The Brandon Cruz Interview
The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Bad News Bears and Punk Rock
by Lee Sobel
Brandon Cruz was a child star from the series THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER (1969-1972) in which he co-starred with Bill Bixby who was already a veteran of TV, having starred on MY FAVORITE MARTIAN and later THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Brandon was "Eddie" so for all intents and purposes he was an instant star with very little training in acting - he was just a natural and he went from nowheresville to stardom overnight. He was also in the original version of the movie THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976). Very early in his life he got caught up in the nascent punk rock scene and started fronting bands, including a stint replacing lead singer Jello Biafra in The Dead Kennedys. He's a surfer, a skater, and he's been clean and sober for the past 23 years. He's still singing in his band Dr. Know and at 58 he's still very youthful.
Lee Sobel: You still go surfing and skateboarding, right?
Brandon Cruz: Yeah, I go to the skate park and the other dads look at me like, "Why aren't you sitting on the bench with the rest of us grownups."
Lee Sobel: As a young kid you starred on the TV series THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER. That show flirted with some issues, didn't it? Like a kid growing up with a single parent.
Brandon Cruz: It was only like fifteen years after McCarthyism so Hollywood had to tread lightly but they definitely broke through on some stuff. Producer James Komack was a "committed to the cause" kind of guy. He took risks and I know they heard from the network a lot. "Why did you do that on that episode?"
Lee Sobel: So you were on this show with a loving dad. What was your real family like at the time?
Brandon Cruz: My whole family back then was mayhem. I didn't live with my dad very much and when he was around he was drunk or going to get drunk. My uncle was a biker. I lost two aunts - both of my mom's sisters who were younger than her were both gone from alcohol and drugs before I was ten. It was violence, it was drugs. It was wake up and "Where's mom? Where's dad? What are we eating?" It was like I was raised by wolves. My parents divorced during production on EDDIE'S FATHER. The family on the set really became my family. The First Assistant Director took me home on the weekends because he had kids and he gave me as much of a normal life as possible. Bill took me to his house on weekends, but he was the most eligible bachelor in Hollywood and he had parties. I was seven years old, walking around his house and there were threesomes going on in the hot tub and
Playmates wandering around. Lee Marvin getting a blowjob. It was just wild. The show wanted me to live in L.A. closer to the studio so I ended up living with this other kid actor whose house was across the street from where Frank Zappa lived. My mom knew all those people and the whole Laurel Canyon crew. I'd see Neil Young or Keith Moon and they'd be looking for Frank's house. Harry Nilsson (who wrote and performed the theme song to EDDIE'S FATHER) would come by in a limo and in the limo would be John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger. I met all those people.
Lee Sobel: What kinds of things did you love as a kid that you still love?
Brandon Cruz: I wanted normalcy and that just didn't exist in 1969, 1970, in Hollywood. As soon a I could I broke free from that and got better at surfing and skateboarding which I still do today. It was weird being around other kids -- half of them wanted to be my friend and the other half wanted to beat me up. Some kids thought I was a movie star and millionaire and I only made $150 a week for the first season of EDDIE. I would try to explain that, no, I'm not a millionaire and not a movie star but the co-star of a TV series, and then they would just think I was just being a smart ass. I just wanted to be left alone and do my own thing. I
had a pretty flippant attitude. I was tight with my core group of friends but as a defense mechanism I developed a "Get the fuck away from me attitude" with people. I didn't mean to be a dick, but I was.
Lee Sobel: Eddie was not you at all?
Brandon Cruz: Eddie had nothing to do with me. I was this wild beach kid with no rules and no supervision and Eddie was a kid who had everything that a kid of that time could have possibly ever wanted. That was definitely not me. People would call me Eddie and I would not like it at all. That was such a big reason of why I was such a dick to people. Not that I was justified in my attitude, but people are such dicks to kids who are famous. I didn't realize that the show was being seen by millions of people because I was such a little kid, so people would see me on the street and expect me to be Eddie, which I wasn't. I was a scared kid. Scared of being famous. There were two kidnapping attempts made on my life before I was ten. I had my guard up and I didn't want people near me.
Lee Sobel: Your acting on EDDIE was so natural.
Brandon Cruz: Bill Bixby didn't want me to act. He just wanted to be a regular kid. But in some ways I wish they had let me learn more because I look back at some of the clips today and I think, "God, I sucked."
Lee Sobel: You were such an adorable, freckle-faced kid on the show. I remember when I saw pictures of you in the punk era I was a little shocked to see such a transformation.
Brandon Cruz: The show followed a script and in it I was a nice, sweet kid, but real life on the streets of Oxnard, CA where I lived didn't follow a script and the beach I hung out on turned into a punk rock beach around 1980. I was already exposed to punk rock before that. I hated people but I loved an audience so when I joined a punk rock band and could be on stage, I could do whatever I wanted, and what I wanted to do was not be Eddie. So it was my way of escaping being labeled as Eddie. I would still go out on auditions and I would be high for one thing. Also I had cut my hair and had an earring and people would say,
"Wait, you're not Eddie." And I would say, "Of course I'm not." I realize now I was just acting out of fear because nobody ever sat me down and said, "Okay now you're eleven years old, your famous, your show is over, and these are the things you need to watch out for and how to set up the rest of your life to deal with that."
Lee Sobel: You mentioned you only made $150 a week for the first year of THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER, which seems criminal for the amount of hard work you were putting in as a little kid, and the fact that your life was turned upside down.
Brandon Cruz: After the first year it was renegotiated but that was beyond my reach, because I was a minor. Sometimes my mom would call the studio and say I was sick and wouldn't be coming in that day and the producer would say, "Okay, what do you want?" and my mom would say, "I want a new van." And a van would show up and off I'd go back to work on the show. My mom was a crazy hippie woman and she would do whatever benefited her.
Lee Sobel: You got into partying at a young age?
Brandon Cruz: I was thirteen when I lost my virginity to a nineteen year old girl from the set of THE BAD NEWS BEARS. I thought that was great. She had weed and a Camaro and lived across the street from where we filmed the movie. Today she
might look back and feel otherwise, but at the time in 1975 it was totally cool. Jackie Earle Haley was bummed because he liked her but she invited me over. We got in her car, drove around, drank beer, smoked weed, then went back to her apartment and had sex. That happened on my lunch break one day. I was high or drunk the entire filming of that movie and I was 13 years old.
Lee Sobel: Your friends must have enjoyed your celebrity status.
Brandon Cruz: Yeah, that was later, but my friends would use me to get into places. When the restaurant Spago opened up my friends wanted to go there because they wanted to try Wolfgang Puck's pizza. So that had me call up and I couldn't get in but then I said I needed a table for twenty people for a surprise birthday party for Bill Bixby and they immediately got a table for us because of Bill's status. When Bill didn't show up I had to
say, "Oh he got called to the set and he's not gonna be able to make it." And then we'd just party and then run out on the bill. He called me one day and asked, "Were you at Spago? You know it wasn't my birthday."
Lee Sobel: So being famous didn't completely suck.
Brandon Cruz: Yeah, I got backstage passes to every concert you could imagine. When I was seven I met the Beatles. I met Elvis because Bill Bixby brought him to the set. Bill had made a movie with Elvis and Elvis was shooting a movie on the lot and wanted to take pictures with him and the kid. But I was playing cards with the grips on my show and I didn't want to meet Elvis. My mom liked Elvis but I wasn't an Elvis fan. So Bill had to call Elvis and tell him I wasn't budging. So Elvis had to come to my set to meet me. I just remember looking over and seeing this huge belt buckle that looked like a gold and silver serving platter and this big fat bloated hand with diamond rings on every finger coming toward me to shake my hand. So I said, "Nice to meet you" and went back to playing cards. My mom was shellshocked because that was her idol.
Lee Sobel: How did you get into punk rock music?
Brandon Cruz: When THE BAD NEWS BEARS came out in the UK in early July 1976 I went to London with some of the other kids from the movie to do a
publicity tour. My grandma took me. We were in this hotel lobby and this band walks in and I hear, "Yo, it's Eddie." I walk up to them and I notice they all look the same and I think, "Who the hell are these clowns?" The guy goes, "Hey, my name's Johnny Ramone and I love baseball and I saw THE BAD NEWS BEARS and I loved the movie." We talked a bit. He introduced me to the other guys in The Ramones. Joey was really shy. And it turned out they knew my uncle from New York because he was friends with Jayne County and hung out with Andy Warhol. I liked them right away because I was used to ready dudes from living across the street from Zappa. I had already been exposed to Devo because this guy who was going to Zappa's house had their demo tape. So I had this taste for different music anyway. My mom exposed me to The Fugs and I loved Black Sabbath who I saw live when I was really young. So I told
The Ramones I was into Sabbath and The Ramones said, "Oh you'll love us, come see us play." So July 4th, 1976 I got to see The Ramones play at The Roundhouse in London. I met Joe Strummer, Paul Simenon, John Lydon, Steve Jones, Billy Idol, Siouxsie -- the London punk scene was just starting up and it was really small.
Lee Sobel: At one point you fronted The Dead Kennedys for three years. What was that like?
Brandon Cruz: It was a time when Jello Biafra had left the band and it came up a lot that people would tell me I had to fill his shoes which was absurd because it was punk rock. Black Flag had four singers. A lot of bands went through lineup changes. I didn't join them because I wanted to replace Jello. I joined them because I liked the songs and I believed in what they said. I didn't do the theatrics or the talks that he would do
between songs. I didn't replace him, I just became the next singer. There were people who would say it was "Fake Dead Kennedys" and the people who were the most against it would come in and see the show and end up singing "California Uber Alles" with me at the end of the set. I would win people over because the band was still amazing and they were playing the songs with as much energy as ever and I didn't do Biafra - I did me. I was the lucky guy who was the MC and got to sing the songs and then I'd put the microphone into the audience and they got to sing along. It was a celebration of the music. It wasn't trying to recapture anything.