I was a bit of a late bloomer when coming to my career as a performer. Most people know they want to do this when they’re little kids, I didn’t discover my love for performing until I was in college.
Shortly thereafter, I was fortunate enough to book my first professional show with Tony Award winning director George C. Wolfe on a Broadway bound musical called Jelly’s Last Jam. I had the time of my life! I was working with major talent; actors I recognized from Broadway, film and tv, and I got to play side by side with them onstage…incredible! We successfully premiered the show in Los Angeles, and after an 8 month hiatus, we were due to begin rehearsals in New York for what would have been my first Broadway show.
I had already been chosen to continue performing my role, and was in constant contact with the casting director who told me that I needed to find a place to live in New York so I could prepare for my Broadway debut. I was in the process of doing that, when all the phone calls suddenly stopped. The first day of rehearsal was rapidly approaching, and I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. Finally, I was able to get the choreographer to talk to me, and she reluctantly told me that they went another way and cast someone else…apparently one of the producers didn’t want to take a chance on me when they had someone who already had a Broadway credit waiting in the wings.
I was absolutely devastated. It was my first real lesson on the nature of this industry. I had a cousin, Jimmy, who was a very successful scenic artist and painter for film and tv, and who was working at Paramount Studios at that time. I confided in him about my disappointment. As it happened, he was working on a film and had developed a friendship with James Earl Jones. Jimmy told James all about me and my recent setback, and Mr. Jones took the time to write me an encouraging note on a headshot of himself…he told me not to give up, that he and every actor on the planet had been in my shoes and that I had the stuff to make it, or I wouldn’t have gotten this far.
That photograph means the world to me. I still have it, and it means more to me now because my cousin was taken from us far too soon and is no longer with us.
It’s a desire of mine to someday meet Mr. Jones and let him know just how much his kindness has encouraged and inspired me over the years. Until then, I will continue to pursue excellence, follow my heart and go boldly in the direction of my dreams. Thank you, Jimmy! Thank you, Mr. Jones!