Drooling on the Pillow

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What? And Give Up Show Business? II 

The Goddess was pretty big in 1980s TV. She was on everything from Archie Bunker's Place to CHiPs to St. Elsewhere, plus playing Brad Davis' wife on Roots. Since then it's been less TV, more theatre, but mostly commercials. If you watch any TV at all, you've seen or heard her a thousand times.

On the other hand, I've done exactly two commercials. One was for a public utilities company in Montana. It turned out pretty good, actually, and ran for years. It was shot in a preserved placer's cabin in Helena and we dressed up 19th century and showed what a drag it is not to have electricity.

The other one I did when I was in North Carolina playing Cornelius in Hello, Dolly! I was also the company manager for an extra hundred a week. Had I known how troubled the production would become I wouldn't have done it for an extra thousand. It was a talented, but young and inexperienced cast. For many of them it was their first professional show and for some, the first time they had left home. The woman who played Dolly was manipulative and sneaky and wanted to be treated like a star. Since that wasn't going to happen she got bored and cross and devoted her energies to arranging cliques and setting them at each other. The boys in the chorus were devoted to her and, eventually, it got pretty ugly.

In the middle of all this I was approached by a woman who called herself 'Bootsie' and described herself as a talent agent. I don't know how someone makes a living in Raleigh as an agent unless they represent all the local weathermen, but she sure looked and acted the part. Short, florid, bulldog-like in demeanor, she shouted, rather than spoke and always stood too close to you. I doubt she's still alive, but I hope she made it to the era of cell phones because the first thing she always did when entering the room was scan around for the phone and then go stand next to it. I liked her.

She had a job for me doing a TV spot for a local car dealership. The pay was $200 which was a week's salary for me so, of course I'd do it.

I got a very bad feeling when we drove up to the dealership and someone handed me a clown costume. Someone started putting the clown white on me and I remember thinking 'Okay, I'm about to make a jackass out of myself, but on the other hand, no one will know it's me.'

I really don't remember the copy, but it went something like this: the owner of the dealership, complete with traditional bad hair piece and constant sheen of sweat, would set up in front of a car on his lot and do his spiel right into the camera. His signature line at the end included making a violent and curious motion with his arms and shouting something like "Big Bill's GOT IT!" At which the clown, set up behind the car, would jump into the air, throw confetti and do a joy dance. Then we'd do the exact same thing in front of a different car.

It was a hot day and we were supposed to do ten cars. I started running out of gas on car number two and both the director and the client began expressing their unhappiness with my performance. I don't know if you've ever seen Shakes The Clown, but that's where I was headed.

Finally, the director called a break and got right into my face.

"I'm paying you shit and I'm not getting my money's worth."

I wanted to strangle him. I wanted, actually, to kill everyone involved, including myself, but I just glared at him.

"Why the hell didn't you pay the extra hundred and get a monkey?"

He smiled as if all his well-earned contempt for actors had been definitively justified.

"We checked. The monkey was $500."
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