I was going to begin by saying I have developed this nice friendship with a man I’ve never actually met, but that’s not true. We met once, 40 years ago.
I was 13 years old and he was famous, an overnight sensation in
you had told me then that four decades later, we’d be long-distance telephone
pals, I’d have laughed. Hollywood
Michael Cole was, as he puts it, "the white guy" on "The Mod Squad," which was a hip hit for ABC-TV from 1968 to 1973. Cole co-starred with Peggy Lipton and Clarence Williams
III as young toughs who avoid a jail sentence by agreeing to become
Cole, who lives in
’ Los Angeles San Fernando Valley, grew up in and gets back here once in a while. Last summer, he made an
appearance at a Monona Terrace charity event, Outdoors Without Limits. There he
spoke with Bobby Hinds, the Madison fitness entrepreneur. Hinds had been a teacher at East High,
from which Cole dropped out. "I didn’t like school," Cole said,
"but I love education." Madison
Last year, Cole mentioned that he’d been thinking about doing a book on his life. "Whenever anyone brought it up before," he said, "I would say that there are too many people still alive." Now it was time. He felt he had some important things to say. He had been to the top and bottomed out, too. Hinds gave him my phone number.
The first time Cole called, last fall, I explained that I was in the middle of a book about the late NFL star, Lyle Alzado, and couldn’t commit to another project. But we talked, and agreed to talk again.
He called every couple of weeks or so. Mostly, we chatted about
"You know that Thomas Wolfe line about never being able to go home
again?" he said. "I think it’s the opposite. I don’t think you ever
really leave. There’s always something beating in my heart for Madison ." Madison
He loves the city despite having it anything but easy when he lived here. He had a mother and brother he loved, and a father he never knew. The early years were in Schenk’s Corners. Money was short. Cole disengaged. "My place to hide," he said, "was along the
, about a half-mile from the locks. There was a little community
of people there who didn’t have any place to go." Yahara River
Eventually, with a buddy, he took off.
beckoned. Cole found his way to an acting workshop run by a
woman named Estelle Harman. She’d taught at UCLA. California
When I asked Cole about the break that led to "The Mod Squad," he began talking about the workshop and said one day he accompanied another student to her audition at
"I had never been inside a studio," he said. They read a scene from "Picnic" for a casting director. The woman did fine, but it was Cole, just along for the ride, who made an impression.
The casting man brought Cole to the attention of Howard Koch,
head of production. Word reached Aaron Spelling, in need of a charismatic rebel
to headline "The Mod Squad." Paramount
When they met, Cole scoffed at playing a cop. "That’s the attitude I want!" Spelling said.
It was January 1969, just after the show hit, that Cole and the entire "Mod Squad" cast came to
for a March of Dimes fundraiser on Channel 27, the city’s ABC
affiliate. My dad was the station’s general manager, so I met everyone,
including Cole. What I remember, truly, was how nice Clarence Williams was.
Cole and Peggy Lipton seemed a little remote. Madison
It had to be a strange time, that first rush of stardom. Cole had started drinking in
14, and it escalated with his fame. There was an incident at an awards show in Madison . Word got around. After "Mod Squad," he did dinner
theater, but his star dimmed. Australia
Twenty years ago, he met Shelley, the woman he would marry and who convinced him to enter rehab. He went to Betty Ford. "I remember standing by the serenity pond talking with Mickey Mantle," he said.
Renewed, Cole found roles on television’s "ER" and in the Kevin Costner film "Mr. Brooks." He thinks there might be a place for him in
’s fledgling film industry. "I’ve never felt more like
acting," he said. Wisconsin
Maybe one day that book will happen, too. The calls come sometime after . "It’s Michael," he’ll say, and begin a story. He has some good ones.