I've never regretted choosing a career in film and television even though I was continually warned that I should seek a more sensible job. Though it might appear more practical to some, the idea of spending one's life in an insurance company, an accounting firm, or toiling away in the Post Office has always been anathema. Sure, it's a decent job with health care and a pension, but what an incredibly dull, dreary way to spend one's life. On the other hand if you work in the media your life will be filled with agony, frustration, and trepidation but I guarantee it'll never be dull.
Actually, I love the fact that Hollywood is filled with odd things and odd people. Sure, some might be classified as jerks, but overall most were just plain wacky. I remember a visit to a producer's office when I was still a young kid fresh in town. This guy had a million things going on in his office including secretaries running in and out, phones ringing, and several conversations going on at once. Adding to the frenzy, every time this jovial ringmaster shouted anything he considered funny he would squeeze an old-fashioned air horn attached to his desk. After several blasts of, honk! Honk! I left his office with my head spinning. Welcome to Hollywood, young man.
For those who think the cartoon business is tough try working in live-action. Some producers I worked for were downright scary. On one occasion when dangerous close to blowing a deadline, the producer actually used the classic line, 'you'll never work in this town again.' Though colleagues told me he was probably joking, I was inclined to think he truly meant it.
While employed by another odd animation studio, the company executives actually suggested a “field trip” to a bookstore. Now, I know everybody may not share my love of books, but it should give one pause concerning management’s intelligence if the people in charge consider a bookstore to be a strange and exotic location.
Of course this is also a business filled with crazy extremes. Let me illustrate this by describing two of the places I've worked. One office at a particular studio was nothing more than a grungy hallway. The floor was concrete, and of course there was no window. I felt like a coal miner stuck in a shaft rather than an animation artist. Contrast this with another gig where I worked in a producer's home office in the Hollywood hills. I sketched away in this opulent setting while servants prepared cappuccinos at my whim. The producer's wife, the daughter of a well-known movie star even offered to prepare dinner. I made the move from grunge to glamour in a heartbeat. These things only happen in Hollywood.
I've worked in a number of commercial houses that produce live-action as well as animation. In live-action commercials cattle calls are pretty much routine. If you're not familiar with showbiz speak, that's the name given to a mass audition where dozens of tyro talents hope to score a role in a TV spot. On this particular day, I entered the lobby to find myself enveloped in a sea of blonde young woman all virtually identical. It was as if some mad doctor had cloned Britney Spears. You couldn't help but feel sorry for the scores of young women who were turned away. Worse, the studio didn't even validate parking.
Then there were the days we watched the stars of the NBC hit show, "Laugh In" perform for us. Yep, the seats in the audience were empty with the exception of my colleague and myself. You see, "Laugh In" had a studio audience when Rowan and Martin did their stand up, but the remainder of the show was taped on an empty studio stage with the laughs added later. One cute cast member, a young blonde named “Goldie” had a habit of continually blowing her lines. The producers found her delightful giggle so cute they started using her out takes because they were much more fun. The young woman eventually went on to a movie career. I wonder whatever happened to her?
Roaming halls of television studios can be fun especially if you find yourself at CBS Television City back in the fifties. One afternoon as I made my way backstage at CBS, I noticed a lot of old guys hanging around as they prepared for a show. As I moved through this crowd of codgers, I suddenly realized who these old guys were. There was Don Wilson, Dennis Day and Phil Harris. I also recognize Mel Blanc and Mary Livingston. You guessed it. I had wandered backstage on the Jack Benny Program and I quickly excused myself. Although I'll never forget that day when I saw Jack Benny and the gang up close and personal. Oh, in case you’re wondering why I didn’t mention Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, he was out sick that day. Luckily, they had a temporary replacement. The gravel voiced, Andy Devine played the role of Benny’s valet.
As I said up front, these show business stories are true, and that includes this final wacky Hollywood story. Some years ago, I joined the writing team of a new network television show. The network had high hopes for this new comedy show that would consist of edgy, irreverent gags moving frantically and utilizing mixed media. The series would also showcase early computer graphics seldom seen on network television. One of my producers had this goofy idea that consisted of an animated cartoon character playing golf. The cartoon guy would sink a putt, only to have the camera pull back revealing he was standing on a woman's bare tummy. Yeah, I know - hilarious, right? Anyway, since I had an animation background, the big boss put me in charge of the visual gag. However, I reminded him I would need a live-action navel to pull off the joke.
When I returned from lunch later that afternoon I found my office filled with young woman in brief swim suits. All were eager to audition for the part of the navel. I confess I was so embarrassed I left the office with my brown face a lovely shade of red. In any case, the final choice was made by the art director. Since I put the task in her hands the young redhead made an interesting maneuver by sending the young women away and choosing her own tummy for the quirky television role. We managed to tape five complete shows before ABC decided to pull the plug on the oddball network show. Still, I'll never forget the day a dozen undressed young women tried to showcase their navels for me.
So, you see I could have had a real job and a normal life instead of this crazy show business adventure. But, you know what? I probably wouldn't have a single funny story to tell.