A teen idol’s transformation
One-time nerd John Stamos carves a career in acting
by Barry Koltnow
John Stamos says he hates it when great-looking actors complain that they were ugly, misunderstood kids in high school with no friends and no date for the prom.
The actor, munching on a roast beef lunch in the commissary at Lorimar Telepictures, where he tapes his hit show, “Full House,” said he would, in no way, lump himself in with any whiners trying to make the rest of us feel better about our looks.
Unlike those other guys, he says he really was pretty “dopey-looking” back at Kennedy High School in La Palma. Not only that, he professes to have been a nerd.
“I was lame in high school,” he said as he crossed his heart and hoped to die. “I wasn’t an athlete or popular or anything like that. I was a band geek.”
Well, the dopey-looking band geek somehow managed to break free of his cocoon within months of high school graduation and land the heartthrob role of Blackie Parrish on the popular soap opera “General Hospital.”
“The girls would scream, but I didn’t know what they were screaming at,” Stamos said. “I really didn’t understand it. I still don’t. I look at old pictures of me from those days, and I wonder what those kids saw in me. I even remember waking up one morning and standing in my kitchen. My roommate took a look at me and called me America’s biggest farce. And I agreed with him.”
The kids may still scream — they make up the bulk of the “Full House” audience — but Stamos, 25, believes his teen idol days are behind him as he works on carving out an acting career with longevity.
“A lot of guys try to fight that teen idol stuff, but I decided to let it be. I didn’t mess with it, and I grew out of it naturally. I don’t think you hear that teen idol label attached to me very often anymore.”
“I’m not knocking it because the kids have always been very nice to me, but it’s going away naturally, and that’s fine with me.”
Stamos, who grew up in Cypress (his parents still live in Orange County) but now lives in Woodland Hills, got the part on “General Hospital” three weeks after he was supposed to register for classes at Cypress College. He was supposed to register but got sidetracked by a few girls (band geek, huh?) and never made it.
“My parents knew I wanted to be an actor and were very supportive. They had been driving me up to classes and auditions in LA since I was 15, so when I didn’t register, my dad said it was OK for me to sit out a semester to see what I wanted to do. Then ‘General Hospital’ hit, and I was gone.”
As the acting career got off the ground, Stamos pursued an interest in playing and writing music. He plays the drums, piano and guitar and writes music regularly in a studio at his home.
He said he always liked the music of the Beach Boys and the first concert he ever attended was a Beach Boys show at the Universal Amphitheatre in 1976. A few years later, he met the musicians and began hanging out with them.
In 1985, the Beach Boys invited Stamos to Washington, DC, to “play a little gig” with them on the Fourth of July. While most rock ‘n’ roll drummers start in the clubs and work their way up from there, Stamos started in front of an audience of 1.5 million people.
The Beach Boys were impressed enough to invite Stamos to join them on a national tour last summer, and to play percussion on the recording of their No. 1 single (and video) “Kokomo.”
“I still have to slap myself in the head every once in a while to make sure I’m not dreaming,” Stamos said. “I can’t believe I’m playing with the Beach Boys.”
After “General Hospital,” Stamos took a stab at feature films in “Never Too Young to Die,” which was an appropriate title, although Stamos said it didn’t die young enough. He still jokingly offers to return money to anyone who rents the video of the film.
His first try at prime time was the short-lived “Dreams,” but “Full House,” in which he plays an uncle to a brood being raised by his widowed brother-in-law, gave him a wide nighttime following. The show, which airs at 8:30 pm on Fridays on KABC/7, debuted with a clunk in 1987 but has grown into a Top 20 hit in its second season.
“The great thing about the first season was that nobody watched, so we had time to fine-tune the show on the air. Then the network took our best six shows from that season and ran them during the summer after “Who’s the Boss?” Now everybody saw us, and we were a better show by then, so we built an audience.
“I think it’s a good, wholesome, family show, and I have a real sense of pride about it, particularly in light of all the violence I see elsewhere on television.
“But I know it’s not a ‘Cheers’ or a ‘Taxi,’ he added. “We’re not one of those classic shows, and we never will be. That used to upset me, and I was real compulsive about it, trying to work harder and make it better. But now I’m more relaxed about it. I realize what the show is, and I’m going to learn what I can from it and use it to make other projects.”
The show, while not the second coming of “The Honeymooners,” has given Stamos a needed boost in confidence.
“It wasn’t until the last few months, when the show got the big ratings, that I finally started feeling successful in this business.
“Of course, I’m not as successful or as good as I want to be. I want to be considered a good actor. The game plan is to move into feature films and have a career like Tom Cruise. He’s good-looking, and people think he’s a good actor. I used to think I had to shave my head and murder someone in a movie to be thought of as a good actor. But I finally realize that I can make it looking like this.”
Not like a band geek.