The Curse of Catwoman

I became an actor to help pay the rent.  I didn’t have a full-time job at the time, and temping as an actor pays better than temping as a file clerk.  People outside the biz don’t realize that nearly all actors are part-timers.  There’s only room for about a dozen people to act full-time in the movies, another dozen on Broadway stages, and maybe a hundred on TV.  Everyone else has another job, or three, besides acting.

My professional acting career lasted for three years, back in the mid-1980s.  I worked my way up from stand-in and extra work to guest-starring roles.  For a while I was lucky.  I got hired after every fourth or fifth audition.  Of course the competition at the level I was working weren’t exactly superior talents.  Though I enjoyed nearly every job, I never appeared in a production I could be proud of on grounds of quality.  Forget classic, in any sense of the word.  These were B to D-List shows.  Some of the abominations I tried out for were certifiably grade Z.  I still enjoyed those auditions, because I could not quite believe someone was trying to make something so obviously awful.  I have an odd sense of humor.

I remember reading for the part of “second rapist” in a film about homicidal bikers with a working title of “Reaper’s Revenge”.  The second rapist was described in the breakdown sheet as an “evil little weasel”.  The first guy to get to attempt rape was a more important part, so that character had a name, which I think was Skunk.  I remember wondering if there was some huge untapped audience of Hell’s Angels members who went to movies, for whom this opus was intended.  Anyway, I must have been too weaselly and not evil enough, or vice-versa.  I didn’t get the part.  They eventually made the movie.  It was released straight to video in places like Portugal, Greece, and South Korea.  It was the second film of a trilogy!

Once I had a two-day gig on a highly forgettable show called Throb, about a struggling record company.  It was a bad imitation of the B-List show WKRP.  My part was as a freeloading photographer at the PR party for a new rock star.  I was in a corner shoving meatball hors d’oeuvres into my mouth as fast as humanly possible while the beautiful Jane Leeves stared at me saying, “I think you can fit one more in there.”  I blew the take twice on purpose by eating too slowly.  Hey, it was nice to have Jane staring at me!  There was also this guy with greasy black hair.  He wasn’t very funny.  Someone told me he was Rosemary Clooney’s nephew, George.  I hear he got much better over time.

The crowning achievement of my bad acting career was playing the main guest star in an episode of a show estimated by many critics to be the “worst sitcom of all time”.  It was about a little robot girl built by a computer engineer, and the show was called Small Wonder.  I had a dressing room with a TV monitor that showed not only our show, but also other shows being taped at the studio complex.  There was a fruit basket, a congratulatory telegram from my agent, the whole bit.  I was paid several thousand dollars for one week’s work, and over the years I got thousands more in residuals.

Throughout the week from the read-through to the taping, half the script was re-written.  Each re-write was worse than the previous version, because the guy playing the robot-building Dad was so insecure he kept trying to expand his part or change everyone else’s.  He couldn’t accept the fact that the little robot girl was the star of the show.  I hid out in my dressing room as much as possible, practicing my guitar.

My agent was so happy with me for appearing on this piece of crap that she invited me to a flash party where an odd assortment of old and new talents showed up.  I was sitting on a couch next to a blonde woman named Ginger Allen.  She spoke in a little girl voice about a children’s book she was writing.  I was a bit naïve in not knowing her alter ego, Ginger LynnShelly Berman was entertaining by asking us all questions and giving comical responses to our answers.  He was extremely clever and well spoken.  I talked with Martha Raye, who was on Alice at the time.  She liked it when I asked her about acting with Charlie Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux.  She said they got along great because she always called him “Chuck”, which I’m sure no one else would have dared to do.

Edy Williams, a soft-core icon who was one of Russ Meyer’s exes, slinked across the room in a leopard print pleather “dress”.  My gaze followed this catwoman until it was arrested by the returning look from another one.

A soft blue glow enveloped the goddess in the comfy chair.  I rose to approach.  I couldn’t feel my legs.  My agent swooped in, took my arm, and introduced me to Julie Newmar.  Julie had a round vocal tone, but a unique, otherworldly accent.  When she spoke, it sounded disembodied, like another spirit was channeling through her.  She took my hand.  She offered strange pronouncements as she looked into my eyes.

“You’re going to be a great, great star.  I can see you will have a show of your own.  I’m never wrong about these things.  I see it.”

Her declaration made me feel weird.  You see, I never had any aspirations of stardom.  I practice various kinds of art strictly in order to gain proficiency.  I like getting better at things.  I didn’t much care about fame then, and I still don’t.  If I have an artistic career ambition, it’s to be the world’s greatest complete unknown.

An extraordinary thing happened immediately after Julie bestowed her prediction.  I never got another job as an actor, despite going on a couple hundred more auditions.  You have to realize that for most people, acting work is like any other kind of gambling.  When your luck has changed, it’s over.  Walk away from the table.  Don’t bet your rent money.  I took a job as a film librarian / editorial assistant at a stock footage company.

I’ve never discussed this “Catwoman curse” in public before.  It’s been a source of private ironic amusement.  Once I went into post-production I was able to give up being a bad actor and become a very good sound editor.  I worked on the restoration and remixing of several hundred films, including many classics.  It was a period of creative challenge and fulfillment for me, and they even put my name on a few of the re-releases.

Perhaps I misinterpreted the message of the oracle.  She did not say when the events would take place.  Here I am working with healers in this beautiful little town at the edge of a rain forest.  I have the deeply satisfying pleasure of telling stories of my past adventures to those of you reading.  I’m the great, great star of my real life, a show of my own.

Thank you, Catwoman!

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43 Comments

Filed under Acting

43 responses to “The Curse of Catwoman

  1. Mike:
    I have no idea what shows you are talking about…but it sounds exciting.
    You must have been very handsome and I see in the clip…is that really you…or am I mistaken?

    Very nice read…bye

    your fan
    jaye

    • I love the fact that our cultural contexts are so different, Jaye, yet we get along so well. I’m writing about very obscure American shows, because I only acted in shows that were little-known. No, that’s not me in the clip. It’s George Clooney. I think he’s much more handsome now. It is, however, from the episode I appeared in.

  2. Our cultural contexts are not that different, and I do not have any idea of most of the shows you mention either. While, I am sure acting was a fun, enriching experience. I am also sure that you have done many things since that did not cause you to run into anyone famous or have any brush of your own with fame of which you are more proud.

    I used to do some modeling in my twenties. Did tropical bikini shoots and even won a nationwide contest to “become a model.” However, it kind of amazes and insults me when people refer to it like my glory days. I have done so much more of which I am so much more proud. It is sad how society values these kinds of things. I don’t. Like you, I do not aspire to be rich or famous. I aspire to be happy and to contribute.

    • Would my life be better if I were getting fan mail from South Korea that started “Dear 2nd Rapist,”? Nooo, don’t think so.

      I wouldn’t choose the word enriching, since I only made about 20k in the best year, but it was a sort of surreal fun. A lot of the time I was just submitting my head shot and resume and doing other kinds of work until someone called me in for an audition. Maybe model bookings happen faster. You are right that it’s all such trivia compared to relationships, the beauty of nature and the meaningful work we can do. I’m happier to have met you at the point we are now.

  3. I watched Small Wonder when I was little. The robot girl was named Vicky, if I’m not mistaken? I probably watched you! :-)

    George Clooney on a show called “Throb.” How appropriate.

    I love reading about your experiences. Especially the bits when you give me my life lesson for the day. If it weren’t for the curse, you may not be here for me to read. So, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar!

    • I dropped Julie a note about the article, though I don’t really expect her to come here and read it. She’s busy with her own writing projects. Glad you liked the tale, Moms.

  4. Your life stories are so engaging. I smiled all the way through!

  5. Gemma Sidney

    Great article, Mikey. I really enjoyed reading about your adventures in the acting world. I’m glad you got out when you did, though. Better to have you here with us than lost in some obscure TV show (even if George Clooney is one of the actors!). You’re a star in your own right.

  6. lifewith4cats

    I vaguely remember watching that robot show. Wow, that seems like ages ago. I like that you have such a well rounded outlook and understaning to life. To perfect only being yourself, and not loosing yourself in a rush to please the masses.

    • It seems like a long time ago to me too. I only had a rudimentary awareness of the core philosophy I live by now. I was definitely a workaholic, driven by fear of poverty to take any and all kinds of work. I did have my sense of humor already, and good luck in getting hired, but I also never said no to anything.

  7. You sure have had a lot of interesting jobs, Michael. A man of many talents. Thank you for sharing it all with us.

  8. Thank you Tracy. I am happy with the shape this article took. Most of the talent at the bottom of the acting profession consists of being good at sending out hundreds of submissions until you get an audition, and then showing up. If you fit the look they seek, you usually get the job. Small part casting is all typecasting.

  9. Life is what you make it! Better to be a big star in something you love, that an 2 bit extra in something you hate!

    • I completely agree. I will say though that it’s still fun to work on shows you would never want to actually watch. They usually treat you nicely and feed you well, and the work isn’t hard. Small Wonder was a dysfunctional family atmosphere, but that was rare.

  10. A shining star in the depths of your rain forest with all these wonderful memories! Am signing up for more.

    Julie Newmar always reminds me of the fabulous Julie London, true Jules of their time.

    • I agree. Fabulous is a good adjective for those two. It sounds so much better than Hyperglamorous. I see that kind of female persona as women in drag, as women.

      (Patti is the rarest kind of IM reader, a big city subscriber. But she does fit right into my core audience of smart people with artsy streaks, and she takes FABULOUS photos: http://nylondaze.com/ )

  11. For a minute there I thought you were blogging from Brazil, and then I looked around me (well, one post down), thought about it, and have come to understand that you are living in the rain forest known as Port Townsend, which is indeed a charming town. I was a teenager in Parkland, Washington, right near PLU, and because those were the disgruntled years, I never developed any love of the rain. Now, maybe more.

    But I’m really leaving this reply to tell you that your essay about B-F acting is very funny and insightful. You — or a version of you anyway — and your curse are the beginning of a novel I’d like to read. Or a story. Sadly, one cannot dictate what other people write, or play, or paint. So, I’ll make do with this description, but hope you talk about this more, when you have the inclination and aren’t practicing the guitar.

    xo

    • Since you are farther along in this sort of process, I’m not surprised you can tell it’s somewhere between memoir and fiction, Lily. I consider these posts a form of outlining. I don’t like to go over 1000 words, and less is better. Over the next couple of years, I’ll be sticking ones in the same categories together or maybe going farther from reality when it works better for the story structure. The best stories will be plays or screenplays. Right now my regular job in health care takes up too much time to write full-time, but I’m only a few years from retiring.

      When I do stories based on my life it tends to be about music performance, acting, working, childhood, emotional maturation (love and other heavies), aging or travel. Otherwise I write reviews or articles about the history of cinema and music, and a few essays on religion, spirituality, ethics or politics. I really am a generalist. I will probably save writing about sex for another kind of medium better suited to handle it. I always appreciate a comment as subtle and expressive as the one you’ve left. Thank you.

  12. OMG that was one of my favorite shows as a kid Small Wonder (I was 8 or so, but thought it was great)
    Is Jane Leeves a nice person. She was so great on Frasier. i worshipped her.
    Wow, I’d have wanted to stay acting and get rich and be remembered. Though I am kind of surprised how nice you are. Aren’t most actors God’s gift types. I wantr to see every episode of Small Wonder and find you!

    If I became rich though I’d blow it, except I’d want to do a favor for a pal first.
    I hope you aren’t sore at me for not being around. I always mean to be first here. Will do better.
    PS, I bet at 33, I wouldn’t find Small Wonder that great anymore. Wonder what happened to all them.

  13. Kids are a great audience because they will find something to like in almost any show. I haven’t written much about all the dumb shows I liked as a kid, but there were plenty of them.

    Don’t worry about commenting, especially when you are busy writing and living. I haven’t said much on your site either lately for those reasons, though I have been reading it. I know we are mutually supportive of each other’s work.

    Here’s the bottom line on talents, IMHO. The ones who care more about the craft are almost all very nice, as was Jane. She paid her dues for years flashing her undies on Benny Hill, doing “exercise porn” and on “meh” shows like Throb before getting on quality shows like Frasier. The ones who are in it more for fame and $ are almost all divas, and they are both hard to work with and to befriend. The directors I later met when recording commentaries for DVD were exactly the same way.

    As far as the Small Wonder cast, some of them must have had their own Catwoman curse. The human son and the mom never got any acting jobs after, and the robot girl only had a few more before quitting. That girl, Tiffany Brisette, moved on in a healthy fashion, growing up to become a nurse. The boy had more difficulty, working a variety of low-profile but honorable jobs such as being a cook. He (Jerry Supiran) was the subject of an untrue internet rumor regarding his supposed death. The dad, one of the corniest, most unsubtle actors I ever encountered, was sort of a specialist in bad TV. He got a few much smaller roles over the years and in 1999, wrote an unoriginal movie called Molly which was derivative of Flowers for Algernon, Rainman, At First Sight, Awakenings and all the other better movies about mentally impaired and institutionalized people who have to re-enter the big, cruel world. It didn’t make its money back.

    • What about the other type? The actor who has had a “real,” sometimes extraordinary, life and acting is just another experience. An experience that ends in a well-known role that completely overshadows the past life. I was looking up some Dukes of Hazzard facts for my latest post to go with a cake I did last week and discovered the amazing life of Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg). I wonder how often that happens?

  14. I will admit there are exceptions. I hope I’m one myself. I do over-generalize. I met a lot of character actors like Booke who had full lives aside from acting. Stardom, on the other hand, tends to consume entire lives.

  15. A delightful story, told purrrrrr-fectly!

  16. I loved how bad Small Wonder was. I’ve actually considered writing about it, but I could never beat your personal firsthand experience.

    • You should reconsider, Paul. You’re funnier than I am, and writing about bad TV is a fount of inspiration. If not Small Wonder, there’s always The Fats, err FACTS of Life, or any of the other sitcombortions.

  17. Had never heard of Small Wonder before. Sounds amazing, more like an SNL parody of an 80s sitcom. Certainly a different age to now. Middle-aged man makes servile robot and puts into the form of a pre-pubscent girl. Hmmm, don’t think that would fly with any networks now.

    • You didn’t miss anything important, and I agree that it was kind of a chauvinistic premise. There were so many bigger problems with the show, I hadn’t thought about that. I was focused on everyone viewing this as the “launch of my career”, while internally I was saying “Wha? No way!”

  18. I feel old but might be too young to not remember these shows! This story is hilarious and I love the title. I love the ending where I started to think her prediction was going to immediately lead you to “Stardom”! Then you say “I never got another job as an actor”. Your so down to earth and I love that.

    • Thanks. Whatever age you are, these shows were obscure even when they were new. That’s what kind of acting career I had. I have to tell you I find it pretty funny that you thought of me as down to earth. I may write as if I’m a practical guy, but it’s only a character based on me, remember? In real life, off the page, I am an incurable dreamer, easily distracted and probably below-average in my ability to focus on anything for long. One reason I write is to help HOLD me to the earth. On the other hand, I am pretty old, so I have a lot of experience in certain areas. Those are times I can look back on pragmatically, even though I lived them like a balloon with a pinhole in it. (whizz/spritz/fizz/swoop/pflabbbt!/flop) I did find Julie’s prediction funny right from the beginning, however.

  19. LOVED this piece. I haven’t heard of any of those shows (might have something to do with the fact I was born in the 1990s, but still) but how fantastic! It must have been incredibly exciting to be involved in those type of things. I’m going to be a background extra tomorrow in a film called UFO with Jean Claude Van Damme- I didn’t have to audition, I just had to live nearby, so it isn’t as impressive as your examples, but still. It was that ‘Famous People’ forum thread that led me here, and I’m glad it did! I love the honesty or your writing and it’s made especially good by the fact you have such a rich experience. I’ll definitely be back to read more!

  20. I enjoyed your write-up, even though I didn’t recognize 99% of the stars.

    • Thanks, Jean. That is one of the main points of the piece. Nobody (for the most part) knows these people or shows after a couple of decades have passed. Fame in general is fleeting, and the status of a “classic” is much harder to achieve than the way people cheapen the use of that term. You can Google any of the names in bold that sound interesting. They all had substantial fame of one kind or another. Sometimes I get lazy and don’t put in the links. I was more focused on the writing this time than on making the post interactive.

  21. you have certainly experienced a lot and thats great as life should be about trying everything lol id love to be in a ghost film but id scare myself lol have fun xxjen

    • Thanks, Jen. If you survive long enough you get to do a bit of everything. I even had a Goth period about 1987-89.

      At the moment it might be easier to get in a vampire or zombie movie. Perhaps you could MAKE a ghost film! It’s fun to get scared. Horror movies were date movies when I was young. You get to hold onto each other.

  22. jennygoth

    id love to be scared a lot more lol i love ghost films but theres never many made so need some more hold onto me films made have a good weekend mikey xxjen

  23. jennygoth

    hi mikey ive just bought all the old frankinstein and draccy dvds from asda today so il be watching them this weekend i love the old ones hope your having a good week xxjen im off to a grave yard tommorrow at six theres some pirate graves im going to get pics of xxjen

  24. Pingback: The Best of Mikey (so far) | Invisible Mikey

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