Stranger in a Strange Land

The Applause Was Deafening


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The day started early; Jimmy Reynolds looked at the schedule and realized he had a press interview every thirty minutes until well into the evening. The latest series of shoots had him in cowboy hats, hockey breezers, riding elephants and going around the world as the ScrubBrite™spokesperson, hawking their "innovative and powerful cleaning solutions." (r) As a trained actor, Jimmy could stay true to his script but pepper it with some personality seasonings which allowed the audience a more engaging experience. A few short months ago, Jimmy had made a move which guaranteed himself steady work. He was the creative force behind the Mad Scientist™ of ScrubBrite™ and everyone has pleased with his performances. Jimmy continued to audition for standard acting roles but was beginning to see small bits of recognition in the eyes of the directors as well as a few comments from people on the street. The money was easy and he was becoming more comfortable in his new role; he was actually delivering a new type of message with the commercial arena in which he was engaging (but not too engaging), wacky (but not too wacky), funny (but not too funny) and memorable. That last attribute was the one that bothered him the most; the Maytag Repairman, Marge the Palmolive gal, Mr. Whipple and Flo from the Progressive ads blazed him a trail to quickly enjoy quintuple scale but he wanted to make sure the recognition was quickly addressed. Those folks likely fell into the same kind of gigs he did; but his goal was not to get rich but to earn a living as a working actor...not as the manic clean freak spouting off about the ScrubBrite™ family of cleansing products. He was working and that was better than a vast majority of folks scuffling along with the hopes of a SAG card somewhere down the line but days like this made the old memories far more romantic than they deserved. Sometimes, he wished he remained in the background, contributing to a few background shots and muttering some omni's but a gig was a gig....and this gig paid very well.

Once one is a celebrity of any kind, the collective society begins to treat you differently. At one end of the spectrum, top flight movie stars literally cannot go anywhere by themselves. They move from vehicles with blacked-out windows, surrounded by bodyguards, into generic back doors to avoid the adoring crowds. Being hustled from one room to another is fun for the first day, but it wears out quickly. Children of superstars knew of no differences in their peculiar life but most celebrities did remember, before they were discovered, the days of freedom and anonymity when they could go where they wanted and could be left alone without any imagination or effort. The other end of the celebrity spectrum is populated by the up-and-comers and the rapidly faders live. Jimmy was an up-and-comer and initially enjoyed the recognition but as his commercials became national, he felt the sensation of others' eyes upon him. The first time he was asked for his autograph, he was so nonplussed that he signed it twice as he felt the first attempt was not legible enough. The joy of recognition lasted for a long time as he slowly ascended into a legitimate celebrity; his commercials were so popular than the company begged, literally, to sign him to a ten commercial contract. He was ready to sign it but he happened to mention it to his friend Conrad (his real name by the way) that was still a struggling and hungry actor who provided him with his first useful piece of career advice.

"Don't do it."

"What? Not do it? Why would I turn down a year's income?"

"You need to look at the whole board first....not just your current bank account and looming bills but what you want and how you want to get it."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean tell me what is going to happen? What are the two scenarios in front of you?"

Jimmy was still confused but was willing to engage. "I don't know...one is that I do a great job as the Mad Scientist and the other is I do a crappy job as the Mad Scientist."

"I agree with the binary approach but I think the options are you are successful as the character or you are not. Your ability is given; you will do whatever it takes to make this character engaging but the audience will either love it (option one) or be indifferent (option two)."

"Okay, given your definitions, I can agree to these options."

His friend, a working actor with a nice collection of film work completed, said, "Your biggest fear should be the success of this character. I assume you have heard of Jesse White, Gordon Jump, Jan Miner and Dick Wilson? I kept out Josephine the Plumber and Courtney Whatshername because my point will be proven by the first group." The friend had expanded on a traditional air quote hand motion to include a back and forth finger wag to imply this information was only a click away on the internet.

"I have heard of that poor slump Jesse White and Gordon Jump, the WKRP guy. Why didn't you hyperlink the other names as part of making your point?"

"Gordon Jump willingly took over for Jesse after his death. He knew the consequences and still did it."

"Did what?"

"Basically cash in whatever integrity he had remaining for a paycheck. He had basically given up and decided being a spokesperson or product mascot was better than not working at all. Everyone else had the gig grow up around their careers; they were in foundational movies, they were founding members of actor troupes, they were practicing their craft as actors or any combination of all three. They didn't know what they were getting into at the start...much like you. The WKRP residuals and fanfests had likely dried up."

"But I like working. I like making money doing what I love."

"If what you love is based on hawking products through thirty second vignettes, then go ahead. But herein lies the dilemma: eat or work. You might pull a few jobs but you will always be the guy from that commercial."

"And if it is not?"

"I would suggest you put a plan together in which you hide behind enough makeup and head props that no one knows it is you. But there is a downside to this strategy."

"Which is?"

"They can, and will, replace you once you have delivered the goods and start asking for more money or more input."

"Why would they?"

"Because they can. This is a business and you can either put your face on the product and make it impossible for them to replace you, no matter how much money you demand, or become anonymous to pursue a few film roles and off-Broadway gigs and get replaced once they know what they have in your character."

"Ouch. I guess I should be not as happy as I thought I was."

"You don't have to be melodramatic; just decide what you want before they see the whole board."

Jimmy was never one for linear thinking or long-range planning. The next gig paid for rent and food and the gig after that would pay for the next most pressing thing. The idea of making a comfortable living playing a single, cartoonish character for the rest of his career was almost incomprehensible. But the fear of being typecast into some box in which he never would return was very real and something to think about for more than a few minutes and try to come up with a plan.

"Any ideas rolling around inside that head of yours?" asked Conrad.

"Yes, it is time to get rid of my supposed agent and figure out what I want to do."

"Well, that is a start but I have a few ideas that might be to your advantage and I would start by trademarking your character without the brand information. He is not tied to the product's colors which always surprised me but he will soon be forever connected as the spokesperson once a few more of the commercials are made. So, if you own the character, you are now an equal partner with the company but file those trademarks today. Oh, and I got a guy to do that."

"You got a guy?"

"Well, he is a she and she is a childhood friend. She thinks you are in a great position."

"Thank you. I think"

"She wanted to know if your character has a name."

"Yes. I call him Swifty."

"Add that to the trademark filings and call her right now."

He did contact her and filled her in on the details that she did not already now. She took a few photographs and immediately filed for provisional trademarks for the image (face, costume), name and any related category that seemed plausible. No one was looking for this filing so she knew it would be easily obtained.

"This will take about six months to finalize so keep doing the commercials, try to work in the character's name and do not sign anything. If you get anything, even a paycheck, read it or call me up."

"Okay."

"Understand?"

"Yes. By any chance do you want to be my agent?"

"Yes." Jimmy went back to work; doing his normal acting thing when the commercials paused and did not think of the potential windfall that may be lying just ahead of him. The ScrubBrite™ family of cleansing products family were still pleased with him work and he elegantly dropped his name into a few commercials without notice. A few times he removed trademarked logos from his hat or shirt but no one noticed. He still owned the only costume and came in when called, did the shoot and leave but he began to get recognized. He got a few nice acting roles in some high-potential productions, even a few that had already optimistically scheduled their sitzprobe, and he began to forget about the trademark activity. His new agent was doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing; causing no harm so his life was proceeding far more positively than 99.99% of the working actors in New York.

One morning, exactly six months to the date of the trademark caper, his cellphone buzzed and he saw "Laura Grimes" on the ID.

"Hello Laura Grimes."

"Hello Jimmy Reynolds. We got all the trademarks; you basically own the character. No, let me be unequivocal: you own him."

"Now what?"

"I do not know, but now your life will be a series of choices. Which, in the scheme of things, is all one can ask."