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    Actions Have Consequences

    By Dr. Tim Seelig

    In 1956, there were only three channels on television, and those were in black and white. Romper Room had the corner on the market from 1953 to 1994—long before Sesame Street or a big purple dinosaur took over the airwaves.

    I had assumed it was a national program, but found out it was regional. Miss Nancy was actually Miss Betty or Miss Cathy in other markets. In fact, my own Miss Debbie may have been famous only where I lived in Texas. But she was the most glamorous preschool teacher in the world, leading a group of real children through a morning of games and fun.

    Looking through her magic mirror straight into the camera, she listed the names of the children she saw out there in television land, and every one of us just knew she would call our names—because she could see us! Parents weren’t all that creative in naming their children back then.

    There were only about 10 for each gender, so it wasn’t that hard. It would never work today. I see Christie with a “Ch” and I see Kristi with a “K,” and I see Christy with a “y,” and I see Kristi with a “K” and an “i.” And, of course, there’s Krysty with two “y’s.” But I digress.

    Photos Courtesy of Dr. Tim Seelig

    I had developed my lungs the first two years and my artistry had been honed by listening to my mother teach voice lessons. And because I was something of a ham at a very early age, my mother dressed me up and took me to the open casting call for Romper Room with the divine Miss Debbie. The audition went great. It was pretty nonthreatening. And, lo and behold, I was selected. Oh, the rejoicing was glorious.

    When the day to begin filming rolled around, my mother dressed me in my brand-new short pants, socks, and Buster Brown shoes. I was ready for my “national television debut.” She bought a fabulous new dress and a “Sunday go-to-meeting” hat, so I guess we were both ready for “our” debut—after posing for pictures next to our very fancy DeSoto Adventurer before we left our house!

    This was my first step toward the ultimate—becoming a Mouseketeer! We arrived at the studio and were told to wait in the outer room. I had not yet met Miss Debbie in person, since some underling conducted the auditions. I could not wait.

    They opened the door to the elaborate set and, after all these years, we still can’t figure out exactly what was not to my liking. But something set me off. I don’t know if I didn’t like my outfit or I realized I was going to have to share the stage with other children. Perhaps I was just insulted at having to wait 10 minutes past the call time for my close-up, or I didn’t like the lighting on the set. Most likely, I realized it was “regional.” But for whatever reason, 2-year-old Tim returned and began to cry.

    I was not to be consoled. The producer spoke with my mother, and not being able to curb my sobs, thanked us for our trouble and sent us away. Even if I had gotten control of myself, my face would have been so blotched from the weeping that it would have rendered me unfit for even the small, grainy screen. Home we went.

    Actions have consequences. I had ruined my entire future in television because of my actions.

    It was a very long ride home. This very day would come back to haunt me exactly 20 years later in Salzburg, Austria. And now, 60 years, after the Romper Room debacle, I’ve been on the big screen and I’m going to be on the small screen! Not regional. Who’s crying now?

    Regardless, I still “failed” Romper Room. I’m pretty sure I went home, took off my new clothes and Buster Brown shoes and went out to play with my blond cocker spaniel, Honey Boy. He was the first of many wonderful canines who accompanied me throughout my life. If a dog is a boy’s best friend, I have had the joy of many best friends over these six decades. I think more than anything, I was sad that I disappointed my stage Mom because she had seemed really excited.

    I just continued doing what I was doing before that life-changing opportunity came my way. There would be others. I had no idea then, of course, that getting up, dusting myself off, and moving on to something positive would be the through-line of my life.

    Lesson learned: Actions have consequences and I would try not to go down that path again.

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

    Published on January 30, 2020