Back in the 70s and early 80s you were “invited” to compete in the Battle of the Network Stars and you would be one of a handful of stars representing your Network. (NBC, ABC, and CBS) In my case, that meant NBC and I think they asked me to do it 4 or 5 years in a row. Fast forward 40 years and they asked me again to “compete” or more politely…make an appearance and have fun. Innuendo is accepted!
You know, one of the greatest pleasures I have in my Hollywood Life if you will is I got to play cowboys and Indians, play race car driver, play Top Gun Pilot, play Army, play leading man roles with beautiful women…all great fiction and you get paid a lot of money which like youth is not sustainable. What a blast! So when I was a little boy back in Rawlins, Wyoming with my Robby Robot, my football uniform and my basketballs…well, I used to privately believe that one day I would be a professional basketball player a la Bob Cousy or a professional football player a la Johnny Unitas. What is really an amazing journey is…hey, I got to live out my fantasy in most of these areas. I feel so lucky knowing I could never be a professional athlete, however, recently I got to play the white Carl Lewis in Track and Field as Ponch and Jon ran the Relay Race together. OMG…. talk about a comedy but it was fun.
Ohhhh, Father Time and his subtle seasoning of one’s perceptions and indulgences. A young man seems to cling to his male identity crisis and define them with all of his glorious efforts of credits and resume. In my case it was becoming a Professional Rodeo Cowboy; a professional race car driver, a singer with a record and other trinkets of masked denial. Little did I know, all of those celebrity trophies fed my ego bu really did not amount to that much…..but as an evolving young man I burnished them on my lapel and my bio that I proudly shared with false humility? There was no discernment with any “spiritual sword”….there was just the baker constantly cooking the cake of pride called ME, ME, ME. And then one day the pendulum swings and the opposite end of the spectrum is now appealing…..which is symptomatic of a bi polar personality…..as now I wallow in the glee of “anonymity.”
I was suddenly above all of that notoriety and indulgence. Reminds me of the time I used to hear that Paul Newman was an actor, and he did not think of himself as an entertainer. He did not like to do autographs and such. I used to laugh and say….” yes that is easy for him to say now that he is a big star but most of us have to be entertainers to get our foot in the door and then we might reiterate his sentiments.” However, in reality, as I look back I never was an entertainer and always felt a conflict when you had to perform for the camera to try and find a funny or entertaining cut they might use. Yes I attempted the funny one liners but I hated every moment of it. Sure enough they had us do it to the camera for ABC for promotion on the Battle of the Network Stars.
My memories of the old Battle shows with all the starlets and all the actors strutting their stuff on the sun drenched pacific ocean and the Pepperdine campus and the fans were memories of lore. There was so much beauty it could weaken a man as he took in the horizon of physical perfection. It was a whirlwind of visual erotica and a limiting two days to breathe the Pacific Ocean with daydreams of your ego attempting to set up a rendezvous somehow somewhere with one of the goddesses. Oh, and there were some athletic events also which were in conflict with the party the night before and the going to bed at 4 am for a 6 am pick up. Yeah…….celebrity athletes.
Limousines, Lipstick and spandex were trinkets of the visual Mecca. Red carpet, cameras, flashes, fans, egos, brawn, tans, white teeth, braless swimsuits, and well……mostly blue balls all day long. $10,000 dollars for two days of fun, branding, indulgence and athletic talent…or denial.
Fast forward 40 years and the same phone call. We really want you to do this event as you were a regular and the fans will love it. Hmmmm, love it? Larry Who? Watching old men competing in a track meet or obstacle course or a kayak race……..sounds more like a comedy to me. They respond,”no no….we will mix young and old and we will have major athletes like DeMarcus Ware from the Cowboys and Broncos.” I respond…. wonderful……you want to humiliate me and confront my conscious while tickling my past years of denial with athletic prowess. Hey, I lived in and through my past Public Relations campaigns and came close to believing my own press. I like to be humble these days but not sure humiliation is my favorite meal. The Agent responds….. “No no the ABC Agent says this will be fun for all and the pro athletes will simply be your coaches.” OK, what events will I have to do because I have some injuries? Like I have a severed bicep from a few months ago so I cannot do my favorite event the obstacle course. I am a tubby boy so not sure about a track and field relay race as I might have a stride length of 4 inches or so and I do not want to be humiliated again in that damn kayak. “no no….there will be choices and you can do table tennis, archery and other things you will enjoy. Just think about it and I will call you back…ok”
A few weeks later the emails and phone calls begin again and we go over the fear of being on national television and making an ass of yourself. They tell me there will be older people than myself and it will be fine. They tell me the pay is the same for everyone and it is $25,000 for one day. Then I heard the drum roll. Hmmmm, OK, I guess I can do it. Send me the contract. LOL
I have watched a few episodes of Battle of the Network Stars 2017 and it was funny and entertaining. There were a few celebs who still believed they were “athletes” and they did pretty well. But as I watched it, I realized this was a Junior High Team on National TV thinking they were past Olympians. Actually most of them had accepted their role today as prime plus actors. Our very own little OLYMPICS on National TV-a really cool fantasy.
Really brings you full circle of what it takes to be a world class athlete. Actors get to play house and other such scenes. As a result they often believe they are not bad at what they do after watching the scene on national TV or in a Film. Tom Cruise doing stunts…….well, he probably thinks he is an athlete. Hey, Larry Wilcox played basketball and well……it was in a small town in Wyoming of all places and he may think he is an athlete. Now Larry may rationalize in his egocentric mind that HE was a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and he did set 8 International Land Speed Records and the Bonneville Salt Flats and HE was a Marine in Vietnam.
Sorry to tell you Larry but the only athlete or real world class athlete is your WIFE in 7 events in Track and Field. But go ahead Larry, compete on National TV with PONCH and your coach( a real athlete, DeMarcus Ware). Ponch did many events unlike most of us. He did the relay race with me; he did the tennis, he did the dunk tank; he did the kayak racing; and he did the obstacle course. I did the relay, the dunk tank and basketball. As a Battle of the Network Star “Olympian” I had fun but it reminded me of my real age and my real “talent”.
Reminds me when I first did the Celebrity Racing at the infamous Long Beach Grand Prix. I would be racing with Parnelli Jones and other notable world champions and I would lose a lap by maybe one or two seconds. Little did I know that meant they would LAP me soon thereafter. World Champions are world champions because they are the best in the whole damn WORLD. I was not even the best in my little TOWN in lonesome Rawlins, Wyoming. But my conscious then cuts to one of my movie roles where I am a bad ass, or a pilot or whatever….and illusion and reality and denial can get mixed up. LOL
The best part of these events was my wife was on camera a little with me. There is nothing like having your family involved and to share the spot light. She could have taken over the spotlight being a former Olympian but it was so fun to have her there and to have her coach me. I think she should have coached PONCH a little more but he was a trooper-and he did the Battle even with a cold. As he said….hey its $25K for a day…..NEXT. Makes you appreciate the candor of a wise prime plus actor!
When I look back to the old Battle of the Network Stars I did the best times were with my children as they make the memories special. (Derek, Heidi, Wendy, Ryan and Chad). I think Derek and Heidi were young then and we had a good time together. People often forget that the event that you think is not a big deal, maybe, a special deal for the rest of your family and friends. So I really enjoyed those memories. The old shows over two long days allowed people to engage and meet other personalities who were really, just normal people enjoying the press, pomposity, and payrolls.
Dan Haggerty was a good athlete and I remember our fun times. Robert Conrad thought he was a great athlete and he was very competitive. Randi Oakes was a good athlete and had the beauty and charm to compliment it all. Catherine Bach was stunning and some of the beauties you did not want to see get dunked and ruin their “look”.
This even in 2017 was fun because I got to laugh and joke with my buddy Ponch and enjoy the conversations with Lorenzo Lamas. Lorenzo is a jet helicopter pilot in NYC and continues to do acting here and there. He was a joy to be around, a gentleman.
So the COPS vs. Comedians episode of Battle of the Network Stars will air on August 17, 2017 on ABC at which time I will have turned 70 years old. But you know….I went back and read some of my press clippings the other day and I really think I am only 50 or so years old. I am wondering if there was a typo on my birth certificate or maybe that Wyoming Water has kept me young. Well…..guess it is time to say goodbye and off to the chiropractor. Hugs!
Copyright 2017 Larry Wilcox