THE SMALL, BLUE-COLLAR BEACH TOWN of Oxnard sits on the California coast 60 miles northwest and light years away from Hollywood. Which is fine with Oxnard native and Hollywood refugee Brandon Cruz, once known to TV viewers as the oh-so-cute little son of actor Bill Bixby on The Courtship of Eddie's Father. Standing outside the modest, three-bedroom beachfront bungalow that has been his home for the past five years, Cruz, 29, sports a swimmer's buzz cut, black shorts and sneakers that have seen more miles than most radials. "People who don't know me expect to see Hollywood, he says cheerily. "I'm happiest when I've got two cigarettes, half a beer, a buck-fifty in my pocket and my surfboard on the beach. That's when it all clicks for me."
Since the end of Eddie's three-year run in 1972—and Cruz's retirement from acting a few years later—the onetime child star has spent much of his time shunning Hollywood's lights for the sun over Oxnard's beaches. His only contact with acting these days is the once-a-week lessons he gives to local elementary school—age children. "I teach them the same way Bill Bixby taught me, to recite lines," he says. "It's not about teaching them to draw from some inner emotion and get all weird. After all, they're just kids, and they should remain kids."
Which, it seems, is Cruz's biggest ambition as well. He surfs and skateboards daily and insists that Hollywood holds no allure. As for the klieg-free life around Oxnard, well, it has been more a homecoming than an exile.
The oldest of four children of working-class parents, Cruz was 5 when he appeared as Toto in a grade-school version of The Wizard of Oz. A year later he persuaded his grandparents to make the one-hour trip to Hollywood so he could try out for the Eddie role opposite Bixby. The trip lasted longer than the audition. "I had to walk in, turn around and say, 'Daddy, I love you,' while I looked at Bill," says Cruz. "They liked the way I did it."
Cruz earned only $175 a week from the series, often bunked with Bixby or other members of the show to save his parents the daily commutes, then returned home many weekends to become "just another kid in the neighborhood," he says. "I'd come home from the set and my friends would say, 'So, what did you do today, Brandon?' 'Oh, about six takes of dialogue. What did you do?' Then it was, 'Let's go surfing.' "
When Eddie ended, Cruz continued the commute to Hollywood for a few years more, doing guest shots on Rung Fu, Gunsmoke and other shows, as well as on some overseas films. The post-Eddie work cost him his chance for a high school diploma, but it also provided the modest financial security he now enjoys.
By 18, though, Cruz had tired of the grind. He tagged along on the pro surfing circuit for a few years, banged his head on the fringe of the L.A. punk-rock scene and stumbled briefly into an 18-month marriage. Finally, in 1986, he moved back to Oxnard, where he now has a steady girlfriend, an '85 Nissan and a life without frills. Cruz stays in touch with Bixby, his old acting partner, and says he'd be willing to do an Eddie sequel if the opportunity arose. But that's all.
"Maybe Hollywood did rob me of some childhood," he says of those old days. "But I've gotten that back because now I'm a grown-up Peter Pan. I'm a child at heart, and I'm enjoying myself."
WAYNE EDWARDS in Oxnard
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