It has been near 20 years since I have called the Screen Actor’s Guild to ask for my residual payments. According to my figures, that means I should have about $12.28. But since I spent Monday with a pretty knowledgeable producer, it just may be time to call in and get those funds to pay for new head-shots.
Some years back when I went to auditions, I could say: “I’ve completed 14 films in 13 months and the last three were…” Yep! Selling yourself is a 24 hour a day, seven days a week job. I just may not be that good at it. So I go back to why I went into the film business in the first place. I liked watching the crowd laugh, cry and even sing along (Sometimes when it wasn’t even a musical). I liked helping people escape from reality for a few moments in time. Their daily life being broken up because they chose to see a play, a movie, a musical performance.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… I sang on what was called the “Freedom Train.” So did thousands of others across the country. Although, at the time, I wouldn’t acknowledge it. When I auditioned for and was granted admission to “Up with People” Bob Hope was still its Voice. And, when it was “High Noon, Part 2” at Old Tucson, Pernell Roberts killed me dead. There was a time though when I was permitted to see how real Hollywood can truly be.
Barry Newman befriended a kid hanging around the set of “Petrocelli” then encouraged him to start being an extra. He helped that kid with encouragement to work at his craft. That 16 year old was me. Albert Salmi played the ever vigilant detective. He and I got along because we are both of Finnish ancestry. And, David Huddleston who played a detective on the show from time to time gave additional time to this young man when I happened to catch the taping of a pilot at NBC called “Kallikacks.” Imparting words of wisdom after the show. Much to the displeasure on the Page who simply wanted me to go home. But, the best of the bunch was a sometimes crusty Production Manager named Sam Manners. He talked to me about the realities of the motion picture business. Years later, I was able to meet his daughter (briefly). Sam, though, was the man I admired for the passion shown behind the scenes. Making everyone else look their best.
I recall sitting in the back of a van with Peter Fox and Billy Crystal while heading out to the set of “Enola Gay.” We joked about the business. In my naiveté I asked each where they would like to be in 5 years. (A set-up, I know.) When it came to Billy Crystal, he stopped and thought briefly before responding. Tentatively he stated; “I’d like to do comedy.” Someone fired back; “Billy, you’re not that funny.” We all laughed, but it was that statement I always remembered as Bill Crystal went on to pleasure millions of households with his own ‘brand’ of wonderful comedy. When it came to my answer, I offered a trite; “The second season of my own show.” Laughter again as we all knew of the set-up.
Years after working another film, I attended a panel discussion at USC where Bruce Boxleitner paused to acknowledge me from the stage. He knew we worked together, just hadn’t remembered my Sherm McMasters opposite his Wyatt Earp. A few weeks later I was crewing a television movie Bruce was starring in. The world got smaller.
The Hollywood scene is really something quite remarkable. People seeking to find stardom sometimes forget the reason they did it in the first place. They enjoy the limelight and things that got them to their level of recognition, only to find they must ever promote to stay on top. But there are still those who refuse to play the game. They go quietly about, making a name for themselves and never seeming to forget about those they work with. Perhaps there is no better man at this that the one I enjoy seeing in film the most; Tracy Walter. He befriended me on that same High Noon, Part 2. Most don’t remember him in “Conan, the Barbarian.” Nor some of his later roles, including “Independence Day.” The fact that he works so often and contributes so much to the industry, without ever truly being recognized for his genius, boggles the imagination. One day soon, I hope to see him as a top-tier lead in one of the films I am working on.
Then there was this wonderful woman who asked me to run lines for her while she waited for the rest of the cast to come back from meetings. We found we had friends in common. Little did I know this woman, who played on the show “Gloria”, Jayne Meadows was an icon herself. I just knew her as a wonderful conversationalist. She knew many at Paramount. And she was genuinely interested in what I was working on. Even as a small pilot, an “American Ninja” styled television show that had me training for months like mad.
On a flight to somewhere, from somewhere, I noted the voice behind me in ‘first class’ was one unlike any other. The voice of “Darth Vader,” The “EIB Network” and a seeming thousand different shows over the years. James Earl Jones was asked for his autograph quite a lot on that flight. He never complained. Never refused. Though tired from some long trip, he was gracious in every respect. When we landed, I simply walked over to let him know; “Thank you for all the wonderful years of treasured memories you have provided to me and my family.” He shook my hand and I walked away.
There are personal moments and interactions with some of these celebrated artists of which I will not write. Personal disclosures and fears shared that would not serve any purpose but tantalization. Just as each of us seek someone in which to confide, so do those that we make larger than life. They are subjected to stalkers, perverts, clowns and con men. Just like us, they have families, friends and relatives that live close enough to understand their foibles and private failures. When next you see them on the large screen, take a moment and reflect the many faces of life they represent. The laughter and tears you have benefited from because of their hard work. Then, just say a quiet ‘thank you.’ For that is all any of us really wants. Heartfelt recognition that we have made a difference.
The truth of the business in not in the anecdotal glimpses of personal lives, per se. But, rather the professionalism that is demonstrated by setting aside one’s ego to permit others their moment in the spotlight. Remaining constant in the honing of one’s craft. Building relationships that are not of the public. And, taking time out to focus on what is most important in your life.
For me, it was setting aside my personal goals to raise a family where my wife would not have to work. She was not terribly happy with my choice of industry. However, it helped from time to time to pay the bills, insurance and the like. I have returned from my sabbatical from the business. Seen my children grown and on their own. Time and reflection have permitted me an opportunity to see that the goals I once thought important are less so than returning to give others their personal escape from reality. Having fun along the way.
Making a difference, as does Tracy, or another man I played Poker with at his home Glenn Moreshower. Names you may not know, or think you remember. But performances that you won’t soon forget.
In about two weeks, my editor assures me the ebook on “Debt of Honor” will be completed. I have been discussing options for a film with one producer, and have a meeting set with another. Who knew? The ability to intricately blend my two loves (martial arts and film) may permit me an avenue of personal freedom I had only wondered about attempting in the past. If so, my $12.28 will afford me the gas to get to the photographer’s location for the photo shoot.
Regardless, I have my ‘walking shoes’ on this time.
“I’ll see you in the Movies”