Christmas of 1967 I was in the second grade at Stapleton School. I got a sweet and sour taste that year, all because of the Christmas production that was cooked up. It was a little play with Santa and elves and kids getting toys. There were some songs to be sung, and it was all your basic elementary school effort, to be performed for the parents. I was eager to be part of the chorus that would be featured in this masterwork - but one day the teacher called me aside and asked if I would play Santa Claus. I didn't feel like I could say no, and was devastated that I wouldn't be in the chorus. I cried and said to the teacher "You only want me to be Santa because I'm fat." And she said, "No! We want you to be Santa because you're fat AND you're a ham!" That might not be a verbatim quote, but it was something like that.
As it turned out, I discovered the depth of my ham-osity that year. A few days after I was cast in this critical role, she called me up to the front of the classroom while everyone was cutting and pasting on some crappy art project, and two teachers whipped out some white greasepaint and started experimenting on my face, seeing if they could draw on a mustache and bushy eyebrows. When they were tickled at the result, I was compelled to turn around and show it off to the whole class, and got a big laugh. My hambone grew three sizes that day.
So that's me in the photo. You can see that I was not only portly and jolly (but hell, there is some padding in there, I wasn't THAT fat) I also towered over my classmates, being an early bloomer and all.
The Christmas play was a big hit, and we toured through the Catskills, polished it in New Haven and opened on Broadway in the spring of 1968. Ha! Got you there! Just kidding, we didn't really go to Broadway! But I learned some important things that year:
- People who are trim are never asked to play Santa. Deal with it.
- You can neutralize the little rat elf who's trying to steal the scene with his cute dimples with some simple upstaging and stepping on his lines with a hearty ho ho ho.
- Humiliating yourself in return for a laugh is a fair trade.