When red flags began to pop up on the school front, blue veins would pop up on Dad's forehead. A barely passing grade, or a call from school about a trip to the principal's office, prompted a harsh reprimand from Dad, followed by a probative grilling as to what the hell I was thinking and demands that I get my "ducks in a row forthwith." I wasn't failing out of rebellion though; I wasn't angry at my parents, or anybody else. Yet throughout junior high, my academic grades continued to plummet. The reprisals from Dad, once automatic, tapered off as he accepted their futility. He'd curl his lip, throw up his hands, and stalk off—that is, if I didn't slink off first.
By the time I entered high school, I had forsaken academics altogether in favor of my burgeoning acting career. An aptitude had become a passion and flowered into a dream. During much of the fall of 1978, I was going to school by day and performing at night in a long-running hit play at the Vancouver Arts Club, the big Equity theater company in town. I'd work at the theater until well after midnight every night, climb out of bed in the morning, go through the I'm-off-to-class motions, scramble into my pickup truck, proceed to the nearest park, pull under the cool shade of a maple tree, fish a foam pad out of the cab, slap it down in the bed of the truck, and go back to sleep.
My first class in the morning was drama, and I found myself in the strange position of receiving solid reviews for my professional acting at the same time I was flunking high school drama for too many absences. I pointed this irony out to my drama teacher, angling for credit for work experience. No soap. Truth is, her hands were tied by administrative policy.
Over time, it became clear that I was flunking just about every class I had. I gave notice that I would not be returning for classes in the spring. I made the rounds at school, cleaned out my locker, and said good-bye to friends and those teachers with whom I was still on speaking terms. Doubt about the wisdom of my decision was nearly unanimous. I remember one exchange, in particular, with a social studies teacher. "You're making a big mistake, Fox," he warned. "You're not going to be cute forever." I thought about this for a beat, shot him a smile, and replied, "Maybe just long enough, sir. Maybe just long enough."
My dad agreed to drive me down to Los Angeles to find an agent and begin to build a career. You might have expected him to protest, but having only stayed in school through eighth grade himself, he reasoned that although I was a screw-up in school, I was already making a decent wage as an actor. Of the move to California, he said, "Hey, if you're going to be a lumberjack, you'd better go to the forest."
Whoa, you the high school or college grad might be thinking right now. That's a helluva lot different from my experience. I don't know . . . is it? As I reflect on it now, it seems fairly representative of the rite of passage that millions of seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds go through every year. My leaving home was analogous to the experience of any fledgling college student.
I gave myself four years to achieve my goal of becoming a steadily working actor, and what's more, I had a leg up on many of my peers heading off to State U. in that I already had my major, recognizing of course that it was not one offered by my erstwhile high school.