This is Samuel Barber’s beautiful Adagio for Strings, used as the soundtrack of Oliver Stone’s film, Platoon, which won the 1986 Oscar for best picture. Use it as your soundtrack in reading this story, a chapter from the impressive life of SB David Larkin (Desert SBs).
When I left the theatre on La Brea in Hollywood around noon in 1986 having watched Platoon, the first morning showing on its opening day, Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid were just arriving at the theatre and asked me what I thought of the film. Of course, I said it was great and that they would love it. I was still feeling the afterglow of the great film experience. The romance between Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid was not public, but I quickly put two and two together. I knew Meg Ryan from the Loft Studio, also on La Brea, where I studied acting for over two years. Our teacher, Peggy Feury, was considered the best acting teacher in LA at the time. I had asked a writer/producer what the best acting studio was, and he made some inquiries for me, and was informed that the Peggy Feury at the Loft Studio was the best, that the major studios and agencies sent their young actors there to study. Peggy studied acting with Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe at Lee Strasburg’s Actors Studio in NY and was the first person Lee Strasburg allowed to teach his class.
I auditioned and they accepted me, which was great. A year or so after starting there, in class with about 25 or so others, for a time, Lily Tomlin would come into our class dressed in her sweat clothes and practice scenes from her upcoming Broadway solo play, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, written by her long-time partner, Jane Wagner. When she finished her scene, we students would leave, and Lily would stay and work privately with Peggy. Others who studied there were Nick Cage, Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, and other young actors. John Mayall’s wife, and Joe Namath’s wife were both in my class briefly. Pittsburgh Steelers NFL Hall of Fame receiver from the seventies was in Peggy’s beginners class for a while. One of Linda Ronstadt’s guitarists, backup singers, and arrangers of some of her hits, Andrew Gold, was in my class briefly.
A brief aside. One day Peggy had me get a haircut and come back to the studio. I did and she looked at me and told me to go get it cut again. It was not short enough. When I asked why she gave me a list of famous male movie stars, “They all had short hair,” she said. So I had two haircuts in one day. Another day, she looked at me, and asked “Are you lifting weights?” I said I was. I had been working out at a gym on Santa Monica Blvd with Michael Pare who had just starred in Eddie and the Cruisers. I met him at the gym. She said I should stop lifting. I asked Peggy why? She said I was starting to look to muscle bound for the good lead roles.
Although I did not think she liked my acting, Peggy liked me and when assigning scenes, she would play matchmaker, saying, “David, would you like to do a scene with Susie?” with a wink to me. Susie was cute and had just co-starred with Michael J. Fox in the feature film, Teen Wolf. Turns out she was dating a dentist and thought it was serious. She left the studio shortly thereafter and we did not perform the scene in class. Oh well. I am pretty sure she did not marry the dentist. One day, a Friday, at the studio, Peggy came up to me with a glass of wine and a big smile. She said, “David, I am so proud of you. I think you are ready for any role!” I was shocked because I thought she didn’t like my acting based on her “constructive” criticism over time. So all of a sudden, I thought I might get a big break with her help. She had great credibility with the agencies and studios.
Two weeks later, Peggy died in a fiery car wreck on Sepulveda Blvd. It was devastating personally and for all of us who studied with her and loved her. We all mourned at her home for four days. One of those days, I remember babysitting with Daphne Zuniga, a few children who were at Peggy’s house with their parents. Burgess Meredith, Jack Nicholson and others came by to give condolences. Although I had my SAG card, all my acting credibility was with Peggy who was no longer with us. I basically looked the circumstances of her death and my life, as a sign from God, that I should just be a lawyer and have a family one of these days, perhaps. I liked being a lawyer, and I was emotionally burned out by Peggy’s death, and the sudden end of my hopes. Moreover, Michael Nader, who starred as Dex Dexter in the TV drama, Dynasty, studied at the studio at night with the working actors. One night I was talking with him, and commented that he must be set for life with that role. He agreed with a smile and said he had a home in the Hollywood Hills, a wife and kids and a Mercedes, house and car all paid for. But he made the caveat, that when he got the role, he had been in the business for twenty-five years, since he was a teen, and when he got the role, he was making pizzas to make ends meet. That added some to my decision to leave LA with the continuing risk of never succeeding.
So, I left LA, show business and the Beverly Hills law firm who were letting me work part-time so I could act, and moved to Carmel, California and became a small town trial lawyer, marrying Susan, a Carmel woman, and moving to Phoenix in 1990 where I started my solo law firm with Susan as my office manager, paralegal, bookkeeper, and manager of me for over 30 years now. When I told the partners at the Beverly Hills firm that I was leaving, they asked me why I would do that, when in a couple of years I would be a millionaire. That’s what they said to me. I decided to forego being a millionaire to escape the fast lane. I have had a good life since then, and no regrets. There is something about being accepted as a peer by movies stars that makes be believe that if God had wanted me to be a movie star, I would have been one. Personally, I do not think I had the strength of character at that time in my life to resist the temptations of fame and fortune, even if that unlikely life had embraced me, and that may have been why God moved me out of Hollywood. A few months later, I drove up Highway 1 in a U-Haul truck, accompanied by my mother who flew over from Arizona to ride up with me, and started a life in Carmel, California. I heard Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings on the local classical music FM station yesterday in the car, KBAQ, and thought of Barber’s Adagio this morning and Platoon and then this trip down memory lane unexpectedly. Great memories though.
© 2021, David Larkin