Stars who lead double lives.
I was sitting in O'Neal's, one of the five restaurants in Manhattan that this veteran of motion pictures, stage and television owns. His brother Michael is his partner.
"I guess it's a real family operation," O'Neal said. "My wife does all the decor. I do the lighting, hiring the waiters, cooks and maitre d's, choosing the menu and deciding where the chairs and tables will be placed.
"Now I'm going to have a hot fudge sundae, so come on, have one. I promise they make good ones here!" O'Neal flashed a boyish grin. That and his khaki pants and safari jacket were in direct contrast to the role he had just quit--that of Harlan Adams, the slightly evil and well-dressed mogul on the TV series "Emerald Point, N.A.S."
After O'Neal settled down to his hot fudge sundae, he came back to the subject of his quitting a successful TV series.
"Most people thought I quit because I wanted to be back in New York City taking care of my businesses. That's not true.
"I quit, and in the process gave up a lot of money, because the producers wanted to expand my role on the show. That would have required spending more than two days a week in Los Angeles filming. Yes, my work is in New York, but more importantly, my family. I wanted to be with them.
"My son and business advisor thought I was wrong, for different reasons, though. My son liked seeing his father on TV every Monday night, while my business advisor thought it was a bad business decision," the Florida native, who delivered The Saturday Evening Post as a boy, said.
Only time will tell if O'Neal's decision was a bad one. Although he did not quit simply to manage his business interests, which also include restaurants in Florida and California and extensive real-estate holdings, those business interests gave him the freedom to quit.
"My favorite role in life is directing movies and also acting in them," O'Neal told me. "But a few years ago, I was scheduled to do a picture with Richard Harris, and my partners in a business deal said, 'If you go, this deal will fall apart.' So I stayed, After that, I put a sign up in my office that says 'Remember Africa,' to remind me where my priorities should be."
O'Neal's involvement in business illustrates a trend among contemporary TV and movie actors to go into their own businesses. They do it for protection against fallow times in their careers and as a way of making a separate income from which they can derive creative and artistic freedom.
"Once the Hollywood producers know you need money, they'll throw you all the 'shlock,' the bad parts. In this way, they grab a name actor for nothing, and if you have nothing to fall back on, you're in trouble," Ernest Borgnine said to this interviewer.
A friendly and articular man who insists upon being called "Ernie," he won an Academy Award as best actor for his portrayal of the lonely Bronx butcher in the film Marty. Yet where Borgnine as Marty was content to sit back and let the world step over him, Borgnine in real life is the direct opposite.
Borgnine is a partner with his wife Tove in a successful business, a firm that manufactures a rejuvenating skin cream. Developed from a formula that originated in Mexico, Ernie and Tove mail their skin cream, called Tove #9, to every state in the United States and to many other countries.
"We've been in business for eight years, and our sales are now in the multimillion-dollar category," Borgnine told me. "My wife is the president and I'm the good-will ambassador. She comes to me looking for help," he said, laughing.
Borgnine can now afford to choose his own parts. "I did a 'Magnum P.I.' episode last year for peanuts, because I liked the role," he said. "Don Bellisario, the show's producer, liked me so much, he cast me in 'Airwolf,' a new series which he's also producing."
So, where O'Neal could afford to quit a show because he had a business to fall back on, Borgnine could afford to do a show for exactly the same reason. "As long as you have a business behind you, the producers in Hollywood will send you the good scripts," Borgnine said.
One actor who doesn't believe that being successful in business automatically allows creative freedom is Wayne Rogers, who's best known for his role of Trapper John on "M*A*S*H."
"If you don't beg for a job, the studio executives will not like you, and I cannot believe having your own business influences anyone on the other side of the table," Rogers, a Princeton graduate, said.
"Supposing you're an actor with a business on the side, and you go in to negotiate your fee for a movie. The studio executive you're speaking with is being paid a weekly salary and here comes this person, this actor, who doesn't need them, because he has his own business. I would have to think people have resented me for being successful in business."
Successful is an understatement. In financial circles, Rogers is known as an intelligent and respected investor. His business interests include real-estate developments, a boat and barge business on the Mississippi River and a partnership in the Beverly Hills-based Brentwood Management Group, an investment-counseling firm that takes care of the business affairs of Rogers' show-business colleagues. In short, Wayne Rogers is a multimillionaire from his business dealings--and those monies allowed him to quit "M*A*S*H" in 1975 and to try a different series, "City of Angels," a show that subsequently flopped. Rogers said he always chooses roles on the basis of his interest, not how much money he is paid. He can afford to work infrequently and wait for a role that has value to it, like that of a compassionate police chief he played in the recent TV miniseries Chiefs.
"When I first came out to California in 1960, the ethics of the business managers, the people who pay an actor's bills and invest his money, were not as high as they are today. So I determined that if somebody managed my money, it would be me," Rogers said.
Another star who has proved to be adept at minding his own business is Fess Parker. As the star of the 1950s television series about frontiersman Davy Crockett, Parker became a role model for a whole generation. Today he is a shrewd business man much more interesting than his coonskin-capped alter ego. He counts among his assets real-estate holdings and gas and oil interests as well as mobile-home parks.
"Some actors have peculiar lifestyles and attitudes," Parker said. "They feel a sense of prostitution in the process of acting, like they are getting through life in a way that is not suitable to adults. This feeling is only enhanced by the use of a business manager.
"I spent ten years with a group of fine business mangers. But you find that your paycheck goes to them and they do everything, from paying bills to investments. After ten years, I told them, 'I have to leave because I can do better for myself." I think I've proved my point."
Parker says he always wanted to play contemporary action/adventure roles, such as those played by John Wayne and Bob Mitchum. But producers didn't see him as a modern man of action: They wanted him in the coonskin cap. So after Davy Crockett, he played Daniel Boone in the TV series of the same title. Soon after that show ended, he hung up his coonskin cap ("I have it hanging in may bathroom," he told me) and devoted his time to his businesses. But Parker is not retired from acting. Should a good role come his way, he would gladly accept it.
Actress Ann turkel, who has appeared in many episodic TV shows, such as "The Love Boat" and action/adventure films such as The Cassandra Crossing, is in a hurry to achieve the same kind of independence that Parker enjoys. For her, business is a path to the creative freedom she desires. So when I told her I'd seen her performance as a killer with a split personality on an episode of "Strike Force," a TV series from a few years ago, she was ecstatic.
"I was so thrilled to play that role on 'Strike Force.' It gave me a chance to do something different from the glamorous parts I'm always cast in," the tall, rangy brunette told me.
Dressed in a green, red and white woolen sweater, brown corduroy pantS, black boots and a cartridge-style belt, she seemed every bit the movie star, especially because we were speaking in her penthouse apartment on the fashionable East Side of New York City. Yet the nice young woman is actualy from one of the other boroughs in the city, the Bronx. Her father is in the garment business.
Along with her fiance Hans Buhringer, Turkel is manufacturing and marketing the "un-suit," a bathing suit of a fabric that is not see-through, but still allows the tanning rays of the sun to pass through and give an overall tan.
The bathing suits are Turkel's second business venture. The first was called Now or Never, a mobile gymnasium that travels equipped with a gym coach for those Bevely Hills actors who need to stay in shape because acting is their sole income. Now or Never, which is being franchised around the country, reflects Turkel and Buhringer's lifestyle.
"And neither one of us smokes, drinks or takes any drugs," Turkel stated. "Staying away from these things is a major factor in looking and feeling well. We wanted to communicate that lifestyle to the public, and Now or Never is our vehicle.
"Eventually, I don't want to have to rely on the monies from TV and movie work to pay my bills. That's what I want out of my business deals: the money to pay my bills and do what I want. I have so much inside me, but the producers don't have enough insight to see it," Turkel said.
Business acumen and acting ability may not go hand in hand, but in the cases of Ann Turkel, Ernest Borgnine and the other actor-entrepreneurs I talked to, they do. An actor endorsing his own product is a bit like having a lawyer in the family, a built-in convenience.
No matter what other lines they go into, none of these stars will quarrel with the old line that "there's no business like show business." They've simply followed up with a pragmatic businessman's conclusion: It's good show business to diversify, and for them, that's what's made all the difference.
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|Title Annotation:||successes in business|
|Author:||Rosen, Frederic W.|
|Publication:||Saturday Evening Post|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1984|
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