If having the particular fathers we did accounted in some part for the attraction to the spotlight we both felt, it also may have accounted for other things we had in common. Our love of words, for instance. Words were an integral part of our fathers’ work. For Debbie’s father, the exact use and meaning of words was crucial; the misuse of one word could distort the truth or slant a news report. For my father, words were the very tools with which he constructed a relationship with his congregants and community. Words were used to heighten consciousness, to inspire, to build the bridge between silent thoughts and meaningful actions. My father had studied preaching in its heyday, and he was masterful at it. I may not remember the contents of his sermons (I was too busy counting the squares in the church ceiling or the ladies’ hats while he spoke), but I must have been listening, because to this day I can feel his style within my own. There are times I’m writing when it is almost as if his hands were guiding mine.
Because of our fathers, Debbie and I both grew up with an awareness of the world’s problems and a sensitivity to its injustices. While religion played a larger part in my life as a child, Debbie’s Jewishness played a part in shaping her sensitivity to the plight of the outsider and to the occurrence of injustice. Always protective of her little brother, she was ever on the alert for a perceived unfairness done to him or anyone else she cared about, and if she did see an injustice being done, her defense of the victim would fly from her—passionate, eloquent, dramatic, and heartfelt.
But her sensitivity to injustice and what it was to be an outsider went deeper and was more personal than mere social awareness. For despite her beauty and her sophistication, Debbie wasn’t comfortable in the world. She saw herself as different, as an outsider trying to find a way in. I, too, was an outsider. My ease with words, especially in making others laugh, and my hunger for the spotlight masked a shy, sensitive, nonathletic boy who was afraid of being seen as different, of being mocked or excluded. Words were my power, as Debbie’s beauty was hers. Words—read, spoken, or written—gave both Debbie and me the tools to try and find our way into a world where we didn’t feel quite at home and the language with which to dream.
Our common dream of becoming actors carried us through high school to the Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts where, after three years of being friends, we felt our friendship grow into something more. We moved to New York after graduating in 1968 and married in 1969.
Along the way, we acquired two cats. Debbie named hers, a delicate-looking, long-haired gray tabby, Ganymede, from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, revealing her romantic, theatrical nature. I named mine, a tiny white kitten we thought was a female, Moose, revealing my warped sense of humor. Sadly, Ganymede died from unknown causes only a year after we’d gotten her from the animal shelter. Moose, who lived to be thirteen, revealed his true gender and in a very short time grew from petite to extra-large, fully justifying the name I’d given him.
While living in our first apartment in Brooklyn Heights—just across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan—Debbie and I acquired another cat to replace Ganymede. This one, a pretty but vacuous and tirelessly irritating part-Siamese Debbie named Gudrun (after a character from D.H. Lawrence’s novel Women in Love), rounded out our household for several years. Moose never entirely took to Gudrun. He would terrorize her by stationing himself about six feet away from their food dishes and cackling at her every time she tried to eat. When it was his turn to eat (we assumed Gudrun successfully managed to get nourishment by tiptoeing to the food dishes when Moose was napping in another part of the apartment), Moose would often line up his catnip mice at the side of his dish to keep him company. We never knew if he did this because he was pretending he was throwing a dinner party or because he was imagining the mice were on the menu.
Moose in particular inspired us as we created the character of Chester. While writing the sixth book in the series—Bunnicula Strikes Again!—I found myself recalling, over twenty years later, the time I pulled what I thought was a tiny bit of string out of Moose’s mouth, only to have it uncoil for about ten feet. Harold’s recollection of Chester’s looking like a tape dispenser is a mere transposition of the words I remember thinking about Moose at the time.
But, as Harold would say, I digress.
I was talking about the post-college years in New York, when Debbie and I were in our twenties and trying to figure out what to do with our lives. Having decided I wasn’t a terribly good actor and thinking it might be nice to earn an actual living, I set my sights on getting a graduate degree in psychology and becoming a psychotherapist. I went back to school during the evenings to earn undergraduate credits in psychology, took typing jobs during the day to pay the bills (thank goodness for that touch-typing class in high school), and stayed up late most nights watching old movies on TV with Debbie.
There were no DVD players or VCRs, no cable television, in the early to mid-1970s. But there was The Late Show at 11:30, and The Late Late Show at one in the morning, and The Late Late Late Show after that. These weren’t talk shows; they were movies. Debbie and I stayed up many a night to watch our favorites—The House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum, among other adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories produced and directed by Roger Corman and frequently starring Vincent Price; and anything, anything at all, produced by the British “house of horror,” Hammer Films. These movies, many of them vampire variations starring Christopher Lee, were scary, funny, and often screamingly bad. We loved them beyond reason. We also loved non-horror movies: Sherlock Holmes mysteries starring Basil Rathbone as the famous sleuth; the Marx Brothers’ comedies; and the song-and-dance extravaganzas of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. But it was the vampire movies of Christopher Lee—Dracula: Prince of Darkness; Scars of Dracula; Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, to name a few—that we were willing to stay up until three in the morning to watch, risking bleary eyes and late arrivals at whatever typing job was currently helping to keep the bill collectors from the door.
Debbie worked at an odd assortment of jobs at this time, most of them related to the fashion industry. Neither of us was excited about the work we did, so when my applications to graduate school in psychology didn’t pan out, we decided to take another stab at making a living in the theater.
Our return to show business took us to an outdoor summer stock theater in Danville, Kentucky, called the Pioneer Playhouse. Only in our mid-twenties, we were cast as the leading man and leading lady of the season and given the opportunity to play everything from young love interests to a middle-aged couple to octogenarians. It was a glorious summer.