We all have some thoughts on what is and who are movie or television stars, but do we really know who and what they are? Probably not and a big part of the problem is the paparazzi who devote their time and energy to discovering, then exacerbating and then reporting errant behavior by well-known celebrities because we ordinary folk enjoy that. Being that movie and television stars are indeed mortal human beings they can and sometimes do behave in a weird or inappropriate manner but then so can we all. But beyond the media induced images who, really are these people and how do they differ from us regular work a day folks?
My first encounter with a celebrity happened when I was 13 years old. By some mysterious means I along with about six other young guys from the Chicago area got invited to spend 10 days with then very well-known singer and actress Jane Morgan at her summer home in Kennebunkport. Maine. She was in every way very nice to us and everyone else she met during our stay.
Back in Hollywood her performances came at significant cost to those seeking her work. But in Kennebunkport she was in a summer stock theatrical show for which she received little if any pay. Why? Because as is true in every entertainer I have ever met Jane Morgan loved to entertain and it wasn’t about the money but her love of the craft. She even offered me a part in the play, but I being the stage wimp that I truly am declined.
That is but one of many reasons I am not a movie star. First and foremost, all known entertainers have an unshakable deep passion for performing. So when you see a movie or TV star you see a person who is deeply passionate about what they do. How many of us can say that about our jobs?
When I was a teen my personal passion was to go to Asia so I joined the Marine Corps. Not long after I found myself in Asia. Then I got to leave my main post in Okinawa and travel over much of Asia on a helicopter carrier. One stop was Hong Kong.
With a few extra dollars from my days as a civilian I went to the Hong Kong Hilton and rented a room for three nights — the amount of time I had off duty. Then I went to a tailor shop and bought a suit. It was ready for me and laying on my bed when I got out of the shower.
Later that night I went to the Opium Den Bar at the Hong Kong Hilton where I saw several other guys from the ship all in civilian clothes, but our military status shined through. Some guy sitting at the bar caught my attention and he motioned me to go over to him so I did. He simply asked if we were Marines from the ship in the harbor and I confessed. He then leaned over the bar and speaking to the bartender he said “Louie. for the Marines the drinks are on me tonight.”
He then turned back to me, stuck out his hand and said: “Hi, I am Bill Holden.” About two years earlier he along with Nancy Kwan starred in the movie The World of Suzie Wong. Holden loved Hong Kong so much he bought himself a condominium there. We partied hardy on Holden’s dime until the sun came up. Greedy, self-possessed and arrogant? Nope, not this movie star who hung with a bunch of young Marines and treated them very well.
My life after the Marines was tumultuous at best so by around 1983 I give up my law practice and moved with my son Ronnie to Burbank, California — not knowing one damn thing about Burbank, California. Slowly it became clear to me that this city was arguably the real Hollywood. It is home to Disney Studios, Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and immediately next to Universal Studios. Yep I landed right in the heart of the beast.
After a few years I gravitated towards the one performing art I actually enjoy: talk radio. With a wee bit of luck, I eventually ended up with one hour every weekday from 5 – 6 p.m. on KFOX 93.5 FM. But what to talk about? Given the time slot it didn’t take long for publicists to start calling me. One of the first suggested that I interview some young actor who had just returned from making what was sure to be a hit movie in Australia. The actor’s name was Mel Gibson, so sure he was my guest.
You may have seen him in such hot movies as Mad Max, Lethal Weapon and Brave Heart to name but a few of so many. I had but that one meeting with Mel but he came across as genuinely friendly and sincerely appreciative of my having him on my radio show. Again I saw no sign of arrogance, just a very pleasant and clearly talented young man.
As my show continued I had several other “stars” on my show including A. Martinez, known for many television shows including “Santa Barbara,” “General Hospital” and “L.A. Law.” His appearance was prompted by my beautiful bride Nenita.
One day she was watching TV and I saw she was totally engrossed so I went and looked and then asked: “So who is that?” She responded “A. Martinez.” I asked if she would like to meet him and she said “You can’t do that.” So I smiled and called the guy I knew was his publicist and asked if A might want to be on my show. Two days later I took my wife with me to the radio station and we met A. Martinez in the green room. Mission accomplished, happy wife. The interview was fun as well.
Every time my guest was a soap opera star the phone board would instantly light up always with very eager women. One time during a commercial break one of my guests laughed and commented on how crazy those ladies were but that was a good thing because it provided him with a great income doing something he really enjoyed. Now imagine that, doing something you love and getting paid very well to do it. You can’t ask for much better than that. When not performing he was just a happy working man. The fans on the other hand were just a wee bit whacky.
After a few years actually living and working in Hollywood I was beginning to get a whole new take on the realities surrounding the concept of star status. It became clear that a movie or TV star is a man or woman who has an abundance of talent and irrepressible passion.
You can have great talent, but marred by laziness you will never win in Hollywood or pretty much in anything else for that matter. You can go and earn your MBA from Harvard but lacking pure and total passion you will never be CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Sure it is a much different line of work bt the dynamics are the same. One day I met the stars, a star.
Back in the days before my wife gave me the option to either quit my cigar smoking or quit her — I kept her — I was a regular at a cigar store close to our home. One day a man walked in and I could feel an instantaneous energy bump. He was a very pleasant guy just looking for a few cigars and enjoy a little chit chat with the other guys in the store. By the way this was anything but a fancy cigar shop. It was attached to an auto repair business, so very blue collar. Yet I came to learn that this particular customer was Chick Venerra, a movie star I was told so I did some research and what I learned was amazing.
Chick Venerra began his acting career on Broadway including a significant role in the huge hit Grease. After moving to Hollywood he landed roles in such super hits as Yankswhere he worked with Richard Gere, Vanessa Redgrave, William Devane and others. Later he worked with Ruben Blades, Ricahrd Bradford, Sonia Braga. Julie Carmen. Melanie Griffith and others in the hit film The Milagro Beanfield War. Chick has also worked on many TV Series including JAG, L.A. Heat, Chicken Soup For The Soul, That’s Life, Static Shockand Animaniacsto name but a few.
Some years ago now Chick launched an acting school he calls “The Renegade Theatre.” For a while my daughter Kari was one of his students. She has yet to become a known actress in large part because for now her passion has shifted to a new pursuit still very much in the entertainment industry but very much off camera. But to watch Chick impart his love of the art, passion, skill and commitment to his students is deeply moving.
Yet for all of this the one thing Chick always displays in a sense to total reality. Sure the acting is make believe, but in the case of Chick Venerra and every other truly powerful professional actor the person is absolutely real.
Should you want to listen to a recent radio interview with Chick Venerra just click here. And that sums up my opinion on what is a “movie star.” A man or women with skills — yes — but beyond that, unswerving drive and passion for the art. They also for the most part remain very much grounded in reality. Yes the act is make believe but they are passionate and real and mostly very kind. There are these people.
There are the wannabes who lack any sense of reality but with a passionate desire to immerse themselves in the glitz and the glam far beyond what they will ever in fact achieve. One of the most glaring examples of this kind of actor/actress was a woman I had briefly as a PR client. She came off with an air of a very spoiled super star, a demeanor totally absent from the real super stars I had met over many years.
I invited her to a party with many local media folks, a great way to get some press. She showed up one and half hours late. Next I got her on a live TV show. She showed up 30 seconds before going on air. That was a huge slam to the host whom she never even thanked. So I fired her as a client.
Then I went back and looked at her IMDb again. She had 14 credits; not bad for a start but I looked closer and discovered she had been uncredited in 13 of the 14, meaning she only actually appeared on screen in one totally unknown movie. Yet she came off with an attitude filled with arrogance. Exactly what the real stars rarely if ever display.
Now you know what real “stars” are like and what the phonies pretend to be, but fail to make the grade. In the important respects movie stars are very similar to accomplished medical doctors, school teachers, businessmen. lawyers and even good mechanics. They are sincere and real and driven by a powerful passion to engage fully in their chosen work. At the end of the day they are what we all are, people. This remains true even when the characters they portray can often be somewhat super human.
Ron Irwin was born in Chicago, Illinois a long time ago. He served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, became a trial lawyer, TV and radio host, CEO of a public company and once held an Emmy. He never won an Emmy he just held one. Ron has written and published twelve books. His most important book to date is “Live, Die, Live Again” in which Ron tells of his early life and his unexpected and very temporary death in 2012. That experience dramatically refocused his life and within the pages of that book Ron reveals how he achieved a much healthier life, ridding himself of Diabetes, Cancer and Heart Failure. Now Ron enjoys writing about many things including health topics, travel [he has circled the globe several times], adventure, culinary experiences and the world of performing art. Ron’s motto is “Live better, live longer and live stronger because it feels great and annoys others.” Contact the author.