What About Me?!
Posted by MICHAEL ST. JOHN on May 8, 2012 - 3:15:50 PM
HOLLYWOOD—HELLO AMERICA! For so many years readers of my various writings, fans of my radio on-air entertainment reports and columns have been asking tons of questions about me. They are interested in my early years, experiences in Hollywood and how I actually survived rigors of trying to make it, especially as an Afro American artist. Well, this is why I've decided to do a Q & A with myself, MICHAEL ST. JOHN. So, here we go!
MICHAEL ST. JOHN
Q: HOW HAS YOUR EARLY BEGINNINGS AFFECTED YOUR INTEREST IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?
A: I grew up during the thirties, just when our country was feeling the sting of the Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt was serving his first term in the White House. It was the period of the T-Model Ford, ladies with long dresses wearing hats and gloves; it was a time when our soldiers were still sporting the uniform of the First World War; many of our boys, my grandfather included, would spend the rest of their lives, having been gassed in the war, in Veterans Hospitals, located in different areas of the country; Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Nelson Eddie, Ethel Waters, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and so many other great performers helped to sustain the morale of a nation struggling to keep its dream alive. I remember looking out of my bedroom window at night daydreaming what my life would be like, once I was old enough to leave Green Tree Valley, the small place not too far from Philadelphia where we lived.
Q: What was it about the Valley that made you feel this way?
A: When you grew up in a home of continual violence and abuse, it makes one want to constantly escape the horror of the aftermath of a physical confrontation, which involved nightmarish cries of pain from my mother, signs of bloodied floors and walls, threats of death by someone known and recognized as my father. The only thing I had left was the hope that one day I would be able to live where there was love and understanding. Listening to music of all forms on the radio, somehow was my pacifier. I could dream, I could imagine wondrous things and experiences. It would be my perfect world.
Q: When did life away from Green Tree take place?
A: Right after a terrible fight between my pregnant mother and father took place. My grandmother arranged the whole move to a town called, Morton. It was about 9 miles from Philadelphia. There were high hopes that living in this small but lovely place might make a difference in how we all lived together. Of course, that only turned out to be a wish, because my father continued his war-dance whenever he took a drink of alcohol. However, being closer to the big city, I was able to get into the city on my own. I had been listening to a weekly radio show called The Children's Hour" sponsored by the Horn and Hardart Company. When I heard they were holding auditions on weekends, I made sure to go and try out as a regular singer on the show. Since my teachers at the school I attended raved about my singing, I really believed that I wouldn't have any problem getting on the show. So, even though I had not auditioned for anything previously, I felt It was something I had to do. When I mentioned to the director that I had arrived to be on the show, she was obviously amused, smiled and said, "Well, lets hear something." I sang "Without A Song" and I spotted her wiping a tear from her eyes. When I finished, she said, "We would love to have you join us on the show." And that's how it began.
Q: So you were on the show each week?
A: Oh, yes. We performed songs as well as radio skits. It was a tremendous learning time for me, and I absorbed as much as I possibly could. I loved performing so much that when NBC(WFIL) premiered "The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club" show", I auditioned for their music director, Skipper Dawes and was asked to join the TV show, too. So, on Saturday nights I appeared with the legendary musician Paul Whiteman and on Sunday morning, I appeared on the Childrens Hour show. It was wonderful.
Q: What happened after that?
A: Artistically, my world changed. I auditioned for a few musical shows, and was accepted, because of my radio and tv exposure I was asked to join a USO Troop to entertain the Arm Forces as well as several VA hospitals. It was a tremendous training ground for me. Before going off to college, I was one of three winners for the annual Philadelphia Bulliten Newspaper sponsored music festivals which took place at the City's Municipal Stadium. The year I appeared, Dinah Shore, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Johnny Ray, Eddie Fisher, and the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy were on the same bill. And I had an opportunity to speak with them all. Oh, Ed Sullivan was the host -- what a treat that was.
Q: Then it was off to college?
A: Yes! I remember it was one of the most exciting things I had ever experienced. Of course, I only had a Hollywood idea of what college was like. I had seen several Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Ann Miller, June Allyson, Peter Lawford films, and I expected that kind of experience. You know all the singing, dancing and the student-campus shows that were always a part of that MGM musical experience. And it was a little shocking when I had to wake up early in the morning to face a biology class and reading a ton of books for other academic requirements. However, I was voted Class President, making me the first Afro American to be so named. It was also the first real political experience I ever had, having to deal with a political adversary. However, I won and it taught me much about being a leader, responsible for determining a positive direction for a group of people depending on me. Since it was still the early 1950s, the idea of an Afro American being voted as president of a class didn't sit very well with some of the townspeople in Richmond, Indiana. As a result during the Homecoming Parade, a group of would-be Klu Klux Klan types hurled bottles, stones and produce at me while our class marched in the parade on the main street of the town. I was rushed from the procession back to the campus and hid in the attic of the Dean of Education's home. It turned out to be a very wise decision, hours later my dorm room was fired bombed. The Dean and other college officials determined that my life was in danger and I should leave the campus for safety purposes. The next morning I was put in the trunk of one of the college trucks and taken to the Greyhound Depot; the Dean made quick arrangements for me to continue my education at the University of Southern California. And that's when my Hollywood experience and life began. My book "Hollywood through the Back Door" gives a more invoved view of what I found in Tinseltown and how I escaped from one hell to a totally different kind. The only difference were kleig lights and a camera.
Q: Who are you now, especially after so many experiences and challenges you've had to encounter in order to survive as a creative human being?
A: Through shear determination I've been able to do some incredible things as an actor, writer, composer, musician, director and producer - and yet I'm still searching, dreaming of that special moment when I can sit in the dark and say quietly to myself, "yes...YES!"
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