Longform

CLOSET HERO

"I don't remember radio," Shane McCabe says matter-of-factly.
"You have to remember I spent most of those years, from the time I was 4 'til I was 11, locked up in a closet. I never learned to appreciate music, either. I had no radio, no phonograph, so I don't remember songs. People hear a tune from the late Forties and say, `Doesn't that take you back?' but it means nothing to me."

Shane McCabe says his father bound him with wire so tightly it cut into his flesh and scabs formed over it. He says he was left thirsty and starving in the attic for days at a time, naked in his own excrement. He says he took to hiding gauze and ointment so he could treat his own cuts and bruises. He says he would urinate on the floor and mop it up with his shirt, but then the kids at kindergarten started to make fun of the way he smelled. His teachers made him stand in the corner as punishment.

Yes, Shane McCabe went to school. But in those days, he says, "The family was sacred. We didn't interfere with the family unit, with the way a man raised his family. We didn't have social services like we have now."

He says the teachers didn't help. The school nurse didn't help. Shane McCabe remembers seeking help from the local clergy. It didn't help.

Nor did his mother, a hard-drinking worker at a cannery near Seattle where they lived. McCabe says he was taught to lie about the cause of his injuries on the many occasions he was hauled to the emergency room. If he ever told, he says he was warned, "They'll take you away and you'll be adopted by the niggers and you'll have to pick cotton for the rest of your life."

His says his father beat him with leather straps, with a custom-designed wooden paddle with holes drilled to reduce air resistance, with a two-foot length of garden hose weighted down inside with three-quarter-inch chain.

In the seven years McCabe spent in the closet, he says his father broke his nose, a finger, a toe, 14 ribs, and his arm. Twice.

McCabe says he was beaten and placed in the closet for not eating his peas. The next night, he received the same punishment for asking for two helpings of peas. He was beaten after having cigars and cigarettes ground out on his body for kicking the table leg during the meal, for squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle, for forgetting to flush the toilet.

For years, Shane McCabe kept all this a secret. He ran away from home on January 12, 1957, at the age of 16. He escaped by airplane and bus to Phoenix, and then to New Orleans. He legally changed his name. He never went back.

Today, Shane McCabe makes his living as an actor.
Most actors take what they can get. Shane McCabe has done better than most. When we meet in his new two-story house with the red-tile roof and the white sofas and the big green potted plants north of Shea Boulevard in Phoenix, he's just returned from shooting a Columbo episode in Los Angeles.

McCabe, now 50, was cast as a "kind of Bohemian Irish sculptor with a pet monkey, and it's the pet monkey who finally works out the solution to the crime . . . with the help of Columbo, of course."

McCabe plays the role with a thoroughly bogus Irish brogue. "Never been to Ireland in my life," he smiles.

In fact, McCabe's vocal skills explain a large part of his success. As a child, locked in his closet after returning home from the movies, he would keep himself amused by re-creating the voices of all the characters, particularly those in the cartoons.

McCabe, in fact, is probably better-known to the small people in the house--he provides the voices of Murfel and the Pink Panther in the kids' cartoon series The Pink Panther and Sons. He also plays the Kelp Eater on The Snorks, and the Man in the Moon at Disney's EPCOT Center.

"I'd be happy if all I ever did was animation. It pays so well. They record the voices first and then they animate to match, so you go in the studio for three to six weeks to record a year's worth of shows, and then you're free 'til next year."

McCabe's eventual career choice may not be so hard to understand. When he was 12, his mother, trying to protect him, drove McCabe across the state and deposited him in a small motel cabin where he was to stay alone until the start of school in the fall. The motel manager gave McCabe his $20 spending money in an envelope every week.

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Vin Suprynowicz