INTERVIEW WITH ESQUIRE FOR KIDS MAGAZINE, JULY, 1980 ISSUE
In 1980, Esquire magazine tried to expand its readership by launching Esquire for Kids, a monthly periodical targeted for boys 8-16 that looked at the life of leisure for young men. Seen as a way to lure young men into reading their parent magazine as they got older, the magazine lived a short life, closing its doors after only three issues due to low readership, as well as a caustic focus group of preteen boys, who in their review of the magazine called it “stupid” and “lame”, with one 14-year-old saying, “What do kids need to know about leisure? We spend most of our time sitting on the couch, watching TV and playing Atari, that’s leisure. How’s that going to fill 12 issues a year?”
The most memorable moment of Esquire for Kids’ short history, however, was its interview with Frank in the July issue, an issue guest-edited by Eight is Enough star (and future Scott Baio sidekick in Zapped and Charles in Charge) Willie Aames. In the interview, Frank spoke openly about his career in acting and the Hollywood system, in whole.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING FRANKIE: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE PINT-SIZED, DEEP-VOICED STAR OF WHO TOOK THE GRAVY? By Merrick Hillsbury
Frankie Belmondo has been through a lot in his life – left behind by circus folk as a baby; adopted by a Baptist minister and his wife; becoming an acclaimed modern dance prodigy, then tearing his Achilles’ tendon in a freak accident after a ground-breaking performance; then moving to Hollywood and becoming the coolest star on the hottest new TV show, all while withstanding a barrage of fiery protests from social groups regarding his controversial character.
And, oh, yes, he’s only ten years old.
In an exclusive interview with Esquire for Kids, Belmondo speaks about his life, his career, and what makes him tick.
ESQUIRE FOR KIDS (EfK): The first question has to be one that I’m sure you get asked all of the time: your voice.
FRANKIE BELMONDO (FB): That wasn’t really a question, but that’s okay. I get it. My voice. That comes from being dropped down a well as a baby. Whether it was the cold water or the damp conditions, it strained my vocal cords so severely that I now have this voice. Luckily for me it became my gimmick, my schtick – that’s the word that my agent uses to describe it.
FB: But I do not recommend that parents start dropping their kids down wells in order to get them into show business. I’m actually one of the spokespeople for A.A.E.P.A. – Actors Against Extreme Parents and Acting. Did you know that there are twelve deaths a year from children being put into extreme acting situations? Our organization and our chairman, Mickey Rooney, would like to stop that.
EfK: You are extremely mature and self-assured for a child of your age.
FB: Well, thank you, Merrick. I have to be. I’ve been put in situations where I have had to be the adult, the leader. Also, I am a big reader. My tutor, Patsy, always tells me that he’s amazed how much reading I do. And I try to work on my vocabulary constantly. I have a Word-a-Day calendar. I skip ahead whenever I can.
EfK: When you were a dancer, how was that experience?
FB: To tell you the truth, Merrick, that is my true love. I wish that I could go back to it, but the doctors have told me to forget about it. Acting’s good, though. It keeps me from having a real job.
EfK: But you’re only ten. You don’t need a real job.
FB: True. Well, you know what I mean.
EfK: Fannie Flagg, your co-star on Who Took the Gravy?, has said that you are, and I quote, “more inquisitive than a junkyard dog after spring cleaning.” Care to comment?
FB: I have no idea what that means. That must be something Southern, I guess. I like Fannie, though. She’s good people.
EfK: What is your relationship like with your parents?
FB: Which ones?
EfK: Let’s go through all of them, shall we?
FB: Okay. I don’t know my birth parents. Someday I’ll try to find them, but not now. I’m not ready. As for the Lasters, I think of them as my real parents. They’re in West Virginia. I see them every few months. They are really nice and they support me being out here, but I miss them and I get homesick. My dad, he’s a minister and he talks about God all of the time. I try to be religious here but it’s hard here. Too many parties. Buck, my agent, he’s currently my guardian at the moment. He’s different from my dad, but he’s okay.
EfK: What personality traits do you think you have obtained from all of them?
FB: Um, as I said, I didn’t know my birth parents, but I guess that I got my dancing from them. The Lasters can’t dance and before me they actually thought about banning dancing in their county….hmmm…that might make a good movie. I’ll have to remember that one. A young, rebellious kid teaching a whole town that dancing is okay…nah, that would never work. From the Lasters I learned a love of God and to always have a positive look on life. Buck…well, he keeps me working.
EfK: Have you thought about doing anything more with your acting? Movies?
FB: I have talked about movies with some studio people, but they seem to come to me with the same ideas all of the time. Half of the ideas start with “You can play a kid with a really deep voice who…” Yes, I have a deep voice. I get it. Either that or they want me to play a handicapped kid who overcomes adversity, that’s how they put it. I have to say it, most studio guys wouldn’t have an original idea if it, pardon my English, smacked them in the butt and yelled “Hey, this will work!” The one role I have considered is playing Froggy in a Little Rascals movie. I like the Rascals, especially Buckwheat.
EfK: Aren’t you biting the hand that feeds you?
EfK: I’m sorry…aren’t you insulting the people that write your checks?
FB: Maybe. But my father – Reverend Laster, not my birth father – he always said, “Always have pride in what you do.” Most studio guys work in fear. They only give ideas that everybody else gives. You find me a studio executive with a spine and I’ll give you the Holy Grail. Take a chance! Be proud!
EfK: So what original ideas do you have?
FB: Me? I’m only ten. The studio guys, they are adults. They went to college. I may have a twelfth-grade reading level, but I’m not William Shakespeare. They pay me to act. And there are good writers – the people on my show, for example, they are very funny. Our head writer, Scott Kannberg, he has this great script that he is working on about an alien who becomes the manager of a punk band. He calls it Anarchy in the U.F.O. The name has something to do with a punk band that he likes. Scott’s a good guy. We play Dungeons and Dragons together. I have an eighth-level Paladin named Glendor who has a plus-5 Holy Sword. He’s only a fifth-level Cleric (laughs). I always have to come in to save the day.
EfK: Going back to your comments about studio heads wanting you to play another handicapped character; you have received a lot of controversy about the character that you play on Who Took the Gravy? Let’s talk about Jeffrey.
FB: Okay, let’s…oh, that was a question? Really? Boy, some lazy interviewing, Merrick. Fine. Jeffrey is a great character, and I don’t think that I’m insulting anyone by playing him. I am Jeffrey. The only difference between him and me is that he is a wheelchair and I am not. Well, he’s also Catholic, and I’m a Baptist, but that’s not such an incredible stretch, as both believe in the same God. That might upset some Catholics and Baptists, but let’s face it; they’re all just trying to be good people and they both read the Bible. As for the protests…I don’t know. I’m sorry if I have offended anyone, but comedy is supposed to offend, to break barriers. Therefore, the critics can stuff it. That’s all I have to say on that matter.
EfK: Do you think that your talents have been fully utilized?
FB: Not quite. I am a unique talent, one that should be fully appreciated. Am I the most talented cast member on the show? I didn’t say that. But I may be the most unique talent they have, and that should be rewarded financially, and given opportunities to shine creatively. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so.
EfK: A question that we always ask with Esquire for Kids, what do you like to do to relax?
FB: Oh, I like to stay at home and watch TV. I play board games. I used to crossbow hunt a lot, but you can’t really do that in Los Angeles. By the way, if there are any crossbow hunting groups in Los Angeles, readers, please let me know! I read a lot, as I said before. Frisbee golf. I love Frisbee golf.
EfK: Where do you see your future taking you?
FB: I don’t know. Somewhere good (laughs), I guess. That’s my hope.
EfK: Any hopes or fears that you have?
(To see Chapter VII, click here)