B-u-z-z-z-z-z!!! The sound of the alarm clock is a familiar one to Jonathan Taylor Thomas. It goes off every weekday morning exactly at 7:00 A.M., but Jonathan rarely needs it to rouse him. By the time it rings, he's usually been stirring for at least a half hour, tossing in bed, considering the day ahead. Like most of his days, this will be a busy one. He listens for the footsteps coming up the stairs toward his room. Momentarily, his mom will knock on the door and poke her head in, "just checking" to make sure he's on schedule. She always does that. Claudine Thomas has been up for hours and fixed breakfast for her two sons.
Jonathan bumps into his older brother, Joel, who has dressed, eaten breakfast, and even walked the dog by this early hour. Joel, who's in high school, has to be there at 7:30, while Jonathan has the luxury of another half hour before his day really begins. He trundles off to the shower, humming a tune he heard on the radio the night before.
To an outsider looking in, the scene seems ordinary enough: a typical American family getting ready to start the day. But appearances can sometimes be deceiving. In fact, there's little that's "ordinary" about Jonathan Taylor Thomas and his life. Extraordinary is more like it. Extraordinary is what he has always been.
Jonathan was born in Bethlehem, a small city in eastern Pennsylvania, bordered by the Lehigh River, north of Philadelphia. While the name may suggest some link to the identically named biblical town in Israel, this city bears little resemblance to the historical one near Jerusalem. This Bethlehem is known less for its religious significance than for its industrial significance. It has always been a major steel-producing center, and the smokestacks from the steel mills cast a gray pallor over the city that make it look depressed, even when the economy is healthy.
The major employer in town is Bethlehem Steel. Many people who live in the area work for that company. Jonathan's dad, Stephen, whose family has longtime roots in that area, was an industrial sales manager there. His wife, Claudine, was a social worker. By the time they welcomed their second child into their home, on September 8, 1981, they were already parents to three-and-a-half-year-old Joel. Stephen and Claudine named Joel's baby brother Jonathan. That is what they have always called him, never Jon, and certainly not Johnny. His nickname, JTT, wasn't given to him by his family but by the millions of adoring fans he'd have somewhat later on. That's getting ahead of our story, although even as an infant, Jonathan had his share of admirers.
All babies are beautiful, but baby Jonathan was something else again. He had fine, white-blond hair and bright blue eyes. His dimpled smile seemed permanently affixed. As a tiny tot, Jonathan lit up a room the moment he crawled into it.
They say that second children are by nature outgoing because they are born into a "social" situation - there's already another child in the house they have to interact with. That may not be the case every time, but it certainly was by nature, and by nurture, with Jonathan, whose natural inclination was one of friendship and acceptance of others. He wasn't the kind of kid who hid behind his mom's skirts when a newcomer approached but one who was eager to be in on the conversation.
Precocious and curious, Jonathan was an early talker, quick on the pickup, artfully mimicking everything he heard. Always good-natured, he was extraordinarily alert, observant, and happy. In many ways, Jonathan seemed a step ahead of his pint-size peers. He was the kind of toddler so obviously different and special that people would stop his parents in the street to admire him. Jonathan doesn't really remember his earliest years, but his mom does. As Claudine recently noted, "At eighteen months old, Jonathan seemed older than his age, and he was really outgoing. Everyone kept saying. `Wow! Why don't you put him on television?"'
They might as well have been saying "Why don't you send him to the moon?" For showbiz was not part of their world. No one they knew had the slightest interest or inclination about performing professionally. To them, showbiz was just that fantasy world found on the other side of a movie or TV screen. By and large, folks in Bethlehem were hardworking everyday people who were entertained by actors - they didn't become actors themselves.
There was another reason Jonathan's family scoffed at the showbiz suggestions of their neighbours. It's one that has been so deeply ingrained in Jonathan from his earliest years that it still infuses everything he does today. Jonathan has always been taught to look outside himself - not inside - for satisfaction. He has always heard that putting others first was more important and, in the end, more rewarding than "looking out for number one." Seeing how you could lend a hand to your neighbour, school, and community is what counted. That's what made you special and worthwhile, and that's what brought joy and fulfilment.
It wasn't just some idealistic sentiment, for the concept of helping others was practiced every day in Jonathan's household. His mom trained as a social worker, and for the first impressionable years of Jonathan's life, she worked with handicapped and mentally disabled people. Sometimes she brought her own kids to work with her. Being around people who were physically and mentally challenged made a lasting impression on such a bright, observant youngster as Jonathan. He has never forgotten what he saw. When asked today about those early experiences, Jonathan explains, "My mom just brought me up to care about others," as if it was the most natural thing in the world. To him, it was.
Still, others continued to exclaim about how cute and animated he was, how he should really be on TV. That really registered with Jonathan. For little JTT actually understood what people were talking about. Although his parents weren't picking up on it, Jonathan didn't just forget. He just kept it in the back of his fertile, growing young mind.
Around the tender age of four, Jonathan made two significant decisions. They didn't necessarily relate to each other, but interestingly enough, he hasn't wavered from either of them yet. He remembers them quite clearly. One led him to become a vegetarian. "When I was four, I ate a lot of meat products," he explained, "but after that year, I just started editing out and dropping things from my diet - I'll eventually get to where I'm a total vegetarian." Jonathan may not have been completely clear about why he made those changes. It just seemed right and natural to him.
The other decision also seemed right and natural.
It would be several more years until he was able to actually do what he determined to, though: at the age of four, Jonathan declared that yes, he was going to be on TV someday.
Part of The Jonathan Taylor Thomas Archive - JTTArchive.Net
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