Longform

Funny Boy

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But Detta wasn't quick to sign him up. Corbin had done the usual rotation of sports. His enthusiasm for each would flare, then quickly fizzle. "I was so happy I didn't have to drive for soccer," she says. "Plus I wanted to make sure he really wanted it."

After two years of pestering, Detta enrolled Corbin at KD Studios. (In the '80s, Detta had her own brush with show business, playing a court reporter in the TV movie The Lenell Jeter Story, with Dabney Coleman.) After several stage productions, Corbin proved so promising that he started private sessions with an acting coach in Lewisville.

As a sixth-grader, Corbin attended McCullough Middle School, but his schoolwork was suffering. For seventh grade, the Coronas enrolled him in Spring Creek Academy in Plano for kids pursuing talents in sports, music or performing. Students go to class for two-and-a-half hours in five core subjects, then train the rest of the day. Detta and Corbin would drive to Plano at 11:30 a.m., then trek to Lewisville after school for acting lessons, sometimes getting home as late as 10 p.m.

Corbin's career was taking over the family's life. Was the dream of stardom Corbin's? Or was it the result of overachieving parents projecting their ambitions onto their son? And what about the consequences of a youngster finding success too soon? One need look only to the Dallas area's LeAnn Rimes for a sobering reality check, as the sweet, wholesome young country star turned into a bitter adult immersed in a lawsuit with her father, who had banked everything on her success.

Detta and Gary say they're different, that Corbin is the one pushing the dream, pulling them along behind him. At every escalation in his acting career, the Coronas say, they've sat down with Corbin to talk about possible consequences. What they're doing, they say, is no different from the mother who drives her hockey-playing son to the rink every day at 5 a.m. or the father who moves to another city so his child gymnast can train with a prestigious coach.

Yeah, some would say. They're all equally insane.

Why are his parents hell-bent on pursuing Corbin's dream? "We want him to have a contented, happy life," Gary says. "This is what Corbin wants his life to be. He's so passionate about this, to turn our backs would mean we weren't being good parents." Gary says they also plan to do whatever it takes for their other sons to achieve their goals. In college, Ben spent a semester at the University of Sydney. Next fall, he plans to enroll in a program to get a dual MBA and law degree. Adam is exploring veterinary medicine.

But show business is different. The rejection is more personal and success more arbitrary, based in large part on things no one can control: beauty, charisma, luck and proximity to power. To the Coronas, those things are simply obstacles to overcome.

In September 2001, a Dallas producer cast Corbin in a show to be called Cyberforce, a potential TV pilot about kid hackers who help police catch bad guys. The pilot went nowhere, but Corbin began a refrain: "I want to go to L.A."

His acting coach encouraged them to take Corbin, then 12, to the West Coast for pilot season, February through April, when casting directors audition actors for new TV shows. Not only was his acting improving, Corbin, it turns out, had one bankable skill that could make him stand out from the pack.


"I had the same teacher that my older brother Adam had for the fifth grade. When I turned in an essay about my dog, she said, 'Corbin, this essay is word-for-word the same as an essay that Adam had turned in about a dog.' I told her, 'Yes, ma'am. It's the same dog.'"

Corbin focuses with large blue eyes, oddly canted at the corners just like his mother's. Slowly, a bit of moisture appears, filling his eyes, then oozes out onto his long lashes. In moments, a tear forms and slowly slides down his freckled cheek.

Corbin can cry on demand.

This talent, such as it is, first appeared when Corbin prepared an emotional short monologue for auditions. He could end it with weeping every time. "When I first started to do the crying thing," Corbin says, "I'd think about my dog dying. Now I can do it whenever."

Waterworks-on-cue is a highly valued skill, especially for child actors who sometimes have difficulty with drama foreign to their life experience--the mom dies, the father runs out, the world as we know it is about to end.

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Glenna Whitley

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