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From happy campers to Hollywood stars

Millions of people from all walks of life have gone to summer camp over the years, including many stars who got their start in showbiz at campfire performances and grew up to be rich and famous. Perhaps you shared the same pup tent or cabin with one of them.

Dustin Hoffman
Dustin Hoffman
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Dustin Hoffman went to the Perry-Mansfield School of Theater and Dance in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and loved it. Trouble was, his fellow campers were less than thrilled that he wanted to be a drummer.

They persuaded him to stick with acting instead of pounding out rhythms -- and a few years later Dustin became "The Graduate" and earned the first of seven Oscar nominations.

Another happy camper who was an unpopular drummer was Tre Cool, of the punk group Green Day. He showed up at vintage comic/hippie Wavy Gravy's Camp Winnarainbow in California with a complete drum set.

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Fellow campers muffled his drums and forced him to keep civilized hours but Tre -- or Frank Wright III as he then was known -- still made an audible impression.

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
Photo credit:
Nancy Kaszerman

Bill Clinton enjoyed his summer camp music, too. The prez-to-be learned saxophone at the University of Arkansas music camp in Fayetteville, and set an example for daughter, Chelsea, who attended several camps herself two decades later.

The First Daughter didn't play sax, though. Chelsea Clinton She attended academic camps at Sea World, Concordia Language Villages and the U.S. Space Camp to hone her skills in marine biology, French and astronomy.

Sports were favorites for many celebs. Fifteen-year-old Charlie Sheen, or Carlos Estevez as he was known back then, went to baseball camp in Miller, Mo., but privately opted to try some late-night sports, too. He sneaked out of the Ozark woods retreat and headed for town, but was caught off base.

"We gave him two choices," says Ken Rizzo, principal of the Mickey Owen Baseball School. "He could go home or do extra duty."

Charlie opted to scrape cafeteria trays, and earned the nickname "Slop Boy" from his fellow campers. The baseball skills he learned that summer didn't get him a pro career, but they did help when he starred in "Major League."

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan
Photo credit:
ZUMA Press

Basketball legend Michael Jordan was just a so-so player as a junior at Laney Hills High, in Pittsburgh. He didn't even make the top 300 U.S. high school players.

Summer camp saw him blossom. When he went to the Five Star basketball camp in Pittsburgh, sharp-eyed coach Howard Garfinkel realized the youth's talent. "I saw him jump to take a shot, and he just exploded," said Garfinkel, who marked Michael down for special coaching. Jordan never looked back.

"Seinfeld" star Julia Louis-Dreyfus went to Sidwell Friends tennis camp in Washington, D.C., and polished her groundstrokes and service skills, while Candice Bergen became a skilled horsewoman at age 11.

While Candice was in mid-ride on a 30-mile horseback expedition at Orme Summer Camp in Arizona, her ventriloquist dad, Edgar Bergen, drove up in his car to surprise her.

His treat: a wilderness command performance with his wooden dummy, Charlie McCarthy, to entertain Candice and her fellow riders.

Etiquette expert Letitia Baldridge summered properly at Arcadia Camp for Girls in Massachusetts and President George W. Bush attended the all-Texan Camp Longhorn in Burnet, Texas. Robert Downey Jr. went to acting camp at Stagedoor Manor in Lock Sheldrake, N.Y., as did Mandy Moore, Natalie Portman and many others. And Bob Dylan -- who was then Robert Zimmerman -- crooned his way through Herzl Camp in Webster, Wis.

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-- Posted: Feb. 23, 2004
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See Also
MAIN STORY: Choosing the right summer camp for you child
PLUS: Summer camp prices vary widely
Writing off Junior's summer camp costs
Financial advice glossary
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