As we learn to write scripts we learn that one of the key elements to tell the Story from a perspective which might be the victim, the protagonist, the antagonist or a third party. Once that is established then the camera angles and the art of making a movie are supposed to “compliment” that perspective. Perspective can completely change how a story is told. The child of an impoverished family and his or her needs might be one perspective and yet the yearning mother who wanted to live her dream and is now caught with encumbering responsibility in conflict with her soul is another perspective. The story changes dramatically of course.
So, allow me to share my humble perspective with you some of my wonderful experiences during the CHIPS days. Remember it is but one perspective, and as the crass saying goes, we all have one!
My agents during the time of CHIPS were Herb Nanas and David Shapira. One of the agents in that office was Jon Feltheimer who is now the President and CEO of Lionsgate Films. Herbie Nanas was the agent for Sly Stallone and a slew of other actors and is old now but still producing films. David Shapira still has his agency and I believe he runs it with his children who are now agents also.
When CHIPS came a long I had the youthful passion to become a great actor one day and I had studied with a lot of great instructors. My so called actor idols were Marlon Brando and James Dean. As I grew older I liked character roles more and found them to be more challenging and more complex than a simple leading man. Most of my acting coaches and instructors were all very complimentary. So you combine compliments with ego and with youthful naiveté one quickly starts making bold “brush strokes” and believes that layering lots of intrigue and innuendo into a character by writing intense character Bibles was how you become interesting, complex and with some creative mystique. Oh my goodness the deep conversations we actors used to indulge in……what a comedy of B.S. So from the smallest of roles to bigger roles I always did lots of research and wrote lots of character Bibles to add what I construed as depth to the character. I remember later in life doing a movie with Vic Morrow who studied at the Actor’s Studio and was once considered a “method actor” and was respected in the film business as a major talent. I asked him about doing character Bibles like when he did the movie about Birdman of Alcatraz. He said he used to write intense Bibles also but now he doesn’t bother. At the time I found this shocking, and wondered why he had become so lazy and un-artistic. Preparation for an actor is everything and it warrants a lot of research and due diligence and rehearsal I mused. Later in life…..I agreed with Vic Morrow but I will not bore you with the transition of indulgence and growth. I guess as you get older you have written several versions of the Bible.
So, during this early acting period of my life I am getting cast in a lot of episodes and guest appearances and stuff. I am one of the busier actors in Hollywood according to my own mirror on the wall and I think there is only one direction and that is up and with velocity.
So when CHiPs came around I felt that it was a distraction and not up to my now “seasoned talent” and that I needed to make more astute choices to architect my career. Notice I said architect. Ohhhh my. Such youthful inept rhetorical crap I was lost in. These kinds of confused rhetoric and confused direction all stem from a latch key kid who was still not sure who in the hell he was or who he was going to be but only thing he knew for sure was that perhaps….. he was ricocheting off the walls and they did not know the term A.D.D. then. Here I was with no mentors, no real managers and all I had was my ego. An ego guiding a small boat in the ocean of predators. This is why a nourishing and supporting parenting network is so damn important – Both Parents. I did not lack the drive….but was surely ill equipped. I am sure that a TV series to my agents meant simply a ten percent commission EVERY week. That is cash in the account so don’t let the Goyum screw it up. However, when a young adult with no parents to guide him, no mentors or such to assist him with logic and business strategy, attempts to build a skyscraper with logs it can be……WELL, a little problematic to say the least and then add the fact that he cavalierly bellows out…..”hey logs are all fine and dandy……just do it! “ This is where an emotional infant screams with passionate ignorance and demands to build his own ship. Now you take this emotional infant and add another layer of false pride called Wyoming tough on him and then add another layer of Vietnam fear and rage on him and you have a…….puzzle or maybe chameleon depending on the volatility of the situation. And like most young people who are not sure who they are and which direction they are going and are not very wealthy, and have not been prepared by parents who know the depth of talent that LIFE requires……well, they succumb to the capital catnip labeled……. THOUSANDS…..notice plural a DAY!
So having said all of this, perhaps you now understand my perspective of who Larry Wilcox thought he was versus who he was. Now you take a bunch of actors, producers and the like and put them on this circle and you begin to define their….uh…..well……idiosyncrasies……..(notice I did not say maladies) and in math you have a combination of combinations which I like to call this or label this circle as a template for a geometric progression of injury and volatility. Let me just say from my little perch on the circle, that I chased, courted and embraced a few Larry Wilcox’s passionate perspectives and it was sometimes indulgent, sometimes lucrative and sometimes devastating or even…..tragic.
Working on CHiPs was a blast but often we have what I call an inner conflict which is a polite way of saying a need to self sabotage. I think I always felt that I should have been doing better roles, bigger pictures, and had better agents and managers, even though I was enjoying the desserts from CHIPS on a daily basis. I enjoyed the crew so very much and in retrospect seemed to relate more to them at times than the cast. I find the simple blue collar in me is helpful in these environments but I do not cower in its protection because I know that you must embrace the comfortable and the uncomfortable cultures and environments. However, I did enjoy the cast some of whom were cordial, some of whom were friendly depending on the day and some of whom were from aristocracy.
The actors each had to define their roles in CHiPs if the writers would give them a nibble or tool here and there which were rationed out. I have often said that the mechanics role and the Grossman’s role could have been written better and could have become an enormous counter balance in perspective and entertainment. As a result I would often try to make vegetable soup out of a simple broth and engage in deep psychological digressions about a character and such meaning. Ohhhhh, passionate youth! With Robert Pine, a gentleman, it was almost impossible to do anything with him because they wrote him as the lecturing Sergeant and there was not a lot of room to discuss subliminal suggestions and layered innuendo .The problem with working 6 days a week on a hit television series is that you are exhausted and have become a branded product. You really do not have time or interest in other personalities. You have no time off because when you are off on Sunday you are being asked to do a personal appearance or you are being stalked in the grocery store. I have always enjoyed the public and enjoyed hearing more of their stories versus my me, me, me stories, however, there are times I felt suffocated. In retrospect I say…..oh quit whining….you should have been so lucky dude so shut up!”
Each of the characters on the show as individuals were all very different. First the perspective of an actor is often selfish and is not one that is represented in a traditional TEAM mentality. You go to an office building to read for a part and there are 50 competing actors there trying to get in your head and make you feel like they are better. You compete head to head with them all on a daily basis and there is some wins, some losses, some ego and some pain. That is called “subtle if not overt conditioning” and so it is always a one on one game at the readings for a part in a movie or job. Now you take a group of actors, and place them on a set and you have to make a team. It is not an easy transition. You have actor X who thinks he or she should have been the star of the show. You have Actor R, who thinks they need to write more depth into their character. You have Actor Y who wants more money and cannot believe that he or she are only being paid such a small amount of money compared to the stars and the rationale to them is always the same……”sorry the stars took up all the budget”. And then you have the diversity of actors who come from very different backgrounds and each with positives and negatives when it comes to the goulash. So let’s just quit all of this narrative and try to succinctly say that; it is a sensitive and precarious environment of fear and survival all wondering about their very own “longevity” in Hollywood while playing like they are on the TEAM.
I looked forward to the charming Circus of CHIPS and at times frequented different cages if you will in the circus of acts. I was always looking for a stepping stone whereby I could transition from CHIPS into an upper level without looking like I wanted such a transition. Everyone in their own way was doing the same thing in a different way…..trying to build a stepping stone to their perception of a career. Each win was huge and each loss created pain and in some cases anger and resentment. And in one case or two, vindictive actions by some who took the loss as you had taken THEIR meal. There are a lot of fire hydrants and people are territorial to say the least.
After five years on CHIPS I was sailing along while focusing on a career which unfortunately was what I construed as my core, my being, and such a perception was encumbered by my youth. Here I was now flying to London and buying the rights to the Yorkshire Ripper and flying back and making a deal with MGM. Wow, was I ever smart and good at it. LOL…..Hardly but I was running the race with reckless abandon hoping to score the big one and impress people with my business savvy. Then I made a deal for the Wolfman Jack Story and pitched it with one of my agents to Columbia Pictures. I played various roles during my pitch so it was funny and entertaining and by then I had shed the parasitic drag of embarrassment and simply went for it with gusto. My agent told me I missed my calling and that I was so good that I should have become a very big agent. I thought that was a weird compliment but it fertilized a yearning identity and perhaps was digested and enjoyed in the wrong psychological growth compartment if you will. I then out maneuvered NBC and Playboy for the rights of The Dorothy Stratten Story the Death of a Playmate. I then made deals with various entities for starring roles in movies of the week and made more option deals on properties. I talked to the Presidents of studios and thought we were equals on many levels. Oh, the very raw ignorance of an unexposed youth traveling at a velocity beyond his threshold of competence and training!
So when after five years of CHIPS I felt my transition time needed to be timed correctly. I was time for me to turn up the RPM and to develop properties and direct and produce and perhaps act. I was scheduled to make a personal appearance in Brazil and I would be paid handsomely for such and then return and make an announcement about leaving and moving on. My agent called and explained that Erik Estrada had sued MGM and had made many demands. One of which is that NBC had a choice. Like me, he was making his career plans and it included getting me fired from the show. Erik had gone to NBC with an ultimatum to either fire me or make it his show or he would leave the show. He brought strategic players in and through positioning, got Rick Rosner, MGM and NBC to realize this was a losing situation unless they complied. So NBC was in a problematic position and MGM pleaded with NBC not to cancel the show but to continue for at least one more year so MGM could then syndicate the show with 100 or more episodes which would be required for an international syndication. So of course, NBC agreed for one more year and called my agent to explain that Larry Wilcox was not being asked to come back to the show. They said that perhaps we could all get together and come up with a press release and they were very sorry. LOL
So being the survival bull in a China closet that I was, I assembled my Public Relations Firm (Rogers and Cowan) and we schedule an interview with L.A. Times and we did a press release that I had decided to leave the show. So, I had already planned on doing this but now this made timing a very important issue. We did the article and it was released and NBC was very upset that we beat them to the punch and defined our very own story with a relative timeline.
After that, I did not see or hear from any of the actors on the show. I did not see or hear from any of the crew from the show because in Hollywood, everyone is being politically correct so they do not upset the apple cart and injure their very precarious employment. Remember, crew and actors are the same….always looking for their next job. The art of venomous smiles and obfuscation with a happy pat on the back can be the norm in Hollywood. I did not take it personally and understood that they were all playing the longevity game. I went on to produce an award winning series and then realized that shelf life can be a choice and I was not going to be a victim in my life. So I began to transition to both film and technology to create some independence.
I have never watched the new show until this past week (end of Fed 2015) and I watched one episode with the tall blond guy and the shorter cadet character. I felt they looked great on film and the show began to lean more to a “modeling show of men” versus a buddy series. The show for me lacked any reality and fell into the trap of exposing film daily. As I have said, anyone can point a camera and expose film with actors talking but few can help or explain to the actor how to transition the screen and become a family member with the viewer. This was a gift that my old Wyoming heritage gave me I think and it helped me with these relationships on screen. I believe that many of the actors on CHIPS have never had the rollicking relationships we had in Wyoming and it prepared me for loving and enjoying everyone. It seeped from my pores and it was fun to enjoy people. But for some reason some actors never experienced that kind of rural street brotherhood and it is a very defining fraternity. I think that is what is missing in the last year of CHIPS and I believe I know why. As a result you have a paper thin show with no chemistry. They become truly actors instead of characters. And so, CHIPS died that year with or without Jon Baker. Do I think the show would have continued if I had stayed? Cy Chermak, the producer and others think it would have continued for years. I am not as sure. However, I think all of the actors got a wonderful branding opportunity and each one took advantage of it in one way or other. I am still deeply grateful for the opportunity and I am forever indebted to some for my ignorance along the way.
One of the obvious things in the Me TV shows is the obfuscation that most do not understand. For example, Cy Chermak produced 95% of all of the CHIPS episodes but you do not see his credit on the MeTV show. Somehow, Rick Rosner, who was the original producer, went in there and negotiated a deal with MeTV and or Warner Brothers to list himself only. This is another part of the Hollywood Game that is about “strategic positioning” to try and cling to longevity. I shall reserve opinion on it. I have received no residuals from Me TV as of this date. I understand that some hidden parties are involved in the new movie and I hear that they may cast Erik in some role. Twice I had the rights to CHIPS and both times when I got ready to make a deal some veiled “ghost” killed the deal and it would never be disclosed to me other than it was a “legal decision”. So I focus on wars and my family and not skirmishes. I have no problem with that.
I never felt I really got to know any of the actors. I always wanted to know and understand more deeply Randi Oakes but she reminded me of a military child who moves around so often that her ability to connect just was not there. Who knows….maybe she just did not want to be near me. Brodie was a great guy but I was too indulgent chasing my own career to get to know Brodie at that time. Erik said that his theory on relationships was to make his enemies think they were friends. So, with that kind of philosophy and our competitive spirits it was a polite….”screw off” without saying anything. Robert Pine and Paul Linke were and are very nice guys. We are extremely different in so many ways from politics to life but I enjoyed and enjoy their company. Michael Dorn was a really nice guy and I liked Michael. However, he has gone on to bigger and better things than CHIPS and is now a busy actor and CHIPS is probably an aberration or a bad memory. Lew Saunders and Lou Wagner were also good guys. I see both from time to time and always felt a special heart for good ole Lou Saunders. Cy Chermak seemed to gravitate to Erik Estrada and Cy gave me a very unsafe feeling during the show and in meetings. We were from completely different cultures and he said some very mean things about me publicly at the wrong time. But then….Cy was betting on his own longevity and did not need some actor to ruin his career did he. A movie or TV Series is like horse racing….people bet and saddle up with the horse they think will win or will carry them to a win and give them some more longevity. I now meet with Cy from time to time and enjoy him and think he was a key architect of our longevity on CHIPS for sure. Cy is a good guy and was a good producer.
However, personally, I deeply believe the nuance of charisma and chemistry made the show . I will continue to be friends with all of the actors and producers and hope that I never hurt or injure them in their lifetimes. They are ALL human beings that need the same thing I do in life…..hugs…..not slaps. I will continue pursuing integrity and putting my family stamp on my work when possible. I am working on some movies, some TV distribution deals, and some really top notch technology today and enjoying the humility of being a student every day who has transitioned from thinking he was the teacher. LOL However, I continue to try and teach my children so they do not make my mistakes and I continue to submit to my wife managing me……and that is not easy. Ohhhh my goodness.
I left the show as a business tactician and in retrospect it was great timing to say the least. My brother Randy always said, “When you go to hand to hand combat training in the Marine Corps boot camp, make sure that you take the first offensive move and make it a mortal strike that removes the opponent in seconds otherwise you give him time to engage and never forget, usually time is the factor as you will live or die within 3 seconds of hand to hand.”
Hollywood is the epitome of capitalism and very competitive which some label as cut throat. It will give one pause about definitions, principles and greed mixed with fear and pain. Being a business man in the world of capitalists is tough and competitive and as my good Jewish friends say privately….there is no room for the Goy. …..meaning being stupid (one interpretation). Good luck and make sure you are smart, mentored, principled and competitive. Be a student your entire life!