Depression Can Really Hurt
Times were very difficult for my wife and me, as she became clinically depressed and quit her job, losing the income she was bringing in. We didn’t have any health insurance and she also was not eligible for unemployment. She slept pretty much all day and night. And was totally unable to work. So to pay the bills and stay in school I took a job as a medic (which I had been trained for when I was in the service). At the Pasadena Community Hospital between 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM. This allowed me to get to class by 8:00 AM and be able to rehearse my shows at the school in the theater until 10:00 PM and make it to work on time.
Acting School and Stress
We still had financial issues, however, as we had moved into a larger apartment that afforded us our own bedroom and living room space. The cost of this we just couldn’t afford at the time. This went on for about 6 months and I was facing not being able to return to school. I met with the school to inform them that we just didn’t have the money to continue attending. What happened next was totally unexpected. They offered me a Student Loan to cover my tuition and then gave me the concessions for the theatres i.e. coffee, tea and snacks for all the theaters at the school. By the time this all came into play, my wife had pretty much recovered from her depression and was able to manage the concessions so I could continue attending school. They also gave me a teaching position, teaching Phonetics which I was very good at and was paid well to teach the class for a semester.
With the student loan and revenue coming in from the concessions, teaching position and my GED money we were able to get by. To help, we moved out of the larger apartment into something more reasonable.
The only problem was the new place was about 9 miles from the school, and as long as my car worked I was good to go. However, when my car needed a fuel pump, which was going to cost us about $39.00++ for a new one, and I remember this like it was yesterday, as we just didn’t have the money for the repair. I just sat in the car and cried my eyes out as I just didn’t have the money and I was facing a 9-mile walk to school and a 9-mile walk home. I had to get up pretty early to get to school on time. It took me about a month to put the money together to get the car repaired and not have to make that walk each day. I should say, that on the morning walk I could successfully hitch a ride from time to time so it wasn’t so bad.
Note: I should mention that some of the classmates I studied with were Groucho Mark’s Daughter, Sally Struthers, Frederick Lucking, and many others who went onto star in television series of their own. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them.
When we took over the concessions I remember one night when one of the audience members came up to me and asked if I had an agent, and I told him I didn’t. He told me that his agency might be interested in representing me and we made an appointment to meet at his offices to discuss his representation of me. I took the meeting and they signed me and their agency began to represent me. Actually, this decision turned out to be a mistake on my part as I later learned that the President & Dean of the Pasadena Playhouse had plans to represent me but couldn’t reveal it until after I graduated. Had I known this, I would have held on and looked for an agent after my graduation. Things started to turn around for me when I changed the scene I was presenting during my auditions to a scene from Dylan (Dylan Thomas) from a play by Sidney Micheals. About his life and that of his wife Caitlin when they lived in Majorca. I did the scene where Dylan, obviously inebriated, recites “Bah Bah Black Sheep Have You Any Wool” to his sleeping baby daughter, Have to thank the comedian Foster Brooks and my knowledge of phonetics for making this scene stand out to the studio auditions. It got me noticed by 20th Century Fox, who I got a contract with and considered MGM. It was short-lived, as 20th Century when it went to Chapter 11 and disbanded its contract player department.
But before that happened I got to be in a couple of television shows that the studio arranged for me. My first scene was in a series called “To Catch a Thief” with Robert Wagner, Fred Astaire, and Malachi Throne, I also appeared in “Where’s Poppy” with Alan Arkin and a brief appearance in the television show MASH. It was working on this show that I met Bert Medcalf, the Executive Producer of the show. It was Mr. Medcalf that gave me a piece of advice that ultimately changed my life. But more about that later. I also did a couple of stage shows, one of which was at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles when I was the understudy for Timothy Dalton, who played Phillip the II the King of France the main stars where Peter O’tool., Anthony Hopkins and Katherine Hepburn in the “The Lion in Winter. I also appeared with Richard Burton and Eva Gardner in the movie “Night of the Iguana” To be honest, however, I think I ended up on the cutting room floor for my performance in that film. That was the extent of my acting career, and with the studio going into bankruptcy, I was back on the street again.
So I needed a job again and ended up getting one as the manager of the ushers at the Cinerama Dome at Hollywood & Vine. The theater was huge and owned by George Forman, who invented the Cinerama Concept which included the projector and lenses to project onto a 180’ screen that was over 20’ high. It didn’t have much product back then to show, but enough to keep audiences coming to see movies produced in that format. The main film when I came there was Krakatoa East of Java depicting the eruption of the Krakatoa Volcano, which destroyed the island of Java. I remember that it was about the only film made in that format, except for some travel films. It took quite a while for the format to catch on and provide product for Cinerama films, but Forman had deep pockets and could wait it out. The theater from time to time presented other formats i.e. Panavision and others, one that sticks in my mind was the ‘Green Berets’, a John Wayne movie about the war in Vietnam.
The film starred John Wayne and all his buddies, and it was definitely in favor of the war, which wasn’t very popular at the time. Another reason I remember this film was when it opened John Wayne was in attendance and I got to spend some time with him. Another thing that made the theater unique was that it was the only hard ticket movie theater in Hollywood at the time.
I worked at the Cinerama Dome for about 6 months and got to the point that the smell of Popcorn was making me sick, I don’t suffer from that today but sure did back then. One of the perks was we had some of the prettiest usherettes I had ever had the opportunity of working with and the theater manager and his wife and family where great to work with. The job was great, but it didn’t pay much. I was getting about $300.00 a week as a contract player and after I graduated from the playhouse I was no longer getting the GED money, fortunately, we saved as much money as we could and had enough to keep going for a while. I was still trying to be an actor and was continuing to go out to auditions and fortunately I had some film work to show for it. Back then when you went out on an audition, the first thing a casting director would ask you was if you had any film to show them. If you didn’t, your chances were slim. I did, however, have a video of my performance in the “Lion in Winter” but that was it. My problem during auditions was that I always suffered Stage Fright at the very beginning. I always recovered quickly but it just used to screw with my confidence at the start.
When I was at the Cinerama Dome I had a guy working with me named Bob Lang, who I became fast friends with. Little did I know at the time was that his father was Jennings Lang the Executive Vice President of Production at Universal Studios. (In short, he was second only to the President and CEO of MCA which owned Universal at the time. It should be pointed out that Universal was one of the only studios that didn’t have any financial issues. It was making money mostly because they focused on television series productions and very little film work.
Continue Reading and learn how I found Connections with Influential People in Acting