Stardust in my Eyes
By: Peter Michael Hefty 1/7/2019
A Brief biography – I grew up in Wisconsin near Lake Geneva and at an early age, I got hooked on entertainment. My first real show at age 6 was for my aunt Sharon’s high school business club.
It was at the Colonial Club in Browns Lake, Wisconsin. I performed a magic trick, did several impressions, and then performed with my Sears catalog ventriloquist dummy my parents had bought me for Christmas.
Many of my recollections were from winning a few talent shows and not always coming in first place—sometimes third. My most exciting one, and the most memorable, was at age 13 in East Troy, Wisconsin.
That one put one hundred dollars in my pocket and a smile on my face. I got a picture in the paper with a little story and that got me more bookings. Performing for an audience of almost 500 was quite an ordeal for a 13-year-old.
Sure, I had done dozens of shows before and probably annoyed many of the adults and friends I knew growing up just trying to get them to watch me try out my jokes or magic tricks on them. Yes, some of them enjoyed watching a little comedy and banter between myself and my dummy. I am sure some were just being polite and trying to humor me.
Getting bitten by the showbiz bug was a hard one to explain. I think it started when I got mesmerized by watching magicians and ventriloquists on the Ed Sullivan show. Having one of my uncles try out magic tricks on me was also a big influence, as well as sneaking up late at night to watch Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show every chance I got.
I’d always be a bit tired in school the next day. It even caused me to be late on more than one occasion. No one knew that when my parents went to sleep, I’d get up and quietly turn on the TV so low you could barely hear it.
I think I was learning to read lips, and watching Johnny Carson was a big part of growing up.
Once, in middle school we had a famous ventriloquist come to our school. Since I had been late on more than one occasion, the principal decided I would sit this one out. Yes, I had to sit in the cafeteria while the other students got to watch this famous ventriloquist perform at an assembly in the gym.
I could hear all the laughter and applause through the walls and the laughter was the loudest I had ever heard. The cheering and loud applause sent happy shivers up my spine.
Although I was being punished for being tardy too many times, it still felt good to close my eyes in that lonely cafeteria and try to imagine what it would be like to watch the show like the rest of the student body.
When I told my son Kyle this story years later, he said, “Dad, you mean your entire career is based on revenge?! You have to laugh at that.” I said, “That sounds true but no, it wasn’t that at all and my principal wasn’t being mean. He was, in fact, teaching me a valuable lesson.”
Later he called me up to the office, and I thought he was going to punish me more. Standing in the office was that famous ventriloquist from Australia. His name was Clifford Guest and he spoke with me for a while about ventriloquism. My principal was smiling and allowed me this private conversation with the professional ventriloquist. Mr. Guest gave me an autographed picture. On the way back to my classroom I wasn’t mad at missing the show, I got to meet him and had stardust in my eyes.
Later that year, I got to be on a local TV show in Milwaukee three times as a guest. It was Kids Club, a local show but once again, I had stardust in my eyes. I also got to open that year for Skeeter Osborne and the Blue Ridge Boys all over Northern and Southern Wisconsin.
Many, many years later I would open up for Tom Chapin, Harry Chapin’s brother. I thank God for David Tennis believing in me and getting me that gig.
I worked with him at Daytona Beach Community College and the University of Miami—then he was quite well known. His national TV show Make a Wish was very popular and here I was, years later, making my wishes come true by opening up for a real star and yes, I still had stardust in my eyes.
In a career that spans five decades, 24 albums and three GRAMMY awards, Hudson Valley Troubadour Tom Chapin has covered an incredible amount of creative ground. In addition to his work as a recording artist and concert performer, Chapin has acted on Broadway, as well as working extensively in films, television and radio.
The opening and closing theme for the early 1970s Sunday morning series, Make a Wish. Hosted by Tom Chapin, brother of singer Harry, the series ran for several years.
Clip from 1970s Kids’ Show “Make A Wish” on ABC. Animation produced by Al Brodax (Yellow Submarine) and directed by Fred Mogubgub.