David Hedison - An Inspiration
Onscreen and In Real Life
The first time I fell in love, I was 13. Oh, I'd had crushes before, Michael Landon on Bonanza, Robert Horton on Wagon Train, but those were mere childhood flights of fantasy. When I was 13, I experienced the real thing. It was September 14, 1964. That was when Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea premiered. The first time I laid eyes on David Hedison, I knew it was the real thing. I became a faithful viewer and his number one fan.
Two months later, I was involved in an accident that shattered the bones in my ankle and left me in a huge cast and on crutches. Oddly enough, my memories of the accident are very sketchy. What I remember most was waking up after hours of surgery. I felt horribly sick, but the first words out of my mouth were about Voyage. It was Monday, and I didn't want to miss my show. There were no VCRs then and nobody to tape the show for me. I was desperate to get to a TV. The nurses and doctors thought I was crazy, I'm sure, but I insisted on being released from intensive care so I could be back in my room by 7:30. Imagine me, a shy 13 year old, demanding to be sent back to my room or I'll get up and leave! Well, I guess they could tell I was serious, so they got me back to my room in time for the opening credits. I still remember the episode, "The Magnus Beam". That one remains one of my favorites, for sentimental reasons.
My parents learned a great truth from this experience. Once you have something really important to dangle in front of a child, it's amazing what you can get her to do. I didn't want to do my exercises! I didn't want to do my home study! But I did want to watch my show. My parents never actually took my show away from me, but they threatened and that was enough. I can remember my mother going to the TV set and turning the volume all the way down. She had already taken away my crutches, and she expected me to exercise my leg by walking over to the TV set and turning the volume back up. It worked, too. Remember, this was before remote controls were widely in use. This is how I learned to walk again. Darn tricky parents.
In the spring of 1966, I had yet another operation on my leg. I was back on crutches again and very depressed about it. Didn't want to walk on my crutches. I wanted to sit and feel sorry for myself. Then came the dangling carrot. My mother learned that David Hedison was appearing in a nearby city in a production of Teahouse of the August Moon. But, I would have to get better on the crutches if I wanted to go. After that, I FLEW!!!
The night of the play finally arrived. Teahouse was done in the round. The stage was in the middle of the theater surrounded by seats. The actors made their entrances and exits by coming up the aisles. My mother had only been able to get one really good seat and she gave that one to me. My mother, my father, and my brother sat way in the back. Not only was I in the front row, I had an aisle seat. (Because of my leg they made special accommodations.) I could see all the actors very well, and they frequently walked right past me to make their entrances. Fred Clark and Ray Walston were also in the cast. I was familiar with both of them, particularly Ray Walston. Shortly after the play had started, I glanced up and there was David, standing right next to me, waiting for his cue to go on stage. All I could do was stare. Suddenly, he looked down at me and caught my eye. I am sure I looked like a fool, but he winked at me and gave me the most beautiful smile.
After the play was over, my brother and I walked around trying to find where the actors were. I wanted so badly to get his autograph. Suddenly, while we were standing near one of the aisles, David walked by with another person. When he came back up the aisle, he stopped to talk to us. I was so nervous I couldn't speak. I remember him asking me what had happened to my leg. My brother (who was 14 at the time) told him, "She's just clumsy, she's always falling down." I was too nervous to even be embarrassed. All I could do was just stare at Mr. Hedison. I finally managed to hand him my program and ask for his autograph, which he gave me. My brother said, "I don't collect autographs, but I would like to shake your hand." I watched in envy as my brother actually TOUCHED him. I wanted to touch him so badly, but I was so shy. I think he knew, because after he shook hands with my brother, David put his arm around me and told me he hoped I'd get better very soon. He walked me all the way up the aisle with his arm still around my shoulder. Then, he was gone.
I don't remember the ride home. I don't remember much about the next few days. I spent them floating on a cloud. It was, without a doubt, the most wonderful experience of my young life. I think that I would have been really shattered if he had been rude or mean or brushed us off. But he was so sweet and kind. I knew I would never forget that experience. For the rest of her life, my mother had a soft spot in her heart for David Hedison--because of that night--and frequently included him in her prayers.
Well, the years passed. Voyage went on for another two years and then left the air. It was very traumatic for me when it finally went off, but fortunately, it came back in reruns and was I glad. Eventually, even the reruns left the air. However, true fan that I was, I continued to watch for David in TV and movies. I grew up, got married, had two children, and went about all the things that adults normally go through. But I never got over David. He was always my first love and I felt like he was a dear friend.
After about 20 years had passed, I had the opportunity to meet David again. This time he was appearing in a production of Are You Now or Have You Ever Been...? He did not have a huge part, but it was very intense. I was riveted by his performance and by the play. It was very powerful. An interesting side note is that this play was staged at a small theater, so it was quite intimate. Seated next to me was Mike Farrell of M.A.S.H., and his wife, Shelley Fabares. (They had only been married a short time and I had the chance to speak with them both during the intermission. Lovely people.)
After the play was over, I went backstage to try to speak with David. I was terrified. I had absolutely no idea what I would say to this man who had been so very important in my life. I wasn't sure if he would be too busy to talk to me. It took every bit of nerve I had to go through that door.
As I walked into the room, I quickly looked around and there he was. Almost directly in front of me. If I had taken two giant steps, I would have run right into him. He was talking with Mike Farrell and from what I could pick up, Dave had fouled up on Shelley's name--or maybe he hadn't recognized her--or something like that. He was a bit flustered, at any rate, and ran quickly outside to apologize to the lady. When he came back in, I hesitantly approached him.
"Uh, Mr. Hedison, I uh, well, uh, hello, uh, AREN'T YOU EVER GOING TO GET OLD?" (I can't believe I said that.)
"Well, not if I can help it," he replied.
I felt like such an idiot. I decided to try to think of something clever to say: "I just wanted you to know that you are the only person I would brave the L.A. freeways for. I drove here all the way from Riverside to see you."
He smiled at me then and said, "I know those freeways and you must be a fan. Hello."
At this point he stuck out his hand to shake hands.
I began to relax a little and felt bold enough to remind him of the first time we had met. I told him that our first meeting had been a lifetime ago for me. That I had only been 13 at the time and had since grown up, gotten married, and had two children. I also told him he didn't look that much different.
He said, with a smile, that he had also gotten married and had two children since that time. In fact, he said, his girls were here with him to see the play. Would I like to meet them?
"Oh, yes, I would," I said, trying to be cool about it.
He then called to two teenage girls who were standing a few feet away. I hadn't noticed them before.
He introduced me to them both; the pride that he felt for them was obvious. He seemed to have such a loving relationship with the girls, and they seemed so proud of him. It was very touching. Alexandra was a dead ringer for her dad, but both girls were gorgeous (must have something to do with how good looking their parents are). The three of them posed for a picture together.
Another fan of David's came back stage about this time and he posed for pictures with her also. I asked this lady to take a picture of David and me together, which she was kind enough to do. When he posed for the picture with me, he put his arm around me and was so kind and so sweet. It was wonderful.
When it came time to leave, I summoned up my courage and said to him, "I wanted you to know that you had a tremendous impact on my life and I will always be grateful to you for that. Thank you!" Bless his heart, if he thought I was being sentimental or mushy at that point, he never let on. He acted as if I had just paid him a wonderful compliment.
To this day, I keep a copy of the picture of David and me on the headboard above my bed. My husband, bless his heart, seems to understand. I have read interviews with David over the years and I know that he feels some disappointment that he never had the chance to play a really great part in a movie. I always wanted to tell him, though, that even if he never got an Academy Award, he made a difference in my life, and probably in the lives of a lot of other people. And for that he should be very, very proud.
Copyright 1998 by Melinda Face
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Hedison Photos Courtesy: Irwin Allen News Network
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