Jan 3, 2016

My Date with the Nickelodeon Star

Fort Lauderdale, April 2002

I dragged Barney to the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale to see  The Tempest. the Shakespeare play about an aging magician on a desert island.  Playing Stefano, the King's butler, was an actor named Sean Stuart: mid 20s, slim, with light brown hair, a round face, and a very bulgeworthy leotard.

I never approached an actor backstage for a dressing-room flirtation before, but my friend Dick, back in Rock Island, did it last fall, and last Christmas he announced that they were a couple.  Emboldened, I went backstage amid the other well-wishers, walked past the actors who played Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban, and congratulated Sean on his performance.

"I studied Shakespeare in grad school," I said, not the best opening.  "I was going to do my thesis on gay subtexts in The Tempest...."

The unmistakable twink eye-widening.  An invitation to a late dinner.  Sean suggested the Quarterdeck, a seafood chain restaurant nearby.

Barney wasn't interested in Sean -- his taste in men went to the older bodybuilder types.  But he had a rule -- when you go out together, you stay together, no matter what.  So he agreed to "share," if I could seal the deal.

"You're probably wondering why I changed my name," Sean said as we sat down.  "It's to avoid all the gushing fans who saw me on tv.  I got really tired of people coming up all starry eyed, like  'Oh, I had such a crush on you when I was a kid.'  That's why I like going out with older guys -- you play it cool."

Barney and I exchanged mystified glances.  We had no idea who this guy was.  But in order to seal the deal, I had to pretend to be a fan.

"I lived in L.A. for ten years," I told him.  "I'm used to celebrities.  I've been out with Michael J. Fox, Richard Dreyfuss, Peter Barton..."

His eyes glazed over.  I was losing him.  These guys were not of interest to a 25 year old.
"Don't forget Nate Richert," Barney added.  "Harvey on Sabrina the Teenage Witch."

"Melissa Joan Hart!" Sean exclaimed.  "Such a diva!  And not all that gay-friendly, if you want to know.  Actually, Nickelodeon studios was a bit on the homophobic side when I was working there.  Look at Kricfalusi on Ren and Stimpy."

These were all clues!  Today I would just pull out my Smartphone and look up whatever vehicle Melissa Joan Hart was in during the 1990s, but in 2002 I just smiled and nodded.

"So, you've made a new career for yourself on the stage," Barney offered, trying to help me change the subject.

But Sean would have none of it.  "Some of the writers tried to add some gay hints.  Remember the time I got a crush on a rich kid?  And Ferguson -- definitely gay, am I right?  Jason and I still hang out sometimes.  He's straight but cool."

Ferguson?  Jason?  I tried desperately to think of what Nickelodeon tv shows I had seen in the 1990s.  Rocko's Modern Life, Ren and Stimpy, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Rugrats, The Adventures of Pete and Pete.... 

"I always thought the older brother on Pete and Pete was cute..."

"Straight, though.  You want to know who's gay?  Tim Eyster, Sponge on Salute Your Shorts. We dated a little, but it had to be on the sly, you know.  If the studio found out, we would have both been fired."

For a guy who didn't like to be surrounded by gushing fans, Sean talked about his tv series a lot!

"So, Ariel in The Tempest is often played as gay..."

"Did you think Sam had a sort of gay ambience?  I tried to play him that way, in spite of the scripts making me girl-crazy."

The check came, and with it blessed relief.  "We should get together again," I said.  "Tomorrow night?"  That would give me a chance to do some research on Sean's famous tv show.

He grabbed my knee under the table. "What's wrong with tonight?"

Well, at least he'd have to shut up during bedroom activities.

The moment Sean fell asleep in Barney's arms, I rushed to my room, turned on my computer, and googled Melissa Joan Hart, Jason, and Ferguson.

I found Clarissa Explains It All, which aired on Nickelodeon from 1991 to 1994, about a junior high girl (Melissa Joan Hart) who addresses the camera to explain tween problems like acne and book reports.  She had a bratty little brother, Ferguson (Jason Zimbler), and a skateboarding best friend, Sam (Sean O'Neil).

Sean O'Neil was born on November 29, 1977, and grew up in Orlando, Florida.  He sang in a boy band before going to work on the series.  When it ended, he majored in theater arts in college.  He had two voice-over credits on his film resume, but not much else.  Apparently he had moved into the theater.

I went back to bed.

In the morning we had breakfast and discussed Clarissa some more, and then sent Sean on his way.

Later I began to wonder if Sean Stuart was putting us on, not really the guy from Clarissa at all. It doesn't make sense to change your name to avoid fans -- you want fans to come to your performances.  In West Hollywood was commonplace for guys to try to increase their desirability by claiming to have been in a popular tv show or movie, where they worked with someone famous (and usually dated them).

But claiming to have been in such a minor tv show, and to have dated a guy from another minor tv show?

If I was going to make something up, I'd claim to have been on Beverly Hills, 90210 and dated Jason Priestley.

It's been over a decade, and I'm still not sure.

Here's a picture of Sean O'Neil today.  What do you think?

The uncensored post, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

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