Recently, I picked up a gig writing short biographies of people in the entertainment industry. I came to the job late, meaning that thousands upon thousands of people were already covered, meaning that I'm writing about actors and directors even I don't know.
As a result, I've learned about a whole other universe of actors. I always divided actors into two camps: stars and supporting players. Now, I'm writing about the grinders, men and women who appear in a string of shows, commercials, and movies for years (frequently decades) without ever really breaking through. Their biographies on IMDB.com are scant; no one is devoting a fan page to them.
Some of their stories are, let's be honest, depressing. Gail Fisher (pictured) was the first African American to win an acting-related Emmy Award, getting one for playing Peggy Fair on the detective show Mannix. After the show ended in 1975, she battled substance abuse problems and lived off residuals from the show that made her a star. Cesare Danova, who played the greasy mayor in Animal House lost the lead role in Ben-Hur, then had his part in Cleopatra cut to shreds four years later.
But they made it. There are so many aspiring actors and actresses who can't get a SAG card, who spend their whole lives waiting tables and parking cars only to get nothing. There are no callbacks, there are no premieres--just delusion and confusion. Folks like Gail Fisher made it. They got to earn a living doing what they loved, even if they never became superstars or were forgotten well after their heydays.
There's something nice about that. Then again, I'd hate to have my life defined by unfortunate events and could-have-beens. From 1998 to 2000, Pete Croatto whiffed on interviews for three high-profile magazine internships that could have changed everything...Consequently, writing these profiles has been educational, inspirational, and sobering. There's a side to Hollywood that is as mundane and mortal as yours and mine.
Sometimes it's not fun to know how the sausage gets made.