By Barry Dutter
Love, exciting and new -- come aboard --we’re expecting you -- as long as you’re not too hairy!
Those are not the actual lyrics to the classic theme song to the 70s TV series THE LOVE BOAT, but they might as well have been when I attempted to get a job as an extra on that famed vessel.
In 1997, UPN decided to revive the classic 1970s series THE LOVE BOAT with TV vet Robert Urich as the captain. The new series was to be called LOVE BOAT: THE NEXT WAVE, and it was launching its first cruise in my then home-town of Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
At the time, I had a couple of friends who were actors. Jason was a 25-year-old kid from Texas who talked like that “band camp” chick from AMERICAN PIE. Nicky was 29, a tough kid from New York with a sarcastic sense of humor.
Both of these guys were in great shape. They were tall, muscular, and neither one had a single body hair. In other words, they had the “look” that is very popular for movies, TV and modeling gigs.
I, on the other hand, was a 34-year-old Italian man, covered in body hair from head to toe, with a slight belly from my love of pizza and pasta. I worked out every day, too, but when you love junk food as much as I do, you’re never going to have washboard abs.
Still, I thought of myself as being in pretty good shape, because of my daily workouts. So when the call came to audition as an extra for the all-new LOVE BOAT, I jumped at the chance.
The job sounded like a dream come true. The extras would all get a free two-week cruise on that fabled vessel. All your meals would be provided, and you’d be surrounded by hot chicks in bikinis all day. Sure, you would have to work 8 to 10 hours a day, but your job would mostly consist of lounging around the pool. The rest of the time, you were free to hit the clubs, gamble in the casino, or make an excursion to shore.
Essentially, it was like you were being paid to take a cruise.
It was a chilly day in November when the auditions were held. (It’s rare, but South Florida can get cold on occasion.) Anyone trying out for the show was instructed to wear a swimsuit. The casting people had to see how you looked in a bathing suit before they would hire you to set sail on THE LOVE BOAT.
There were dozens of guys and girls all auditioning at the same time. Most of the girls wore their bikinis under their street clothes. I’ll never forget that moment when I walked into the casting office in Miami. I was still shivering from the cold as I opened the door and saw… some of the hottest girls I had ever seen stripping off their street clothes to reveal their bikinis underneath.
For a second I thought I had walked into the dressing room at a Victoria’s Secret fashion show!
Once I picked my eyeballs up off the floor and put them back into my head, I was able to sign in. They were taking groups of ten guys at a time into the casting office, then ten girls. Everyone was instructed to strip down to their swimsuits for the actual audition.
I removed my shirt and pants, revealing my swim trunks underneath. I was brought in to the casting room with about nine other guys, including Jason and Damon. As I looked up and down the line, a very daunting realization slowly crept up on me: I was the only guy there who had any body hair!
Ever since I had moved to Florida two years before, I was made aware that “the Look” for South Florida was “hairless.” But I was a proud and shaggy Italian man -- there was no way I was going to shave my body hair! My chest hair defined who I was! Besides, shaving your body hair was just not a macho thing for a guy to do! As far as I knew, nobody from New Jersey had ever shaved their chest hair before. (This was years before the Situation hit the scene.)
Being the only hairy guy in the room was so obvious to me, I figured it must have been pretty obvious to the producers, too. I knew I would have to say something to call attention to this very blatant difference between me and my competitors. It couldn’t just go ignored.
One of the Casting Directors operated a video camera as another went up and down the row, asking each guy his name and age. They asked my friend, Jason. They asked my other friend, Jordan.
Then they came to me. “What’s your name?” they asked. “My name is Barry Dutter,” I replied, adding, “and I think it’s time for the Love Boat to have some men with chest hair on board!”
“And you’re volunteering to be one of those guys?”
We all had a good chuckle about it. I figured even if they didn’t like my look, they might appreciate my sense of humor.
A few minutes after it started, the audition was over. This was one of those jobs that was really all about your “Look.” If you had the look they were seeking, you had a really good chance of getting the job. If you had a different look, your prospects did not look good.
I got dressed and headed back out into the bitter cold. As I drove home, I started thinking about the shows you see on TV. Whether it’s a soap opera or a commercial, you almost never see a man with any chest hair on TV. It’s been that way since the 1970s. I think the last guy who had any chest hair on TV was Tom Selleck back on MAGNUM P.I.
I put myself in the position of one of those casting directors. If you were casting the LOVE BOAT, and you had your choice of a bunch of guys with no body hair and one who was as furry as a caveman, who would you choose?
A few weeks later, my buddies Jason and Jordan got the call. They had both been picked to be extras on the LOVE BOAT! I was happy for them, but I was waiting for that call for myself.
Would the Casting Dept. of THE LOVE BOAT actually be willing to break tradition and go with a guy who had a very different look than the rest?
I soon found my answer as the LOVE BOAT set sail a few weeks later… and I was not on it. When my Jordan and Jason came back two weeks later, they said it had been an awesome cruise.
It was not easy watching my friends sail off for on a fun job while I sat ashore and moped. I decided I would have to make a drastic change in order to advance my acting career. I would have to shave my chest hair.
This was not an easy thing to do, but clearly it had to be done, if I ever wanted to work in Miami again. It wasn’t easy letting go. I had developed my chest hair at puberty, and had kept it for about 20 years. In all that time, I never thought about even trimming it. I was happy with it just the way it as. But my career was on the line here. This was one time where financial concerns had to outweigh my vanity.
The good thing was that my friends and family in New Jersey would never have to know about this. It could be my dirty little secret. I could keep my chest covered when I went back home to visit at Christmastime.
And so I did it. I shaved off all my chest hair. (Actually I Naired it off, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?)
But I wasn‘t done yet. I had to get in better shape. In order to do that, I had to cut down on the fattening foods. And so, for the first time in my life, I made a conscious effort to eat foods that were low in carbs.
I switched to a diet of mostly chicken breasts and egg-white omelets. I still kept some junk food in the mix, but I cut down greatly. I allowed myself only 12 M & M’s a day -- never more than that. It was the most boring diet ever, but it worked. In a few short weeks, I had lost my paunch and gotten my belly about as tight as it was ever going to be.
I was in the best shape of my life. I was hairless. And I was as close to the South Florida “Look” as I could get. Then, I got the call from my agent. There was a commercial that was looking for actors about my age for a commercial filming at the beach.
The job paid $2,000 if you booked it. There was just one catch: you had to audition in your swimsuit. This was going to be the ultimate test of my ability to fit in in South Florida.
I gave my chest a fresh shave, polished off an egg white omelet for breakfast, and headed off to the audition.
It was a much warmer day this time. I drove down to South Beach to the Casting Office and got in line with about ten other guys, also wearing swimsuits, also hairless.
Whenever you audition for any part, you always want to give the casting people something to remember you by. When they got to me, I said, “My name is Barry Dutter, and I just want you to know I shaved my chest for this!”
They were amused by my honesty. Most of the actors and models in Florida were hairless, but you never heard any off them talking about how they achieved this look. It was never brought up in conversation.
Long story short: I wound up not booking that job either. I tried shaving my chest a few more times after that, but eventually I just gave up on it. “The Look” just wasn’t for me. Chest hair really does grow back twice as thick, by the way. The last thing an Italian man needs is to do anything that causes him to become even hairier.
The lesson I learned from all this is that not every actor is right for every part. I didn’t have washboard abs, or a swimmer’s body. I didn’t look like those guys you see playing volleyball in TV commercials.
And that’s ok. Those are not the parts I was meant to play.
The main thing for an actor is to know your limitations. Be aware of your body type. Know the types of jobs that you're right for.
This story has kind of a happy ending. Flash forward to 2010. By this time I was living in L.A., still looking for acting and modeling gigs. I saw an ad on Craig's List looking for a male model about my age to pose as Alec Baldwin in a spoof of the poster for his movie, IT'S COMPLICATED! The catch? They wanted a guy with a lot of chest hair! I sent in my photos and booked the gig. When I spoke to the casting girl on the phone, she said it was a nice change of pace to see someone who wasn't a typical L.A. hairless pretty-boy. Her exact words: "It's good to see someone who looks like a real man!" (No one had ever called me a real man before!)
So there you have it. Everything has a way of working out in the end. I was too hairy for THE LOVE BOAT, but just hairy enough for an Alec Baldwin photo double. I'll admit, the modeling gig was not as much fun as the that two-week cruise on THE LOVE BOAT would have been, but I got to work with a cute Meryl Streep stand-in, so it wasn't all bad.
I guess the lesson here is to just be yourself, but I don't think too many people in Hollywood will listen to that advice!
Personally, I’m glad I stopped shaving my chest. It was way too much work, it itched like hell, and it grew back way too fast! I may no longer fit in with the South Beach model dudes, but let’s face it, I never really fit in too well with those guys anyway.
But if Robin Williams ever needs a body double, I am so there!