In May of 1970 I drove with my new son, Derek and my wife, Judy in our new Pontiac LeMans from the old, parched desert with an unromantic name….29 PALMS. I was a young Sergeant in the USMC, returning from Vietnam and I had just received an honorable discharge from the “Stumps” …. the local handle that was given to the God forsaken Marine Corp base at 29 Palms, California. Stumps was famous for it’s 115 degree summers where we had to run physical fitness tests and people literally passed out. My commanding officer (Colonel) and my Top Sergeant had recommended that I stay in and get another meritorious promotion and become an infamous D.I. (Drill Instructor). They would stare at me…and “bless me” ….and say, as if they were bestowing knighthood on me acting like it would be a wonderful experience to duplicate their lives and become a lifer. I dared not to smile even though my heart was laughing loud and saying….” are you shittin me……. NEVER will I ever come back to the STUMPS and some dimwit yelling at me for not asking an officer if I was approved to walk past him only on his left side by asking… (by your leave Sir?) Luckily I took as many college courses as I could while in the Marines and got as much medical and dental work done before my discharge. Come to think of it…. I even took a course from my old school, the University of Wyoming while in Vietnam. (French). The Military is like the Catholic Church, with a veiled conviction of their own infallibility and hoping to disciple the needy naïve.
Being married and having a boy born at the STUMPS was ……well, challenging. We were “eventually” allowed to live on base and we thought we had died and gone to heaven in that cinder brick military duplex. We were safe amongst our own. Happy, excited, and broke. Judy was a trained XRay Technician and 29 Palms had nothing to offer her….so my poor young wife worked in a local laundry and we all used to laugh because the laundry company boasted about their name drop client and his underwear was considered the big prize. Yes, that is what happens when you are the KING. It was none other than Elvis and Elvis’ underwear from Palm Springs. Now that was big time in the Stumps.
In my case, I worked all day in the Intel offices for a Lieutenant Colonel and then at 5 pm when I got off from the Marine Corps, I would drive into the center of action…. down town (29 Palms) and work at the Texaco Gas Station till closing at 10 pm and then I would drive back to base, and work at the EM Club (enlisted men’s club) where I dived for pearls every night….which means….washing dishes in their kitchen. So between Judy working hard and my jobs we were able to pay for the things we would need for our first son Derek. As my discharge time neared, enormous decisions, obligations and responsibility would arrive and I literally had no support team to lean on. Therefore, when the rich folk from Los Angeles would stop at our Texaco Gas Station in 29 Palms on their way to the Colorado River with their tricked out boats and bikini clad girls,
I began casual and veiled hormonal conversations about what they did in the big city of Los Angeles. These groups looked like one big party! Over time I found some good guys with lots of expensive “toys “who were in construction and they said they would hire me when I got out as a laborer. I asked what does a laborer do and make and they replied, …..work your ass off digging ditches and you make about $4.50 cents an hour. I thought I had died and gone to heaven and so I told them I would love to do that and sure enough, when I landed in Los Angeles that is exactly what I did while moving from the Stumps. So leaving 29 Palms was exciting and dangerous because now I had no job, no income, and very little savings or training and had to find a place to raise our boy and enough money to pay for rent and food and go to college. I took the laborer job and any other job I could pick up. Judy was really the bread winner at this time and stepped up as she always did in her entire life. In my case filled with Marine confidence and a can do mentality, I blissfully charged forward.
In those days I had always found a solution no matter what the circumstances. If it meant that I would get up at 3 am and deliver LA Times and then go to work at 9 am till 5 pm and then work on the weekends plastering pools for landscape, no problem. I knew there was always a solution because my youthful male validation was in part work ethic and pride of such. It was during these times that one had to learn on their own that education and skill sets were key as labor is painful in so many ways, notwithstanding, the lower back. Most of my work friends were minorities and they used to think I was crazy as they wanted to make sure I realized that we had Union Rules and breaks for coffee and rest. I hated those breaks as they broke up my “momentum” and I wanted to conquer my job and then move to the next target. This reaction was typical white boy ignorance, as I did not have the ability at that young age to understand what they were saying. They were lifers…. doing Labor for the rest of their life and they did not need some young “sprinter” ruining their tireless crawling pace. They “needed” these breaks after 20 years of digging ditches! Interesting note on these co-workers….is that only time and work ethic would win their mutual respect. Just because you were nice, polite and considerate meant nothing to them……this was all about LABOR.
Long periods of hard work without giving up meant everything and only after many days and weeks of such performances were you allowed into the club of real laborers. It was one of many learning transitions for such a raw kid. Fighting was another one of their metrics in that culture. These were luckily “transitions” for me and not for life. Validation is important for people to recognize and it is as important to edit the habit of perpetuating naïve macho traditions. Unfortunately, some people are never exposed to anything else.
The young Wilcox Family moved to our apartment in Reseda and there were lots of young couples and college professors and students there. It was a fun time filled with emotion, bliss and recklessness on my part. I had decided at this point in my life that I was going to medical school and in the mean time I would study acting. So I began going to school at Pierce College on the G.I. bill. Judy got a job immediately for a hospital of course and I kept racing down the road of work hard and play hard. While going to school I got a job at night tending bar and that was and is a story in itself. What poor Judy did not realize is she married an unfinished person who looked and seemed normal but was actually very dysfunctional with layers of problems. Judy endured and I persevered. As I finished my chemistry and math classes at Pierce I applied to UCLA and CAL STATE Northridge and got into both. I went to sign up at UCLA and it was so big and the class rooms were so large it scared the hell out of me. So, I passed on UCLA and naively went to Cal State Northridge where the campus was smaller and more inviting for a small town hick faking his way through life. There is something great about confidence and ignorance mixed with passion in a youth and of course…. something very dangerous with that also.
It was during this time that I was doing my acting classes and getting lots of attention which flirted with another undeveloped part of my youth….ego. Remember, I was a hick from a small town with no real upbringing and no exposure who went off to Vietnam, came back and got married and tackled the world……with no foundation or skills but filled with a “can do attitude” . Here I was in acting classes and having a blast with the indulgent analysis of psychology and what I believed was intimate detail on how a character was defined. Imagine me with the happy go lucky confidence intrigued with my novel psychological insights in character……Hahaha. I can remember an old Acting Teacher from England named Henry Wilcoxson who said that it would be rather limiting for a college student to play an old man. I thought…bull crap……. let me play it and I will show you. Blissful ignorance!
I had no inhibitions and believed I could one day interpret really weird and arcane characters and be like a major star like James Dean, Brando and others. (a combination of raw bliss and ego still not damaged by life and labels and the bloody flag of opinions?) That blissful ego propelled me through classes and I shined in most of them. Acting in an acting class quickly reveals if you are talented or not because your peer actors do an intense critique of your scene after you make yourself vulnerable on stage. It can be raw and painful for some people and it is not fun to listen as they are bloodied with commentary while standing with naked souls on stage…. alone.
These classes reinforced my belief system and as a good basketball player begins to say….” just give me the ball”. It was fun and exciting to reveal all of these nuances which in retrospect were probably a lot of cathartic psychoanalysis taking place and I did not even realize it. Those periods were really indulgent and about ME. Luckily, I found “gardeners” in my life and ME was nurtured along the way. Everyone has a ME that needs this kind of nurturing but in my case perhaps the ME was a very thirsty sponge. Imagine 4 years on the stage or couch if you will LOL
Then my acting teacher got me an agent and all the kids in my class thought I was their hero now because none of them had an agent. This is the classic big fish in a little pond but at this time I had no idea there were any other ponds….as macro-vision was not part of my reactionary day to day life. Then I went out and got a “portfolio” where a photographer takes your photos and you get about 200 proofs of ME, and ME, and ME. Here I was 21 years of age and emotionally 15 years of age. I so wanted to enjoy all there was in life as it was so exciting and so new to me……..I mean my senses were overloaded with stimuli……studios….agents….lights, cameras, .make up rooms….actors….actresses….cool XKE Jaguars, restaurants, food and all laced with some of the most beautiful women in the world. I wondered where this carnival had been my whole life as this one does NOT shut down day or night and I am not going to simply be a spectator here. Wow….hold on. My body quivered with excitement and all my senses were running at red line RPM. Latex, lipstick, neon lights, music and percussion everywhere.
Now that I have my own pictures and my own Agent I am actually going on interviews. Can you imagine my first interview? First, I had to drive to HOLLWOOD. I mean the address for the interview would be on Sunset Boulevard (and I would think…wow…remember 77 Sunset Strip) and I would be actually driving there. Freeways, traffic, and honking horns were intimidating…. but I knew my time was coming. The traffic and noise was so exciting. Big building, hustle and bustle….and nothing but beauty, tan legs, palm trees, and exotic cars everywhere. The architecture was dramatically different from a drab home built in Wyoming. The neon lights and styles were flirting with my senses…. man this is just pure COOL and SEXY. Whiskey Go Go…the Troubadour…. Pandora’s Box…. it seemed like all of Hollywood was saying……come here little naïve boy scout because we are going to let you eat all the candy and ride all the rides. Come on lil boy…….!
H&H going strong…heart and hormones temping me to leave reality.I would drive around blocks and fight traffic in my shitty little car (1958 VW bug) which I always hoped would not break down, but, eventually I would find some place to park and then walk up to the Hollywood address for the interview and then that newbie shadow would fight for my conscious and my choice of thoughts. Oh no…not this time I would say to myself …suck it up and get lost newbie shadow.
Normally, in the Larry Wilcox rebellious fashion I was a few minutes late to start with, and I was not sure how I should have dressed for this interview and I did not know if REAL actors bring their photographs with them. I did not want to look like a geek and a first timer and show up with my pictures in my lap and everyone staring at me like…. who is this dork! I privately wished I had a big envelope to hide my photos in to provide with a veil of sorts. I quietly wished that my agent would have come with me but then that probably would have been weird. Damn…. confusing as I walked in and hoped all was ok. I quickly looked around and some of the most beautiful people in the world stared at me as I entered. They all looked like the Sultan of Sugar filled with false arrogance. I thought to myself….” That’s right…I am here so game on”. Ohhh, now time for my own false bravado. As I stood there looking and wondering what to do next, some smart ass secretary would say…. just sign in over there and fill out the form for SAG and sides are there also. How one interprets that statement was revealing and of course and yes I thought she was being rude and condescending. Introspectively, I thought, Hey…. I am not just some local wannabe Honey…..so stop the attitude. So here begin to see wanting to be confident and a subtle showing of no confidence with interpretation and choices of thought. Then reality sank in and I wondered….…. what the hell did she say about SAG and sides. Maybe this is some kind of medical show about sagging sides? I mean….my vocabulary is OK and I have never heard of SAG and sides.
Over time and with manipulative listening skills that allowed me to find answers without sounding dumb, I figured it out later that SAG was the Screen Actors Guild Union. SAG was the union I needed to join someday as an actor when I became big time and I figured out that sides were phrases for scenes of dialogue you needed to study and memorize in the next 20 or so minutes for the casting director. I filled out the paper work and sat down next to some gorgeous girl as I worked on my serene and calming voice. I noticed she was reading from a script and as I looked around all the handsome guys had scripts and so did the beautiful girls. I looked up at the secretary and she announced to everyone….” your sides are over there where you signed in…. Scenes 37-42. I shook my head like I knew with a confidant OH YEAH…. over there….and I walked over to look at the sides. Damn……4 pages of dialogue to memorize. Then I heard some heart throb guy talking to some heart throb girl about the last movie they worked on and their vacation plans to the Bahamas. He probably was driving the red sports car convertible out front. (Shit…. I had to get back to Reseda some how and I hoped I had enough gas). I better go find a private corner, focus, and rehearse alone since I did not know anyone. Some of them seemed like old friends and I felt like I had interrupted their party as they rehearsed together. That was a little intimidating again but I was learning to master denial.
So I would go find a private place to practice acting my scene alone but I was worried that I might be too far away and not hear my name called and miss my opportunity on SUNSET BOULEVARD. So I looked at the script and memorized the lines over and over. Once I had the lines and visuals down…. then I began my work. I thought…. OK…all of these actors are going to read this scene the same way….and I am going to do it 180 degrees different. So I would then work on my “intent” and “subtext” and “indirect actions” …. talk about layers. After all, I was a studied actor. (LOL). So when I knew that I knew my part I went and camped out near the rehearsal room door to listen to the other actors. Of course they all made the same old boring choices so I felt pumped as I would have a new and creative approach when I walked in. For some people arrogance was the coefficient of money but for me it was leveraging information as fast as I could.
Finally, my name was called and I went in full of energy that had to be capped. I could have lifted the whole damn room up in the air with my energy but I had to act cool. I was really coming out of my skin. The director asked me some questions and he told me this was an Army commercial and asked would I have any objection to getting my hair cut like I was in the military. I said…. I will get a Mohawk if you give me the part. They all laughed and loved that raw enthusiasm. I read, and then went to find my car and drove back to the Valley and felt good about my interview. When I went home I wondered…. wow, I wonder how long it takes to get your first job…. I mean, when do they let you know……or do they just let you suffer for days? As I drove home in the Carbon dioxide filled VW Bug I thought I was hovering in an aircraft…. man was I excited. Every time that phone would ring my heart jumped in my throat as I had hoped that would be the defining call to hire ME. Over my career these phone calls of congratulations or sorry they did not choose you….became the passive aggressive relationship of being an ACTOR.
That night my agent called and I had won my first job….and I was ecstatic. Yeah BABY…. move over James Dean. LOL I shared my news with my best supporter and wife, Judy and she was so excited also. Here I had a young wife who was balanced and supporting me and then there was me…. living in the first person wondering how to evolve let alone balance these worlds with a dysfunctional perception that built over decades. Being dysfunctional in a dysfunctional world of a small town is like being a tortoise with a great protective shell. However, now the unpeeling of who I was and where the joy and the scars were hidden would begin their next decade of revelation. This was not bumper cars, this was NASCAR.
Acting jobs are few and far between and one has to learn how to handle failure. If you get one job out of 50 it is good and one out of twenty is very good. It seemed like I would get about one job out of every ten interviews which is UNHEARD of and with this success I got more and more confidant. But confidence has many layers and life begins to define the depth of such over time. Soon I was going on reading for TV Series and I was called to read for a starring role. Even that was amazing to me….as I was already reading for “starring roles”. So I went to the famous studios and prepared for my interview. I met a Mr Bodine who was a white haired handsome man and a big producer at Desi Lu Studios.
I then met Bonita Granville Wrather, a former star of the past. I was so excited…. I walked around the studios because I had never been in a studio. It was amazing…. all these large buildings with big numbers on them saying STAGE 12, and real filming was going on inside them. I thought…. I wish I could peak in…. but I better not. I then walked by some guys editing on the old moviola machines which were loud and full of dialogue and gun shots blaring over their speakers. That in itself was very exciting to me and part of the “studio ambiance” that happened every day that I so wanted a part of this. As I look back I wondered if this was something I so wanted, or was it something really novel and exciting that had simply been put in front of me. Because of my very limited exposure…. hell, anything was exciting to me. Literally anything. After listening to the excited dialogue and special effects coming from the moviola editing machine, I meekly peeked in the room like Huck Finn and asked the picture editor on his movieola machine if I could just watch for a few minutes. He smiled at this young kid and said sure…. come on in and I will show you what we are doing.
They showed me some techniques in editing and I was a sponge from then on. I bought every book and read all I could read about editing. I bought my Bolex and my Beauleau cameras and shot my son Derek in every scene I could and made sure he entered right to left and exited right to left. I learned camera direction by editing all my 8 mm film. I was enthralled with all of the movie making business and education….and I wanted to learn more than anyone…….! I just wanted to LEARN…. anything and everything. I asked questions about every technical word, about parallax, and f stop and equipment and on and on. People used to just bend over backwards because they knew I wanted all of their wisdom….and all of their guidance that day!
So back to my big interview as it turned out I read for this role with over 300 actors. Turned out it was for the co starring role with none other than LASSIE. And I think I got the role not because I was James Dean but because I was so polite and I had overwhelmed them with manners as I was brought up with strict English manners. Of course, like Huck Finn, I knew how to leverage those talents when adults were around.
Next thing I know, is I got a call from my agent saying you got the role on LASSIE and they were really impressed with you. Do you realize how many times I replayed that line…..”they were really impressed with you” in my mind. It meant they loved me…..no….maybe it meant they were blown away with me……no…..maybe it meant they loved my timing and acting….no….maybe……….ahhhh shut up.
So I celebrated with Judy and our friends Tim and Sherri and soon I was going on location as an Actor. Oh Yeah…. I was traveling in the Lear Jet with Lassie and staying at HOTELS AND MOTELS.
Larry Wilcox, the hick from Wyoming, the Marine, the Vietnam Vet, the husband and the father and now the actor……who had no clue yet of what it takes in LIFE….and not simply in your job of acting. Ask a young kid what he wants to be in life….and for me it was not really acting….it was more…. well….I am on this train right now and it is heading to the Southside of heaven as the song goes…..so hold on! I was waking up at 5 am hoping to go to work for 18 hours. I was asking to do my own stunts not knowing the difference. I was bringing my Bolex to the set and shooting Lassie and Rudd Weatherwax the trainer. I was asking what Neutral Density they preferred and how a 30 ND would effect the F stop and what does parallax really mean. Man…..I was a kid in a candy store and I was going to eat every piece of candy…..10 times. I was also good father as my son was my surrogate soul and little did I know how naked, raw, and unprepared for life I was. I began preparing my son so he had tools that I did not have. We shot video, we talked about psychology, we rode horses, we roped cows, we boxed….and we had so much fun together then. Little did I know that one day he would be strong and I would be weak.
Lassie was another Yellow Brick Road for me….and it was fun, indulgent and caressed my ego as a young man who had no identity. It seemed like I could not miss these early days and everything was working. I called my brother Randy and told him…..”Rands…..I am a star and I am starring in a TV Series”. He said ahhhh bullshit. I said…. really….” I am starring in Lassie and I travel in Jets. You can watch me on TV in 2 weeks…. make sure you watch OK?” Look it up in the TV Guide when it comes out and see if my name is in it? Did you hear me Rands….my NAME IS GOING TO BE IN THE TV GUIDE. Randy said OK and congratulated me….and then I realized I could not even watch myself because I did not own a TV. So Judy and I went to Sears and put a down payment and made payments on our first COLOR TV.
We had friends over to watch my first episode…. man I was so excited yet I knew that I should work on some humility and not make my appearance too big of a deal…. maybe show some…. well, false humility. LOL We all watched the first episode and it seemed like I was not in the show for that many minutes and it was getting a little uncomfortable as Lassie was in every scene. I had no idea how they edited all this stuff together but I was becoming anxious. Finally, with what seemed like only 5 mins left in the show I appeared. So cool…. I thought. And everyone watched it and then the show credits came up and VOILA…. there was MY Name on the TV Screen. and……….and…. well….our friends……..well……they said, nothing. Everyone was ho hum….and teased me about my small part. Even some of my old buddies from high school made fun of the role and asked me what I was going to do for a living. Wow….I thought…..these are the same guys I went to high school with and are famous for the “one liner put downs” and have shit in their lives and they are putting me down?
So, onward I marched and got more and more jobs during and after Lassie. My career took off and my handicapped child ego began to throw tantrums and I made painful and selfish and un-principled choices. I think through all of my “troubled and self sabotaging times” I learned that I must also give before I take and always consider others instead of my selfish needs. It took many years to quiet these selfish voices and distinguish who was principled in those voices and who was not. Power had fed me well, and the apathetic arrogance was fed by money. Yes….I was surely in Hell’s Choir.
Over time in Hollywood I was able to work with stars like Anthony Quinn from Man and the City; Charlton Heston, James Coburn and Barbara Hershey in The Last Hard Men, Lee Marvin in Dirty Dozen II, Jack Palance and Dale Robertson in The Last Ride of the Dalton Gang; Ed Asner, Jim Backus, Annette O’Toole and Stockard Channing in the Girl Most Likely To; and Eleanor Parker, Robert Cummings ,Louis Jordan and Farah Fawcett in The Great American Beauty Contest; Vic Morrow, Neville Brand, Robert Webber, Norman Fell and Carol Lynley in Death Stalk, Erik Estrada……I mean HE was my partner in CHIPS and some of the CHIPS’ guest stars were to die for! Of course I went on to produce a lot of projects and some of the actors I used were Peter O’Toole, Jeff Goldblum, William Shatner and Drew Barrymore in The Ray Bradbury Theater and on and on. I produced the Dorothy Stratten Story the Death of a Playmate and used Jamie Lee Curtis in that movie.
And it was also very exciting to walk through the studios and feel like you were rubbing shoulders with all the ornaments of Hollywood like Sylvester Stallone, Bo Derek, Michael Landon, Sally Fields and other major stars and wonder what the realistic world was doing from 9 to 5. As a producer and pitch man I was making deals like pancakes and once again I thought it would never end. I wish I would have leveraged a lot of this time with famous directors and writers of the time….in some ways….so much opportunity and so much lost.
Little did I know that this extremely lucrative “assumed profession” had a shelf life and little did I know that work ethic had nothing to do with it. Flying my very own airplane to the movie set; racing cars at the Long Beach Celebrity Grand Prix with Parnelli Jones, roping with world champion Ben Johnson and cutting with Tanya Tucker, Michael Keaton and Larry Mahan, setting land speed records at Bonneville Salt Flats, meeting Presidents of the United States, collecting wine from Paris, flying in helicopters on tours in Australia and speaking engagements all over the world would all have a “sequential spot” in this ephemeral lifestyle and its inherent escapism from reality and responsibility. It seemed like my youth was so full speed ahead with A.D.D. that I hardly noticed anyone or anything that flew by.
They say that a male cortex does not mature till he is at least 25 years of age but in my case it seemed to be 50 years of age. I knew this “choir” was singing discordant tunes that would break and injure people. When you are young in the film business and you have talent you are kind of a big fish in a little pond. As your career expands you become a bigger fish and then you usually hit a low point. During this low point you are now middle aged and you notice that all the actors you now compete with are like you…..they are as talented if not more than you; they starred in TV Series like you and have a brand, and they are hungry to survive and get another gig to give them longevity in a dog eat dog business. Everyone you compete against now, were former MVPs just like you……so the competition in very intense and requires a lot of preparation to win a role and a lot of humility. Shelf life becomes defined with your last job and how marketable your brand is today with respect to timing.
But luckily during these many years in Hollywood I learned so many skill sets. I optioned books, stories and hired producers and actors and negotiated contracts for these talents. I learned how to raise money and learned the vocabulary for PPMs and financial instruments and risk mitigation tools. I learned editing and points of view and manipulation of story lines. I learned legal issues and how to write contracts and my library of legal contracts grew. I learned how to operate my own cameras and applied the neutral density filters and key lights and sound issues. I learned camera direction and camera composition to assist in story telling. I learned the social skills of the rich and how to navigate the dangers of arrogant personalities. All of these skill sets taught me how to become humbler and to give back more than I took and to never abandon or hurt another person in my life.
The next chapters of my life were full of very interesting times and experiences that included lust, money, deals, travel, education and evolution. However, today I am having a blast learning from my children while negotiating really fun and complex deals with leaders in various walks of life. There are so many stories to share some day and finally ME is a lesser character in life.
Honestly, my life began after all of this Hollywood carnival, but there were a few people who know they gave me this gifted life and I shall forever be indebted. Of course my wife Judy and our children, Derek and Heidi were the real stars in my life. Also, my old acting teacher, Lois Auer who gave me lessons for free because I was polite and she said a natural actor….as she was very helpful. My late agent Toni Kellman and her daughter Sandy really helped my career along with my later agent David Shapira. Of course, as stated, I cannot say enough about my very special young” family” and all they did to support and sacrifice for my evolution; and of course, Wyoming, the grounded and practical side that reminds you daily that you aren’t shit…. just another person trying to make a living. It was a job and so what are you doing now.
What I am doing now focuses mostly on technology with some small film productions and a hope to help my family have a leg up in life. I often wonder what would have happened to the young hick Larry Wilcox if the film business would not have come a long and given me a leg up. I sense…. that it may have been a sad life. Today, I spend a lot of time and wonderful experiences with my children and that is their gift to me for which I am grateful. Some of my experiences I can talk about and some I cannot. For those that I cannot talk about, I simply try to quietly walk the talk. There is a lot of gratitude and forgiveness. Hope, Faith and Love…yes, Thank you.