Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hollywood Blackground, 2016

Yesterday, we celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Since his death in 1968; progress has been made. If it weren’t for King and what he and so many others worked and died for, I would not have been working yesterday.

I am a background actor, and I work in Hollywood. And I am black.


The first African-American to win an Academy Award was Hattie McDaniel, who took home a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in “Gone With the Wind.” It was 1940. Twenty-four years later, Sidney Poitier made history with his Oscar win for “Lilies of the Field.”
Since 1940, only 13 black people have garnered the top prizes for acting: 1964, Sidney Poitier, Best Actor, “Lilies of the Field” — (1963)
1983, Louis Gossett Jr., Best Supporting Actor, “An Officer and a Gentleman” — (1982)
1991, Whoopi Goldberg, Best Supporting Actress, “Ghost” — (1990)
1990, Denzel Washington, Best Supporting Actor, “Glory” — (1989)
1997, Cuba Gooding Jr., Best Supporting Actor, “Jerry Maguire” — (1996)
2002, Denzel Washington, Best Actor, “Training Day” — (2001)
2002, Halle Berry, Best Actress, “Monster’s Ball” — (2001)
2005, Jamie Foxx, Best Actor, “Ray” — (2004)
2005, Morgan Freeman, Best Supporting Actor, “Million Dollar Baby” — (2004)
2007, Forest Whitaker, Best Actor, “The Last King of Scotland” — (2006)
2007, Jennifer Hudson, Best Supporting Actress, “Dream Girls” — (2006)
2012, Monique, Best Supporting Actress, “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” — (2011)
2012, Octavia Spencer, Best Supporting Actress, “The Help” — (2011)
2014, Lupita Wyong’o, Best Supporting Actress, “Twelve Years A Slave” — (2013)

A few weeks ago, Spike Lee got a lifetime achievement Oscar, and the president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, is an African American. Progress has been made. Even so, it seems a little odd that the nominations this year are devoid of color. That concerns me … to a point, but I can see how it works.

MOST of the calls for background that I come across are not for “African Americans.” Those that are pretty much only use a small number. I know this comes from the top and works its way down. I have been on numerous jobs where I am one of a few or a handful of black people, where the majority of background performers are white. Now that I have seen this firsthand, I can weigh in.

Things are changing, even though they are not ideal. Progress has been made.

The folks at the top, in this town, have their ideas of what constitutes “realistic” for television … and there is a quota. There is no way that anyone can tell me there is not. I have been on sets where I was the ONLY African American male — especially in my age range when it would seem that there would be more people of color in the mix. I haven’t done a “scientific” study, but all I have to do is look around. Yesterday, for instance, I was working on a show, and there were about 30 “BG” (background). There were about five black people. I’m sure that years ago, there would have been a much smaller number than five, so things are changing.

And to those who might read this post and want to mention that I've "omitted" one group or another: This is not to say that other ethnic groups don't get ignored: Hispanics, Asians, Indians, American Indians, but today IS Martin Luther King Day, so it would stand to reason that I'm thinking along these lines today.

I remember watching old movies, “Tarzan,” “Charlie Chan” etc., and seeing the black people and how they were depicted. I didn’t think a whole lot about it until I grew up. Now that I work as a background performer, I have a brand-new outlook.


And now that it’s Oscar season, I have another outlook yet. Maybe by the time my grandsons grow up, they'll be able to see more progress. I plan to do my part.

Hollywood blackground, 2016.

Stay tuned ... and don't blink.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

"The Streets of San Francisco"

Although yesterday marked my fifth trip to The City by the Bay, I couldn't help but to think about films, television shows and commercials that have touched me in some way, and how some had a San Francisco connection, more substantial now that I've been doing background work in Los Angeles.

There are quite a few films either made or set in San Francisco, according to the IMDB data base, so I won't even attempt to open up any "intellectual" discussion on this topic. I'm just touching on some of MY impressions. If you want to check out what the experts are saying, you may click this link:


And back to my story.

The other night, or rather early morning, I was flipping through the channels on TV and saw that "Crazy in Alabama" was about to start. The film stars Melanie Griffith who plays an abused Southern mother of seven children and housewife. She poisons and decapitates her husband then travels from Alabama to Hollywood to become a movie star. Along the way, she looks for a bridge that is tall enough from which to dispose of her husband's head, which she has been carrying in a Tupperware container inside a high-end hatbox. She comes upon the Golden Gate Bridge, where she decides to do the deed. I chuckled to myself yesterday, thinking about Griffith's scene on the reel Golden Gate Bridge as I walked across the real one and into Sausalito.

"Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat ..." –- not far from Fisherman's Wharf (and, in my opinion, where the best fish sandwich ever conceived can be enjoyed) is the beginning of the city's famous cable car line. Not that Rice-A-Roni is or has ever been the official "San Francisco treat" to my knowledge, but each time I see the cable cars, I think of that commercial. And I can't remember eating a plate of Rice-A-Roni in ... years.

Growing in up in Gary, Ind., each time I mention my hometown, MOST people ask me or say something about Michael Jackson, The Jackson Five or any of the other members of the Jackson family which –- to many non-Hoosiers –- may be Gary's only claim to fame. I end up, in some cases, taking them to school: Frank Borman, NASA astronaut, is from Gary, Ind. Grammy Award-winning singer Deniece Williams is from Gary. Author Donna Britt is from Gary. Alex Karras, the former NFL star who played for the Detroit Lions and later played the role of "Mongo" in the Mel Brooks classic "Blazing Saddles," grew up in Gary. Karras also played the role of the father on the hit TV show "Webster" back in the day. Casting director Jeff Olan was born in Gary, Ind. William Marshall, who starred in the film "Blackula," is from Gary. Fred Williamson, who played in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs and starred in "Hammer" and "From Dusk Till Dawn" ... and has a long list of IMDB credits, is from Gary. And then there's Karl Malden. Malden, who grew up in Gary and even worked in the steel mills (as did many of Gary's residents, including yours truly), won an Academy Award for his role in the classic "A Streetcar Named Desire." The film is No. 42 on IMDB's "Top 100 Movies of All Time" (The Ultimate List). Malden also played "Lt. Mike Stone" in the hit TV show "The Streets of San Francisco."

My all-time favorite cinematic connection to San Francisco, however, is "Bullitt" ... the car chase.

Make that THE car chase! What are you talking about?

I mean, Steve McQueen (who, was not from Gary, but was born and raised in Indiana and the epitome of "cool") drove his you-know-what off in that movie, at least his character did –- but McQueen DID do a good deal of the driving. I will NEVER forget it. I believe I stayed to watch that movie at the State theater on Broadway in downtown Gary like two or three times in a row (on the price of one ticket ... you could do that back before the days of the multiplex) just to see the car chase, which has been deemed by people much more informed than I "one of the screen's all-time best." Actually, the editing of the car chase in "Bullitt" garnered the film an Academy Award for editing in 1968.


For a long time after watching that movie, whenever there was a hint of a hill back home and I was driving, I would "gun it" and my younger brother and I would would say "Bullitt"!!! Now, THAT was some piece of driving -- in the movie, not my youthful attempt to take my Pontiac Tempest airborne -- back when seatbelts were optional, when cars were cars and it took real skill to drive them. No computer assists, no GPS, no power windows. Just driving. REAL driving.

Watching McQueen navigate the hilly streets of the City by the Bay was one of the reasons I wanted to visit San Francisco, and now my "Hollywood" connection –- with its perception of reality –- makes me feel even more connected.

Stay tuned ...

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Time ... Out!

ey, "sistah," let's keep this situation real, OK? And I'm not referring to all of you (If the shoe fits, though ... ). 
Just because I'm being cordial and speaking to you (basically, because we are passing by each other on the street or we are both waiting for the same crosslight to change and we happen to be standing near each other), there is no reason to look at me as if I have three eyes on my face – or two heads on my shoulders – when I say something to the effect of "Nice day" or "It sure gets hot in the Valley, doesn't it?" or even a simple and innocuous "Good morning."

I am not attempting to "push up" on, "step to" or "come on to" you. Trust me.

Not that I've done any kind of a scientific experiment, but the majority of the time that I get, or witness someone else getting, the on-the-street cold shoulder, the person giving it is a "sistah," a black woman, an African-American woman ... however you want to dice it; it is what it is, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around it.

And I do understand if you don't want to have a conversation with a complete stranger. I get it. No worries. But I'm from the Midwest, where when someone speaks to you – as in a friendly "Good afternoon," or "How's it going?" – you speak back.

I consider myself open-minded. And I've been told that I am not a bad-looking guy, and my "dating history" would reveal members of humanity who represent a rainbow coalition. I speak to just about everyone. That's the way I was cut. Also, I don't usually look to be homeless – unless I am playing a role on the set of a TV show, movie, commercial or music video.

And before you come up with a "rationale" to this, something that suggests I should get used to "the big city," know that before I made Los Angeles my home, I grew up not terribly far from Chicago and I've lived in New York City (during 9/11, even), and Baltimore and Japan – among other places – so I know it's not me. As a matter of fact, I'm certain of it.

A kind word here and there goes a long way.

Something to think about.

I'm just saying ...

Monday, May 6, 2013

"Mystery Man"

T he guy sitting across the aisle from me in church looked quite familiar. He had one of those "I know I've seen you somewhere, but I can't place it" faces. I'd seen seen him several times before, sitting on the left side of the church, near the back. I normally sit on the right side of the church, near the back. On occasion, we'd nod at each other. But I couldn't place where I knew this man from. Yesterday, it hit me: I'd seen him on TV. He reminded me of Jim Brown ...

Sherman Oaks is full of people like him. You know their faces, but you can't remember where from right away. Then, there are some who you know immediately. Like the time I passed Michael Chiklis from "Vegas" near my neighborhood Cold Stone Creamery ice cream store on Ventura Boulevard, or coming up behind Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (DeAngelo Barksdale from "The Wire") in the pasta aisle at the Pavilions supermarket, or passing Robert Blake ("Baretta") at the corner of my block as he walked his dog. I was even sitting at a table in my neighborhood Starbucks when Paul Schulze ("Nurse Jackie," "The Sopranos") asked if he could sit in the empty seat across from me and eat his oatmeal. In Los Angeles, you often see celebrities doing everyday, noncelebrity things like walking the dog or strolling and eating ice cream or grocery shopping or eating oatmeal or sitting in church.

After yesterday's service, I went into the fellowship room for a cup of coffee and to chat with some of the people there. The "mystery man" was there, so I went up to him and introduced myself. He was gracious and I saw a smile come across his face as he nodded when I asked if he was an actor. I delicately danced around the issue that I recognized his face, but I didn't know his name. 

"Scarber," he said. "Sam Scarber."

We chatted for a minute about my being new to the church and that I lived nearby and had been doing background work of late. He chuckled again when I mentioned something to the effect that doing background work is a different ballgame. 

"Hang in there, though," he said. 

When I got home, sometime later, I did a Google search for Sam Scarber: drafted by the Dallas Cowboys as a running back in the third round in the 1971 NFL Draft. After his football career ended, he started doing TV work and Scarber has a long list of credits: "CHiPs," "Hill Street Blues," "The A-Team," "90210,” "Southland," "Criminal Minds" ... the last two on this list are shows that I've worked on. 

Maybe I'll get a chance to speak to Sam Scarber some more, about football (I played a little in junior high back in Gary, Ind.) or about "the business." Or life in general. 

"Hang in there," he told me. 

I think I will …

Back to one!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Girl Roxy

Roxy at three months, left, and now.
Today, my little girl is going to school for the first time. At almost 6 months old, I believe it's time. Actually, it's overdue in my opinion. She's getting a little bit too much to handle.

It wasn't always like that, though.

My "girl" is Roxy, a German Shepherd mix that we rescued a few months ago. And even though she has become a handful: chewing up things in the apartment; tugging and biting on her "sister" Lucy's ear and tail; barking up a storm and demanding more and more attention from everyone in our apartment, we love her just the same.

I/we try to cut Roxy a break where we can, though. She had a rough start.

She and her litter mates Cookie and Coco are survivors, with Roxy being the runt of the group, which was discovered abandoned at a factory in the city.  There were six to start with, but by the time the litter's rescuer had scooped the pups up and taken them to a vet for medical attention, it was pretty late in the game.

Roxy had an infection that necessitated immediate and intensive care. She almost died. She's a fighter, though. Roxy with moxie ...

So, now that she's healed from her spaying and she's been dewormed and has had all of her shots, it's time she learns how to get along with others.

PetSmart offers training classes for puppies and older dogs. Six hourlong sessions for about $100. I think it'll be worth it.

Wish me luck.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Losing It"

I am about 40 pounds lighter than I was when I last wrote here. And I feel better than I have in a long time. And I mean a long, loooong time. I'm eating better, sleeping better and my thinking has gotten more clear. At least I think so, anyway.

What is my "secret" formula?

What is the key? What is the deal?

It's Weight Watchers. Plain and simple. Weight Watchers. Well, it's not really all that plain, and for me, it's always been so simple — but it's a one-day-at-a-time kind of a thing, and I can go more into it later, in a bit.

The coolest thing about Weight Watchers is that the program is more about teaching you how to eat than it is about showing you how to diet and lose weight.

DIET = Don't




Or ...

HALT = Hungry




These are some of the things I've learned during my meetings, and I can roll with them. Oh, yeah.

Makes sense, doesn't it? I really never even thought about it this way. But now that I have committed myself to the program, it all makes so much sense. And the whole concept isn't really all that complex. Not at all.

I mean, if I can arrive at the point where I "get it," then ... It doesn't take a (and I'm going to use an overused term here) rocket scientist to grasp the concept of not overeating and pushing back and away from the table before the feeling of being waaaaay too full is reached. How about that?

Well, anyway. Back to "the plan."

Weight Watchers works.

No, they aren't paying me to say these things. (I could only BE so lucky. I could use the money.) And I'm not making a play to become their spokesman. Weight Watchers just works. That's all.

I'm not going to get into how MUCH I weighed before I started. Nor am I going into what my goal weight is. Not now. But let's just say that I didn't like the way I was looking. I didn't like the way my clothes were fitting (or no longer fitting as was the case) and I didn't like the way I was feeling.

I really didn't like the way I was feeling.

You see, I got a new job a couple of years ago. And I began to pour myself into it. I had a lot to learn and my learning curve was expected to be steep. I discovered this some time after I started. The office politics and the climate and lowered morale added to the mix and before I realized it, I was putting in more work-related hours than I should have. I wasn't exercising regularly. I wasn't having any FUN. And I wasn't being … well, ME!

The present economy and employment situation made me want to make myself

"vital" at the office, especially since I looked up and I was 50-plus years old. The phone doesn't ring as much the older you get. I heard that somewhere. Maybe I t was a movie. I can't remember, but it's the truth.

So, in my case, the phone wasn't ringing as much as it used to AND I was killing myself ... literally. And no, I didn't have a medical emergency or a near-death experience. (So many people I talk to and work with have to have some kind of A-plus-B-equals-C logic pattern laid out before they can grasp a concept) I just got tired of being overweight and I decided to do something about it.

Jenny Craig, Nutri-System and all the other programs that require you to

purchase and eat THEIR food didn't appeal to me because I have a hard enough time packing MY OWN food for the day, let alone trying to keep a supply of THEIRS handy.

Weight Watchers, however, teaches you to make choices based on system of points for everything you eat and how many points you're allowed each day. So, basically, you can eat what you want. You just have to keep track of what you eat and hoe MUCH of it you eat. There are guides and charts and there's even an iPhone app that helps you track. I like the app. I don't like to do all the math.

There are statistics that point to the percentage of people in the United States being overweight. And what's wrong with THAT picture?

Plenty, I'll tell you.

So, for me, it's Weight Watchers.

And it works!

So watch it, because I'm losing it.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Reefer Madness"

I had the opportunity to go back home, to a family reunion in Indiana, a couple of weeks ago.

While I was there, I visited some of my old stomping grounds in Gary.

I really haven’t gone back there too much, but in the past few years I’ve found myself going back more often – being drawn back.

My parents have retired and moved to Atlanta. My brother and his family live near Washington, D.C. My sister lives in Atlanta with her family. So the only person I HAVE to see in Gary is Aunt Doris, my mother’s youngest sister.

If she ever found out that I was in Gary and didn’t stop by to see her, she’d probably try to take a switch to me – like the old days.

Gary, Ind., has always had a gritty reputation. Steel mills and its proximity to Chicago made it the place to be back when I grew up there. But it wasn’t until the late '80s and early '90s that the city took a nosedive, so much so that it was the nation's murder capital a couple of years running. So the Gary I remember is NOTHING like the Gary of today. And that breaks my heart.

I had some good times in Gary. But times were different then, very different.

Back in the day …

During my recent trip, I thought about the time when my best friend, Kevin, and I thought we had stumbled upon someone’s patch of marijuana growing in a wooded area near where we both lived.

What turned out to be some sort of wild foliage that only looked like cannabis got us so excited we could hardly wait to spend the money from our ill-gotten gains.

After we stumbled upon “the stash” we quickly ran back to my house (my parents were at work) to grab up as many shopping bags as we could and hightail it back to the weed.

We then dug up all the plants, put them in the bags and ran them back to my house. We had to do our dirty work at my house since there was always someone at Kevin’s. He came from a large family. At my place there weren’t so many people around.

Keep in mind we had NO idea what we were doing. None. But we hatched a plan anyway.

So we proceeded to take the leaves off the stems of these … plants, we put them on several of my mother’s cookie sheets and dried them out in the oven, which was set to its highest temperature. The plan was to dry the plants, grind up the leaves, bag the “product” in Baggies and we’d be in business. But we had to be finished “cooking” before my mother got home from work.

I don’t remember whose idea this whole thing was, but at the time it was going to be on!

As we sat watching the plants dry in the oven, we talked about what we were going to buy with the money we would make from our venture.

Converse Chuck Taylor high-tops. Matching Levi’s jeans and jacket. Imitation silk underwear. Several pairs of platform shoes. A couple of suits.

I was going to be “as clean as the board of health” when I went back to school the coming fall.

Oh, yeah. Stylin’!

After the leaves were dry, we crunched them up, bagged them and got rid of any incriminating evidence before my parents got home.

We made plans to meet back up later and divvy up the product so we could begin our venture.

First, though, we had to test the weed.

When we did, neither of us really knew what to expect – as inexperienced as we were – but we knew the headaches we had were not supposed to be part of the experience. After a couple of days and more “research,” we realized that what we had was not what we thought it was, so into the trashcan it all went. I remember purposely waiting for the right time to get rid of the stash: the night before garbage day. The city garbage pickup was at something like 7 or 8 a.m., so since I had to take our family’s two metal cans to the curb, I could get rid of the stash and all would be well.

The morning after I got rid of the stuff, after I heard the sanitation truck stop at our house, everything was back in order. Case closed.

Or so I thought.

One night a few years ago, while talking about this episode to my brother, Rudi, he surprised me by telling me that he knew all about it.

You see, Rudi grabbed the “weed” from the trashcan and proceeded to sell it to some of the neighborhood tough guys who were into smoking pot. He even made a few dollars. But when word got out that the “weed” was not weed, Rudi found himself in big trouble.

Whenever he found himself in trouble back then, Rudi would turn to me, his big brother. But this was big trouble, bigger than me. So Rudi turned to Cousin Mark, whose sister Linda had the romantic affections of one of the baddest dudes in the neighborhood, T.C. T.C. came from a family of bad dudes, and nobody messed with any of them. Mark talked to T.C., T.C. brokered a deal and Rudi got a pass … along with a stern warning: Stay out of the drug business!

Back in the day …