The Man Who Wouldn't Grow Up: When Sirius XM radio DJ Kenny Curtis talks, kids listen
If you were an ambitious young actor in Baltimore in the summer of 1989, it's hard to imagine there was a better place to be than on the set of a John Waters movie. That's where Kenny Curtis was. He was a college kid from Catonsville, wide-eyed amid the klieg lights and catering trucks of "Cry-Baby," Waters's musical spoof of '50s teen-rebel flicks. The 20-year-old auditioned on a whim and ended up on location with the Bard of Baltimore himself, doing takes with Johnny Depp and settling into the makeup chair with all of the confidence of the big-time actor he dreamed of being. It was heady stuff for a University of Maryland Baltimore County theater major whose biggest part to date was Melchior in the school performance of "Spring's Awakening."
"Yeah, that may have been the best of summer of my life," Curtis says 21 years later, looking back with a broad grin on his brief strut across the soundstage. "I didn't have much to do, but I was in the whole darned movie."
"Whiffle No. 2," one of the bad guy's lanky henchmen, Curtis was largely silent but always present, looming menacingly behind his leader's left shoulder and squarely in the shot. Off camera, too, he was tasting the high life. He was palling around with Depp and Iggy Pop, and barhopping with the notorious Traci Lords, the onetime underage porn sensation who was making a bid for the relative respectability of a John Waters flick.
The summer of '89 had all of the earmarks of the start of something big. If not a glide-path to stardom, it was at least the kind of break that thousands of wannabes pine for year after year as they bus tables and schlep headshots around the hinterlands of show business. Curtis was thinking of getting an agent. Maybe moving to New York or Los Angeles.
That's when he returned to campus and learned that his girlfriend, Kim Meacham, was pregnant.
She was an actor, too. She had played Melchior's mother in that play ("That's weird, I know," Curtis says). She was five years older and worried herself sick as she waited for her beau to come back from his Big Break to receive the news.
"I didn't know how he was going to react, honestly," Kim recalls. "He was only 20."
She treated him to dinner at a quiet restaurant in Columbia. "I've got something important to tell you," she said. She took a deep breath, looked into his suddenly frightened eyes and spilled.
There was the stunned silence, of course. And then ... a big smile. Kim remembers it spreading across his face like the dawning sun. Two decades later, on the deck of their Catonsville home, thinking back on that smile brings her to tears all over again.
"The first thing he said was, 'At least I know now that you're always going to be part of my life.' "
Kim sniffles. Kenny laughs.
"Hey, I really thought she was about to break up with me," he says. "I was actually relieved. Terrified, yes, but also really happy. A baby! What did we know about babies?"