A Writer Writes
Imagined Lives: A Hollywood Fable
by Gerald Karey (Turkey 1965–67)
I was a star. Nope, bigger than that. A STAR. Bigger. A SUPER STAR.
You got it. I was BIG. I wasn’t just an a-lister. I was an A-LISTER. If I was at a party, it became an A-LIST PARTY. I was on every red carpet. Fans would scream my name when I emerged from my limo with two, maybe three, gorgeous women — every man’s fantasy — at my side. Every man’s fantasy, my reality.
Women threw themselves at me — beautiful, sexy, surgically enhanced, if necessary, beyond perfection, women. I could have any woman I wanted. Every man’s fantasy, my everyday reality.
Women wanted nothing more than to be with me, to be seen with me, to warm my bed, to stroke my ego. We didn’t talk much. We had sex, tanned by the pool, smiled for the photographers, went to the best restaurants and were shown to the celebrities’ table in the middle of the room where I could be seen and written about in next day’s gossip columns. We partied at impossible to-get-into clubs and sat in the VIP section. We were royalty, or rather, I was royalty and the women were my court and courtesans, until I grew tired of them and had them replaced. There were always willing candidates.
I had a forty-room mansion in the hills overlooking Hollywood, a full-time cook, housekeeper, pool boy, personal trainer, publicist, driver, personal assistant, and, of course, an agent, who managed my career. This was TEAM ME — a well oiled machine, a juggernaut that cleared my path and made sure everything I needed or wanted to be done was done.
I was voted by Hollywood Magazine as one of the most handsome men in the universe, and by Exclusively Celebrity as the sexiest man alive.
A Celebrity. No, bigger. CELEBRITY. Rich, famous, fawned over, celebrated for being famous.
It started with a band, a bunch of high school friends. I could manage a few chords on an electric guitar, but primarily I was the vocalist, with a rich tenor voice, bedroom eyes, golden hair and sensuous moves on stage. It was my name the girls screamed, not the other guys.
The band eventually broke up over the usual artistic and philosophical differences. I don’t see the other guys anymore. I’m kind of sorry about that, but they went on with their lives and I went on with mine.
My big break came when we were on our farewell tour of local bars. A talent scout happened to catch the band at a gig and afterwards sat down with me over a coke.
“You’re raw kid,” he said “but I think you’ve got something. Ever do any acting?”
I told him no.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Lots of guys start that way. Come see me.”
If this was a movie about my life — something I’m trying to peddle and have received a few nibbles about, but no call-backs — it would start here, after a few preliminary scenes about my humble background, abusive father and alcoholic mother (with many liberties taken for dramatic interest).
I was placed under the wing of the image makers at the “All Star Talent Agency.” I was brushed, coiffed and polished to a high sheen, had a nose job (just a small bump), dressed-to-kill, spent five hours a day with a trainer to work off some baby fat and develop my abs, was seen in fashionable clubs, had stories planted in gossip columns about roles I was up for, took a few rudimentary acting lessons, and landed my first job, a small but pivotal role as a dying football star in a teen tear-jerker called, “The Last Game.”
The studio received so many protests about my movie death, primarily from young woman, that they pulled the film from circulation and reshot key scenes in which I miraculously recover, climb out of bed and score the winning touchdown. The film was retitled, “Miracle Game Winner.”
More roles followed.
Lighthearted comedic romps. Right in my wheelhouse. Good-looking guy vacations in Hawaii. Meets girl. Family rejects him. Saves family’s fishing boat from capsizing in typhoon. Family loves him. He marries girl.
Good-looking guy starts work as history professor at small liberal arts college. Meets daughter of college president. Her family rejects him because he doesn’t have tenure. College in grave financial difficulty — might have to close its doors. History professor writes, stages and stars in huge musical pageant about the Spanish-American War. Great success. Famous theatrical producer brings it to Broadway where it runs for two years and makes millions of dollars. History professor donates all of his earnings and future royalties to the college. It doesn’t have to close. President’s family loves him. He marries president’s daughter. Receives tenure.
Trifles, to be sure, frivolous stuff. But I branched out into more substantial leading man roles, an occasional crime caper — always robbing from the undeserving rich; period pieces — fighting for the peasants against the evil nobles and always fighting to right a wrong. My agent advised me not to take more acting lessons. Just be myself up there on the screen, he said. Don’t mess it up with lessons. The camera loved me. My movies made money despite mediocre reviews. The critics couldn’t say enough bad things about my acting. Fuck the critics. They didn’t matter. I was handsome, charming. The public loved me. I was big in France. I was bankable. Let the good times role.
But the public is fickle. Times change. Movies were getting darker. My audience aged and wanted more serious fare. I aged and despite careful lighting, shooting through filters, no close-ups and a little cosmetic surgery, I couldn’t hide that. Younger people want actors who look like themselves in the lighthearted romps, rom-coms, and derring-do adventure films, not middle-aged guys who were growing a little thick around the middle. I no longer dared take my shirt off onscreen.
My agent offered me to the studios for character roles, but they weren’t interested. The public just wouldn’t accept me as the evil next door neighbor, the mean boss, a serial killer. I landed a few jobs in horror flicks as the frightened postman who was the first to be eaten by zombies. Similar roles followed and I was always the first to die. I did voices for animated features — Grebel, the evil gnome, in “The Prince and the Princess;” Kazlow, a Russian spy, in “Foreign Adventures;” and Larry the Legume, Boris Beef and The Cardamon Kid in “Magic Kitchen.”
I did receive an offer for a remake of the college movie as a TV sitcom. But this time I would play the college president, not the young history professor. I was doubtful, but my agent advised me to take it. It could relaunch my career, he said. We made the pilot, but it was never picked up.
Of course, I’m no longer on A-Lists and even B-Lists are a stretch. But I do attend down alphabet parties with Howie Mandel, Pamela Anderson, David Hasselhoff, Erik Estrada, and the Real Housewives of New Jersey. And I still miss Anna Nicole Smith, may she rest in peace.
I’m invited to an occasional Red Carpet event, for old-times sake, but I’m usually told to arrive early, before the A-Listers. The paparazzi are not interested. I take selfies with my camera phone and post them on my Facebook page. All of the drop-dead gorgeous woman who draped themselves over me have moved on. They are mostly married now and mothers, even grandmothers. We had fun, they understood the deal, nobody got hurt. I hope they are happy. I mean that.
The limo is gone and I drive a Hyundai. Also of bittersweet memory is the mansion, the full-time cook, housekeeper, pool boy, personal trainer, publicist, driver, and personal assistant. I make my own breakfast, swim at the Y and read the Hollywood Reporter while catching some rays in my backyard, play a little golf and poker with other under-employed actors. We talk about old times, but don’t dwell on it. I made good money and have enough to live on. Nothing extravagant, but I’m comfortable.
My agent kept me on, an act of charity one doesn’t expect from an agent. I am touched and humbled by the gesture. But let’s face it, he doesn’t expect to make much of a commission on me and dedicates very little time to my career. I understand. I’m on the back burner and he would let me know if something comes along that’s right for me. I’m not sitting around waiting for a call.
Perhaps I should be upset with him for advising against taking acting lessons. But who am I kidding. I maxed out my talent. There really wasn’t much room to grow.
Occasionally I’m featured in magazine articles entitled, “What Ever Became of . . . ?” and “Where Are They Now?”
A couple of years ago a local community college invited me to attend a film festival featuring half a dozen of my movies. Frankly, I was surprised, but I allowed myself to be flattered. But you know college kids. They mocked and hooted from the start of the first movie that was screened. I left quietly about half way through.
A little rude, but no hard feelings. I would probably mock those movies too, if I was their age.
But the difficult thing for me to accept is that I’m at an age when I am virtually invisible to pretty women. That’s the most painful indignity of all.
Gerald Karey taught English in a middle school in a Turkish village from 1965 to 1967. After the Peace Corps, he worked as a general assignment reporter for two newspapers in New Jersey, and for a McGraw-Hill newsletter in Washington, D.C., where he covered energy and environmental issues. A collection of his essays entitled Unhinged, was published in October, 2014.