Spotlight On

Daniel Gerroll, Bruce 1968 - Actor

From Gordonstoun to Hollywood

Daniel GerrollFrom Gordonstoun to Hollywood is as far as it sounds. From short pants, knee socks and open neck shirts in the dead of winter to palm trees, Malibu pants, swimming pools, acres of tennis courts, sparkling beaches… in the dead of winter. 

I spent approximately nine years as a Gordonstounian [Wester Elchies, and Aberlour House were run under the same ethos as the senior school] and about nine years in ‘Hollywood’. Both are, of course, a state of mind as much as a geographical location. 

If I were to store individual moments from both ‘states of mind’ I think I would collect more from the Gordonstoun bank than from the Hollywood one.

Seven is very young to begin a boarding school education, granted, but when eight comes around the tears shed at seven become the water source for the new growth you have just become. As a young boy one emerges from the numbing pain of homesickness into the chest lifting pride of independence. So start the best memories:

The back woods with its hierarchy of schoolboy tribes building rickety forts on the weekend. Laramie and Fort A anyone?

The first and each subsequent time the Gordonstoun Pipe Band marches up the driveway. Dressed from the waist up in evening grey and from the waist down in proudly swinging kilts. The drum major hurling the staff into the air, the bass drum booming boastfully and the melodic wail of pipes that even today [often heard the in the most incongruous places… outside Grand Central station in New York City for heaven’s sake] gives this half Jewish Sassenach a thrill.

Stepping in to bat on a warm Scottish summer afternoon with cricket pads still damp from whitening and making spindly legs almost tumble over each other while trying to appear warlike.

The weekend expeditions, clambering up Ben Rinnes and scree running our way back down.

Of course there were always those pesky 40 minutes classes that seemed far, far longer and the morning porridge we’d cut our way through to get to the dollop of brown sugar in the middle. The embarrassment of being offered ’tea, milk or nout’ and choosing nout thinking it might be some Celtic specialty only to discover it meant nothing or neither. 

But back to the pros at the expense of the cons. One week every term was spent sailing out into the choppy north sea in the 39 ft clinker built dipping lug cutters. [Did I make that up or was it really what they were called?]. But not just the sailing and the tieing of knots of which I’m sure most of us only remember one or two, not just the joy of splicing rope successfully but… the hot apple pies at the Hopeman bakery.

None of which of course is much preparation for a life on the stage. It was only in the Fifth or the Lower Sixth that drama became part of my Gordonstoun experience. First there was holding a spear in Henry V, staged outdoors in the magical Round Square, then my first speaking part in Macbeth. Well it was intended to be a speaking part but the prompter had to do most of the speaking for me as I stood frozen in front of the visiting royal family who had come to support their young prince who was very impressive in the title role… until I came on and almost ruined it. I used to wonder why stage fright has not been an issue in my professional life. Writing this piece made me understand why. I got it all out that one night in 1966! [Oh I do wish we were allowed photos of the production].

London in the Sixties was, shall we put it mildly, a little different. Long pants and long hair, girls, popular music available 24/7 and not just for half an hour on Thursdays when Bruce House would gather to watch Top of the Pops.

And then there was theatre. Lots of it. Inexpensive tickets to see the greats of that period. Classical actors were still accorded the adulation of rock stars. The young actors coming out of the drama schools were very un-Gordonstoun. Films depicted rugby in working class mud fields rather than the pristine expanses of manicured privilege. Some of us hid our plummy accents, some bore them proudly. 

Daniel on stage

Thanks to the Gordonstoun Association one can read with fascination of the diverse routes our graduates have travelled. 

So… for a period of a few years I went ‘Hollywood’. In 1986 I was cast in that rare beast - the grand big budget studio comedy. Big Business, was released in 1987. It starred Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin and boasted a terrific supporting cast. Still somewhat ‘stiff upper lip’ by education I had actually at one point in front of the stars, the supporting cast and crew to be asked if I wouldn’t mind demonstrating some reaction to the situation. So much for ‘doing nothing’ being the art of film acting.

To many in my business Hollywood is the ultimate destination. Once there, there is no guarantee of continued success. Many actors plant themselves out there amid the orange groves and, it has been said perspicaciously, eventually turn into oranges themselves. The live stage rather than the sound stage has always been my working home so having done my ’time’ I sprung myself and my family and returned to the bright lights of Broadway. But it was a delightful sojourn while it lasted though I was glad to escape before transmogrifying into a citrus.

If there were bold comparison to make it would be this: Gordonstoun can prepare you for almost anything in life [including Hollywood]; Hollywood could never prepare you for Gordonstoun.

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