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My mother took me to see Richard Burton on stage in Hamlet when I was 13. What electrified me most was afterwards — seeing Liz Taylor waiting for him outside in the back seat of the limo with roses.
To the moon, Harry!
My father was a rocket scientist, head of the Jupiter rocket program. He built the rocket engine that went to the moon, and I now have his patent. But he also thought the space program was nonsense. He said, “There’s no reason to go up there, there’s nothing there!”
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A fork in the road
I went from an Episcopal boarding school wearing a coat and tie every day in a Rust Belt town in Pennsylvania to Berkeley, where I wanted to become an architect. I was late to school and those classes were mostly full, so my plan was to do one quarter of acting then go back to architecture. Then they started putting me in play after play, and I didn’t have time to go back to architecture school.
I loved them, but my parents were bigots. The words they used for different ethnic groups were atrocious. I was 15 — what did I know except what I heard around the dinner table? Until I went to camp in New Hampshire and a counselor took me behind the tent and roughed me up, saying, “That’s not the way the world works!” That was a huge life lesson.
The doctor is in
Since college — I ended up majoring in drama and psychology — a copy of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has sat on my desk. I can use it to identify personality disorders, particularly among the folks on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills [starring his wife, Lisa Rinna].
Forty years later, people still come up to me and say the film Making Love [in which his character comes to terms with being gay] changed their lives. I get emotional every time — I cry.