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Telling Dad I Want to Be an Actor

It was early spring of 1941, toward the end of my senior year at Rhodes. Dad asked me what college I’d thought of going to. I had my heart set on the University of North Carolina; they had what I’d heard was a fantastic drama department and did semi-professional productions under its auspices called, "The Carolina Playmakers." Since I’d never discussed my desire to go into the theater, this was the first he’d heard of it.

He had other ideas.

"First of all," he said, "do you realize that if you’re an actor and you get sick, you’re out of business? The store closes. It’s the toughest selection you could pick to make a living. And another thing, they have to have a home for old actors, what does that tell you? I don’t want you to have to go through what I went through to get where I am. With hard work, you’ll be far more successful than I could ever be."

George Burns said, shortly before he died at one hundred, that he’d rather have been a failure doing something he loved than become a big success at something he hated. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of answer I had at my fingertips at the time. "Your mother and I would like you to go to NYU and major in Banking and Finance. For your birthday and graduation present, I’m going to give you something that I think will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life. I’ve been in touch with my old Wall Street partner, Mr. Gilligan."

"But I don’t want to go into Wall Street," I said.

"Believe me," my father insisted, "you won’t be sorry. I’ve made arrangements to buy you a seat on the Curb Exchange. The market is still very much depressed and I’ve been able to pick it up for a thousand dollars." Even that was a lot of money for 1941. "However," he said, "you won’t be able to trade with it until you can qualify. Meanwhile, Gilligan will take you into his office when you graduate, and if you feel like it, you can work part of your summers and get a feel of the Street."

I had no answers to his argument, but it didn’t mean I’d changed my mind. He had my whole life planned out for me. Somehow, I knew it just wasn’t going to happen that way, but I didn’t know how. I’d been a rebel all my life, put my parents through the usual hell and then some. I’d led a sheltered existence, always had more money in my pocket than I needed; my father wanted to make sure I never went without. As a result, I’d never learned how hard it can be to make a living. I never had to work for anything.

Well, one thing ...

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