Although my mother was a nurse by trade, she absolutely had a love and passion for fashion. Mother's love of style made her top dresser drawer a treasure trove for a young aspiring actress with an insatiable imagination like mine. She would allow me to play with all of her grown-up accessories. I was very big on wrapping her scarves around my head or turning them into different costumes. This was inspired by the old movies I grew up watching. Scarves and the sheer white curtains in our upstairs bathroom were magical to me because they allowed me to become virtually anything I wanted to be—a bride, an exotic princess, a first communicant. My mother often wore her hair pulled back in a chignon, with holders that were adorned with rhinestones. These were perfect for me to make a tiara out of. I'd slowly turn my head from side to side as I looked from every possible angle in the large mirror that hung over her dresser to admire the shiny sparkling headpiece I'd made. Once I had the tiara placed just right, I'd pull on her long white or black gloves and hold her ivory cigarette holder, which my uncle Leo brought back from Asia after World War II, between my fingers as if I were Ava Gardner or Gene Tierney. My mother always let me play and explore my creativity. And though she had no idea, she was inadvertently fostering what would later become my passion and calling in life.
As I got older, I began putting on shows with the other kids in the neighborhood. I was a one-girl operation, starring in, creating, writing, directing, choreographing and costuming the entire production. By the time I was 8 or 9 years old, my parents knew I had developed a passion for singing, and they genuinely liked how I sang. I can't say for sure how their friends felt about it, but after dinner, they would have to endure another song from little Susan Lucci. Wherever we went, whether to a dinner or someone's birthday party, inevitably someone would ask me to sing a song or two. They'd clear off the table and lift me onto it, where I'd perform like a female Frankie Lymon. I was too ethnic-looking to be the next Shirley Temple. Plus, my older brother, Jimmy, listened to Frankie Lymon, a wonderful, soulful singer with a beautiful, sweet voice, so I had been influenced by his style. To our family and their friends, I was already a star.
My parents decided to send me to a parochial school from first grade until the time I went to high school. Although I enjoyed many aspects of its curriculum, the school was very strict. In fact, we were not allowed to talk during lunch hour. We were forced into silence for the entire time, which was very hard for me. We could laugh and scream outside in the school playground, but inside, it was mandatory quiet. There was always some boy who would break the silence by blowing up and popping a paper bag. Of course, he'd get into big trouble, but we secretly appreciated his attempt to buck the system.
One afternoon, my girlfriends and I were walking in the hall after lunch when I heard a couple of girls whispering and pointing at me. I wasn't sure what they were saying, but it was obvious they were talking about me. Finally, one of them asked if I was going to be in the local Girl Scout play. I hadn't heard anything about a Girl Scout play. I was stunned that I didn't know about it.
"Well, we are going to be in it!" they said. "We got our scripts and we are going to all be in the play." They were being so cavalier.