At 14, Staten Island-born Glenn Scarpelli achieved official teen hearthrob status as Alex on the long-running sitcom One Day at a Time. He had already performed on Broadway; had an Archie comic strip character named after him; starred in an independent horror flick; and been a part of the Bloodhound Gang on PBS’s educational show 3-2-1 Contact by the time posters bearing his likeness began to adorn the bedroom walls of enthusiastic female fans.
Burning under the surface of that heatwave, though, were the embers of another fire waiting to be unleashed. Knowing he was gay, but stuck in the politically stifling confines of ’80s showbiz, Glenn had to find a way to come to terms with his personal priorities — even if it meant giving up the lofty rewards of being a successful actor.
He disappeared from the public eye, went to college, and forged a new path as an entrepreneur. Along with his longtime partner, Jude, he now runs a TV station in Sedona, Arizona and an organic personal lubricant company. Justin Kantor caught up with Glenn recently to learn about his many entertainment and business exploits — past and present.
How’s your day going?
Crazy-busy, like usual; but all is good in the world.
That’s good to hear. You always seem to have a positive outlook, which certainly helps things.
For the most part [laughs].
True, you can’t control everything.
Sometimes our emotions get the best of us!
That’s what makes it life, I guess. Well, I’m real happy that you had the time to call and chat. Let’s start from the beginning. You’re from Staten Island, right?
Yes, born and raised.
From what I understand, you went to Catholic school most of your childhood?
Yes, I went to St. Joseph Hill Academy through grammar school. I guess I got my first professional acting job when I was eight. I was in a Celeste frozen pizza commercial. I ate 27 pieces of pizza, and I puked all night!
That would do you in!
Exactly! But I was a kid and having so much fun, I thought it was cool. And then I realized, “Oh, damn—that’s a lot of fucking pizza!”
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So you learned early on the sacrifices you make to be an actor. Now, your dad was a comic writer?
Yeah, Dad has been an illustrator for Archie comics for over 40 years. We lost my dad this year, on Easter morning.
I thought I had read that. I’m sorry to hear that. That’s gotta be really difficult.
Thank you. Yeah, life—what can you say? Everyone goes through loves and losses, that’s something thing we can’t get out of no matter what. So of course, it’s been difficult, but I’m so proud of my dad’s legacy and the work that he did. I was actually just asked to write the forward for one of the new Archie books called The Americana Series: The Best of the Eighties. One of the things I talk about in the forward is, when I was a kid, my dad and the executive team up at Archie included me in the comics.
Yeah, and they called the stories “Glenn Scarpelli in Hollywood.” My character would visit Riverdale High and sing songs from the album, and create all kinds of havoc with Archie, Betty, and Veronica. That was a really cool experience as a kid.
Was he involved in Archie when it transitioned to the TV cartoons, or did he strictly do the newsprint cartoons?
He stayed in the print; he didn’t get into the animation aspect of Archie, although he was with the company so long they would always consult and get his ideas. But he drew so many of the comic books. And then later on in his life, to kind of be a little easier on him and his schedule, he did the daily comic strip for many years.
His name is Henry?
With him doing the Archie comics, and your character in the comics, would you say that you were prepped to be a showbiz kid?
I really wasn’t. When I was in kindergarten and we did the school play, I set foot onstage and I felt like I came home. That was it. I begged my parents, “Please, please, I want to get into show business.” At that point, they were really hoping to have more children. And so much of getting started in show business when you’re a kid is your parents’ intention to make it happen: you have to go on auditions; if you book roles they have to be there all day. Well, it turned out my mom couldn’t have any more children. So, she came to me and said, “Hey, do you still want to be in show business?” And I was like, “Hell, yeah!” I got introduced to a theatrical manager in Manhattan, and I started going to auditions. The first audition I ever went on was that pizza commercial — and I booked it. Then, I did two Broadway shows. I debuted on Broadway when I was nine.
I read that you worked with Anne Bancroft!
Anne Bancroft, yeah! That was awesome.
The show was Golda, right?
Yes, it was the life story of Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel. They redid it recently, in fact. Tovah Feldshuh did it on Broadway.
I guess it is kind of a timeless story.
It is a timeless story. One of my favorite Golda moments was, however: Anne Bancroft was onstage and— you know, it’s not a comedy— it’s certainly a pretty serious play about war and all the trials and tribulations Israel went through during Golda’s reign. This one night, some people showed up late for the show. I was onstage with Anne. They walked in and they were making such a hubbub in the third row because their seats were taken; and Anne stopped the show. She looked at them and she said, “Excuse me, what is going on?”
And they’re like, “They stole my seats.” And she said, “Oh, my God. Houselights. Turn up the houselights.” She rearranged everybody in the audience to give these people seats. She said, “They made the seats warm; let them keep those seats, we’ll get you other seats,” and she did this whole thing with them. They were pissing in their pants. Then she got back onstage, turned around, and said, “So let me just catch you up. [heavy Jewish accent] I’m Golda Meir, the prime minister, and we’re going to play war.”
Oy gevalt! Well that’s pretty good when you can stop the show and make it be entertaining.
You know, Anne was the ultimate professional. Although you’re not supposed to do that, it really was very distracting. But it’s so funny, because I grew up Italian — but I know the whole Haftorah. I feel like in some ways I’m more Jewish than Italian, because I played in a TV movie when I was 14. I did this movie called Rivkin: Bounty Hunter with Ron Leibman. He played Kaz on the TV show of the same name. So, they sent a cantor to my house every night for three months, and I had to learn the entire Haftorah for the movie.To this day, I know it!
Wow. That’s impressive, ’cause usually you don’t know, unless you have a bar mitzvah. You also attended the Professional Children’s School. What was that like?
That was high school. I started there in my freshman year, and then two months in, I booked One Day at a Time. It was a correspondence school—they allowed professional kids to work, and they would send all the work out to the studio teachers and tutors. I graduated from that school—but I never went to the physical school except for the first two months.
The first film you ever starred in was a movie that your dad wrote. Tell me about that.
Indeed. It was a movie called The Last Victim, and Dad was instrumental in getting funding—he was so creative on so many different levels. He wrote a song once, too, that Tiny Tim recorded called “Comic Strip Man”! So my dad had his hands in many different things.
The movie was actually a horror flick, right?
Yeah! Probably the kind of movie I shouldn’t have even seen, at that age, let alone be in!
Didn’t your character have your own name?
Yes! They called me Glenn in the movie, like I wouldn’t get it if they called me something else! It’s funny, I just found a DVD of that movie when I went home for my dad’s funeral. It was really wild to watch it—in fact, I watched it with my partner, Jude. And three-quarters of the way into the movie he’s like, “Where are you? I thought you said you were in this movie.” And I’m like, “I’m the kid! I can’t even recognize me.”
Another movie you did around that time was Nunzio. Were those filmed in New York?
Yeah, most of the stuff I did in New York were stage and film. I didn’t do very much TV. I did a TV pilot in New York, starring Ethel Merman. It didn’t get picked up, believe it or not, and I thought it was a surefire hit. But I didn’t do much TV in New York, really it was when I got to Los Angeles that the whole TV world opened up.
Maybe with one exception, which I have to mention: 3-2-1 Contact!
Oh my God, I forgot about that! Yeah [laughs]!
The Bloodhound Gang!
That was all New York, yes!
I watched a segment on YouTube featuring you.There was a mystery that you guys were looking into. Everybody was running around and you were detecting the license plates must be rentals because each one read “VIP” with a different number on the end!
It’s so funny—I would have to watch it again to even remember. Here I am saying I didn’t do New York TV and you’re telling me 3-2-1 Contact — of course! You see what happens when you get old? You lose it. In fact, part of my transition into One Day at a Time was that they had to get me out of my 3-2-1 Contact contract. I remember my manager in New York really didn’t have too much to do with getting me the part in One Day at a Time.
Did talent scouts come to New York and see you?
Well, it’s an interesting story. I had done a pilot in Los Angeles when I was about 10 or 11 called Jump Street. It wasn’t 21 Jump Street! It didn’t get picked up. Anyway, one of the stars, who played my brother, was a guy by the name of Scott Columby. The producers said, “You guys should hang out and get to know each other so you have this brotherly chemistry.” So, Scott said to my mom, “My girlfriend and I will come pick Glenn up tonight and take him out for dinner and we’ll just hang out.” My parents were thrilled, ’cause they were going to get a night off from me, so they said, “Sure!” We were at the hotel; Scott pulled up with his girlfriend — and who is his girlfriend but Valerie Bertinelli?
That’s who he was dating. He never mentioned it; and she was a huge star by that point. I was like, “Holy shit!” So we became friends. I wasn’t living in L.A. at that time; I just went out there for one week to shoot the pilot. And then I went back to New York to do Richard III on Broadway. Valerie was there, guest-starring on $100,000 Pyramid — one of those famous game shows back then. She and Scott called and said they wanted to see Richard III. When they did, I brought them backstage and introduced Valerie to Al Pacino— it was really exciting as a kid, going, “Val—Al; Al—Val”!
Yeah, that’s like a dream come true!
It was so fun. As we’re walking out of the theatre she says to me, “If there’s ever anything I can do for you, let me know, Glenn. That was so exciting, thank you so much.” Well, two years later, my mother read in TV Guide that Mackenzie Phillips was getting fired from One Day at a Time, and the producers were probably going to be adding a young boy to the cast. I called Val and said, “Hey, can you get me an audition for this thing?” and she went, “Oh, my God, that would be great! Of course.” So she called the president of the company. He flew to New York and read me, and that’s how I got One Day at a Time!
It really pays to have friends, and to make connections with people.
Who you know, baby!
Clearly, you deserved the part; but just having that “in” made the access to the part so much easier.
That’s what it is. There are so many talented people who never have the opportunity—it’s really about opportunity. Granted, if I sucked, they wouldn’t have given me the part. I had to audition with a whole bunch of other people. And they were certainly looking at other people.
Haven’t you remained friends with Val to this day?
Yeah, well, I hadn’t seen Val for about 12 years until this summer actually —Jude hadn’t met her. He and I have been together almost 13 years. I hadn’t seen her during this whole time, because we moved to Sedona and opened the TV station. So we went to a taping of Hot in Cleveland, and saw her there. It was very cool. We got to meet Betty White, as well. Bonnie Franklin is the one I’ve remained the closest with. She’s like family, and Jude considers her like an in-law. She played my mom on the show.
Was it a big transition to go from doing 3-2-1 Contact to One Day at a Time?
It was totally different. What I loved the most about One Day at a Time was that it was like doing a play every week. We shot in front of two live audiences—we did a 5:30 show and an 8:00 show—and they would just edit them together, so what you finally saw on the air was the best of both. We rehearsed all week and then had our show on Friday. So, all week, you’re not wearing makeup, you’re not in wardrobe—you’re just rehearsing. Friday, it all comes together. It was like doing a mini-play, which, for me, coming from theatre—theatre’s really my love, it was my life—it was definitely the coolest for that.
When you did 3-2-1 Contact, you were actually filming out on the streets?
Yeah, we would film the whole thing on location with a camera, like you would a movie. Or even shows like—back in the day, like Love Boat and MacGyver—all those shows were shot in the same way. You’d do it with everybody in the shot; then you’d do the close-ups; and then you’d have to do the scene over and over again. It would be edited later. Whereas, One Day at a Time was on the fly: the audiences had the monitors and would watch me watch the director cut it as we went. That’s really my favorite form of television acting.
You were on One Day at a Time for three years. Did being a teen starring on a popular TV series at that time feel really natural, or did you feel a lot of pressure?
Well, there’s so many different aspects of that question, because inevitably, I felt like I’d won the lottery. It was an amazing experience; I was on a hit show that I loved; I had the life—I certainly had the life. On the downside of it all, I knew I was gay. I wasn’t out in any way, shape or form. I hadn’t been with a man at that point, yet I wanted to. And you know, living that life in a microscope, when you’re in the public eye — I held back so much of who I was, and sacrificed so much of who I was to have that kind of life.
Why were you not on for the last season?
Well, Bonnie Franklin was going to leave the show at the end of the 1983 season. The show’s fate was really based on her. They were talking about doing a spin-off with Valerie and Mackenzie, and one for Schneider. None of those things really happened because of different scenarios. Then, Bonnie decided to come back for one more year. But in the meantime, I had gotten this other pilot, Jennifer Slept Here, which was then picked up. It starred Ann Jillian. I had already moved on. I was between a rock and a hard place. But I still am grateful that I did Jennifer Slept Here. When you’re in the business and you know a show’s definitely only going to be on for one year, you think, “Well, at least this other one has a chance to possibly be on for more.” Even though it really didn’t; it was a piece of shit and it bombed big!
So, Jennifer Slept Here didn’t expand your acting repertoire much?
Yeah, I don’t know if I gained that. What I think it did for me was make me realize how special One Day at a Time was, ’cause on Jennifer Slept Here, although everybody was really sweet and I looked forward to getting to the set every day, the cast wasn’t involved in the creative process. We were told when to come: “Here’s your lines, this is what you say, and stand there.” On One Day at a Time the cast had so much creative input, and that was thanks to Bonnie, because she had been there longer than most of the writers and most of the producers. Even though I was only 14, they always asked for my input: “What do you think? Would a kid your age say that? Where do you want your character to go? Do you think it’s time to get a girlfriend on the show?” In my head I was like, “Hmm…I’d rather have a boyfriend,” but whatever! [Laughs]
In that same year, you also released a record. Was that something you wanted to do, or was it a result of being a teen heartthrob? How did that come together?
Well, the fact that there was all that teen idol, Tiger Beat stuff was of course what made the album happen. They knew young girls would probably buy the record. And young boys — but they didn’t say that to me out loud back then. But I had always wanted to record. I loved to sing; and I had done the musical theatre that I mentioned before. I’ve always been a singer, from some Christmases at my grandmother’s house to when I performed at the White House for George H.W. Bush. I love it.
On what occasion did you sing for George H.W. Bush?
I was asked to sing in the White House in 1989, when he had just become President, because Barbara Bush, his wife, loved One Day at a Time [laughs]. It was her favorite show. One day my agent called and said, “Hey, I’m going to put the White House on the line, they want to talk to you.” And I was like, “What the hell are you talking about?” It was her office, and they said, “We’d like to invite you to come out to sing for Easter at the White House. The First Lady is putting together a whole show on the front lawn of the White House, and it’s going to involve a kids’ charity, and there’s going to be a huge Easter egg hunt…” Because I was big with kids back then, I guess, they invited me. It was fun. And so was doing the album. I got to do American Bandstand because of it.
Yeah, I saw a clip of you performing “Don’t Mess Up This Good Thing” on there!
Well, you know what’s funny? The part that they didn’t include in the VH1 segment was, Janet Jackson used to be on Diff’rent Strokes back then. We all used to hang out: Ricky Schroder from Silver Spoons; the girls from The Facts of Life — Kim Fields was one of my best friends growing up. We all went to school together in the back lot of Universal Studios. So when I recorded that song, Janet was the one who had really suggested it. She goes, “There’s a song I love that I never really made much of. Your voice would be so good, singing it.”
You also had a single from the album out called “Get a Love On,” which I’m guessing was probably what you went on Bandstand to promote, initially?
You know what’s interesting? “Get a Love On” was the single first. Then, I got booked on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They wouldn’t let me sing “Get a Love On”; they thought it was too risqué. So then, because 80 million people would be watching it, the record label—Estate Records, distributed by CBS Records—said, “Well, if you’re going to have the opportunity to sing this at the Macy’s parade, let’s change the single.” So, they literally changed it to “Don’t Mess Up This Good Thing,” because they said they wanted me to sing the same song everywhere.
So they ended up releasing that as a single?
Yeah, they did release it as a single; although “Get a Love On” was the one that was in stores, and yet I’m singing “Don’t Mess Up This Good Thing” everywhere. Unfortunately, I lost everything I ever owned in a fire two years ago, so—
Yeah, I know. Man…
But Jude rebuilt our house—he’s an architect. He rebuilt our house, we’re moving forward—
But I found some stuff in my parents’ house when I went there for my dad’s funeral. I kind of rummaged through, and I did find a single of “Don’t Mess Up This Good Thing,” and I was like, “Wow! They really did release it as a single [laughs].”
Who was behind Estate Records? Was it a start-up company?
The guy who actually owned Estate Records was Paul Leka. He wrote “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye).” That was his big claim to fame. CBS Records had given him a distribution deal under their label. I was originally approached by CBS, and then CBS put me on Estate, ’cause they knew that Estate was looking for artists. They talked to Paul and said, “Hey, we want you to think about recording this kid.” They were based in Connecticut; so I actually recorded those songs there.
It was almost like a mini-album—with just the five songs on it.
Right. An EP. That’s what they were committing to. In the 80’s, they were really all about one-hit wonders. The person that actually got interested in signing me at CBS Records also signed Scott Baio. Scott’s been a good friend of mine for years. We saw each other this summer after a long break. He got to meet Jude. But Scott wanted to go onto a different label, but yet also on CBS Records. But I don’t know if Scott really ever loved to sing.
Maybe it was just part of the process?
Yeah, that’s the other thing about being a teen actor that’s tough: you are a commodity in many ways to people. Like, when I turned 18, I basically decided to leave acting. I did that because I wanted to be gay. I really wanted my privacy and everyone to stay out of my way—basically that’s where I was at. Telling my managers, my agents, my parents, my publicists… people were pissed at me. I was letting a lot of people down, because they were all paying their bills because of me. And it’s such a big responsibility for a kid. I was like, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to college.” And I did. I went to NYU film school. I moved back to New York. The truth was, I just wanted to suck some dick!
Continued in part two…Powered by Sidelines