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From The Desk Of Ryan O'Neal

Every child has a dream.  My constant dream was to be an actress in Hollywood and to win an Oscar.  I thought of little else in my early years. This dream was to be my guiding light through some dark and treacherous passages in a life that would turn out not as I had dreamed; it was so much better.

I have always believed in magic and that there was something special at work for us that we can’t see or fully understand. It’s just about belief and our imagination. I was always told I had an overactive imagination.  To me it was just normal to believe in ‘spirit’ or ‘angels’ and ‘magic’.  I know my family thought I was a daydreamer but I didn’t know how to be any other way.

My chosen entry point into the earth plane was into a family where anger and violence were the norm.  My father, God rest his soul, was a very dysfunctional man.  He ruled our lives with his fist.  My mother received most of his wrath and was herself a sad woman as you can appreciate with the beatings and abuse that she received at his hands.  He was also a very dishonest man, which led to my mother having to salvage our lives from the rubble of yet another of his schemes.

My siblings, a sister and brother were respectively twelve and ten years older than myself.  Father would refer to me as the afterthought and I most definitely felt like one most of the time.

We three, at different times in our lives, spent many hours outside country hotels, in the car waiting for our parents who were inside drinking.  My siblings suffered that fate much more than I, as when I was six years old my parents purchased a hotel on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.  Of all of the decisions they collectively made together, that was the worst one for their relationship.  My father was an alcoholic and a violent one as I have referred to previously. With his already short fuse made even shorter by the consumption of alcohol, now instead of going to the hotel and coming home drunk then smashing up the family and the house, he was already on the premises. 

Suffice to say that when you grow up in that environment you have to grow up very quickly and always have your wits about you.  The atmosphere can change from green to red alert without warning and so the adrenal system is ready 24/7 to either fight for your life or run for it depending on how bad it gets.

I don’t remember my sister living at home but I do have memories of my brother being around and the fights that took place with him and also about him. 

He left when I was 8 or 9 and never returned.  His presence in my life has been sporadic over these many years but I still love him and feel sad for his loss of quality of life, having followed exactly in my father’s footsteps.  He died in 2011.

My sister and I have weathered many storms together over the years.  She and her husband have been like parents to me and I love and adore them both.  They have been my role models and the people that I most look up to. 

My childhood, though dominated by the violence and neglect, was countered by the beautiful and idyllic little West Coast town.  It was such a haven with the bush to run in and a small river to swim and play in.  I had a pony named Blackie and thanks to my sister and brother-in-law, a black and white cocker spaniel named Bimbo.  These two animals were my constant companions and we had many adventures together.  My friends and I whiled away our childhood building huts, swimming in the river and cooking hot chips over open fires that we built, climbing trees and playing cowboys and Indians. 

One of the positive aspects of my family was their love of music and I spent many hours playing the piano or watching television when the reception would allow.  The worse the weather, the more terrible the reception, which meant that most programmes were watched through a certain amount of what we called ‘snow’, thus meaning that it was like looking at something through snow. It was either a blizzard or a light fall or somewhere in between. 

My days were filled with Tom Sawyer/Pippi Longstocking type pursuits and my nights were spent sitting in front of the little square box in our front room with my other companions; the television stars of the world.

I definitely had ‘Stars in my Eyes’ and it was my dream to be one of them when I grew up. I wasn’t sure how this would happen but it was my passion to meet these people and be one of them.  That was if I was not going into battle to protect my mother from my father.

Every week I bought a TV Weekly magazine.  It was filled with all of the kinds of information a budding star needed to know about what was happening in Hollywood.  On the back page of each edition was a picture of one of the latest hot stars and inside the back cover was their biography.  How old they were; where they were born; if they were married; what their interests were. 

Peyton Place was one of favourite watches.  My parents were always otherwise occupied until late in the night and so this gave me license to watch whatever I wanted and I loved Peyton Place.  Leigh Taylor Young was one of my favourite actresses so when her photograph and biography appeared in the weekly magazine I wrote to her and asked her how she became an actress.  I told her where I lived and a little about myself then popped it in the post box with no doubt in my mind that she would get back to me and tell me what I so desperately wanted to know.

Weeks went by and I soon put the whole thing to the back of my mind, until one day in summer when I was away staying with relatives, I received a call from my mother saying that a large envelope had arrived for me from America. Emblazoned on the envelope were the words “From The Desk of Ryan O’Neal”.  I was so excited and couldn’t get home fast enough.

When I finally made it home I opened my package and contained inside was two beautiful black and white photos of Leigh Taylor Young and Ryan O’Neal, along with a four page handwritten letter from Ryan O’Neal ‘replying on Leigh’s behalf’, he said, as she wrote few letters.  I was in heaven!

I read and re read that letter so many times.  He told me to hold onto my dream and join a theatre company and read plays.  What on earth was a theatre company I thought?  I had no idea what a theatre company was and as our little town seemed so far away from anything that remotely represented culture, there was no opportunity to find out.  We had no library for reference material, in fact all we had was a general store, a small hotel with three guest rooms, a butcher shop, a slaughter house, a catholic church and a school. 

As I have mentioned my family was very musical and in earlier years performed together at local events. As the youngest I would be taken along to sit in the audience or on the side stage to watch them.  I didn’t realize at the time that I was in fact taking part in the world of ‘show biz’.  It all came back to me many years later that I would have chosen this family, to be a part of that experience and to prepare me for later in my life.

Even back then, magic was at work, as shortly after the letter arrived,  my school, all thirteen of us, were taken into the nearest large town to see the annual theatrical production of “The Desert Song”.  I was in awe of the whole thing.  My memories are so vivid of that first time in the theatre.  I had no idea what was going to happen, only that we were told to sit down in this large hall with rows of seats and wait quietly for the show to begin. 

The lights went down and the orchestra began to play and then the curtain opened. That was it for me…….I was in heaven!  The show went from one colourful scene to the next with people singing and dancing.  Their costumes were to die for and when it finally came to an end I remember sitting there for quite a while afterwards just relishing the feeling of having been part of something very magical.

Every year after that we went to the local production and so the answer to my question

 ‘what is a theatre company?’ was answered and in a way that only spirit can do.

I found myself dreaming of being a singer and dancer on the stage or more especially in a Hollywood musical and when The Sound of Music came to the movie theatre in the big town, again I was captivated.  In the span of the next six years I was to see it seven times.  If you take into account that there were no videos or DVD’s or more importantly movie theatres as there are now, that was a lot of times to see a movie back then.

 

During some school holidays I would put together a concert with the few friends and charge the willing victims five cents to come and see us.  We had bags of lollies and drinks just like at the big theatre.  My heart would soar with joy.

Meanwhile the war continued to rage inside my home and I found myself with terrifying regularity on the front line facing the enemy and having to drag the troops from danger and administer healing to our physical wounds. Our mental and spiritual wounds were never addressed.

In the years to come my parents were to divorce and Mother and I shifted hundreds of miles away to a city in the South Island.  Life was to take some sharp twists and turns as at age15, I gave birth to a girl who was adopted out and my life was never the same again.  This was not only to happen once but again when I was 17. 
My dreams were in tatters and I had all but given up.  My hopes and dreams of ever becoming an actress or having any kind of quality life had been smashed on the rocks and were in pieces. I was unemployed, sad, lost, desperate and about to marry a man I didn’t love. I had tried to get out of it but my Mother told me that after what I had done no decent man would want met, and I believed her.

Then the late 70’s I went to work for my sister and brother-in-law who had a café in a town in North Canterbury.  They offered me a job and I took it.  It was ok, and I was grateful to be working for them as there was always an air of security around them both and I felt a sense of stability being a part of their work and lives.

One Friday evening I was working late with another colleague when a gentleman came in and told us that they were looking for cast members for a musical play called ‘Oklahoma’, which was to take place later that year.  My colleague had taken part in musical theatre at school but I had only dreamed of such a possibility; now it was in front of me.

We were to turn up at this particular place and time to be auditioned for the chorus. Both of us were accepted and the journey began in earnest.

Not long into rehearsals the director, through my experience with her in this production, became a role model shaping my career in theatre, took me aside and told me that she had chosen me to dance Laurie in the dream ballet. I explained to her I hadn’t had a dance lesson in my life so why would she choose me?  She said that I had so much potential and was extremely graceful.  She wanted me to do it and she felt that I could, with her help and guidance.  This was amazing and I was hooked.

‘Oklahoma’ was a great success and was to be the beginning of a wonderful world of creativity and healing for me for many years to come.

In the following three years I took part in two more shows with the Musical Society, one of which I played a lead role while nursing a broken leg. Wild horses couldn’t have kept me away.

From that dream as a child, to be an actress, and a Hollywood star who told me to join a local theatre company and hold onto my dream and I had finally made a significant step along the way. 

I went on from that point to produce/direct/choreograph/ write and musically direct productions for the theatre group and to form my own troupe and continue in what was to be one of my greatest passions.  It saved my life.

Since then I have made healing and helping others my life’s work.

Sadly I have lost both the photos and the letter in my travels, something that I regret but I have found a one of the pictures online and have inserted it for you to see.

Ryan O’Neal and I have not had easy lives but we have shared a moment in time together and each time I see him on the screen I think of the little girl who dreamed big and is forever grateful to the man who had the kindness to send her a personal message in a large envelope that said, “From the Desk of Ryan O’Neal”.  

© Sanctuary House Media 2011