"Become Whatever You Want To Become" -- An interview with Dr. Bill Cosby
This past August, the Anthony Quinn Foundation hosted Drs. Bill and Camille Cosby at a special Evening with the Stars fundraiser for the Foundation's scholarship program. Dr. Bill Cosby became a lifelong friend of Anthony Quinn's after they met in the 1960s and bonded over their shared love of football. Prior to the fundraiser, we spoke to Dr. Cosby about his involvement with the arts, the Foundation, and his relationship with Anthony Quinn. We are pleased to bring you that interview now, and hope you will find Dr. Cosby's words as inspiring as we do.
Anthony Quinn Foundation: One of the Anthony Quinn Foundation’s primary missions is to promote arts education and provide scholarships to deserving young artists. How did you get your start in the arts? Did you always know that comedy and acting was what you wanted to do?
Bill Cosby: To answer that question, a two part question, [I] didn’t always know. [I] did not want to be a painter, sculptor or to draw cartoons. [I] did not consider being on the radio as a comedian as an art form. It still isn’t an art form. Being a serious actor in Broadway musicals, serious drama, comedy, and writing requires study. You get there by being in the arts as an actor.
I had no financial help until I went into a club and got paid ... The oddest situation comes about when people want to cut the arts because not everyone agrees with what is important. So the disagreements happen ... The challenges of whether something appears to be anti-American in song, spoken words, filmmaking, art, so the cuts become political. When cuts are made -- without entertainment -- where are [kids] going to go on the weekend, what are they going to do in the evening to be entertained? What will children who cannot afford equipment or lessons do?
This Foundation started to honor a man who came up, not through the ranks, [not with] the professional schooling; everything done was without the classic classroom in the school. Tony Quinn’s life has always been hands-on in terms of the arts. He has been his own student and his own teacher. He didn’t want to do a traditional thing. He was broke. His ability was to go on [about] his life but not be afraid to do things that he was curious about and loved to do.
The Foundation is a natural way to raise funding to help those young Tony Quinns, male and female, that want to be whatever is natural to them. They want to learn and study to prepare for the next step. This is what this Foundation is about. We need to bring attention to Foundation and what its help is doing.
AQF: You are well known for your charitable involvement, and even received the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award and the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom. What inspires you to give back in this manner?
BC: Forget [my] awards. Tony was monetarily poor, but culturally rich, and wanted to discover what he enjoyed. He was a successful artist. He wanted to teach. He taught when he spoke. He always had encouragement for others, passion, and respect of humans. He even looked at boxing as an art form.
"It is up to the human being to become what ever they want to become."
For me it was similar. My life was lower economic. But my life was opposite Tony’s. I listened to the comedy because I laughed. I didn’t think to go to Hollywood. I didn’t realize anything about myself until I was put into a position that I had to do things; all of a sudden I had an epiphany to get out of things that I shouldn’t be doing. If I didn’t get an education, credentials, by earning them, then I would be in a position of doing things like scrubbing floors, doing things with my hands and my body with low, low pay. There is nothing wrong with these jobs if you work yourself up. That is when I recognized the need …an epiphany…oh, now I get it. The answer to the question, "Why do I need this?"
AQF: When did the epiphany come?
BC: In the Navy, in Bootcamp. I was19 years old. It came at 0430 hours. Waking up, getting out of that bed, realizing that there had to be thousands of boys who are growing and going to public schools and thinking [the way I thought] about life. [I realized] I wanted to become a school teacher to stop it.
AQF: So you went to Temple to be a teacher?
BC: I went to Temple University to be a teacher, and to study communications. But let's stay talking about the Foundation and what gives them a chance to hammer away at cuts, cuts, cuts.
Every year I play at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. There is always a high school winning band to play jazz. Next day, another high school winner plays. What happens if cuts take away the conductors and leaders of these orchestra in the schools? The cuts may come so that teachers are not being paid, the instruments are no longer there, the kids can’t go from sports to lessons, can’t afford it any more. The kids have to have to music, written and to buy. Sounds systems. If a kid wants to play the violin, and there are only two violins, and he is very talented but his parents can’t afford it, he needs a foundation like the Anthony Quinn Foundation to stipend or pick up the whole thing. He may never get to Carnegie hall, but he may be playing in the symphony Houston, Chicago, or Philadelphia.
It's very important that while the government is trying to figure out what is tasteful and what ought to be in the eyes and ears of the American public, this Foundation can afford to make it possible for [students] to continue their [arts] training. AQF: What advice do you have for aspiring young artists and performers?very important that while the government is trying to figure out what is tasteful and what ought to be in the eyes and ears of the American public, this Foundation can make it possible for Mary White to continue her classical guitar training.
BC: Pierre Bernard said that after he graduated from art school it took him 16-17 years to find himself. I think one of the most difficult things is for any performer, any artist, to not to let the negative of learning the technical circumvent the talent.
One has to work and work and work and make decisions in art without being afraid of mistakes. And certainly I think that the most difficult thing in art is to judge the critiques because one can make terrible mistakes in thinking that the critic and the negative should be listened to, or [to let] one's feelings after being rejected change oneself, or [make you] want to become more liked. It is difficult to believe in your own work when you get negative feedback. It is not that horrible that you aren’t discovered. Jack Lemmon took piano lessons. Not everyone is going to Carnegie Hall.
To be given the opportunity, whether you wind up Jack Lemmon or at the saloon singing, whether you play by yourself or you're doings design on T-shirts -- It is up to the human being to become what ever they want to become.
The Anthony Quinn Foundation would like to thank to Dr. Bill Cosby for his time and support of the Foundation and its mission.
(C) 2011 The Anthony Quinn Foundation. The contents of this interview may not be published or reposted without prior express permission from the Anthony Quinn Foundation and Dr. Bill Cosby. To request permissions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.