"Catching Up with Sascha Segan"
"Child's Play" had its share of memorable kids during
its yearlong run, but few were as memorable as Sascha Segan, a unusually verbose
eight-year-old with a unique way of explaining more complex words.
Today, Sascha's all grown up, and was kind enough to grant an interview to "Bill Cullen's World" for fans of the show wondering what he's been up to since 1983, and what life was like for the "Child's Play" cast.
1. You were one of the kids who was there from the beginning. How did you first get involved with "Child's Play"?
I went to a public elementary school for the gifted, Hunter Elementary School in Manhattan. When the Child's Play executive producers, Carol and Dick Craven, needed an initial seed group of seven-and-eight-year-olds, they turned to Hunter and similar schools in New York and LA.
One day, quite a lot of second graders were herded into the school library, where we were interviewed by a very nice woman with a large video camera. A whole bunch of us ended up on the show - me, Phil Wellner, Jill Oestricher, and Joseph Schwartz, for instance.
2. How were the segments filmed, i.e., where were you, how long were you there when they got definitions from you? Did you actually write some of the definitions for the series' first bonus round?
Child's Play was a bicoastal operation - some of the kids were filmed in New York and some were filmed in LA. The New York kids were filmed at the CBS studios in midtown, which I remember as a long series of nicely carpeted corridors with lots of free soda and electric typewriters to play with. Hey, I was eight.
We'd be called in during the afternoons, after school, a bunch at a time, and they'd cycle us through the taping room. Each time sitting at the camera we'd do a few definitions; we did many, many more than got shown. I have no idea about that first bonus round. Its genesis was a mystery to me.
3. You had an unusual vocabulary for a young man in some of those definitions, did you have an interest in science as a child or were you just one of those kids who "absorbed" knowledge when you heard it?
I was a really smart kid. I would read dictionaries and encyclopedias for fun. I read Carl Sagan and J.R.R. Tolkien and Shakespeare and pop-science magazines and the New York Times. I read anything I could get my hands on. I loved names and dates, maps and graphs, and intricacies of all sorts. Then I grew up. Now I'm just some guy. That's how it happens.
4. Did being on the show give you any "taste" of fame? Were you ever recognized by total strangers or anything like that?
Absolutely. I was recognized on the street at least once a week - I even signed autographs! On Sundays my dad would send me up to my room to make sure I answered all my fan mail. There was a girl who went to the University of Rochester who wrote to me regularly, I vaguely remember. There were lots of Midwestern housewives who thought I was the most precious thing ever, and the occasional marriage proposal. My parents later told me there were some letters from Jesus freaks and such as well, but I never got to see those.
5. Do you recall Bill interacting with you or the other kids when the cameras were off? If so, what do you remember? What was your opinion of him at the time? Did it mean anything to you finding out that he had died in 1990?
Remember I only got to see Bill twice - during the two times I went out to LA for the Turnabout game. He was a very friendly guy, and made all of us kids call him 'Uncle Bill.' Before one show, when I ran into him, he asked me wide-eyed and jokingly, "Are you the -real- Sascha Segan?" So when we went on-air for that show, during my interview segment at the beginning of Turnabout I asked him, "Are you the real Bill Cullen?"
I saw him as a sweet guy, an avuncular figure, but we New York kids didn't get to hang out with him enough to develop a real rapport. We were more attached to the Cravens, who were our minders in New York.
I was quite sad when Bill died, when Mark Goodson died, and when Dick Craven died. They were all great guys, were all very nice to me, and they all made great television. I'll remember all three of them fondly.
6. After the series was canceled, did you ever entertain any thoughts of being a child actor or any other type of performing, or was September 1983 the end of your show business career?
Well, there's one terrifying David Letterman segment where I appear as a child genius. I tried to audition for commercials and such, but I was lousy. I couldn't follow directions, and kept trying to improve on whatever the director wanted me to do. I aborted that plan pretty quickly. My little brother, Noah, has been much more successful as an actor; he was a bit player on Saturday Night Live for several years, has done a ton of commercials and recently appeared in a Foo Fighters video.
7. Do you have any idea how much you ended up accumulating in savings bonds and prizes?
Yes, but I don't feel comfortable telling you. The money helped pay some of my college tuition. The four black and white TVs, I mostly gave away to relatives. All of my siblings got an alarm clock. I played the Pac-Man game to death. I have no idea what I did with the tent.
8. Did you keep in touch with any of the other kids after the series went off the air?
Several of the kids went to my elementary school, and several more, such as Cassi Feldman and Jason Samuels, ended up at Hunter High School with me. The rest, even my close friends from the show, I lost touch with after the show was over. I wonder what happened to them.
9. What became of you after the show went off the air? Where are you now?
I grew up. I went to high school, fell in love with journalism, went to college, became a journalist, traveled the world, and worked for WashingtonPost.com, the Guardian in London, ABCNEWS.com and Expedia Travels magazine. Most recently, I got laid off after Sept. 11, 2001 and have since written a book on air travel and a slew of magazine articles. You can see what I'm up to at www.saschasegan.com. I work at home churning out missives about air travel and reviews of laptop computers. I live in Queens with a girlfriend and a cat, and all my dreams of fame are literary.
10. Have you ever seen reruns of "Child's Play" on Game Show Network? Was it a strange experience knowing that what you had been finished with for over a decade was back on the air?
I never saw the reruns, but back in 1997 GSN interviewed me for a "Where Are They Now?" segment. That was pretty spooky. It was actually kind of amusing, to know that my long-gone 15 minutes of fame were getting a rerun. I like being on TV. Who doesn't?
11. Where can the other Child's Play kids reach you, if any of them are reading this?
I do really wonder what happened to everybody. Julie Stefanov, for instance, who was my best friend on the show; Charles Miller and Chris White, who I hung out at the CBS studios with, and Kimberly Zorns, with the truly enchanting Southern accent. If any CP kids want to contact me, they can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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