Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Total Hollywood Experience, or, How I Spent Two Days Backstage at the TONIGHT SHOW and found out that Tom Hanks is a Jerk!

By Barry Dutter

Everyone should get to have the “Total Hollywood Experience” at least once in their lives.
By that, I mean, you get flown to L.A., chauffeured around in a limo, mix and mingle with some of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood -- and generally get treated like you are some kind of superstar!
I had my own Total Hollywood Experience a few years back when I was asked to fly to L.A. to be on a new TV pilot. I was living in South Florida at the time, celebrating the release of my book, THE SHY GUY’S GUIIDE TO DATING.
The TV pilot was called THE HOW TO GUIDE TO LIFE -- kind of an awkward title, but a fun idea for a show. The premise was that on each episode, the host of the show would try out the advice in a self-help book to see if it worked in real life.
When I got the call to go to L.A., I was told up front that the pilot might never air, but I didn’t care. All I knew was I getting an all-expenses-paid trip to Hollywood!
I had been living in Florida for several years at that point, and I was eager to get a taste of the truly shallow and superficial life, the kind that puts Miami to shame.
My plane landed at about 3:00 in the afternoon. A limo was waiting for me to take me straight to my hotel. The next two days would be spent taping the show, but for this first night, I was on my own.
One thing I had forgotten about California is that the temperature can drop thirty degrees from day to night. November is typically a hot month in Florida. Naturally, it never occurred to me to bring a jacket or a sweater out to Cali for my three-day trip.
I checked into my hotel, and decided to take a walk up Sunset Blvd. I saw famous Hollywood nightclubs like the Whiskey A-Go-Go (where the Doors had gotten their start) and the Viper Room (where River Phoenix had died).
While on my walk, I discovered two things: 1) Nobody walks in L.A. (I swear I was the only person there who wasn’t driving a car), and 2) L.A. gets COLD at night! Once darkness fell, I soon found myself shivering as I walked up the strip. What had started out as a fun stroll turned into a rather unpleasant walk as I froze my butt off!
Lesson learned. Next time, I would remember the secret to hanging out in L.A. is to always give yourself the ability to add more layers of clothing.
I got to bed early, in order to be fresh for my TV gig. The next morning, I got showered and ready and found the limo waiting outside to take me to the studio. (A quick side note here: when a company is paying for your limo, are you supposed to tip the driver? I always assume he’s being tipped by the company paying for the limo, but then, I’m a cheap bastard so what do I know?)
I arrived on the set and met the crew of the show. An Assistnmat Director came along and took me to my dressing room. I had never had my own dressing room before.
The first thing I noticed about having your own dressing room is that it’s kind of boring if you’re in there by yourself. There was a TV, but I felt like it was a waste of time to fly 3,000 miles to L.A. to spend my day sitting around watching TV.
It occurred to me that it might be more interesting to leave the confines of my dressing room and go wandering around the studio. So I ventured out, and discovered that another TV show was filming across the hall from the one I was working on. It was THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO.
Among the guests scheduled for that week were P. Diddy, Tom Hanks, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Whenever I wasn’t needed on the set of my show that much, I would hang right outside the Green Room for the TONIGHT SHOW, wghere guests waited to go on. I got to catch the celebrities coming and going as they appeared one by one on the show.
I didn’t get to have a lot of interaction with any of them, because they were all surrounded by lots of people wherever they went, but still, it was pretty neat just to have that kind of access to huge celebrities.
After a few hours of goofing off, it was time for me to get to work on THE HOW TO GUIDE TO LIFE. The host of the show was an actress I had not heard of. I believe she was a regular on a 90s sitcom, I think it was CYBILL.
To start the show, I was to be brought out on stage to meet the host. I’ll call her Beverly. Beverly explained to the audience how I was the guy who was really shy and wrote a book to help other shy guys get out there and meet girls.
I bounded out onto the stage, saw Beverly, embraced her, and started dry-humping her just for laughs. Everyone thought it was pretty funny, There I was, the king of the shy guys, marching out there like I was cock of the walk.
Lucky thing for me Beverly had a good sense of humor. The first rule of show business is still true: always make a good entrance!
After that, Beverly introduced a timid guy who would be going out and trying out my techniques on random girls in a book store. The gimmick was that the guy would be wearing an earpiece, and Beverly would be secretly instructing him what to do and say, based on the advice on my book.
Turns out, they had pre-taped the bit with the guy at the bookstore. He had approached a couple of different girls with different results, and both girls were there in the studio that day, too. One of the girls was a pretty blonde named Kelly who really caught my eye.
I stated talking to the blonde. Turned out she was originally from Pennsylvania. I was born in New Jersey, so we both bonded over our East Coast roots.
I asked Kelly how she had gotten picked to be on the show. She said she had just gotten a call from the casting director, who was a friend of hers. I thought about all the people who live in L.A. who go on hundreds of auditions to try to get acting jobs. Seems all you have to do is have a friend who is a casting director! Nice!
Kelly told me she really wasn’t interested in being an actress, she just did the occasional job when her friend called her. I thought it was interesting to meet a beautiful blonde who lived in L.A. but had no real interest in being in show business. Kelly actually had a day job working as the Personal Assistant to Suzanne Somers, which I thought was a pretty cool gig.
Kelly told me that although her segment was not scripted, she had been told to reject the guy when he tried to pick her up at the book store. This was the first time I had ever been confronted with the notion that reality TV was not all “real.”
It made a certain kind of sense. In the taped segments, the timid guy gets rejected by Kelly, and then puts the moves on another girl, also an actress. This time, his pick-up lines work and the girl agrees to join him for a cup of coffee.
Although no actual dialogue had been written in advance, the outcomes had been predetermined. In this way, the producers were guaranteed to get a good segment for the show. The good news for me was that they were “proving” that the advice in my book really worked. If they had tried to just wing it, they might have gotten the opposite results, and that would not have been good for my sales!
I did a short interview with the host of the show. After that, I didn’t have a lot to do, so I went backstage and found Kelly. She and I spent a lot of time together on that first day.
I took Kelly over to the Green Room of THE TONIGHT SHOW, and although she was not as star struck as I was, she still thought it was pretty cool. Kelly and I seemed to be hitting it off pretty well. Maybe it was just my imagination, but it seemed to me that she actually liked me!
I asked her if she wanted to ride with me in the limo, and she said no thanks, she would take her own car and meet me at my hotel. I was kind of bummed that she didn’t want to ride with me -- what’s the fun of having a limo if you can’t have a hot babe riding with you?
That would have really made my Total Hollywood Experience complete, but I guess you can’t have everything! Kelly was a very practical girl. She knew she wasn’t planning on spending the night with me, so she chose to drive her own car, thus giving herself the freedom to leave whenever she wanted to.
Basically, she liked me, but she didn’t “like me like me!”
Kelly and I had a nice dinner, followed by a brief smooching session back at my room. I tried to get her to stay, but she politely declined. We both had to be on set early the next day, so by midnight, she was on her way home.
The next morning, the limo took me back to the studio for one more day of shooting. This was a very light day for me. They had shot all of my scenes the day before. All they needed from me was a quick pick-up shot recreating my entrance on stage.
Since I had so much free time, I figured I would spend the day making out with Kelly in my dressing room. We did stop by my dressing room briefly, but she wasn’t interested in staying long. (So much for my Hollywood fantasy!)
Instead, she and I spent most of the day hanging outside the TONIGHT SHOW green room. We saw big celebs coming and going all day long.
Jay Leno was there for a while before the show and a little while after. At any time, I could have walked over and gotten a picture taken with him. But to be honest, in a hallway where superstars like Schwarzenegger and Tom Hanks were walking by, Jay Leno really didn’t seem like that big of a deal.
Schwarzenegger seemed liked the nicest of all the superstars that we saw. His movie END OF DAYS was about to come out. As he finished taping his segment and was walking out, I wished him good luck on the movie and he said thanks. (Actually, there were about 20 other people in that hallway also wishing him luck, and like a true politician he would soon become, he graciously smiled and thanked everyone.)
The one celeb who struck me as the biggest jerk? Tom Hanks. Yes, believe it or not -- Tom Hanks Mr. Nicest Guy in Showbiz. Mr. “Modern Jimmy Stewart.”
I had always liked Hanks, but I do believe that winning back-to-back Oscars was the worst thing that ever happened to him. Once a happy-go lucky goofball, he became super-serious and self-important after his twin Oscar wins. (When is the last time he made a funny comedy?)At the time of my visit, he was in the middle of shooting CASTAWAY. He had a long scraggly beard that he had worn for the last few months of the shoot. I was going to ask him if he wanted to borrow my razor, but I thought better of it.
After Hanks finished his segment and was leaving for the day, he passed right by Kelly and I. I looked him right in the eye and said, “Goodnight, Tom.”
Now, keep in mind, Hanks didn’t know who I was. I was a guy dressed in a suit and tie, standing there with a pretty blonde, hanging right outside the TONIGHT SHOW stage. For all he knew, I could have been an NBC executive, or a special guest of the show.
So it wouldn’t have killed the guy to give me a friendly “hello.”
Instead, he looked at me like I was a piece of crap, walked right past me, and then, perhaps remembering his “nice guy” reputation, turned and spat out “Good night,” as he walked away.
My point is, it seemed like he didn’t even want to acknowledge me.
Maybe he was just in a bad mood because he had to wear that scraggly beard for three months, but still, it was not a good first encounter. Yet another Hollywood myth shattered!
Shortly after that, my workday was over and it was time for me to head back home to reality. I said goodbye to Kelly, and we exchanged email addresses. (Shortly after that, she moved back home to Pennsylvania and married a guy who was not in show business.)
My limo came and took me back to LAX. From there, I hopped on a plane and headed back to Florida. It’s an odd feeling, going from being treated like a movie star to just being a regular guy again. I totally understand why reality TV stars try so hard to cling to their fifteen minutes of fame.
When you’re in Hollywood, riding around in limos, meeting movie stars, and being treated like a king, it’s a huge comedown to have to go back to working your regular job, driving your own beat-up car, and being surrounded by regular (non-famous!) people.
It was a bit of an adjustment, that was for sure. I was working in a bar at the time. To go from having my own chauffeur to having customers order me around was not pleasant.
I think one of the reasons for the rise of reality TV is that we live in an age now where everyone feels like they deserve special treatment. The truth, of course, is that only superstars special treatment. The rest of us deserve to be treated like normal human beings.
At the end of the first day, I invited Kelly to join me for dinner. Much to my delight, she said yes!
As much as I loved my Total Hollywood Experience, I have to admit that the moment that I first stepped into my hotel room in L.A., the one emotion I felt the strongest was loneliness. I was in a strange city where I didn’t know a single person. Even having my own dressing room wasn’t as cool as it sounded. I texted my friends back in Florida to brag about it, but beyond that, I couldn't see any real point to it.
Still, I wouldn’t trade my Total Hollywood Experience for anything. I will always treasure the memory of those three days. But I do see a downside to the glamorous life. Even the most amazing experience can be an empty one if you don’t have someone to share it with.
THE HOW TO GUIDE TO LIFE never did become a series, and the pilot never aired. But that was okay. The show was just the vehicle that got me out to L.A.  For me, it was more about getting my first real taste of what the glamorous life of a Hollywood celebrity is all about.
I liked what I saw. A few years later, I moved to L.A, and I never looked back. I did get to ride in a few more limos and meet a few more movie stars (and a few more blondes). But I never forgot my first time.
And I never forgot the words of Jack Lemmon, who in the 1980 movie TRIBUTE, said, “When I first got to Hollywood, it was shallow, vulgar, tacky -- everything -- that I’d always wanted!”
Speaking as someone who had a small taste of the Hollywood high life, I know exactly what he was talking about!


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