I would like to see a show of hands from men between the ages of 40 and 55, who remember where they were the first time they laid eyes on Lisa Bonet. If you claim not to recall, I say that either your wife is in the room, or Alzheimer’s has set in and you don’t remember what you had for breakfast this morning. Please see your doctor immediately!
I remember. I will never forget.
It was 1984. I was 22 years old and I was sitting in a cheap, furnished, one-bedroom apartment on the edge of the campus of Webster University, right outside St. Louis, Missouri. I was performing in Lorraine Hansbury’s groundbreaking play A Raisin in the Sun at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis. While waiting for the premiere episode of The Cosby Show, I sat on an old sofa, whose springs had long ago given up the ghost, in front of a dusty 19 inch television set, eating ribs and baked beans. A few months earlier, I had heard that the show was coming to the air, and I had been waiting with eager anticipation. Thus began my love affair with the Huxtable family. The show started and a few minutes in, this vision walked onto the screen. This funky creature with smokey eyes, beautiful lips, and loveliness dripping from every pore walked into my life. Who was this girl? If I had ever seen anyone finer, at that moment, I couldn’t remember. What is her name. Lisa Bonet! How do you pronounce that? Bonnet? Boner? Never mind it will be Phillips soon enough. Oh. My. God! I have to know her! I have to have her. I was in love. And I still am all these years later. I count myself lucky that I got to work with one of the most beautiful women in the world – certainly one of the most beautiful women of the 1980’s. (I would get to work with another in a few short years.)
I had an opportunity to play Lisa’s love interest during the first season of the show. Actually, that’s not accurate. I auditioned for the role of Denise’s arrogant boyfriend during Season One. I was never even close to getting the job. In fact, I was so far away from getting that job that I couldn’t have seen it with binoculars. That audition was both a disaster and an example of the kind of base treatment to which actors are so often subjected.
I had just returned from my two month stint in St. Louis. I may have just returned that very day. For more than a year, I had endured a horrible case of sciatica, so when I returned, I took the subway to the upper East-side to see my chiropractor. My agent’s office was only a few blocks away. Walking was supposed to be good for the pain, so following my treatment, I decided to walk the few blocks and say hello. As I walked into the office, my agent, appearing somewhat irritated, asked, “Where have you been? Why haven’t you checked your answering service?” (In those days, there were no cell phones and the home phone didn’t come with voice mail. Most actors had an answering machine at home and an answering service they checked during the day.) I had just returned to New York. I simply hadn’t thought that I needed to check my service for messages.
“You have an audition for the new Bill Cosby Show! Right now!”
I understood my agent’s excitement. The Cosby Show was the hottest thing on television. But I had been out of town for two months. My hair was in bad need of a cut and I was dressed in jeans, sneakers, and an old sweater. To say nothing of the fact that the pain was still shooting down my left leg with every breath and I badly needed to lay down. Still, I took down the information and rushed to the casting office. After all, this would be my opportunity to meet Lisa Bonet.
When I arrived at the casting office, everything was in disarray. Things were still in boxes, tables tossed together haphazardly. To my young eyes, it seemed as if order had left for the day and confusion was now in charge. I suppose it was understandable given that the show was only a few weeks old. I took a seat among all of the young, black men, all of whom looked just like me. Because I had just received the appointment, I hadn’t had an opportunity to go over the material. I grabbed the sides, sat in a corner, and tried to read through the scene a few times. I may have read through the scene twice before my name was called. I didn’t have enough sense to ask for more time, so in I went. I introduced myself to the casting director, Lois Planco and her assistant, sat down, and began the scene.
A few lines in, her phone rang. To my amazement, she answered the phone. To my further amazement, she began to carry on a conversation. Naturally, I stopped. Lois looked up from the phone, smiled and said, “Go on.”
She talked on the phone during my entire audition and was still on the phone when I finished. She looked up again.
For all I know, she could still be on the phone. When I left, I had a good idea where she could put that phone. “Answer it now, bitch,” I imagined.
The next year, however, I was able to give Lois Planco the figurative finger when I was cast (by a different casting director) as Daryl, Sondra’s blind date. I would finally get to meet the woman of every man’s dreams.
Next…Men do stupid things