I’d be hard-pressed to recall a dull moment growing up in Mom’s world, always full of surprises. Some welcome. Some, not so much. She kept herself and us busy. In between her shopping marathons and our various odds jobs, she took us on kid-friendly cultural jaunts in New York City, thirty minutes or thirty hours away depending on traffic. We’d visit Radio City Music Hall to see the latest Disney film and behold the Rockettes’ toes, in unison, pointing to the sky. Or we’d take in a Broadway play, hop on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, or cruise around Manhattan on the Circle Line. At the 1964 World’s Fair, I saw a “Jetson’s-style” future and heard for the first time but certainly not the last, “It’s A Small World After All.” And I have yet to get that damn song out of my head.
When I was ten years old, Mom took a gamble and hired a famous New York photographer to shoot test shots of all of us kids, hoping to ignite a modeling career or two, or three, or four, five, or six. After a full day of wardrobe and location changes, the only one the camera showed any affection for was Caryl, my blossoming teenage sister. But when only lingerie offers flooded in, she stuck with ballet. My only fond memory from that day was a photo of Louis Armstrong flashing his pearly whites while sitting on the same toilet I sat on.
Years later, after placing second in the “Man of the Eighties” contest in Columbus, Ohio—you made the finals if you owned a suit—I began my professional modeling career. My first gig, like Mom, was as a hand model. Or as my friends liked to say, “My first job was a hand job.” But that job led to more modeling jobs which led to commercials which led me to Hollywood. So, that early gamble was not a total loss for Mom.
She also shared her love for painting with us. Mom studied before getting married. One of her oils hung in in our living room, and I always thought it to be quite good. But having six kids, I’m sure, played a part in halting her dream. However, she never gave up supporting other artists. As a member of The Art Barn, she’d take me to view the latest works from local artists and to help choose which painting to take home.
We didn’t need to leave the house for our fine arts fix. On Sunday nights, we huddled in the living room to watch The Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles, the plate twirlers, and that irresistible Italian mouse, Topo Gigio, were among our favorites. And the dancers—ballet, modern, jazz, tap, flamenco—always got us up on our feet for impromptu performances, much to Dad’s chagrin. But when choreographer and local celebrity, Peter Gennaro, introduced his dancers, we sat right back down and focused. His creativity and talent always inspired us. Perhaps it was Peter who motivated Mom to sign us all up for ballet lessons.