My family owned a Kimball spinet piano thanks to help and support from Wyatt Earp. I wish a very, very happy 87th birthday today to actor Hugh O'Brian, the actor who starred in a hit TV western series, "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp." That show goes back to when we babyboomers were kids. My first television appearance was on a game show filmed in Hollywood at the old Goldwyn Studios. A syndicated trivia show for classic film buffs, it was called "The Movie Game," co-hosted by Sonny Fox and the longtime Variety columnist, Army Archerd. During my high school years, I talked my way into being the show's youngest contestant and its first black contestant. Each contestant had two celebrity teammates. Brawny, handsome TV star Hugh O'Brian was on my team.
Ironically, here's how I knew who'd be doing The Bard. The game show was shot in the summer. I was off from school. Mom took the day off to take me to the studio. I felt like a young Judy Garland. That morning, as usual, we got The Los Angeles Times. I always went to the movie section. On that particular morning, I read the Sports page. The top sportswriter looked like a character out of Guys and Dolls. There he was in a big picture on the front of the Sports section dressed in a toga but still wearing his horn-rimmed glasses and chomping a cigar. The paper had assigned him to do a story on what it was like to work one day as a movie extra. He was photographed during a lunch break as he worked on "...a new version of Julius Caesar starring Charlton Heston." Can you believe it? I won "The Movie Game" thanks to help from my celebrity teammates, my vast knowledge of movie musicals and the Sports section of The Los Angeles Times. I am still stunned. When my show aired, school was back in session. My teachers at my high school in Watts were ecstatic that I knew a Shakespeare tragedy and that I read a daily newspaper. I was thrilled and not just because I won. I wanted to prove to my divorced working mom that I was serious in my love for classic films. They weren't merely pastime to me. They were art. My mother was prouder and happier than anyone. Back then, I thought she was just proud that I won. As I got older, I realized she took pride in the positive reflection my win had on our community's image. I felt that in school the day after the show aired. The big tough-looking jocks with Afros the size of radar dishes gave me that nod I knew was a "Good work" and "Thank you." My movie nerdiness, if you will, won respect. I'd showed a national TV audience that South Central L.A. was more than what they saw in televised images and printed photos of the 1965 Watts Riots.