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(This first appeared on TorontoStage.com)
What was your nickname in high school?
The usual things you might expect, Bushy, Bushman, and Wild Bill because I use to have long hair.
I was probably first in my high school class to have facial hair. You have to reach back to the dim past of the early 1960s to realize most males were shorthaired and most males didn’t have facial hair in high school.
Growing up, did you maintain any sort of collections?
I collected stamps, coins, books, records, and MAD magazines.
Some ancient editions of MAD recently turned up when my sister and I cleaned up one of my mother’s rooms after her death. She had saved lots of things and included in that were MAD magazines that cost 10 cents and were published as small format comic books—not the one we’re use to today.
Did you play sports as a kid?
Yeah, baseball. I played first base usually. And if I were doing very badly, they’d put me in right field.
Occasionally football or basketball but I was fanatical about baseball.
Were your parents strict?
By the time I turned 17, I would be going out with theatre friends. I’d be going out on weekends and staying out until 1:00 a.m.
It was not a restrictive household. We had a pretty strong sense of values but I think there was a fair bit of trust there. In fact, my sister and I never got into serious trouble. My parents were pretty trusting.
What was your first concert?
It was probably later than most people of my generation. I think it was the summer of 68’ in Big Sur, California. It was a great line-up. Steve Stills, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and three or four other people. It was concert against the sea. The sea in the background, their voices echoing off rock behind the audience. It was great moment.
What was the first job you’ve ever had?
Collecting money for paper routes, people who had subscriptions to paper routes. I’d go around on the weekends and try and get money from them. I didn’t deliver the papers; I went around with the fellow who managed the paper route. He could drive but he lived in a wheel chair. So I’d go out and be his legs.
Have you ever been fired from a job?
Yeah, I was fired from a kitchen cafeteria job at the university because I wouldn’t cut my hair or wear a hairnet. I wasn’t working on the food line, I was washing dishes so I didn’t get the point and I felt in 1961/62 that this was a big infringement on civil liberties.
I would have sent the point had I been a server.
Who was the first person you were sexually attracted to?
Probably a number of movie stars; I liked Donna Reed and Dana Wynter. I didn’t much notice Marilyn Monroe; I got interested in her a lot later. Also Eva Marie Saint.
How old were you when you had your first kiss and what do you remember about it?
I was a fairly late bloomer. I was probably 17 or 18. I remember it was great fun because it went on for hours. I had theatre friends working with a university theatre production. They introduced me to her.
I look back with minor embarrassment now because on the first big date we when went home and had this interminable, delicious kiss.
And I realized after coming back from this ecstasy that my friends are out there waiting in the car and it had probably been about half an hour that they’d been waiting.
What do you remember about the first time getting drunk?
I’ve hardly ever been drunk. I have some kind of genetic predisposition. I’m drunk on two and a half beer and asleep at three. It’s been very rare that I’ve actually been drunk.
When it’s happened I’ve enjoyed it but because I have such a limit, it doesn’t happen very often.
What is the hardest thing about being a man?
This is historical, it relates to being a male in this time. Had we reached adulthood in the 40s and 50s, we’d have had a set of whole different problems. I think our role in the relations between the sexes would have been more conventionally set.
Thanks to the feminist revolution which 95 per cent I applaud and feel apart of, we’ve got a different perspective on that in terms of the extreme injustice over the centuries and gender imbalance.
We live with the fallout of that. Women do without awareness and also men. We can’t act now like our fathers or grandfathers might have.
There are times when we feel like we’re walking on eggs in order to do the right thing.
What did you want to be growing up?
I think my first choice was a movie star when I was 6 or 7. I grew up watching movies.
And then at 11 or 12, I really got involved in archeology as an interest.
Who were your childhood heroes?
Marlon Brando had a very strong impression on me. I don’t know why, he wasn’t like anybody that I knew. I was really drawn to him—he was passionate and moody, he also had a big heart.
Sidney Poitier for some of the same reasons although he gave off a brighter intellect.
And Elvis. He’s from Mississippi and I grew up there for 5 years.
What did you believe in at 18 that you wish that you believed in now?
That there were clear and simple answers to everything and the perfectibility of human beings.
What is the best advice your parents ever gave you?
I can’t put in a capsule piece of advice. It was a sense I got from both of them that you have to always treat other people with respect and more often than not it will come back to you.
What have you done that you will never do again?
About 5 years ago in Cincinnati, we went to an amusement park. She wanted me to go with her and I finally agreed. We got in a seat going backwards and I thought I was going to die. I thought I was going to be flung off into deep space and never return.
It was an hour before I stopped shaking.
What is the scariest thing that ever happened to you?
One near death experience was driving on the 401 between Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto many years ago. We hit a patch of black ice and did a 360-degree turn in the face of oncoming traffic and somehow managing to escape with nothing more than rattled nerves. Pretty darn scary, though.
If somebody made a movie about your life, whom would you want to play Steven Bush?
In three stages, I’d want Haley Joel Osment who starred in The Sixth Sense. He’s a brilliant young actor; I hope Hollywood doesn’t wreck him. He can do way more than a lot of older actors.
A young Johnny Depp would be the second.
Thirdly, Max von Sydow. He’s a Swedish actor, one of my teenage heroes. He also did Minority Report and What Dreams May Come.
The book of his one-man performance piece Beating the Bushes is now available.