by Ruby Comer
Michael B. Chadwick
On a nippy rainy L.A. evening, I’m in my little Silver Lake digs, aimlessly flicking the channel button on the TV remote. The fake fireplace crackles in the background. Abruptly I come across a familiar face. Who is it? My memory hastily scans faces from the past. It’s a show called Scorned: Love Kills——one of those reenactment-based crime series. I love these whodunits!
It drives me crazy the more that handsome face appears on the screen! Then I’m thunderstruck. Wait. OMIGOSH. It’s an old acting partner of mine. Michael B. Chadwick…I howl!
We met years ago at an N.Y. acting class, performing a scene from Romeo and Juliet. Yes, I was Juliet. Well, okay, I hear your moans and groans, but let’s not get nasty about it. Miss Ruby was a younger broad back then ….
I plunk my research bonnet on, and discover that Michael changed careers around eight years ago and has been a top producing real estate agent for Citi Habitats in Greenwich Village, New York. However, he still dabbles in front of the camera and has been the face of major advertising campaigns for brands like Verizon, Angel Soft, and King Fisher Beer. He’s also appeared on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing, and was a contestant on ABC’s The Proposal.
Ever reinventing himself, Michael finds that those kliegs keep lighting his way back to the stage. More steadfast than ever, he recently returned to acting class, and joined an Off-Off Broadway theater troupe, The Actor’s Project. Not long ago, he played an extra in a street scene in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel! OH MY GOD, I LOVE this series!
Turning thirty-seven this month, Michael first became aware of the epidemic at the age of eight when Magic Johnson announced that he had been infected. At the time, Michael was living in Howard Beach, Queens. Born in Buffalo, he eventually moved to Rochester, graduating with a BA in Theatre from the University of Buffalo. Serious about an acting career, he headed to the Big Apple.
A core advocate, Michael has been involved with God’s Love We Deliver, Broadway Sings
For Pride (an event to support counseling for troubled LGBTQ teens, many of whom are living with HIV), and has attended World AIDS Day events. A philanthropist at heart, Michael volunteers for Comedy Cures, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Global Lyme Alliance.
Before Michael met someone who was living with HIV, he felt the epidemic had not really affected him. Like some straight dudes, he felt that it was merely a gay man’s disease. Then Michael had a cathartic experience. The ever self-motivator and inquisitive individual, he educated himself, learning that 35 million people have died since the epidemic started nearly forty years ago. He realized it affects all of us, and…was…stunned.
Passionate about health, Michael also has the wanderlust for travel. Besides traveling the world (Italy and Israel are his two top faves), he’s been to every state in the Union, with the exception of Alaska.
I phone Monsieur Chadwick the next day and we carry on a frenzy two-hour catch-up. Here’s a slice of our sumptuous conversation.
Ruby Comer: Mrs. Maisel [I state in a high-pitch femmey voice]?!…I love it, Michael.
Michael B. Chadwick: I’m looking forward to getting an Oscar some day and announcing my resignation from real estate.
Kudos, Michael! I’m happy you returned to your roots. [Pause.] It’s simply bewitching to reconnect! Those crazy times we had during acting class. Oh my gosh. [He brings up a couple of incidents.] Last time we were together, you were waiting tables all around town. Who are some of the celebrities you dished chow for?
Oh gee. Let’s see, Ruby….Hugh Jackman, Barbra Streisand, Donna Karan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Richard Gere, Christina Ricci, Rikki Lake, Bette Midler. So many!
Tick off some other odd jobs you’ve had.
“I always be hustlin…” [He boasts, with a laugh] I used to sell gift cards and stationary door to door, I raked leaves, sold newspapers, and even babysat. My first real job was as a dishwasher at the Scottsville Diner when I was fifteen.
Oh boy! That calls to mind, when I was fifteen——and at the time it was illegal to hire anyone below sixteen—I was also a dishwasher, but at L&K Restaurant in a little ‘burb outside Columbus. Michael, tell me about the first person you met who was living with HIV.
I had a customer a long time ago named Sister D. She was beautiful. [He pauses.] An older African-American woman who sold essential oils that she made herself. She lived in this small apartment in the inner city of Rochester, New York. [He pauses.] She gave the best hugs, Ruby! She took me to a World AIDS Day party with her once and I got to stand in a room with people from all walks of life, who either had the virus or knew someone that did. I joined them in a prayer for healing. It was moving, and the energy was electric.
Wow. Life-changing. [He nods.] Tell me more about her.
Sister D was a straight woman who contracted HIV through unprotected sex with a man. So that debunks myth, number one, that only gay men get it. I met her in Rochester, New York, back in the early 2000’s. I was involved in a nutritional supplement business at the time and she was one of my customers. She invited me to attend a World AIDS Day event. Afterwards, for several days the stirring event stuck in my head, and so did the monster disease.
Are you still in touch with her?
I haven’t spoken with her in years, but I hope she’s still alive and in good health.
So you believed the number-one myth about AIDS, within the straight community….
[He finishes my sentence.] …that it’s a gay man’s disease. Before I got educated I believed that straight men and women did not get HIV.
Fascinating. Were you taught about STIs in high school, along with HIV-prevention?
Yes, I was taught about STI prevention in high school and got tested at that time as part of a regular blood test at the doctor’s office.
Since HIV does not discriminate, what do you think is the best way to reach out to straights to play safe?
Hollywood. [My face becomes puzzled, while my eyes go squinty.] STIs are rarely discussed in film and television and when they are discussed it’s often with humor. So one way to ensure a healthy future for all mankind is for the people who control [entertainment] content to showcase it to our youth in the media and begin to talk more about sexual health. I’m sure plenty of brands would happily pay for product placement.
Smart! [Static fills the airways on our mobiles.] You’re a philanthropist. Where does that motivation come from?
Part of it was my upbringing. Within the Jewish tradition there’s a concept called “Tikkun Olam” which is basically the idea that the relationship between God and mankind has been broken, and our mission is to repair this relationship by showing chesed [kindness] to others and by doing mitzvot [good deeds].
I…like.. that (I point out in measured cadence).
I wasn’t raised particularly observant but I was instilled with these values. My mother used to say, “Every day of your life is an opportunity to bless someone.” I’m no saint [he titters], but to care about others is how I was raised to view the world. I’m thankful to my family for those values.
Me too! And I’m sure those who are showered by your philanthropy are, as well. What’s your best advice, Michael?
Do daily acts of kindness, bless others, and talk less. Give more… listen more…and love more.
[As I ready to end our lovely yak, Michael tenderly intercedes.]
I’m blessed, Ruby. My heart goes out to all friends and families of those who suffer with this disease. They are in my prayers for a cure. [There’s a deafening silence] You know, Ruby, it’s easy to look at HIV and AIDS and think, “That’s not my problem.” I think many of us within the straight community could do more to make sure the future is healthy…. for all of us.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].