Favorite Fictional Characters, #365: Bud Stamper
Updated: Feb 20, 2022
The last two entries of the year will include two intensely personal profiles, if I can be permitted the indulgence. This penultimate favorite character was Warren Beatty's screen debut role in 1961, the male lead in Elia Kazan and William Inge's classic teenage psychodramatic romance Splendor in the Grass. In 1920's small-town Kansas, there were good kids and bad kids. Bud Stamper was a good kid, child of hard-driving tycoon Ace. Bud was a good football player, handsome, well-liked, a moderate student, and dating the prettiest of good girls, Deanie Loomis (Natalie Wood in the film). Bud and Deanie were pretty serious, but good girls didn't go past a certain point. That was reserved for bad girls like Bud's older sister Ginny, a jitterbugging cautionary tale. Both Bud and Deanie want more from each other, but the oppressive and hypocritical social mores promulgated by their parents get in the way. Bud's father encourages him to find another kind of girl to take care of those primal urges and then to marry the good girl after he gets done with school. The teen lovers struggle with their lusts and their desires to follow society's strictures. It doesn't end well for Deanie and Bud, though both find happy endings of a sort after a rocky tale of breakdowns and breakups.
During my senior year at Exeter High School in 1993, drama director Claudia Terlizzi Chapel boldly chose Splendor as a straight dramatic presentation. It was a marked departure from the Gilbert and Sullivan musical fare of the adolescent stage, with controversial and mature subject matter including sex, suicide, drugs, mental illness, and peer pressure. How Claudia got permission to do the show, I'll never know. But she did, and in another act of bravery or foolhardiness, cast a rookie in the male lead of Bud: yours truly. The rest of the cast included a deep reservoir of talent to buoy the tyro: Johnny Blaze Leavitt as Ace, Morky Soup as Ginny, Kirk Ahlquist as Mr. Loomis, even Epic Lloyd Ahlquist in a supporting role (your first, Lloyd?). Able friends populated the stage as well: Nate Oxnard, Scott David Chase, Angus Merry, Allison Mackenzie MacAulay, Liz Schmidt, Kacy Drouin, Steph Rand. Most importantly, the role of Deanie Loomis went to Liz Locke.
It was probably just another show to many of the veteran thespians in the cast, but for this johnny-come-lately it was an eye-opening look at the passion and commitment and craftsmanship of stage actors, whether professionals or school amateurs. I was a dilettante, trying to bring some personal experience to the role, but I learned a great deal from the seasoned members on the cast. Liz, Johnny, Molly, Kirk - you guys astonished me then. Hell, you still do.
Getting inside Bud Stamper wasn't all that hard - we had our similarities and our differences, and all I really had to do was find the places we overlapped and build on that. There was a lot of pressure on Bud, both internal and external, and I was able to identify with that, and with the intensity with which he navigated the world. He loved fiercely, and not always wisely. I cherished Bud's loyalty to family, his adoration of Deanie, his easy charisma with his schoolmates. And I chafed at his indecision, his refusal to go after what he wanted, his willingness to let others dictate his future until it was too late. In the end, Bud was defeated by his own timidity in the face of societal and familial expectations. He who hesitates is lost, and fortune favors the bold. Bud was too much hesitation and not enough boldness. It's a lesson that guided me in my youth, but one that I've forgotten somewhere along the way. Nothing can bring back the hour, but if these are the years that bring the philosophic mind, I intend to be all about the faith that looks through death, and strength in what remains behind.
What though the radiance
which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass,
of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.