Wednesday, June 30, 2010


First of all, I have a lot of great friends in "Hollywood" and that community was my "home" for almost two decades.

But I had an interesting experience recently. I went to see an old Hollywood friend in a stage show and intended to see her afterwards backstage. I've done this hundreds of times over the years and it's a pretty simple occurrence. But not this time.

I haven't seen her in over a decade, though friends say she asks how I'm doing when they see her and vice versa, and I was too lazy I guess to find an old address book with her number, if it was even still the same, so I just figured I'd show up and got backstage and say hello.

But when a mutual friend of hers and mine—who she introduced me to—called from L.A. to catch up, I told him I was going to see her in this show and he said he'd let her assistant know I'd be coming backstage. The assistant called to say, just tell the stage manager to get him and he'd take me to the dressing room to see my old friend.

The night of the show, during the intermission, I noticed a woman helping some people and asked if she was the house manager, a job I did once for a play on, or very near, Broadway. But she gave some more complicated title and asked if I was with the cable company filming the show.

I said no, I was an old friend of so-and-so and her assistant was supposed to get me and take me to my old friend after the show. But this lady said, just wait in the theater and I'll come get you and take you to him. Okay.

You can see where this is going. After the theater emptied out I waited for five or ten minutes and then noticed a young man dressed like the stage crew heading backstage with an older man in a suit and thought, maybe they're going to see the stage manager like I was originally told to do, so I follow them.

Backstage I see the stage crew guy talking to a stage crew woman (both in black tee shirt, black pants and shoes, headsets and holding a binder or clipboard etc.). So I wait some more. After a while I think, well maybe that woman who said I should wait for her to get me is looking for me, so I go back out to the theater, but it's still empty.

Finally I go back to where the crew guy's talking to the crew woman and interrupt them, excusing myself, saying I'm looking for the assistant. She says, "He's upstairs I'll bring him down for you in a minute." I say, and probably shouldn't have, "It's not him I want, he's supposed to take me to see my old friend so-and-so" and she says "Oh, you're a friend of so-and-so's? Well when I'm done here I'll bring you to her."

Then the crew guy says to her: "I need to talk to you, right now." Since they'd been talking all along, he obviously didn't mean just talk as he led her behind a door and closed it, leaving the man in the suit and me behind. After a while the crew woman came out and said to me, "I'll go get so-and-so's assistant and bring him down. Wait right here." So I do, figuring the crew guy told her to never offer to take a stranger whose not recognizably famous (because I'm sure if I was Al Pacino none of this would be happening) to see a star.

After what seems like a long time but is probably only a matter of minutes, [and the other crew guy leaves with the man in the suit who says "Good luck" to me as he passes, which only now I realize means he too was probably trying to get in to see "the star"] the woman who I thought might be the house manager but whose title is more complicated arrives backstage and starts talking to another crew person when she suddenly notices me and in a loud voice says something like: "What are you doing here?! I told you to wait in the theater. You're not supposed to be back here. You have to leave right now!" etc.

I go back into the theater, muttering disparaging things about all these intermediaries and their sense of self importance, but then resolve to be humble and patient and wait. I'm the only person in the entire theater. Waiting. When a gray-haired man I recognize but can't remember from where—Hollywood? New York TV shoots? Jersey?—also in the same crew outfit, black tee and pants etc. comes in and I say "Hey, how ya doin'"—the standard Jersey greeting I was so happy to hear still being exchanged when I returned after forty years elsewhere—and he says "You have to leave the theater."

I say, "I was told to wait in the theater." He says, "I was told to tell you you have to leave the theater." Now it's over. I'm gone, I think, as I enter the lobby and see the woman I thought might be the house manager and the stage crew guy who had been with the older white man in the suit in a heated discussion that seems to be about me from the few words I can pick up "I don't know who he is, Michael somebody" etc.

So I go over to them and say, "Hey, it's late, I've got kids at home, I'll get in touch with her some other time" and the worried expressions on both their faces melt into looks of great relief as they stumble over each other's words, basically saying, "thank you" and "the show takes a lot out of her" and "it's been a stressful run" or whatever.

I go home and relieve the friend who was watching my youngest son and my grandson, who was staying with us, get them into bed, and when I get into bed take a few deep breaths and ask whatever it is I commune with when I get in touch with the universe—its spirit as I see it—what the lesson of this night might be.

The answer I get is: "Aren't you grateful you live in Jersey and not Hollywood?"


[PS: Speaking to an old Hollywood friend still living out there—well, Malibu—about this she says how much she hates this kind of petty overblown sense of importance, but also that she'd bet the message never got through because of the fears of the intermediaries and their sense that their job is to to protect "the star" from the rest of the world. Probably true.

And then she said, "Aren't you glad you live in Jersey and not Hollywood anymore?"]

[PPS: Just want to make clear again, "Hollywood" was very good to me and I made many friends there and still have many friends there. And this kind of thing probably happens all the time in other businesses and areas. But still, it was a kind of quintessential "Hollywood" moment, where two old friends saying hello takes on the seriousness of a world summit of the leaders of warring nations or something equally absurd in comparison.]


Jamie Rose said...


Robert G. Zuckerman said...

Michael, next time, if there is one, just tell them you're "Michael Pacino." I joking, but deadly serious. I guaranty you'll get through.

Anonymous said...

The lesson of the night is 'follow directions'.

If told to see the Stage Manager, seeing the House Manager is not following directions.

Normal protocol in any theater is to first see the door man and make your request. You'll find that stage folk can be very nice people.

Anonymous said...

Michael, what size is the theater?

Lally said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lally said...

It's a fair sized theater. I'm trying to keep the "star" as anonymous as I can because this isn't about her but about the intermediaries.
I tried to condense the actual experience so the post wouldn't go on forever, but I did follow directions. I asked the woman I thought was the house manager where I could find the stage manager after the show and she told me to wait. But as I've said in the post I've done this many many many many many many many times over the past many decades and have never had this particular problem before, because, as you say, "theater" folks are generally pretty nice and accommodating, some of them. But this star was more "Hollywood" than "theater" thus the title and theme of the post! I followed the directions of everyone I encountered with patience and humility, as best I could, but their sense of self importance was overwhelming exactly BECAUSE they were theater folk working with or for a "Hollywood" personage, etc.
It's no big deal, I just found it interesting and telling. And by the way Robert, I've been backstage to see Pacino after plays he's been in, and with Pacino when we were both seeing the same play and visiting the same actor. He's always been super nice and humble about his position, very sure to make it clear he considers himself a theater actor first, a movie actor second and a "star" not at all, even though he can't avoid the impact of his presence on fans, etc.

Anonymous said...

More likely the black Tee crowd were stagehands looking to wrap up for the night and get to where they wanted to go.

Rest assured that the stagehands were not acting in awe of the Hollywood personage. They come in contact on a regular basis with all types from world leaders in the audience to TV or movie or music people giving the boards a try.

Worst case scenario would be that your message was delivered but no audience was granted. Don't kill the messenger.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

Michael, true story: i was in London in '07 working on National Treasure 2. A friend of mine from there, an actress named Claudia - she and her boyfriend wanted to take me to dinner at a very in spot. But she said they'd told her it would be three hours before we could get a table. Half in jest I said, "tell them your with Jerry Bruckheimer's photographer." Claudia decided to have fun - she called back and in her most official British voice said: "Yes, Robert Bruckheimer would like a table with two guests." and they told her "Fifteen minutes." Thus, my recommendation to use Pacino, DeNiro, DiCaprio, Clooney, whatever gets the job done - play the game! Don Juan taught Carlos about this - it's called "controlled folly."

Lally said...

Anonymous, (why anonymous by the way?), this has nothing to do with "killing the messenger" but I have been around "stars" of all kinds for almost all my adult life now and have seen this phenomenon occur again and again in all kinds of scenarios. I've even been treated in various situations at different times of my life as a "star" and watched some of these things occur. Many of the readers of this blog are "stars" etc. They know what I'm talking about. People in these positions, either the "star" or working for one, can respond in as many ways as the rest of us in any situation, but there is often a confusion of standards of importance, what is and what isn't, that reflects an overblown idea of difference rather than common humanity. I've been guilty of it in my time for sure, as I suspect most of us have. I'm not judging or condemning anyone, I'm just reporting on an experience. If my old friend hadn't wanted to see me, she just would have told her assistant that she was tired or whatever and we'd see each other another time. This wasn't a casual acquaintance, this is some in whose house I have eaten and slept and hung around the pool on lazy afternoons and spent birthdays and holidays with etc. etc. etc. This was a case of treating a fellow human, me, impolitely to say the least.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

There's that old story about being careful how you treat the production assistant because she or he could one day be the studio head. In other words, be respectful of everyone and don't right someone off because they're not wearing the right clothes, driving the right car, don't have a recognizable name or a posse, or even because they don't speak in a certain way. Hopefully, those people who treated you so shabbily will learn this lesson. I hold two quotes close to my heart, and share them as much as I can: 1) my friend Mike Moyer's grandpa told him: "You belong in any room you walk into." and 2) Tony Persico's grandpa told him: "Don't let anybody tell you who you are."

I used to get miffed when I'd call someone's office and the assistant would ask "What is this regarding?" etc. Now, I answer specifically, informatively, in a profession, courteous manner, so that they can do their job. And, presto, most of the time I'm put right through, or responded to promptly!