By Christopher Stone
By others, and by myself, I have frequently been underestimated. I have, and I continue to, benefit from the low expectations others hold for me. Underestimating myself is a different story.
How have I benefitted from underestimates? Quite simply, the low expectations of others has helped to strengthen my personal discipline, and it has forged a steely work ethic.
So, to one and all, I say, “Underestimate me, please.”
You have sufficient reason to do so.
I am in no way outstanding.
As a child, I was as nondescript as the sleepy agricultural town, Fresno, California, in which I was raised. I was a starry-eyed dreamer – a romantic, unrealistic, and whimsical boy: someone who saw the world not as it was, but as it might be with Oscar-caliber dialogue, costumes, and set design.
I was not stellar scholastically, athletically, or socially. In all ways, I was average: not a child at whom you would look twice.
There was no reason for anyone, myself included, to hold great expectations for future accomplishment.
Then, during fifth grade, I accidentally stumbled upon something at which I excelled. For a class assignment, I wrote a short, one-act play: a murder mystery. When reading my assignment aloud to the class, I held everyone’s attention – never easy when playing to a roomful of eleven-year olds.
Following my recitation, the teacher, Miss Morretti, an affable Italian-American spinster, made a decision. She announced that my class would produce and perform my play as its end of the school year project.
On performance day, the fourth grade class joined my own. My one-act was well received. And I was hooked on writing.
My literary hopes were further encouraged when, scant months later, TV Guide published my Letters to the Editor contribution.
Thereafter, I used my way with words to entertain others and myself. I put together funny magazine mock-ups. I created subversive ads for serious movies. I countered bullies with well-practiced witticism.
My parents were not delighted and thrilled at the prospect of having a writer in the family. They were forever reminding me, “People like us don’t become writers. Get into something safe and steady, maybe a nice civil service job.”
Personally, I’d rather die! I thought, at the time. But that’s not what I told them.
And I could not help but think, Maybe they are right. I was the product of a middle class, Italian-American, Bronx, New York, family. My relatives delivered mail – they held office jobs. They were sales clerks, personal secretaries, and bank tellers. Our people were not artists; nor were they entrepreneurial.
No one was more surprised than I upon learning that I had been accepted into the Writers Guild of America, West, Open Door Program, in Beverly Hills. A scholarship course of study.
My acceptance was based upon my submission to the WGAW of a short subject screenplay, titled Radio Park, which I had written, in-between college classes.
But I had not expected to be accepted. I was unused to winning.
This scholarship was also my ticket out of the torpid town in which I lived.
And so, at 21, with my VW Bug fully packed, I traded in my black and white existence in Fresno, for a Technicolor, wide screen life in Hollywood, California. The day after relocating, I attended my first class in screen and teleplay writing. Believe it, or not, the Hollywood Boulevard apartment complex into which I moved, was actually named The Hollywood Star Apartments.
My WGA teachers were all successful motion picture and television writers and producers. I felt immediately at home in Southern California, and I threw myself into my studies – and into a series of forgettable part-time jobs.
I had another big surprise when, five months into my WGA training, I applied for a part-time job as Los Angeles Editor of Stage Door, a Canadian entertainment trade weekly, and I landed the job.
How did this happened? Don’t ask. I don’t know. But suddenly, at twenty-two, and with no professional writing experience, I had my own weekly entertainment column in a national publication. And I was also reporting on special events, including the Academy Awards. Added to that, I was interviewing legendary motion picture and television stars Mae West, Joan Crawford, and John Wayne, were among my first.
Stage Door eventually led to membership in the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, and into a successful entertainment journalism career that has seen my work published in prestigious national print publications, many of them syndicated worldwide by the New York Times Syndication Corporation.
Along the way, I Co wrote and sold a motion picture screenplay. Though un produced, this sale qualified me to become a member of the Writers Guild that had launched my career. For a while, I also wrote TV quiz show questions, and later, I worked as a Vice President of Creative Affairs for a Beverly Hills-based motion picture/television production company. But I soon wearied of dealing with gutless motion picture studio and network television executives who had long ago sacrificed their integrity upon the altar of job security.
As of today, I have authored, or Co-authored, ten published books, eight of them, nonfiction successes. Right now, I’m under contract for two books: The Coming of Beth: A Minnow Saint James Metaphysical Adventure, and with coauthor, Mary Sheldon, The LGBTQ Meditation Journal. Both of them are for Laura Baumbach’s MLR Press.
Thus far, life has been sweet for this Italian-American boy, from whom no one expected much. Not only have my childhood dreams come true, they have been exceeded – and then some.
Along the way, I have definitely benefitted from the low expectations other people held for me.
Perhaps I underestimate myself because, in my eyes, I am simply a lucky so and so who somehow parlayed a minor talent into a creative, fulfilling career – one complete with swimming pools and movie stars.
How have I made so much out of so little? Believing my self to have half the talent of my peers, I leveled the playing field by working twice as long and hard as the more gifted.
Believe me, you can shake any palm tree in Southern California, and dislodge writers with greater talent than I. But when the subject turns to personal discipline, I have it in spades. It is, and it has always been, my ace in the hole.