Monday, December 8, 2014

Whatever Happened to: The Cast of "Salute Your Shorts"

If you had to measure the nostalgic value of the Nickelodeon shows from the early 90s, Salute Your Shorts would probably be pretty high up on the list. It's an impressive accomplishment, especially considering there were only 26 episodes that aired between 1991 and 1992. Maybe it's so memorable because of that ear worm of a theme song.

Ask anyone in their late 20s or early 30s; they probably remember every word to that camp song, even if they had to make room by jettisoning some useless algebra or Renaissance history or whatever. I somehow forgot the amazing opening for The Adventures of Pete and Pete but the Camp Anawanna theme is apparently with me for good.

The camp scenes, incidentally, were filmed at Griffith Park Boys' Camp in Los Angeles, not far from the famous observatory and L.A. Zoo. This camp is still around, having been part of the city's Department of Recreation and Parks Camping since 1924; it even survived a major forest fire in 2007. The lake shots were done at Franklin Canyon Park, and it's the same body of water that shows up in the famous opening credits of The Andy Griffith Show.

But what happened to the campers of that place we hold in our hearts? You can check out interviews with most of the cast (two actors were no-shows) at a 2012 reunion, but this post should hopefully be a pretty good roundup.

Kirk Baily (Kevin "Ug" Lee)

The lead (and, as far as I remember, only) counselor at Camp Anawanna, Kevin "Ug" Lee is plenty strict and constantly busting the campers for infractions both minor and major. Ug seems to take pride in the camp, but his rigid attitude and harsh punishments ensure that he's not generally well-liked. The campers do show some concern for him, though, including their attempts to set him up with mail carrier Mona after his girlfriend dumps him and their worry that they may have gotten him fired in one episode. Ug is also quite clumsy, frequently falling victim to pranks and pitfalls laid for someone else. His nickname, of course, is a play on his last name.

Kirk Baily, 62, was the sound coordinator for the 1988 B-movie Killer Klowns from Outer Space before taking the role of Ug. He apparently took a couple of years off after the series, but began appearing in acting roles again in 1994. He made appearances on a number of popular shows including Beverly Hills 902107th HeavenStar Trek: VoyagerMelrose Place, and NYPD Blue. Baily has also done voice work for quite a bit of anime, often credited under the name Bo Williams. He's focused more on voice acting at this point, with credits including Frozen and Big Hero 6 and extensive dubbing work on films such as X-Men: Days of Future PastPrometheus, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Danny Cooksey (Bobby Budnick)

Budnick was introduced as the camp bully, tormenting new camper Michael and giving the show its name by running Michael's boxer shorts up the flagpole. This persona is partially abandoned in subsequent episodes, although Budnick is remains morally bankrupt as he sets up get-rich-quick schemes or other rackets; he usually gets a healthy dose of comeuppance as a result. Budnick morphs into a perfect gentleman while dating Dina, but finds he can't completely shed his "bad boy" side. He confides in one episode that he comes from a troubled home and develops some respect for Ug after trying to take on the counselor's role for awhile.

Danny Cooksey, now 39, is arguably best known not for Salute Your Shorts, but for a small role as John Connor's friend ("with the sweet mullet," as he says on his Twitter account) in the action classic Terminator 2. He was also a child actor prior to Salute Your Shorts, appearing as Sam McKinney in Diff'rent Strokes. Cooksey has voiced several characters in animated series including Montana Max in Tiny Toon Adventures and characters in The Ren and Stimpy ShowXiaolin ShowdownInvader ZIM, and the 2012 movie The Lorax. Cooksey has also done some music work as a singer, first in the group Bad4Good and more recently in Shelter Dogs.

Michael Ray Bower (Eddie "Donkeylips" Gelfen)

Donkeylips first appears as Budnick's willing lackey, helping to bully Michael and other campers. He is kind at heart, however, generally acting friendly toward other campers in the later episodes. In particular, he seems to form a rather close friendship with Sponge; the two of them try to qualify for a wrestling tournament together and are active in a scouting organization. In one episode, Donkeylips inadvertently becomes Dina's date to a camp dance; in another, he heroically wins a Capture the Flag game for the camp.

Before appearing on Salute Your Shorts, Michael Ray Bower had credits in shows like Doogie Howser M.D., The Wonder Years, and the Michael Jackson movie Moonwalker. Now 39, Bower has had small roles on several other popular TV shows including The X-FilesFriendsDark Angel, and Bones. He appeared as a cult guard in the movie Dude, Where's My Car? and was a writer, director, and actor in the Web series Focus the Series. He currently hosts a career site at

Trevor Eyster (Eugene "Sponge" Harris)

Sponge's nickname stems from Budnick's old habit of putting him in a headlock and asking him general knowledge questions, interpreting it as squeezing the information out of his head like a sponge. Naturally, experiences like this cause Sponge to quickly develop a friendship with Michael, to whom he explains the Camp Anawana ways ("Everything bites!"). Despite his nerdiness, Sponge bends the rules as often as anyone else. He was the focus of a couple of episodes, including one where he tries to win a radio trivia contest and another where he successfully sneaks into town for a movie date.

Born and originally credited as Timothy Eyster, this actor appeared in dozens of TV commercials and had roles on shows such as Family Ties and Married With Children before Salute Your Shorts. He changed his first name to Trevor in 2002. Now 36, Eyster spent some time as a flight attendant and expressed some interest in getting into music. In a 2009 interview with Millionaire Playboy, he came out as bisexual. Two years later, he sparred with Redditors and seemed a little depressed, noting that his life had become a "sloppy bucket of crazy." He was homeless for awhile after being evicted from his apartment and lived in a tent in the Angeles National Forest, an experience he recounts in an article he wrote for the Good Men Project. Eyster has since gotten back into acting, launched an official actor's page, and appeared in a few short films and shows such as Bones and Kingdom. He's also started a micro-volunteering nonprofit organization called "...and then, Angels Descended."

Megan Berwick (Z.Z. Ziff)

With initials like Z.Z., you know hippy parents have to be involved somehow. Indeed, Z.Z. is extremely interested in nature and a devout environmentalist. As a result, she's the only camper who actually enjoys the nature activities Ug leads. Z.Z. is also one of the cheeriest and most rational people in Camp Anawanna.

Megan Berwick's acting career was limited to the years around Salute Your Shorts, with the exception of a production assistant on the 2008 movie Watercolors. Her only other credits are one episode of Full House and the incredibly campy sounding TV movie The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. Berwick, now 35, earned a bachelor's degree in international political economy from Colorado College in 2000 and a master's degree in the same subject from Stanford University in 2010. She worked as a development manager for the microloan initiative Kiva and spent a few years helping Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake in 2010. Earlier this year, she became the account manager for human services at Exponent Partners in San Francisco.

Venus DeMilo Thomas (Telly Radford)

Telly was known mostly for her love of athletics, showing proficiency in basketball and tennis in particular. As a result, she has a strong work ethic as well as leadership qualities. She's also the most likely person to stand up to Budnick or otherwise offer a voice of reason at Camp Anawanna.

Venus DeMilo Thomas had small roles on a number of popular mid-90s shows including Family MattersIn Living ColorMy So-Called LifeSister Sister, and Party of Five. Her last acting role was on a 2003 episode of Judging Amy. DeMilo, whose age is uncertain, went on to graduate from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in communications. She completed her studies while working at her family's business, the Thomas Talent Agency. DeMilo edited and directed a short film entitled Did I Wake You? in 2001. According to her LinkedIn profile, she has most recently worked in post-production and just started working as the senior coordinator for video-on-demand at Paramount Home Media Distribution.

Heidi Lucas (Dina Alexander)

Dina is a stuck-up, spoiled, arrogant camper from a rich family. It should go without saying that she's not one of the most popular people at Camp Anawanna, although she is surprised to learn this later on. More focused on fashion and her appearance, Dina isn't too interested in taking part in the camp activities. For all of these flaws, however, Dina sometimes gains a little depth by assisting her fellow campers. It is revealed in one episode that she has a crush on Michael, and she also ends up dating Budnick briefly.

Salute Your Shorts was the first acting role for Heidi Lucas, who continued to act through 1996. During this period, she appeared on shows such as Boy Meets World and The Wayans Bros. and had one film credit in the 1992 movie Ghost Ship. She also appeared in 11 episodes of Hypernauts as Noriko "Max" Matsuda. Lucas, whose age is uncertain, graduated from the Indiana University School of Law in 2005 and now reportedly works as an attorney in California.

Erik MacArthur (Michael Stein)

While the pilot episode gave the impression that most of the campers were returning to Camp Anawanna, it introduced Michael as coming to the camp for the first time. He becomes a target for bullying and gives in to peer pressure to some extent, helping raid the girls' bunk at Budnick's urging and accidentally breaking Telly's glasses in the process. However, Michael also gains friends (and even the affection of Dina) by standing up for himself and doing the right thing when it counts. The show's name comes from a pre-credits incident in which Budnick and Donkeylips ransack his luggage and run his boxers up the flagpole. Michael disappeared midway through the season, with Ug saying he has come down with a case of the chicken pox and left to visit Switzerland with his parents.

According to Erik MacArthur's IMDB profile, this departure came about because he decided after a season of Salute Your Shorts that he simply didn't want to act anymore. After this decision, he returned to his hometown in Hawaii to finish high school. However, MacArthur is still credited as having small acting roles on a few TV shows in the mid-90s including The Byrds of ParadiseWeird Science, and George & Leo. He also appeared in the films Pleasantville and We Were Soldiers. He began to transition to behind the camera work with Bottoms Up, a 2006 film he wrote, directed, produced. It wasn't too charitably reviewed, however, and MacArthur's last credited role is a part in the 2007 film Stories USA. MacArthur, now 38, is still working on film projects and now runs the entertainment company Pueo Entertainment.

Blake Sennett (Ronnie Pinsky)

Pinsky was introduced in the second season, arriving at the camp in the same episode where it is announced that Michael won't be returning. He apparently comes from a well-known salami family, since he is able to bribe Ug with delicious meat to escape punishment on one occasion. Pinsky is manipulative, but charming enough that he becomes quite popular. He might also be the suavest guy in camp, helping set up Budnick and Dina (despite the former's initial hostility toward him) and gets Sponge a date as well.

Blake Sennett, credited as Blake Soper for the show, had appearances on shows such as Family TiesMy Two DadsHis & Hers, and The Wonder Years before his role as Pinsky. A couple of years later, he played the bully Joseph "Joey the Rat" Epstein on Boy Meets World. His later acting credits included Elman on 3rd Rock from the Sun and an appearance in a 1999 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sennett, now 41, has since focused on music, composing the score for the 2001 film Don's Plum (which was never released in the United States thanks to a lawsuit by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire). Sennett was the bass player and a singer in the indie rock band Rilo Kelly, which released five albums as well as a compilation of rare and unheard material. As a side project, he founded the band The Elected in 2003 and released another three albums with this group. In 2012 he started yet another band, Night Terrors of 1927, which has released an EP. It's also worth noting that he dated Winona Ryder for awhile.

Steve Slavkin (Dr. Kahn)

The director of the camp, Dr. Kahn is never seen but frequently heard over the Camp Anawanna public address system. His droning, monotone voice gives the camp announcements, typically during the B-roll of camp scenes between scenes. Dr. Kahn also has a bratty niece, and is happy enough to see the campers pull a prank on her that he gives Ug a raise.

Steve Slavkin was the creator of the show (it's based on a book he co-authored in 1986 with Thomas Hill, who is credited as a writer on two episodes). He also had a writing role in each episode and helped write or produce a few others series, including Extreme Ghostbusters and Running the Halls. According to his LinkedIn page, Slavkin now works as an executive producer on the reality show Mansformation on FUEL TV.