The Show Business – The Los Angeles Years Take One
I never gave any real thought to going to college. I mean, I didn’t want to teach theatre and since I’d been performing since I was six years old, I really saw no need. Years later I would end up going to a couple of colleges but no degrees. My joke was that I only went to college long enough to get a student ID for the discount (this wasn’t all together a lie). No, instead of college I would move to LA where I had a few friends and I was sure I would be able to break into the show business – the Los Angeles Years Take One – Don’t Get Me Started!
I had signed for a musical theatre camp in Dallas that began immediately after I graduated from high school. It was a very prestigious camp with the word, “Institute” after it (which meant that it was expensive). Here we were to learn about the business of the business as well as the show part from instructors who were out there working. Also we would do a staged reading production of a new musical. Of course I was thrilled and even more excited when I called to tell them that I didn’t have any money and they offered to give me a full scholarship. It was to be three weeks right at the start of the summer. While there I worked very hard and although I was only cast in a minor role in the musical (it was a musical based on how Neiman Marcus came to being a store complete with songs that talked about “stocking the shelves.”) The big payoff for me was a session taught by a manager from LA who came to speak and upon hearing me sing and read he was convinced that I could work immediately in LA. He said I was perfect for the quirky best friend or the kid dying of a disease. And although I was smart enough to understand that he probably wanted to give me a sexually transmitted disease more than thinking I would be cast as the next boy in a plastic bubble, I was sure he was going to be instrumental in bringing about my big break.
The week before the “Institute” finished I received a call at the camp. (This was before cell phones so a call from the outside world was a big deal.) I had no idea who this could be from but as a good Jewish boy thought for sure someone had died. No one had died; the call was from a director who I had done “The Artful Dodger” for in the musical, Oliver at a local theatre in Arizona a couple years prior who was calling to see if I would go to Ohio for the rest of the summer to play “Barnaby” in Hello Dolly. Would I? I was practically packed before I hung up the phone and the idea that it was also going to give me my union theatre Equity card was merely icing on the cake. The show was put up in four days and I had never been a part of a show that was put up so quickly. I loved it. The only set back to the summer in Ohio was that the director fancied himself a hairdresser of sorts and decided to dye my very dark brown hair a bright fire engine red! With my olive complexion I looked like a complete freak when I wasn’t in makeup and under the stage lighting. But I was employed and I was Equity, who could ask for anything more? Although most of the cast was from New York and told me that I needed to move to the city immediately after the run of the show ended, I had the disease manager waiting for me in LA and so it would come to pass that I left Ohio for LA to be a quirky best friend or a kid dying of a disease – neither would end up happening.
I was a young looking 18 when I moved to LA and this was supposedly going to be great for my career. You see, the child labor laws didn’t apply to an eighteen year old so they could cast you as a fourteen year old and work you like a dog. But what I soon discovered was that I was too young looking for adult roles and when I went up for a kid part I looked too old. It was what I called the “Grease Syndrome.” Take the movie, Grease. Everyone was in their thirties so it was believable that they were all in high school (well, sort of), well I looked too young to be in “high school” with the thirty year olds and next to real high school kids I looked too old. What this translated to was that I wasn’t going to get any work.
I worked in a Hollywood memorabilia store and dreamed of being on some of the posters I was selling. I lived with two guys from high school. One had been the President of the Student Council (the one who beat me out for Tommy Djilas in Music Man) and the other was a football star who dabbled in theatre in high school. They were both twenty-one and straight. The day we moved into our rented house in Pasadena, the football star was watching Monday Night Football on one of his unpacked boxes, the Student Council President was hanging pictures of himself in his room and I was putting down shelf paper in the kitchen. Get the picture? They ate me out of house and home. I was driving an hour each way to a minimum wage job living on a Tab cola and a Snickers bar a day, trying to go to bed early so as to not allow the hunger to gnaw too much at my stomach and to get up early enough to make the drive back to work the next day. And although it sounds bleak (and believe me it was) I just kept telling myself it would make for a great story on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when I went on. No, that didn’t happen either.
The big Hollywood manager did actually take my call when I called him and even allowed me to come to his Beverly Hills home to do a scene for him. I was thrilled beyond belief. I got my Student Council President roommate to do a scene with me from the play Tea and Sympathy. The manager told me it was too gay of a scene (literally) and that I needed acting lessons. He made an appointment for me with one of the leading acting teachers in LA. The acting teacher decided that my credits up to that point did not warrant me being allowed to be in any of his classes, even the most beginning level. The manager told me I needed to get an agent. The agents told me I couldn’t get an agent without booking my first job. You couldn’t book a job without an agent and so after about a year I went back to Arizona, a registered failure where I would work in retail and dabble in community theatre. But I wasn’t done trying in LA, no I was convinced that I could still be Scott Baio if only given the chance. But that’s a tale for another day….tomorrow’s installment in fact. The show business – the Los Angeles Years – Don’t Get Me Started!
Tomorrow’s Installment – The Show Business – The Los Angeles Years Take Two
Read More Scott @ www.somelikeitscott.com
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