(First published, in a slightly different form, in the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine Jan 16, 1994.)
It was a bit disconcerting to have my high school boyfriend smiling down from the cover of People magazine as “The Sexiest Man Alive” while I was maneuvering a shopping cart in the checkout line, rummaging for my wallet and grappling with my toddler over the candy display.
My old boyfriend is Harry Hamlin. Although I hadn’t spoken with Harry in more than 20 years, I’d certainly heard about the milestones of his life. Tabloid headlines shouted them at me. “Italian Goddess Has Love-Child with Toga-Clad Co-Star!” “Kusak Quits, Leaves L.A. Law in the Lurch!” “Harried Harry: Nicolette Bolts for Bolton!”
I have to say, I didn’t think Harry was happy.
But then again, how could he be? After dating 17-year-old Kathy of Hollidaysburg, PA, president of the Baldwin School Chorus, wouldn’t everything else fall short?
A chorus concert brought us together. It was the spring of 1970. I was a senior at the Baldwin School (for girls) in Bryn Mawr; Harry was a senior at the Hill School (for boys) in Pottstown.
Between renditions of “Sentimental Journey” and selections from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, I had a solo. Alone on the Assembly Room stage, I sang a plaintive piece by Donovan, wearing my chorus-issued straight black skirt and white blouse, with my Martin acoustic guitar slung across my 5-foot-1 frame and my brown hair hanging down my back.
Finding me irresistible, Harry asked me to dance after the concert. From that point on we were together. Well, as together as two kids can be when they attend boarding schools 25 miles apart. We did have the combined rehearsals for the annual spring Humanities Concert, when the Baldwin School Chorus and the Hill School Glee Club performed a choral masterwork.
The campuses of our schools didn’t always confine us. Spring-term weekends were free for seniors—to go home. Harry’s family lived in Pasadena, almost 3,000 miles from the Hill School. Hollidaysburg was only a three-hour drive. Harry came to Hollidaysburg.
Upon first arriving, he presented my mother with a hostess gift: several jars of homemade jams bound up in blue-and-white gingham bows. Satisfied that Harry was a young man of good manners, my mother proceeded to fill him with food. “More leg of lamb, Harry? Kathy, pass Harry the mint sauce. We have plenty of mashed potatoes in the kitchen.”
My father, on the other hand, was interested in the intellectual:
My dad: “Tell me, is Dr. Groten still conjugating verbs in sixth-form Latin?”
Harry: “Yes, sir.”
My dad: “Ah, good. Kathy’s brothers had him. A fine teacher, a fine teacher. And Mr. Brown—have you enjoyed his chemistry classes?”
Harry: “I’m sorry, Dr. Taylor. I don’t take chemistry.”
My dad: “Too bad. A fine teacher, a fine teacher. I understand you’ll be attending Berkeley. Isn’t that the school with all the hippies?”
Harry: “There are some hippies, sir, but I believe they’re a minority.”
My dad: “I hope Kathy’s going to show you the Horseshoe Curve. A true feat of engineering.”
After spending weekends with my parents, Harry would surely find any future in-laws disappointing.
If not disappointing, Hollywood would be disturbing after Hollidaysburg. Think of the smog and congestion alone. The 6,000 people who made up the greater Hollidaysburg area didn’t create much of either. Oh, on some days a sour smell that made your eyes water would drift over from the paper mill in Tyrone. And when I was young, traffic leaving Hollidaysburg on Route 36 sometimes got backed up at the train tracks at Bakers Farm Stand. By the time Harry visited, though, the paper mill had been closed down, and Mr. Beegle’s construction company had built the Route 36 Bypass right over the train tracks.
Air travel would have been more pleasant than at L.A. International as well—as long as you didn’t mind that the airport was in the middle of a cornfield and that there was just one gate, one flight a day, to one place: Pittsburgh. The person who took your ticket at the counter would later greet you at the steps of the plane. Sometimes the pilot helped load the luggage. A group effort.
Of course, some things weren’t considered appropriate for groups. Necking, for example. I’d read that Harry had been spotted “necking” in the light booth at an Elton John concert. At least in Hollidaysburg, Harry had some privacy. The light was the flickering late movie, broadcast from WJAC-TV, Channel 6 in Johnstown, and the sole witness was my cat, Sparky, who never reported anything to the papers.
My introduction to Harry’s dramatic talents came during graduation weekend at the Hill School. On Saturday evening, June 6, 1970, the Dramatics Club presented The Fantasticks. Memorial Hall with its dark-paneled walls was packed with parents and guests, faculty and underclassmen, all eager to watch the final production of the Class of 1970.
The lights dimmed and we became silent. The spotlight came up—and there was Harry, the Indian. Around him, sparse furnishings made up the set: a few slat-backed chairs, a clothesline, a large trunk. On this nearly barren stage, Harry and his classmates conjured up a magical performance about The Boy and The Girl and their ripped and rewoven romance.
At the final curtain, the audience rose to its feet in wild applause. I can remember smiling and clapping so hard that my jaw and my hands ached.
After our graduations, I went back home to Hollidaysburg and planned for college on the East Coast. Harry went back home to Pasadena and planned for college on the West Coast, Our letters and phone calls across country dwindled over the summer—and then we lost touch. Harry went on to star in plays, films, telemovies and an acclaimed series. I, on the other hand, went on to teach Hamlet to seniors at the Baldwin School (for girls).