It’s Labor Day weekend, so what better time for concern trolls to ‘out’ Geoffrey Owens for having the temerity to work a day gig at Trader Joe’s for a steady paycheck and health benefits?
I’m not fortunate enough to be friends with Mr. Owens – who has a list of credits as long as your arm – but my respect for him is immense. He is facing this situation with a grace I could only hope to muster under similar circumstances.
Most people don’t get that unless you negotiate points in advance the succor and splendor of residuals is mostly a myth. In fact, the last time I got a residual check for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was 6 years ago, and it was for 32 cents. I didn’t cash it on purpose, because I’d rather have the small pleasure of knowing Sony’s books don’t square by less than the cost of a postage stamp because of me. You talk about insulting. Hell, I returned a 38 cent tip in the mid-80s because it was insulting for half and hour’s service. You cannot imagine what I felt when I got 32 cents as my cut for the reruns of a cult classic.
Even if Mr. Owens had gotten points for The Cosby Show – a series no longer in reruns – how predictably disappointing that people who work 9-to-5 are pointing and laughing and feeling superior without a speck of self awareness or irony, because Owens had to get a normal job!!!
So – on behalf of every performer who has been mocked for honestly paying the bills, I’d like to extend a hearty ‘Screw You’ to the Paycheck Shamers. I’m done with these people who poorly cloak their jealousy at never having had the guts to take a shot at their passion with phony concern about how a performer has fallen SO LOW they choose to get a job to keep a normal life going in between parts.
You know what? The only time I ever felt shame while looking for a ‘normal’ job, after leaving Hollywood, was when people judged me for needing work. Which was just about every ‘normal’ job I ever applied for.
The worst example was when the owner of the Tivoli Deer restaurant in Kitteridge, CO, gave me a job interview so that he could laugh in the face of the former child actor who was ‘reduced’ to waiting tables.
“I would have thought,” he chuckled, cigarette in one hand, and my resume in the other, “you’d have been smart enough to put some of that child star money away.”
I tried to redirect the interview but was stunned, and felt the color rise in my cheeks, as he continued, “I don’t have any place here for you. I just wanted to get a look at what a celebrity reduced to waiting tables looks like.”
I had enough presence of mind to snap at him as I grabbed my coat to leave, “Is that what you think of your employees? That they are reduced to working for you? Thanks for showing me up front what an immense asshole you are, and how little you think of your employees.”
I remember walking to my car, my back ramrod straight, trying not to show through body language just how humiliated I was. I made it a few blocks away before I pulled over and sobbed.
Our Celebrity Culture has given strangers permission to ridicule performers for needing – like them – a non-glamorous job to keep body and soul together, because they aren’t independently wealthy.
I won’t lie and say that being on a television show didn’t give me advantages in job interviews sometimes, but they are offset by the tonnage of demoralization you have to go through to land a regular, steady gig.
I have never had a non-performing friend get asked by an interviewer, “Aren’t you set for life with residuals?” But, I heard it nearly every time I interviewed for a job outside of the business. It would never occur to an interviewer to ask anyone else how much money they have in the bank from a previous job as a precursor to current employment, but that’s fair game for me.
Frankly, it’s appalling how many job interviewers feel like they are entitled to a Barbara Walters’ deep dive into my personal history about my time in the business, and the current state of my finances. The tough part is that you either play along, or tank the interview.
When a non-superstar professional performer (especially a former child actor) looks for a ‘normal’ job they are faced with 2 choices:
- Keep your past in your past, but then you have gaps in your resume you can’t explain
- Be up front in your resume and face being thought of as an Attention Whore stuck in the past, or so destitute you must stoop to seeking gainful employment
I eventually found that an abridged version of the truth worked best, but far too many job interviews I’ve had were basically a variant of this:
“But, you were on TV…”
“I’m not in the business anymore.”
“But the residuals…”
“Mary Hartman isn’t in reruns”
“But you did… what?”
“There were 455 episodes between the two series.”
“And you don’t… You don’t…” they would trail off and I would wait intently for them to continue, not giving away anything.
“I mean… Do you *need* this job?”
“I would very much like to work here.”
“But… I mean… What I’m trying to say is: Do you actually *need* this job, or should I consider someone else who deserves it? Because, I don’t want you quitting a couple of weeks or months in when you get bored because you miss television.”
I had bills to pay, like everyone else, and later on a son to raise. But, these people all imagined I was a dilettante to the working world, swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck while the song Common People blared on a loop.
They were so fucking busy being jealous and judgmental and figuring I’d put my fortune up my nose that they couldn’t see me for me, or my potential, or even my need.
I can’t put a number on how many times I’ve felt compelled to reveal to a total stranger that my parents stole almost every penny I made – just so I could be gainfully employed – only to have them use that as yet another excuse to reject me.
It took me a few years into adulthood before I realized that these self-selecting jerks would have been an absolute nightmare to work for. But, that didn’t mean I didn’t want or need that job at the time. It hurt deeply when they turned me down, and I took the rejection personally – a charming trait I learned as a child in a business that eats adults alive.
At every job I’ve ever worked since I left Hollywood I have had to justify to at least ONE asshole (usually numerous) who demand to know why I was *there* – the implication being ‘I deserve to know what caused your downfall’. As if working for a living is a downfall!!
I couldn’t even escape it in my beloved Radio.
My big break in radio happened when Bruce Kamen, the man who became my mentor, called unexpectedly to interview me on the phone. While we were speaking my phone’s call waiting clicked, and I ignored it.
“You gonna get that?” Bruce barked.
“Nope. They can leave a message.”
“What if it’s Hollywood calling you back?”
“The most important call to me is the one I’m on right now.”
I got the job, and it lead to wonderful things and a whole new career. But it was only in forcefully turning my back on television that I’d ensured my place in the business I loved. Even then I was forced to pick.
Does it make you think less of me that I left television and became a local radio talk show host in Denver, Cincinnati and Kanas City? Or, that I did traffic reports for years so that my son could grow up in the same house and finish school with his friends? Does it disappoint you that I left radio for a few years after the Columbine massacre and became a Public Information officer for the Colorado Department of Transportation? Was I not living up to my potential when I anchored the news for a chewing gum and baling wire outfit in San Jose that I quit because they were pirating CNN news casts from the TV?
Would you be impressed if I told you my team at the ABC Radio Westcoast flagship station (KGO) won 5 Edward R Murrow awards – including the national award for breaking news – along with 4 Mark Twain awards?
Do you judge me for working as a teen at a dry cleaners, an answering service, a hostess that opened 3 Stuart Anderson’s steak houses, a gofer at a publicist or in the box office at The Palace nightclub in Hollywood?
Are you looking down your nose because I chose to deliver pizzas and answers phones at an oil company to pay rent rather than return to Hollywood and my toxic parents?
If you REALLY want to feel superior to the former child actor let’s laugh at how I worked at Subway and waited tables for such fine dining establishments as Red Lobster and a handful of coffee shops you wouldn’t know the name of. I was the office manager for a home maintenance company, and was the receptionist for the crookedest State Farm agent in 8 counties. I lasted 2 weeks at the child care center from hell, and sold ads for a broadcast industry magazine that folded after 8 months.
You know what I didn’t do? Anything immoral or illegal to keep the the roof over our head and food on our table.
You may look down your nose at my life – I’m good with that. While you’re looking down your nose I’m holding my head high.