|Richard Skipper with Carol Channing|
Buddy Beaverhausen: Thank you, Richard, for joining me to do this interview. What was it like growing up in the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina, and how do you think your early years influenced you artistically and/or aesthetically?
Richard Skipper: Thank you, Buddy. I believe where I grew up, however, is secondary to when. But that's a very interesting question. Everyting in life affects us either negatively or positively, so it's a matter of what you choose to do with it. I grew up in a rather regular blue-collar home. My father was a welder and was one of ten children. My mom was the oldest of 16 children; therefore, I come from a very large family unit. So I grew up with lots of cousns, aunts, uncles and all of that. I grew up on a tobacco farm, and during the early years of my life, I worked on it during the summers.
I grew up in a town that was a gateway to Myrtle Beach. At 15 to 16, I worked at our local amusement park. I also grew up in the days when we had three networks: CBS, ABC and NBC. They had a lot of variety shows and television specials. And, so, I would see my contemporary artists on the same stage as artists from my parents' and grandparents' generations. I wanted to be part of that world of show business.
When I was 13 or so, I started working with a local theatrical company and had an incredible mentor by the name of Florence Epps who was a legend in our neighborhood and who taught kids acting and elocution and things in this small town in South Carolina! I'd go to er house Wednesday afternoons and we'd read from the classics. I grew up with the knowledge of those works and of classic entertainers. She'd ask me for names of my favorites. Throw me a name for example....
BB: Ok, Barbra Streisand.
RS: So, she would ask, "When was Streisand born?", "What was her first intro to show business?", questions like that. And, if I didn't know the answers, she'd say, "Our lesson is over for the day. And when you come back, I want you to know these things." So I'd go to the library as these were the days before Internet. And I'd get every book I could get with -- for example, Streisand. And I'd go back to Florence and she'd quiz me. And she told me, "Every time you step onstage, you are carrying the mantle of every star who came before you."
BB: What was moving to NYC like? Did you experience culture shock?
RS: Yes, major. Major! Moved to NYC August fifth 1979. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon. I had never flown before. I came with $500. I was staying with a friend of a friend. And all of this will eventually be in my book. The person I was staying with, on my first day, took me for a tour of the neighborhood, then to Central Park. This was '79, so the landscape of the city was very different than what it is today. I saw drugged out people, which I'd never experienced before. In Central Park, I walked through the Rambles for the first time. I mean, at that time, I had book smarts but not street smarts. I got a job the next day as a messenger at 55 Water Street. It was a great one, delivering packages all over the city, so it gave me a sense of the city. I recall my first subway ride, my first time in Times Square. I recall being in the midst of Times Square and thinking, "This isn't the way I saw it in the movies! The funny thing is that when I see films like Taxi Driver, Cruising, Midnight Cowboy, they really depict the grittiness of what Manhattan was like at the time.
[More to come! Stay tuned for Part Two....]