costume changes for our again ahead-of-the-times selfies.

Me with Jennifer pretending to be Laverne & Shirley

Her older sister Karen had been an acting major at UCLA, but was now going for a law degree there. Karen gave me a few monologues to choose from. I chose one and asked her to perform it for me.

I should say that by this time in 1979, I had already starred in dozens of national television commercials including Clairol, McDonald’s, Hallmark Cards and Toyota.  And at the age of 11, I stopped a Roxbury Park talent show cold by dancing to “The Stripper.” So I was no performing novice!

I took my monologue to class the first day and basically jocked Karen’s performance.  And, lo and behold, the teacher that could eviscerate actors until they crumbled, praised me.  “See what Fredde did there?” he said.  I beamed.  It was exhilarating.

It was also a lure.

All the actors surrounded me, complimented me, and begged to do scenes with me.  And this was not some run of the mill group.  Michael Sacks had been a Golden Globe nominee for George Roy Hill’s “Slaughterhouse-Five.” And future Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee David Paymer would go on to a forty-plus year career as actor and director.

Sure, I’ll do a scene with you guys. Why not?  I dove, head-first, into my new acting class world.

I wasn’t great my next time out.  I remember the actor I studied with, but the scene is a haze.  I was there for the next few weeks, enjoying the brilliant actors.  It was like going to the theater.  They came in so prepared and with perfect performances. All of them truly great. Most unforgettable was David Paymer and Michael Sacks in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.”

For my next time on stage, I decided to try something experimental.  I took lines from a Susan Sontag book, creating a sort of loose monologue.  It was serious and dramatic. I found props from around my house, though I’m not sure they made sense with the piece I was doing.  I didn’t memorize it well.

On stage in front of this talented group, I stumbled.  I was lost.  Jeff Corey stopped me.  He quickly became mean, and then it got worse. I was no longer his shining example.  I flushed and felt humiliated.  But then my sense of pride kicked in.  My parents taught me by example to not put up with any shit.  From anyone.  And I was sort of fearless.

Jeff and I were now in a screaming match.  In front of everyone. Instead of backing down and listening to any constructive criticism from a man who had coached Kirk Douglas in “Spartacus,” I stood my ground. “Do you even know who Susan Sontag is?” I yelled.  (I barely knew.) I taunted him.  He didn’t take any shit either.  He kicked me out.  Right there.  In front of all those brilliant actors.  I’d made friends with a few and would miss them.  But as my Dad liked to say: Next!

Scene study with David, actor in Jeff Corey’s class

And so, without looking back, I searched for a new acting teacher.  David Paymer, who I’d done scene work with, called a friend he knew from New York.  I remember the name: Aaron Speiser.  Aaron recommended Ken McMillan’s class at the Debbie Reynolds Studio, also deep in the Valley.  I’d lived my whole life in Los Angeles and had never spent this much time in the Valley.

Enter Stacey Nelkin.  The first person I noticed when I walked into the new class.  We clicked.  I mean immediately.  She was so uniquely adorable.  I learned that she’d starred in the movie “Serial” and that Woody Allen had based his film “Manhattan” on his relationship with her.

We decided to team up for a scene.  We picked one from Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour” and set out to rehearse.  We learned it, but instead of really rehearsing, we were more engaged in our new friendship.  We went out to lunch.  Visited each other’s pad, hers in Laurel Canyon, mine now on Bentley in West Los Angeles.

Me with Stacey Nelkin a few years after we met.

We brought our scene into class, but for some lucky reason, maybe they’d run out of time, it was cut.  And I have no recollection of ever being in that class again.  But I did make a new best friend.

And, through her, made another actress friend, Tracy Brooks Swope.

My foray into acting classes was short-lived. But it led me to where I was meant to be. To a couple of new lifelong friendships. Everything happens for a reason. And, if I hadn’t been so unprepared that day on stage, and if the teacher hadn’t been so mean-spirited, I would never have switched classes and met Stacey, then Tracy.

(Though I might have won an Oscar.)

I like when life falls into place.

Where They Are Today:

Kimberly Beck Clark  lives a few blocks away.  She is getting a degree in psychology and does interior design.  Her most important role in life has been that of being a mother to two sons.

Jennifer Green Maggini lives in Northern California and writes a food blog called Jenni’s Dish.

Aaron Speiser is Hollywood’s top acting teacher for decades now.

Arnold Schwarzenegger — heard of him?

Karen Green-Rosin spent years as a family law attorney and mediator. She lives in Venice, California with her husband of 40 something years, Charles Rosin.

Tracy Swope Avildsen is working as an actress, living in Los Angeles, raising a daughter that is following in her footsteps.

Stacey Nelkin is living in New York.  Married for 21 years, raising three kids.  She is a Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor and is currently writing her memoir.

Jeff Corey died in 2002 at the age of 88.

And, I felt nothing.  Click on video below.  The song will forever remind me of my experience.

Me with Kimberly, Tracy and Stacey in the 80s. We are still close friends.

Food:  At the time we were all hanging out, we often went to Joe Allen on Third Street in West Hollywood.  Guess what I ate?  Calf’s Liver.  Which sounds retro now.  Yet, if I were in New York, where there still is a Joe Allen restaurant because the one on Third closed long ago — I might order it.  Stacey only ate fresh steamed vegetables and salads.  She was ahead of the curve on healthy eating.  I don’t think I ever saw her eat meat.  But, since Jennifer Green is a cook, feel free to look through her food blog for a great recipe.  All the rest of the places we hung out are now closed.  Except for The Ivy.

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10 Responses to “And I Felt…Something”

  1. Linda says:

    Brava …! You paint the class so vividly … and, better, how you made life-long friends!

  2. Danna Colman says:

    Excellent writing, Fredde. My favorite of yours.

  3. Julie says:

    Another great piece! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Kimberly says:

    OMG, I had forgotten about that! Great piece Fredde, I am astounded at the detail you remember from so long ago. Hey, you forgot to mention, I have been married 30 years!

  5. Marilyn Kuechenberg says:

    Loved this Fredde! I was in Charles Conrad’s class and was stuck with Arnold as a partner, what a waste!

  6. Carol dudley says:

    Always love your posts. Cxooc

  7. Marty Wekser says:

    You are such a good writer and your stories always make for interesting reading.

  8. Jerry michaels says:

    OMG, Fredde, your experience transported me back to my string of acting teachers, and how their criticisms could either make us feel like we “nailed it”, or made us feel like shit. Examples: did a monologue from Dylan, for Stella, Adler, who used me as an example of an actor who had his shit together. Quite the opposite reaction from doing the same monologue about a year later, for Nina Foch, whose feedback was why would I choose to masturbate in front of class when I could do it in private? I sure could have used Duke’s “fuck it, and fuck you” reply at the time, but…. I did end up studying with a great teacher at the Debbie Reynolds studio a few years later. Darryl Hickman.

  9. Mitch says:

    Great story, Fredde. Makes me wonder if there were acting classes and drama coaches in the field of dramatic arts when only the stage and silent movies existed. Perhaps they did, but if they didn’t, it seems that somehow a great number of terrific actors managed to have careers without them.

  10. Valentina says:

    What a great story! I love the connections missed and made… life is like that.

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