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Stephen Schochet

 

 

 

Is Johnny Depp Like Nelson Mandela?

by Stephen Schochet

 

To someone not in the industry, the life of a television star seems like a glamorous occupation. But many actors signed to long term contracts feel more imprisoned than privileged. Johnny Depp was so miserable on 21 Jump Street (1987-1992) he actually tried to get fired, pulling stunts like lighting his underwear on fire on the set. Speaking years later about finally getting off the detective show, the actor said," I was like Mandela, man."

A similar reaction came from Natalie Schaefer. Like many actors who do television pilots, when she played Mrs. Howell in the initial Gilligan's Island (1964-1967) episode she wanted to do one quick professional job, get paid, that's it. No way had she figured would CBS pick up such a ridiculous, stupid show. A few weeks later Natalie was throwing a party at her home on Rodeo Drive. She excused herself when the phone rang, returned a few minutes later and burst into tears. Her friends rushed to comfort the normally happy hostess. "Natalie darling, what is it? Did you lose a part?"

"No much worse. I got it."

James Garner became a popular TV star because of the Warner Bros. western Maverick (1957-1962). But to the Oklahoma born actor and Korean War veteran, the show was often purgatory. The studio refused him permission to earn extra money on weekends by making personal appearances, and turned down his requests for a raise. He finally got out of the show through a breech of contract suit, and stated bitterly "If you have any pride in your work you don't go into TV."But the forty-six-year-old actor accepted the title role on The Rockford Files (1974-1980) with his head held high. Jim Rockford’s house trailer and answering machine were a far cry from the typical fictional gumshoe’s plush office and sexy secretary. He charged high fees, was willing to participate in con jobs with his sleazy pals and often could not collect money from his clients for services rendered. Despite the initial good ratings, network executives wanted to make the detective a more traditional good guy. But Garner, a veteran who’d received a purple heart after being wounded in the Korean War, balked at the idea. The star insisted that he was not a hero, there was no way he’d play one and went on a one-man strike. Garner’s bosses agreed to leave the creative people alone, and Rockford continued to delight TV viewers.

Sometimes a seeming big break can turn into a nightmare. Stage actress Vivian Vance was thrilled to get the role of Ethel on I Love Lucy (1951-1957). Vance, who was a good looking woman, even acceded to Lucille Ball's demand that she be twenty pounds overweight. Each summer she would get an irritating phone call from her co-star," Viv, we start shooting in a couple of weeks, start eating." Playing a frumpy, second banana weighed on her. One day sitting in her make-up chair she complained for all to hear," Can you believe they have me married to that old coot, William Frawley? He should be playing my grandfather. Every morning when I get my script I say please God, don't let me have any kissing scenes with the old coot." During her diatribe the old coot was standing right behind her which started a long and famous feud. Later when I Love Lucy ran its course, Desi Arnaz proposed creating a spin-off show called The Mertzes which could of made them both rich. Frawley jumped at it, but Vance killed the idea stating," Six years is long enough to be married to the old coot."

Not everyone is unhappy in television. Don Adams was offered a choice of deals by the producers of Get Smart (1965-1970). He could get paid a good salary or he could own one third of the show. The catch was his piece of the pie only kicked in if the series was sold into syndication which meant it had to last on the network for five years. He swallowed hard, took the gamble and it paid off. When he became rich Adams was able to afford traveling throughout the world with his seven children. Once when the former stand up comic was questioned about how he ended up with such a large brood he replied," I don't what the big deal is. It only took me seven minutes."

 

 

Stephen Schochet is the author of Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! (isbn 9780963897275)

Available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon or wherever books are sold.

http://www.hollywoodstories.com 

 

 

 

 

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