Lighten Up A Bit

Claude Jarman Jr. was a young man of 12 in 1946 when the movie The Yearling was released. Claude played young Jody in the film and was awarded a “Juvenile Oscar” for his fine and emotional performance.

Claude Jarman Jr.'s life took some unexpected twists and turns.

With his future looking so bright, the young actor’s family left their home in Nashville, Tennessee, and went to Hollywood. They were anxious to have Claude parlay that accomplishment into other roles in film that would pay him handsomely and guarantee him a life of financial security.

Despite landing some other roles and appearing in some quality “B” movies, it turned out that Claude’s finest and most respected performance had been his first one and he could never quite find the niche that would ultimately take him from child phenomenon to grown movie star. By the time he was in his late teens, he had moved back to Tennessee to finish high school. From there, he did coursework in pre-law at Vanderbilt University and served three years in the U.S. Navy.

He appeared as a past award winner at both the 1998 and 2003 Academy Awards ceremonies and later moved to working behind the scenes in movies as an executive producer. He later served as Director of Cultural Affairs for the city of San Francisco.

Jarman, now 79, had seven children with three wives, including two daughters with his current wife, Katherine.

I am pretty sure that this route was not what was envisioned when Claude Jarman Jr. packed for California and left his childhood home. Although most of the child star stories in Hollywood are sad ones, I’ll bet Mr. Jarman thought he was an exception and that he had found his life’s calling as the crowd soundly applauded him in 1947 as he humbly clutched his Academy Award and basked in that successful glow.

But as they say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Yet look at the diverse array of talents life wrought out of him. Observe how he tried different fields, varying careers, unplanned directions. I bet you Mr. Jarman’s life is more reflective of most of us as compared to someone who sailed through life knowing exactly where he was going and exactly what the end result would be.

I recall serving an internship for a local television station during my senior year of college. One of the station’s big annual events was broadcasting from a bridal show located in a posh hotel in downtown Cleveland.

The interns all had to wear T-shirts that looked like the front of a tuxedo, complete with a stenciled bow tie and ruffled shirt, and mine was PINK no less. As soon-to-be brides sashayed through the exhibitor’s hall, the interns had to pass out literature and bumper stickers.

I must have run into 50 people I knew from either high school, college, or my old hometown, Berea. I looked like an absolute idiot and was so embarrassed, but hey, I was in no position to question the work. I was trying to get ahead and, for that day, that was the role.

A few short months later, I was doing my final internship with Cleveland Metroparks and had been hired by the Planning Department to write legal descriptions and complete a small but important research project. I was so thrilled to finally have a job where I looked like a business grad.

I wore a handsome three-piece suit (Yeah that’s right I said three-piece, OK? It was 1984!) to work that first day. Around 10 a.m., my new boss turned the corner into my cubicle and tossed me an orange vest and a yellow flag.

“Zoo traffic is picking up, kiddo,” he said. “Interns park cars on big attendance days.”

I removed my suit jacket and vest and put the stained orange plastic vest over my head. It fit poorly. I reported to the kid in charge of summer kids, and you can imagine he really liked my necktie. Ten minutes later, I was sweating in front of the main zoo entrance and flagging cars out of two lanes of traffic--pointing to open parking spots.

One of the people who was visiting the zoo that day was an old buddy who had seen me at the bridal show earlier that year.

“Hey, Ciancutti, you don’t know what the heck you’re doing these days, do you?”

I was simply ashamed. Truth was I really didn’t know, but I thought it was best to follow the rules and respect those who had authority over me.

I returned to my desk about three hours later, sweat making my white shirt cling to me tightly, my tie rolled and balled in my hip pocket.

I came home from work and my parents saw the look on my face. I explained my dilemma.

My mom then said these very simple words: “Son, there is never any shame in a full day’s work, no matter what it is.”

I felt a little better about things when I heard that, and it made me willing to try a few more things and be a little more tolerant of people who didn’t immediately recognize my obvious CEO talents that were merely hiding in my 19-year-old body.

I stopped taking myself so seriously and began to look at life like one giant overall experience.

That was 29 years ago, and I sure am grateful to this day that I lightened up a bit and didn’t hammer on myself everytime I was a little less than sure footed and properly pointed. I mean, God bless those who know what they want their whole life, but the fact is that most of us don’t.

Most of us need to try lots of different things and stop being so worried about what others think.

When I finally let my defenses down and just filled what was empty and emptied what was full, life lost a lot of its anxiety.

Microsoft pioneer Bill Gates once said that our grandparents had a different name for flipping burgers: “They called it opportunity.”

So well said. Maybe Gates should have been a writer…or something else.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at