If it's true that Hollywood eats its young, then give Ventura resident and former child star Brandon Cruz some credit. Not only did he evade the menu, he landed instead on a skateboard in Ventura County.
Cruz, who is best known for portraying Eddie Corbett with Bill Bixby in the television sitcom "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" from 1969 to 1972, is now 29. He resides in Ventura, offers acting lessons to children and indulges his twin passions of skateboarding and surfing. He still dabbles in Hollywood, he says, but probably spends more time with his latest punk band, Ring of Ouch.
Latest punk band? Oh yes, didn't you know the free-spirited lad was once part of the now-defunct Doctor Know? A waitress at Charlie's in Ventura, serving Cruz coffee recently, recognized him for his musical persona. She had never heard of Eddie Corbett.
That makes Cruz happy, because being typecast has sometimes been a pain.
For every part he got after "Eddie's Father"--a mixed-blood Indian on "Gunsmoke," the hillbilly kid on "Kung Fu" or a half-Ecuadorean on "Medical Center"--he can cite dozens of rejections from casting directors who evidently couldn't see him as anything but Eddie.
"Even when I was 17 and had blue hair and was a professional punk rocker," he recalled, "they'd say, 'This is a movie that calls for a punk rocker. Sorry.' "
These days, Cruz tries to look on his notoriety from a philosophical distance. It can be difficult.
"I don't know why I did it, but it wasn't for fame," he said. "By 16, I realized it (the business) really wasn't for me. Maybe I didn't make the right decision then either. It was a mistake to get involved in the first place, but the benefits pretty much outweigh anything else. Then when I decided to quit, maybe that wasn't such a good idea either. I try and take things as they come."
He was born in Bakersfield in 1962 with the name Brandon Cruz, and his parents moved to Ventura County when he was a youngster. When he was 5, he somehow persuaded them to take him to Hollywood.
"I always liked to playact and meet different people," Cruz said. "I don't know if at age 5 I understood if it was escapism or playacting. I just liked to dress up as the Rifleman and shoot everybody in sight." He stopped and laughed. "Don't get me wrong; there was no repressed massacre tendencies. I was also Batman and Gary Lewis, complete with an imaginary band called the Playboys."
Cruz's second tryout in Hollywood was for the role of Eddie, a 7-year-old son who is convinced that his widower father needs a new wife to make life complete. Filming began in September, 1968, and lasted 3 1/2 years and 96 episodes.
After "Eddie," Cruz traveled to Budapest with Bixby for a circus special, made a variety of television guest appearances and later reached the big screen in the 1976 film "The Bad News Bears."
Cruz, who admits he is impulsive, said he quit school at 17 to go to Hawaii, where he kept himself in grocery money with residual income from "The Bad News Bears."
Over the 12 years since then, he said, he has found himself prone to "hopping a plane somewhere, anywhere. Hawaii, Australia, Bali, maybe Mexico. I drove to Arizona on a lark the other day."
When television talk shows summon him, he accepts and braces for a familiar litany of questions, beginning with, "How is Bill Bixby?" and "What was it like being on television?" His favorite interviewer so far has been Jane Pauley.
Another familiar question in those interviews, of course, is "What comes next?"
"If fame and fortune come my way, great," Cruz said. "If not, I've done without it for so long I can keep going without resting on my laurels. I don't want to be given any part, I just want to be given a chance. . . . There may come a time I may have to settle down and be more serious about making a living, but when I really feel that need, I guess I'll know when it's time. I feel it now and then."
If the time comes for Cruz to forget about show business and settle down, he acknowledged, he will be doing it with a unique set of advantages and disadvantages.
"I don't have a college degree . . . and I'm probably not qualified to do anything else," he said. His early success in television, he said, "made me think I would be doing it a lot longer than I did. I would have probably continued in school and have something to fall back on, which at this point, I don't--except being a known name."
Still, he said, "I can talk with people quite well and fit into social situations, whether it be hanging out with punk rockers or Santa Barbara snobs."
And, like most actors, he can't help but hope that just around the corner lies a part that will stretch his abilities.
"I'm considering playing a role as a skinhead," Cruz said, his familiar freckled face breaking into a grin.
"That's about as far from Eddie as I can get."
UP CLOSE / BRANDON CRUZ
Occupations: Acting, teaching acting, surfing, playing punk rock, skateboarding.
Former fame: From 1969 to 1972, he played Eddie Corbett in television's "The Courtship of Eddie's Father."
Hometown: Formerly Bakersfield, now Ventura.
Quotation: "If fame and fortune come my way, great. If not, I've done without it for so long I can keep going without resting on my laurels. . . . There may come a time I may have to settle down and be more serious about making a living, but when I really feel that need, I guess I'll know when it's time. I feel it now and then."