When I was in third grade, the teacher asked everybody in the class, one by one, what they wanted to be when they grew up. All the girls but one said they wanted to be a teacher. The boys were more varied. The one girl said she wanted to be an opera singer and she became one. I saw her at the Metropolitan Opera House playing a Valkyrie. After that she moved to San Diego and I lost track of her.
I didn’t really want to be a teacher. It just seemed like a good thing to say at the moment. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do until about three years later when I decided what I wanted was to act. I wanted to start immediately and be in the movies.
I gathered my friends and sisters together and dramatized the story of Rapunzel from the book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. We staged it in our living room at home. Our parents tried to help. My father surprised us by putting up a framework overnight so we could hang curtains. We advertised in the village of Croton more than a mile away. I was amazed when several girls from the village hiked up a long, steep hill to watch us. They must have thought it would be something spectacular. In fact, my dramatization was so short it was over almost as soon as it began. That left us befuddled. Someone suggested that we perform it again, so we did.
Our plays grew longer. We graduated from the living room to playing in the auditorium of a nearby private school. Our audiences grew larger and we charged admission. The funds were not for us but for the Red Cross. This was during and just after World War II. I and several other people wrote original scripts. We had to do our own because if we performed someone else’s we’d have to pay a fee. But I still never thought of actually becoming a writer. I wanted to act even though I wasn’t very good at it.
I chose Bennington College in Vermont because it had notable dance and drama departments. There, I studied modern dance. It was the only kind they offered, but during vacations I took ballet classes in New York City. I had started late, at age sixteen, but thought I could catch up if I worked hard. Which I did. For a while I practiced ballet every day in the practice room at college, sprinkling the floor with resin so my slippers wouldn’t slip. The modern dancers didn’t like that on their bare feet.
The dance was only secondary. I majored in drama, specifically acting. My father despaired, paying all that tuition for such frivolity. He felt a little better that I minored in Russian.
But that was a minor. The acting was primary. Until I met Boris. Next time I’ll have more to say about him.