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Chapter 4  -  FOX SCREEN TESTS - EAST COAST SUMMER STOCK  (Jun 1949-Nov 1951)
    "spreading wings"

Fresh from his high school graduation, David Janssen begins what becomes almost 2–1/2 years of ambling. A pole-vaulting accident in 1948 has squashed his athletic hopes and with it, a chance for a college scholarship. Consequently, he chooses not to attend. Instead, he does a lot of loafing with friends while looking for work. Acting, which he's already dabbled in, seems a likely fall-back career and over the course of the end of his teen years, Dave makes various attempts to pursue this goal with his mother’s active help. But he’s at an awkward age professionally, and progess is slow...


Jun 18
It's two days after his graduation from Fairfax High School. David is living at home with his mother, step-father, and 2 half-sisters Teri, age 6, and Jill, 3. The family apartment is at Park LaBrea, located near the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles. On this day, he begins a new term with the Order of DeMolay, attending a 7:30 meeting. Involved with DeMolay since 1946, it's an organization whose stated purpose is to prepare young men, ages 12-21 "to lead successful, happy, and productive lives... by developing the civic awareness, personal responsibility and leadership skills." It is a Masonic-affiliated group.
Jun 19 Mother Berniece travels to Nebraska to see her family until July 7. It is not known if David accompanies her for any part of this trip.
Jul 9 David goes to a party and a show.
Jul 14 David goes to a show.
Jul 16 Attends a DeMolay dinner.
Jul 26

A screen test at 20th Century-Fox. David had a meeting at the studio a week before school let out (June 9th) and knew there would be a forthcoming test. This was the 1st of the 2 known tests he has at this studio as an 18 year old. Not much is known about it. He is quoted in later years as having been tested in various hair colors and makeup looks for a total of 4 times.

Agent Sue Carol allegedly helped him to land these Fox tests. Carol was a former actress, married to Alan Ladd, who ran a talent agency under the name of Evelyn Lederer. She handled such clients as Peter Lawford, Rory Calhoun, Julie London, Keefe Brasselle, and Milburn Stone during her career.

(photo of SUE)

Jul 30 David has play rehearsal (also on Jul 31, Aug 4). This is perhaps for a play with Jack Holland's Stagelighters, a group which he performed with in several plays during his Junior and Senior years.
Aug 2 With Jack Holland, David attends a preview.
Aug 6

David is called to report to the California National Guard in Victorville, CA. Berniece drives him, his friend Tom Simmons, and 2 other boys at 6:30am. He'd joined up in April but this is his first training of any consequence. He will be at the base for 2 weeks with the 146th Fighter Group.

A Guard check had come in 4 days earlier for $15 for a previous shorter stint. However his mother took $10 for car insurance and $5 for rent!

Aug 13

A long letter sent home from Victorville:

Dear Parents and Sister,
When you get up at 4:00 in the morning the days seems to go by so slow that by the end of it a person feels like he has put in 2 days work without stopping. With the schedule we have there isn’t much time left for writing or personal pleasure although I have it considerably easy, if you can call it that. As I said, the day begins at 4:00 AM. Mess is at 4:15, but in order to eat at 4:15 you would have to get up at 3:00 in the morning to get in line. If you get up at 4:00 and rush right over to mess, you will eat about 6:00 or 6:30. If you finish at 6:30 this makes you an hour late for work call which is at 5:30, so where are you. Our sq. is composed mostly of officers, only 15 EM, so we have it easier than the most. If we are an hour or so late nothing is usually said, but there is no guarantee on that. All in all the army is a good place, for somebody else.

The food is prepared quite good, but the trays are not cleaned as good as you would want. No matter which one you pick up it has yesterday’s grease on it, which after a time leads to a good case of the G.I’.s. I am feeling alright so far. but I can feel it creeping up on me. All I can hope for is that I get home before the dam breaks. Ask dad about what the G.I.’s are.

On with the average day. Work call is from 5:30 to 11:00. After 11:00 you are assigned to special duties which can include anything from baseball to cleaning out the barracks. I talked to the Lt. in charge of the pool and finally got a lifeguard duty. I work from 12 to 4:00. Mess is at 4:15 and it is about 2 times as hard to get served. After I get dressed and am ready to eat it is about 4:30 and the line is three times around the base. If you receive your food and finish eating by 7:30 you have really accomplished something. The lines are really to (sic) long and they are building another mess hall. I hope it is through in time to do some good. It is near completion now so maybe we willl get a break. Lights are out at 10:30 but in order to wake up feeling good, I go to bed about 8:30. How about that! That’s about the setup around here. I hope you are all feeling fine. Write soon and forward Teri’s letters if any. I love you all very much and miss you the same.

Your son and brother,
(Pvt. that is)

P.S.  I just received your letter and am very sorry you thought I lost all my money playing cards. Actually it was only 2 dolllars of my five, and I wouldn’t have spent that, but I was in bed by 8:30 and lights out were not until 10:30 and everybody was playing cards. It happens that the bunk next to me is empty and it is the local gathering spot. I couldn’t sleep and there is absolutely nothing to do here but work and slept (sic). The base theater and EM club are not going to be opened until next week, so unless you sleep or work all the time you just sit around and go crazy. Reading isn’t a bad idea, but try and concentrate when 5 or 6 guys are playing cards and making a lot of noise and are sitting on the bunk next to you. It is true mother that the food I can eat and enjoy, but if you get at the end of the line by the time you do eat they are usually short of food and the portions get smaller and smaller, so after you do eat and are still hungry the only thing left to do is go to the P.X. and get a hamburger or something to fill you up. Things are not as cheap as you would expect. Hamburgers are 25 cents, cokes are a 10 cents, and french fries are 15 cents, and things such as razor blades and shaving lotion and etc. are retail and then some.

Laundry is another thing that has to be sent out. If you did wash your own it would have to be in the sink with G.I. soap. Then if you could find a place to dry them without someone taking them, there is no place to iron them even if you could find an iron. The first 3 days we had to clean up the barracks and the surrounding grounds, so my first pare (sic) of sun tans were so dirty after that I couldn’t wear them without getting into trouble with the officers in my section. So my laundry goes out, and that takes money. 30 cents for pants and 25 cents for shirts, there’s 50 cents right there. It doesn’t seem like much but it all adds up and before you know it your money's gone. As for the $1.00 you gave me for breakfast, thats what I used it for.

As for church, the base chapel had not been opened by Sunday, and besides we were required to work Sunday in order to set things up for the two weeks ahead. The little P.S. is first to let you know what goes on out here and for everyones information I like playing cards but I am not addicted to gambling or do I drink to excess. And mother dear I am not growing away from the church. I will I have become disinterested in the way things were being carried on at the church we have been attending and because of that I have not been to eager to go, but my soul is just as clean as it ever was. Also, if going out ever (sic) night clasifys (sic) me as a problem child or what have you, all I can say is I’m sorry but I don’t feel that it does. As far as I can see going out at night makes me guilty of only one thing -- not getting enough rest at times. Also if I am considered old enough to pay my own way and meet my own obligations, then I fully expect to be able to spend my own money the way I see fit.

I appreciate your interest in my welfare, but like always you never know the whole situation before you tell me what I should do and what I shouldn’t do. I know you and dad know much more about things in this world than I do, but i don’t believe you would be doing any different then (sic) I have done while I am here at this hole in the ground called Victorville. Hope this finds you all well and happy.

Your son

Aug 14 David comes home on a weekend pass.
Aug 17

Another letter home which contains the following excerpts:

“This being the army, nothing is new here. We are doing the same thing a week ago that we are doing today”

“Getting up at 4 in the morning has only one advantage and that is 6:30 or 7 will seem like the middle of the day from now on”

“I go on KP duty in about 2 or 3 hours and that’s going to be lovely. I think I’ll quit--they are not paying me enough "

Aug 20 Dave returns home from 2 weeks National Guard training at Victorville.
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No longer a teen, Janssen has made some strides towards independence, spending 5 months on the East Coast, and, for the moment, living on his own. He has made some good male friends, dates a little, but has no real prospects for the acting career that he's been prepared for. A well-deserved break is about to change all that...



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