In May 1997, Brad Stoll a childhood friend with whom he had grown up in Plainview, Long Island passed away from cancer. Only 20 years old, Stoll had already seen some success as a child actor. He was well on his way into making a life of it as an adult when fate dealt a lethal blow that swept him away from the family and friends who loved him.
In a 1993 interview with The New York Times, Stoll recounted that his entry to acting was circumstantial. At 14, he bargained with his parents not to be sent to summer camp. In exchange, he promised to get a job. Linda Salow of the Times wrote of the late star’s entrée into films, “That week, Brad rode his bicycle to the nearby Plaza Playhouse in Old Bethpage, auditioned for a part in ‘Treasure Island’ and won the leading role of Jim Hawkins. Two years later, Brad, a sophomore at Plainview Old-Bethpage John Kennedy High School, can watch himself on the screen, starring with Richard Dreyfuss, Mercedes Ruehl and Irene Worth in Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers…”
Cohen recalls his friend’s dedication and unwavering persistence. He remembers how his beloved friend persevered despite the many disappointments and frustrations along the way. That something good could come even when one is just about to throw in the towel is a lesson in which Brad had first hand experience and a lesson that Cohen would draw on years later. Even the movie itself had wisdom to offer both.
The movie version of the Neil Simon play revolves around the growing pains of two boys, Jay (older) and Arty. Following the death of their mother and because their father was a traveling salesman, they are sent to live with their domineering and stone-hearted grandmother. A loving and maternal aunt (played by Ruehl) who lives with them suffers from a mental handicap. Woven within the boys’ experiences are feelings of grief and anguish. But of all of the movie’s teaching points, most profound is the humanness of pushing to overcome adversity, regardless of the hand that one is dealt in life.
Perhaps this was one of many things that Stoll’s experience was able to bring to the role. Before Lost in Yonkers Stoll himself was ready to give up, he recounted in the story. He had gone to countless auditions, venturing to the city with his parents who were “spending a lot of time and money” to support him.
Anyway he wasn’t sure how his boss would have reacted had he accepted. And besides, there would be other occasions, he thought, when Sandler and he could sit down and talk. Except, none came. And after a while, he had to accept that the opportunity was forever lost.
Loss has a curious way of affecting people. Some are devastated or debilitated by disappointment, regret or anguish; while some others are able to figure out a way to use it as motivation in order to transform their lives. Cohen is such a person. In fact, it was the painful loss of a friend that forged his commitment to a career in films to begin with.
David Cohen sparkles. He has an ease about him, bubbly in some ways, unfiltered without being obnoxious, and always wearing a genuine smile. His physique is fit, measuring below what he refers to as the world of men over 5’8”, but with a personality that towers above ordinary people. His presence draws attention, and perhaps because of that, he is a natural entertainer.
Growing up, he and his cousin Jonathan created several productions, live shows, skits and movies to amuse their family and friends. One such movie was Champions, a story of a Wimbledon winner (played by Jonathan) who refused to bring his son (Dave) to the tournament despite the boy’s multiple pleas. “The film ends with the father dying and his son becoming a champion himself,” says Cohen, thus continuing the family legacy. This dramatic twist of the passing of the torch would similarly mirror Cohen’s career in films.
He remembers the first time he used a Super 8 mm camera for a project in school. Drawing on his childhood fascination with Superman, he concocted a dream sequence with a frat boy playing the superhero who staves off a middle-of-the-night burglary. Among the amusing scenes he shot is a take of the hero flying up, up and away (thanks to a young pledge’s abs of steel, a cement ledge and a crew positioned off camera waving his cape). To Cohen the beauty of the film wasn’t in its realism but in that it wasn’t pretending to be that at all. “It was silly actually,” Cohen remembers, “and so fake…which made it funny.”
That very effect got the student filmmaker quite excited about presenting the film. That was at least, until he saw it. Or perhaps more accurately, when he didn’t see it. Cohen didn’t realize then that special lighting was needed for those types of cameras. The film, consequently, turned out to be a total blackout.
By 1998 however, David Cohen had progressed beyond superheroes and cement ledges. He would put a twist on another dream sequence, but this one would win him critical acclaim at the Long Island International Film Expo.
The Delivery starring Brendan Hines (Lie to Me, Beauty & the Beast) is a movie he directed and co-wrote with David Neham. The offbeat short film packed an unexpected ending that had an unsuspecting pizza delivery boy who, in an earnest attempt to comfort a woman who professed to being abused, ends up being drugged and who wakes up realizing he had been a victim of organ theft.
After his success at the festival and upon graduating, Cohen proceeded to work as a freelancer in various video productions for Showtime, ABC’s Good Morning America and Sony. Proceeding his work in Big Daddy was a feature film about a hit man who is sent to kill a stunt man but later falls in love with the target’s daughter instead. The film, In the Shadows, starred Cuba Gooding, Jr. Matthew Modine and James Caan.
Turn the page
(Continued on next page)
He told The Times at the call back, he was among only a handful of kids who had little professional acting experience. Nervous about his chances, Stoll was further disillusioned when every time he thought he had gotten the part, there was yet another round and still a handful of kids competing. But it all paid off and he landed the starring role of Jay.
Dave also has had challenges throughout. He was born premature and had been smaller than the average boy his entire life. He has had heart murmurs, too. Yet, he fought through those obstacles finding success first in sports as an athlete playing tennis in junior high, and baseball and soccer in high school.
Meanwhile, as an entertainer, Cohen’s epiphany would happen a few years later at the news of his friend’s death. He was studying pre-law at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland when news of the tragedy reached him. Coincidentally, he had just taken Introduction to Film as an elective at the time, a course that reignited his interest in the medium. Dave Cohen recalls asking himself, “If Brad could do it, why can’t I?” Taking Stoll’s example to heart, Dave decided to switch his major to Mass Communications, concentrating on film and television instead.