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MEET FAME'S NEW TEACHER
Kay Anderson Talks to Morgan Stevens on the Fame Set
The first time I talked to Morgan Stevens was when he came limping into the rehearsal hall to watch the auditions for new Fame dancers, with one ankle wrapped tightly in an elastic bandage.
"Did you do that dancing?" I asked him.
Morgan burst out laughing. "No, playing football last weekend" ' he explained.
It's probably just as well he isn't a dancer, because his passion for sports, some of them quite dangerous ones, too, would certainly put his stage career at risk. He enjoys playing football and softball, loves skiing and is a very good horseman. He also goes skydiving and scuba diving whenever he gets the opportunity. Or rather, he used to go skydiving, until the studio put a stop to it. All production. companies have to insure their stars against injuries which may hold up the filming and lead to a lot of expense, but the insurance doesn't cover anything which could possibly come under the heading of "hazardous activities", which also means that poor Morgan will have to give up riding his motorbike!
With his gorgeous tan, his blue eyes and natural blond hair - his eyebrows and eyelashes are so fair that they're almost white - an infectious smile, and the muscular build that is hidden beneath the sweatshirts and baggy jumpers he wears on the show, Morgan looks as if he should belong on a travel poster advertising the joys of living the good life in sunny California! But in fact he hails from Tennessee, something he has in common with another member of the Fame cast, Carol Mayo Jenkins. Both of them grew up in Knoxville and, though they never met in their hometown, they enjoy sharing their memories of that city.
Morgan was on his way to a party to celebrate the end of filming on a mini-series called Bare Essence, in which he plays a photographer, when he got a phone call to say he'd landed the coveted role of the new drama teacher in Fame!
"Needless to say, after hearing news like that, it was a very good party!" he commented. "I'd really wanted this role on Fame, but for a while it seemed like the show and I just kept missing each other. While Fame was holding auditions for the new season here, I was in New York with Bare Essence, then when I came back here to shoot, Fame was doing some filming in New York!
"Finally, I came down to MGM from where Bare Essence was shooting in Beverly Hills, once both shows were shooting in the same city at the same time, and met the producers during my lunch-break. A week or so later I went over to the NBC network facilities in Burbank for a quick screen-test during another lunch-break. Then I didn't hear a word for about three weeks and had just about decided that they'd cast somebody else, when the phone call came as I was walking out of the door, depressed about the end of Bare Essence and wondering what my next job was going to be."
He didn't have a lot of time to prepare for his role as David Reardon, since he got the news on a Friday and had to report for work the following Monday! As we shall see as the new series progresses, David Reardon does not directly replace Mr. Crandall, the drama teacher throughout the first series. As we have mentioned before in the magazine, Greg Crandall was played by actor Michael Thoma, who, sadly, died last September after a long illness. The people who created Fame and provide a guiding hand during the filming know full well that all the characters in it are individuals and not interchangeable. If one character leaves, like Montgomery, played by P.R. Paul, who quit the series to take up a different acting job elsewhere, no-one else is brought in to play Montgomery, although new characters might start to gain more of the spotlight.
David Reardon is introduced to us, not as the new teacher, but as an extra one. Any school the size of the school in Fame would naturally need more than one teacher per subject. In fact, during the second series, we will meet another dance teacher, besides Miss Grant. Mr. Crandall will still be referred to in the dialogue of several of the new episodes.
Since the producers and scriptwriters hadn't had much time to develop a fixed idea as to what the character of David Reardon should be like, Morgan was able to put a lot of his own ideas into the creation of his new role.
"I told the producers and the story editor that there were two things I really wanted to see in his personality" Morgan said. "I wanted him to have passion for his acting and compassion towards his students. We decided that not only is he new to this school, he's new to teaching, too. He's an actor - he came to New York from Muncie, Indiana, to break into acting - and he never intended to be a teacher. He's teaching purely for financial reasons, at least at first. His acting career isn't going well and he needs the money, because he's divorced, with a kid, and has alimony and child support on top of his own expenses.
"And, as we'll eventually learn, he needs a steady job with a regular income because he's going to try and get custody of his child. His ex-wife is planning to move to another state, and he's afraid he'll never see his kid again.
"It doesn't parallel my own background," he added hastily. "I'm not married, not divorced, have no kids. I want two of the three, though - to be married and have children."
It's certainly surprising that he hasn't been snapped up before! He's a great guy, with a wicked sense of humour which he switches on once he gets to know you better, and he's warm, emotional and very sentimental and romantic. He's well-mannered to the extent that he opens doors for women and takes their elbow to usher them across a cluttered soundstage or up and down the steep steps to the makeup and dressing-room trailers. Though he claims to be shy, his friendly manner can quickly put even the most nervous bit-part actor or overawed visitor to the set at ease.
He's extremely loyal to his family, friends and people he loves. Round his neck he always wears a medallion portraying St. Genesius, the patron saint of actors, which was given to him years ago by a girl he was in love with, as a good luck charm when he decided to go into acting. And, as we told you in issue 7, he refused to let his beloved pet dog die, but worked hard to save his life.
Morgan's father died when Morgan was only nine, and his mother was left to raise three children alone, which meant she had to sell their much-loved family home. Knowing how much his mother missed that house, Morgan managed to buy it back for her last Autumn. That's the sort of guy he is.
He can't stand prolonged goodbyes either. When the very last scene of the last episode of the second series of Fame had been shot, instead of involving himself in the tearful hugs between people who don't know whether they will ever work together again, he literally ran out of the door the second the camera had stopped turning! But he did come back for the Fame wrap party which was held a few nights later (so-called because such parties are always held after filming has 'wrapped-up').
Many actors would envy the way roles seem to have come along at the right time for Morgan. He didn't decide to become an actor until he was already at college studying advertising. But he was unhappy with his major subject so he took a year off and joined the Coast Guard to think things over for a while. While he was stationed near New York City, he went to see a lot of shows on and off-Broadway, and became very interested in acting, and when he returned for his senior year at the University of Tennessee, he switched subjects and got his degree in theatre arts.
Six months after graduation, Calvin Morgan Stevens, known to family and friends back home as Chuck, came to Hollywood and began looking for acting work under the name Morgan Stevens. He didn't expect to find roles right away, and he says one reason he decided to come to the West Coast instead of returning to New York is that "I figured I'd rather starve in the sun!"
Almost to his surprise "I thought it would take years" he says - in less than six months he got his first role. It wasn't just a bit part, which is what most unknown actors have to be content with, but the starring role in a pilot for the proposed revival of the Peyton Place series. This was followed by a T.V. Western movie called Hunter's Moon. He played Julie's fiancé in two episodes of One Day At A Time, and in three two-hour specials of The Waltons he played the suitor, later the husband, of Erin, the middle Waltons' daughter. He had appeared earlier on the Waltons as another character, one of John-Boy's roommates in the hospital during World War II.
He made guest-star appearances on Quincy and Little House On The Prairie, appeared in another T.V. movie, Hellinger's Law, and also in two cinema films, a turn-of-the-century adventure set in British Columbia, called Up River, and a science fiction tale about the survivors of World War III, Haunted Planet.
Then came the mini-series Bare Essence - and now Fame. "I've been very fortunate to have had such steady work," Morgan told me, "and I've enjoyed all the roles, but Fame is special to me. I've always wanted to have a regular, continuing role on a series so I could really develop a character and bring him along through experiences and changes. I think I'm very lucky that I got to do it on Fame."
And we're already finding out that we're lucky to have such a great new star on the show!
This interview was provided to me by Stuart Farrell.
The article above is from the Official Fame Magazines from 1983. The OFFICIAL FAME MAGAZINE was published by Beat Publications Ltd. and the interviews are copyright MGM/UA Entertainment Co.