As I write this I see that it’s one of my old high school classmate’s birthday. He was in the school play from our senior year, “Sugar.” You probably remember Billy Wilder’s film version better with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis called “Some Like It Hot.” And that blonde, what was her name? Anyway, she played Sugar. My birthday friend, Steve, got the lead gangster role of Spats Colombo, who was played by George Raft in the film.
So I found a picture in our annual from 1975 of Steve and his gang, looking pretty ominous with their toy Tommy Guns as they walked through the halls of our high school. I posted it on Steve’s Facebook page, in honor him making it to such an old age. Cringe.
KM saw the picture and said, “I guess you couldn’t get away with that these days.”
“What?” I asked her.
“You know, walking through a school hallway with toy guns.”
“Oh yeah, I guess you’re right. Crazy huh?”
We had a lot of talented people at our school in those days and the play was great. I loved it so much I saw it twice. Besides Steve Johnson as Spats, we had the lovely Sharon Binz as “Sugar” Kane Kowalczyk. Sharon could have given MM a run for her money. I think Josephine was played by Jim Hathaway. The reason I say that is there is another picture in the annual of Jim and Sharon rehearsing a big kissing scene. At least I think they’re rehearsing. That left the future United States Congressman from the 2nd District of Arkansas in the other lead role as Daphne.
Of course, all this talent needed a director, and that fell on the shoulders of Father J. Gaston Hebert, who didn’t even have to change his name when he got the job.
I thought I would try out and had a good shot at a lead role, or a lesser role, or at least an understudy role. I didn’t want to be the gaffer though, whatever that is. When I asked Father Hebert about trying out for the play he gave me that look of his, where he peered smugly over the top of his glasses. Then he said, “Did you look into the Army like Mr. Palazzi suggested?”
Mr. Palazzi was our guidance counselor and he had been doing his best to guide me towards a military career.
“Not yet,” I answered. “It’s on my list. In the meantime I really want to be in the play.”
“Can you sing?”
“Can you dance?”
“Not too well.”
“OK, how about lifting over 60 pounds?”
This wasn’t going the direction I was hoping for, and it was plain to see why Father Hebert was the director.
“Well Father,” I said, “I have this back injury from football and heavy lifting doesn’t really work for me right now.”
“That’s great!” He said. “Stick with football, that’s your ticket! Now get out of here Mr. Edwards. I’m busy.”
He obviously didn’t know or care that football had ended months ago, with me sitting on the bench wearing a broken helmet from the 60’s that didn’t even have a chin strap.
Five months later I was headed off to college, choosing that route, in a close call, over getting up at 5 a.m. and marching all day. On the first big football weekend against our hated rivals, the Texas Longhorns, there was a fight in our dorm that I accidentally got caught up in. After the judicial board hearing, three of my high school classmates and I were put on double secret probation for a while. In his closing comments, one of the J-Board members suggested I look into the Army. Jeez they were relentless. I told him thanks but that I’d decided to join a fraternity instead, to get some stability in my life. Mom and dad seemed happy with the decision as the highlight of that first semester had been when I got first place in a watermelon seed spitting contest.
So I became a pledge, or Phikeia, as the Phi Delt members like to call us. And you’ll never believe what happened next. I was named chorister of my pledge class. Maybe my dream of being a thespian wasn’t such a stretch after all. I tried calling Father Hebert to tell him the good news but the secretary said he wasn’t available, and probably never would be. So I asked her to please give him the message. She said she’d be happy to, but I think she forgot because I never heard from him.