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Attending American Academy of Dramatic Arts
on the G.I. Bill

I got an honorable discharge September 15, 1945 and took the train home to Manhattan. The next day, I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, still wearing my uniform. None of my old civvies fit me anymore; I’d grown two-and-a-half inches in the army to six-feet-four.

I requested an audition for entrance to the school and was sent in to see a Mr. Diestel, a gray-haired austere assistant head of the school, who interviewed me. I filled out the necessary forms, was handed two scenes from plays that had been hits on Broadway years before and told to report back in several days for a reading. The school term was to begin October 15.

After the reading, Mr. Diestel said, "Young man, you’re accepted. Under what name will you become a student?"

"Richard Jason," I said.

That evening, after dinner, my father asked what my plans were. I was twenty-two.

"I’m going to be an actor," I said.

"Oh?" he asked, "I thought perhaps your work on the stage in Nashville would have gotten it out of your system." Hope springs eternal.

"Just the opposite. I’m going to The American Academy of Dramatic Arts."

"Who do you expect will pay for it?" was the reply.

I said, "I’m going on the G.I. Bill."

"On the what?" he asked.

"The government pays my tuition and gives me a hundred and ten dollars a month for living expenses. I auditioned today and got accepted. It’s a two-year course."

"So that means you won’t be going back to college." He was crestfallen.

"Look, Pop," I said. "I went to New York University for a year because that’s where you wanted me to go. I failed every course, and I mean every one, except English, and you still didn’t get the message. So now I’m calling my own shots and it won’t cost you a dime."

All the plans he’d had for me were going up in smoke. He made one last try. "If you’re an actor, what if you get sick? If you’re in business, at least you’ve got something solid, something that can support you until you get better."

"You told me once that they have a home for old actors. I didn’t know what to answer then," I said. "I’ve thought about it since then. When I get to be an old actor, at least I’ll have a place to go if I can’t support myself."

"That’s not what I meant," he said, but I held up a hand.

"Tell me something, Dad."

He looked at me questioningly. "Yes?"

"Do they have a home for old hatters?"

Next : Studying at the Academy of Arts

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