Remembering Gary Coleman as The Kid From Left Field
His widow sold the final photograph of his life to
I, for one, refuse to let this happen.
I, for one, loved Gary Coleman's work.
I know ... I know -- a punch line inevitably awaits. Surely, there's a catch; a gag; a journalistic trick up my sleeve. Nope. Not today.
Back in 1979, when I was a gangly 7-year-old in Mahopac, N.Y., my favorite film wasn't
Reviewers, however, often miss the point. Through adult eyes, films like
For my friends and I, however, Coleman's debut made-for-TV movie was a blessed opportunity to fantasize; to actually visualize what it'd be like to guide a baseball team as a child. Nary a wacky managerial cliché was overlooked -- Coleman kicking dirt on an umpire; Coleman giving a feisty, you've-gotta-believe pep talk; Coleman being carried off the field -- and that was fine with me. When you're 7, there are no clichés.
"The goal was fun," says
Now 67 and a grandmother of seven, Aldrich, whose father is the famed director
"I was a mother, and that's part of the reason they hired me," she says. "Gary was brilliant. Just a natural actor who could memorize his lines after one reading. But his people -- his parents and his representatives -- didn't care how long the kid worked or what he was doing. So it was my job to direct, but also to make sure he was OK. I hugged him every day and let him know I was there for him."
By the time the clock hit 10 p.m. and the credits proceeded to roll, the power of Gary Coleman had been fully unleashed. I was convinced that I, too, could manage the Padres to the Fall Classic (even with Juan Eichelberger, Billy Almon and Dan Briggs on my roster).
Alas, I was left itching for more. More wacky sports adventures. More Gary Coleman. More wacky sports adventures starring Gary Coleman.
Sadly, I had to wait three years.
Gladly, the wait was worth it.
In 1982, Coleman returned to the tried-and-true made-for-TV-movie format with
One of the poor souls LeBeau assists is Rudy Desautel, an aging NFL wide receiver battling injuries and family problems. At the time I absolutely loved the name Rudy Desautel, in the same way I thought it was cool how Garry Templeton boasted two Rs and J.R. Richard was actually James Rodney. It just sounded athletic. I wish I could tell you which team Rudy Desautel played for (I'm pretty sure it was either the Los Angeles Rams or San Diego Chargers), but I feel mildly better in knowing that even Rudy Desautel doesn't know what team Rudy Desautel played for.
The actor who took the part,
Uh, Rudy Desautel.
"I wouldn't have come up with that in 100 years," he said. "I couldn't tell you much of the plot, or what the experience was like. I do remember that they used my Mercedes as the character's car in the movie, which was unusual. And one day they took it to get washed, and when it came back there were swirls scratched into the car. That was the last time I ever let a production company drive something I owned."
Brown paused, perhaps re-channeling the emotion from that gut-wrenching scene when Rudy Desautel and his daughter Teri (played by
"I do remember that Gary Coleman was a sweet young man," he said. "A very sweet, very nice young man. And that I certainly hoped everything in life would work out for him."