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Janice Patterson is looking for actors in San Diego

She helped launch Valerie Bertinelli, Sally Kellerman, Lynda Carter, Karen Knotts (daughter of Don), and David Matthau (son of Walter)

When Janice Patterson cruises San Diego boulevards dressed in her blue fox jacket, she notices faces. If she sees a face she likes, her bejeweled fingers signal the other driver to roll down a window. Then she flicks a button and puts her turbaned head out the window of her shiny black Lincoln Continental. “Hey! Ya wanna be on TV?” she bellows. “Call SAG and tell ’em ya want the fat redhead in Old Town!”

Patterson pulls this stunt at baseball games. Little League fields, shopping centers, cinema lines, even church steps. “No place is sacred,” she laughs. “Most of the time I don’t even get out-ta the car.

“I'm not looking for glamour or for Hollywood glossies,” Patterson explains. “L.A.’s full of ’em. Lots of unemployed actors. I came to San Diego to find real people. Real Yuppies and Yummies [Young Urban Mommies], Midwestern farmers, executives, and P&G’s [Procter and Gamble types]. Ya don’t hafta be glamorous unless ya sell cars or perfume or clothes,” she elaborates. “Ya just hafta be a stereotype. Ya gotta look real.’’ The bubbly voice booming optimism at the beginning of the thought interrupts itself periodically with guffaws reminiscent of Totie Fields, then plunges to a breathless decrescendo. Her employees sometimes refer to her as the “Queen Mother,” but in the inner circle, Patterson is known simply as J.P.

J.P.'s enthusiasm is infectious; office assistants often act as off-duty talent scouts. One assistant, for example, discovered Helen Wade standing in line at the Balboa Avenue branch of Bank of America; Wade has since made several guest appearances (spoofing Sophie Tucker and Cyndi Lauper) on Larry Himmel’s half-hour TV show.

“Being in that bank line changed my life,” explains Wade, a Mae West lookalike widow who is now preparing herself for sitcom auditions in Hollywood. “There I was, waiting to deposit a check, when a stranger handed me Janice Patterson’s business card. She told me to call the office if I wanted to break into television. I have so many things to look forward to now — auditions, call-backs, seminars given by producers and make-up artists. I just dropped twenty pounds, and I’m going to lose more.”

Wade describes J.P. as a persistent bulldog. ”I owe it to her to do a good job on camera. Maybe I’ll get an audition for Murder, She Wrote,” muses the Clairemont grandmother of five. “I wanna be a star.” She means it.

During the Seventies in Hollywood, J. P. helped launch such talents as Valerie Bertinelli, Sally Kellerman, Lynda Carter, Karen Knotts (daughter of Don), and David Matthau (son of Walter). Today J.P. represents Gary Crosby (son of Bing) and is a Screen Actors Guild-franchised state- and city-licensed talent agent whose clients appear in television series on major networks and in nationally and internationally distributed films. But now J.P.’s forte is TV commercials. On national television her clients have been hawking hair dye, hamburgers, headache remedies, automobiles, peanut butter, soap, perfume, beer, Tampax, toothpaste, insurance, cereal, coffee. Cabbage Patch dolls, computers, golf balls, department stores, popcorn, and Alaska (Board of Tourism). Of the approximately 200 clients on file in her Old Town office, ninety are working steadily (Patterson also has an office in Riverside). “Steady means two or three gigs a week,” says J.P., and of those San Diego clients who are doing what she calls “Class A nationals,” several of them are earning $100,000 per year, she says.

“Wednesdays it’s the Gong Show around here!” That’s how J.P. describes her outer office when it’s packed with bartenders, attorneys, doctors, housewives, realtors, students, and bankers hoping to be chosen to sell drain cleaner and deodorant, hoping to become household faces, hoping to achieve immortality through dog food. Of the sixty or seventy per week who turn up by word of mouth, from ads in the Pennysaver, or who have literally been swept off the streets in J.P.’s slinky Lincoln or in her 1934 white Auburn, only twenty to twenty-five percent actually sign contracts (which usually give her ten percent of the client’s fees for commercials). Since J.P. no longer has the time to conduct individual interviews, there is a group of hopeful household faces from six-month-olds to eighty-year-olds listening to her opening spiel. “Don’t expect me to faint, make a phone call, and bingo! you’re sellin’ Pepsi on prime time,” she warns them. “It’s more complicated. It takes lotsa hard work, and ya gotta really be motivated. What ya need is instant availability, a reliable car, and back-up transportation. Ya need answering machines, beepers, and lotsa phone numbers. Friends’ and relatives’ phones. Anyone who knows where y'are. We gotta be able to reach ya right away, even if it’s five o’clock in the morning. If they want ya for an audition or a call-back, they wanna see ya in two, three hours. Ya gotta keep four different wardrobe changes in your car. Makeup and a razor should always be in your glove compartment. You’re always on call and ya gotta be motivated enough to drop whatever else you’re doin’ and drive to wherever they want ya t'be,” she continues. They, she explains, are casting directors.

Br-ring! The phones are going mad. Nearly every sentence is interrupted by urgent business. J.P. aptly switches gears. “Everything is priority number one around here,” she tells her audience. Br-ring! “Yes, precious wecious,” she purrs at a local casting agent as she examines her nine dragon-lady scarlet fingernails (the tenth nail is painted gold). Br-ring! “Hi, darlin’!” She lights up an Eve cigarette and; discloses to the caller that she is hopelessly addicted to Famous Amos cookies. Br-ring! She puts everyone on hold and hollers, “Let’s do coffee!” to Linda, the fifth in a series of overworked secretaries during the past few months. (“I’m impossible to work for,” J.P. admits. “I’m too demanding.”)

During a brief hiatus between phone calls, a computer spits out its urgent need for forty skateboarders for a national Mountain Dew commercial to be filmed in Presidio Park the following day. More urgent phone calls, after which J.P. separates dreamers from the dedicated. Returning her attention to the group in front of her, she tells the assemblage of prospective clients that they’ll need composite photos — photos that depict four or more poses on a single sheet — before they’ll even be considered for a casting call. “Composites can cost from $350 to $500,” she says.

In the waiting room, anxious mothers and grandmothers sit with infants on their laps, sharing with each other visions of big money. One grandmother wants to start a fund for her seven-month-old granddaughter’s education, she says. “Brooke Shields began her career as the Ivory baby,” says one of the mothers. “Jodie Foster was the Coppertone baby,” clucks another. Since America’s cornucopia of visual images is constantly being renewed, perhaps one of these babies has the look that stimulates the imagination. Maybe one of them is that magic commodity, that particular ounce of image that’s worth a pound of talent (and a few million dollars) to some corporate big spender.

On some days, the Queen Mother sweeps into the Old Town office at noon in a peach-colored ensemble and turban that match the walls of her inner sanctum, decorated with photos of her royal self posing with John Ritter and Jack Lemmon. The walls of her outer office are plastered with black-and-white glossies of her clients. Most recognizable among the local collections are the faces of Jeannie Miller, former cohost of P.M. Magazine, Kathy Diamant, cohost of Sun-Up, C.R. Jones, the Marlboro Man, and Mark Wenzel, the peripatetic mime whose whiteface unicycle antics have been amusing Sea World and Balboa Park visitors for fifteen years.

Throughout the recent holidays, Wenzel's face had been seen on MTV in a Trip West commercial. He has periodically promoted the Padres, KPRI, Trend Furniture, and the now-defunct Tuned In magazine on local stations, and he will be flown to San Jose to make several automobile commercials that are scheduled to be shown on national television as well as locally in the Bay Area. Of every ten auditions he does, Wenzel lands one job. He's made twenty-five commercials altogether, which means he's gone to approximately 250 auditions, callbacks, and actual shoots. “When I stand around in the hallway waiting for my turn, I recognize characters I've been watching on television for years. You never know their names, but the faces are familiar," he says.

Many of these auditions are in Hollywood, where J.P sends her most polished San Diego clients. “San Diego is the warm-up ground where my new clients get experience," J.P. explains, “but top-notch clients fly and drive any place there’s a high-stakes audition. Los Angeles jobs are mostly union. Union rates are $321.50 per diem [even if it’s only for an hour's work] plus extras. Most commercials made in San Diego are nonunion and the pay is peanuts, but it’s getting better all the time.”

Wenzel's one-out-of-ten ratio is above average. Some of J.P.’s clients are rewarded for their long freeway treks with only one job out of every fifteen or twenty auditions they do. “At an audition all you do is stand on your mark, say your name, hand someone your photograph, and you leave. The entire process takes less than a minute,” Wenzel explains, “and that’s all the time you have to create a fantasy and make yourself unforgettable. It's completely different from stage work, because there’s no immediate reaction. You get back on the freeway and hope they remember you. I’ve made the Hollywood-and-back run so often that by now the casting agents know me, so I've got an edge," he says. To supplement that edge, Wenzel has two Los Angeles agents, a personal manager, and Janice Patterson, and between making TV commercials (for which booking agents get ten percent of his fee) and making personal appearances, Wenzel says he’s been earning $50,000 per year for the past decade.

Patterson seminar in Old Town

“Why do I make that six-hour round-trip drive to L.A. on short notice?" he asks rhetorically. “Why do I still do public service announcements that pay nothing or practically nothing? Because I get a copy of the reel. The tapes are my resume. When you make a personal appearance, there’s no record of your performance except in the memories of the audience. When you’re on tape, you’ve got tangible evidence. And when the producer sees that tape, he knows what you can do, and either you get a call-back or you don’t."

In addition to Janice Patterson, six other agents in this city (all women) represent talent for TV commercials. Wenzel says he chose Patterson because she’s the only local agent whose computer equipment can match a client with the needs of a casting director in New York or in Hollywood, or anywhere, within seconds.

Gail West is a stage actress whose photo also graces the walls of J.P.’s waiting room. West, who relies on her dimples, she says, to make herself memorable at auditions, claims she does commercials strictly for the cash. “Commercials support my acting habit," she says. Most of her television work has been aired in other parts of the country, but she was seen locally last year introducing Scripps Hospital’s Alcohol Rehabilitation Treatment Center. Making commercials isn’t fun for West. “It’s hard work being on call twenty-four hours a day" she insists, “and there’s lots of tension." (When she was doing Charley's Aunt at the Lamb's Players Theatre, she received a call at dawn instructing her to be in Hollywood that afternoon for an audition. Driving back, the traffic was so heavy that she missed the first act of the show. Fortunately her performance was only in the second act. “I couldn’t afford the time to get off the freeway and look for a phone to let them know I was on my way, and everyone in the cast was wondering where I was and if I’d ever show up again,” she remembers.)

Although both West and Wenzel have managed to maintain a one-to-ten job/audition ratio, J.P. says that extensive stage training usually works against actors doing television commercials. “The consummate actor is too sensitive. He’s trained to build a character and develop a role, and he loves the art of acting. Commercials make some of them feel whored out when they have ten seconds to become an asshole over a stick of chewing gum."

West first discovered the Janice Patterson Agency two years ago through an ad J.P. had placed in the Pennysaver recruiting children for commercials. West brought her two-year-old daughter Miranda into the office hoping that Miranda would immediately dazzle the producers and would begin earning enough to put herself through Harvard. “Right now we don’t need any more two-year-olds,” J.P. told the actress bluntly, “but since we’re desperate for thirty-year-olds, we’ll take you.”

Mark Wenzel, Gail West, Ted Harchanko, Janice Patterson

Like Gail West, Frank Genetti, the “father” in an Apple II commercial that recently aired on local channels, also began making commercials by showing up in J.P.’s office last year with his child, one-and-a-half-year-old Ryan. “Ryan behaved like Dennis the Menace. He was impossible,” Genetti says, and instead of encouraging the toddler, Patterson encouraged the father to have composites made. “I’ll put you to work right away,” she assured Genetti. “There’s a big demand for executives in their early forties, and you’ve got the look.” Before long, Genetti was doing local spots for City Chevrolet, an Alzheimer’s disease public service announcement, and several others. Unlike Gail West, Frank Genetti doesn’t drive around San Diego and Los Angeles with a trunkful of composites and wardrobe changes for the cash. On the contrary, Genetti has been a successful stockbroker and has managed and owned several restaurants here and in Colorado. “I like to have a zillion things going at once,” he claims. “I can’t stand being alone. I love having people watch me. I’ve had constant attention all my life. In high school I was voted most popular, best athlete, and most likely to succeed, and I was an All-American football player at UC Berkeley. I always wanted to be a star. Maybe one day when Tom Selleck breaks a leg, one of the producers will call me. If not,” he shrugs, “when Ryan gets a little older, maybe we’ll do some father-and-son commercials.”

Richard Garcia is a Chula Vista welder whose twelve-year-old daughter Blanca has signed a contract to be represented by Janice Patterson. Because Garcia works the graveyard shift at National Steel, he sometimes forgoes a night’s sleep in order to drive Blanca to auditions in Hollywood. The Garcias became encouraged when Blanca auditioned for the Star Search TV program. There were four days of taping. Producers of the show supplied a drama coach and paid for the flight to Los Angeles and hotel accommodations for Blanca and her mother, and in the two consecutive weeks in which Blanca maintained the status of champion of a Junior Star Search, the twelve-year-old earned $5000. To date she’s been to thirty auditions and has made three local commercials, all of which have been nonspeaking parts. (The on-camera principal receives the same pay for nonspeaking as for speaking.)

“I drop everything whenever we get an audition notice,” Garcia says. “As I’m driving up, I keep thinking, this is the one. This one will make her famous!” His obsession with having a celebrity in the family is understandable. “When I was twelve years old, my mom took me to audition at a small video production company in Pasadena. The people in charge told her I had a potential for comedy. I was selected to enroll in classes to develop those talents, they told her. The classes cost a thousand dollars. My mom thought it was a scam, and it probably was. But who knows? Maybe it was a missed opportunity.” He doesn’t want his daughter to miss her opportunity. “Now there isn’t a morning that I don’t wake up and say to myself, ‘Maybe this will be the day that it happens.’ Every time the phone rings, I think, ‘Maybe this is the call.’"

Patterson

Betty Harchanko of Tierrasanta is another stage parent. Two years ago when her only child, Ted, was thirteen years old, he told his mother that being in TV commercials looked easy. “I bet I can do it!” he said, and his mother took him up on it. Shortly afterward when he signed up with the Janice Patterson Agency, he filmed a late-night Channel 6 announcement, sponsored by a small group of TV industry executives, that explained how to begin making television commercials. He was paid twenty-five dollars for the part. When he was fourteen years old, Ted was cast directly from his photo (no interview took place) and was paid seventy-five dollars plus lunch plus a cherry-coconut popsicle by a German ice cream manufacturer for carousing on a San Diego beach with two pretty young girls wearing hula skirts. (The film was shown only in Germany.) Within two years, Ted has made five commercials, including a Caliente Racetrack commercial in which he was hardly noticeable.

Before he began auditioning for television commercials, Ted’s prime interest was soccer, but today he spends his spare time taking drama classes, commercial acting classes, and voice lessons, leaving no time for sports. Even so, he considers making television commercials a hobby rather than a career because he’s realistic about competition. “If 150 kids my age audition for three roles, the odds are too much against me to take it seriously,” he realizes. (According to J.P., the golden years in commercials are for ages eighteen to twenty-four, and for little kids, the magic years are six to ten.) Even though Ted is realistic about his hobby, his auditions are top priority in his mother’s life. “There’ve been times when my car’s been on the blink and we get the call for Ted to get to L.A. for an audition. That’s when I rent cars.” she says.

What accounts for J.P.'s patience with stage parents is that she’s also a stage mother, to her daughter Nicole. “I never had any outstanding talents when I was a kid, so I pushed my dreams on Nicole. I’ve been on more than 800 sets, and that’s where I learned the business. Nicole was only six years old when she began making commercials, and I always hung around. I’ve seen what happens when kids earn more than their fathers do. Hey, I saw a guy come on the set once and yell at his wife, ‘Get your butt home right now or you'll get a divorce!' and she went home with him. I’ve seen this business split families and create all sorts of domestic problems!” And because she’s been on both sides of the issue, J.P. understands relationships between young clients, their parents, and the agents. “When Nicole was auditioning, there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for the agent. The agent was God. And then, once you really make it big, the agent becomes just an answering service,” she laughs. “Hey, what was that remark Harvey Korman made about his former agent? That he had a tree uprooted in Israel in his memory?

“About the same time that Nicole was getting into the business, I was married to a guy who was so stingy, I had to beg him for money to buy a pair of panties. He was also the kind who didn’t want his wife to work. Know what I did?” she says, fluttering her diamonds and rubies. “I began cleaning houses. That way I didn’t really have an official job. And I was able to arrange my hours to spend time on the set with Nicole.” During her short-lived career as a free-lance domestic in Los Angeles, J.P. quickly learned that if she brokered out the cleaning jobs, she’d earn more than if she did the work herself. “It was all phone work. Then I expanded into pool cleaning and paperhanging. Piece of cake! Bingo! This was my real talent — representing other people.”

J.P. answering the telephone

Her newly discovered ability coincided with six-year-old Nicole’s commercial success. To further her daughter’s marketability, J.P. took Nicole to voice, tap-dancing, and ice-skating lessons. Nicole became hooked on performing in front of the camera, and J.P. got hooked on Nicole’s ice-skating instructor, national and international ice-skating champ Jimmy Darlow. The trio has been together ever since.

That first year, according to J.P, Nicole made seventeen nationally aired commercials. With residuals, the child netted $60,000. “Kids her age were earning even more,” J.P. remembers. “Isn’t that ludicrous? How can these kids be worth that much money? When blue-collar families work hard, hold down a coupla jobs, and still can’t make the rent, there’s something that isn’t fair about all this, and sometimes I feel a little guilty,” she reflects while phones ring every minute. Br-ring! “Oh Jesus, what’ll we do now,” she shouts, lighting another Eve. “Would you believe that a client’s car broke down on the way to a shoot?”

When Jimmy Darlow was leaving for Japan to skate in the Olympics, J.P. pouted that she’d be bored in L.A. without him. “Know what he said? He said if I became an agent, I wouldn’t be bored. Maybe he was kidding, but it was a challenge, and I took him up on it,” she laughs.

She began as an apprentice for the agency representing her daughter, then worked as a subagent in a large Hollywood agency. But after these experiences J.P. says she felt as though Hollywood had “chewed her up and spit her out,” and she knew it was time to move on. “Jimmy was discouraged, too,” she recalls. “Champions were a dime a dozen in Hollywood, so he wasn’t a novelty. Being an ice-skating champ didn’t impress anyone, and he was having a hard time,” she says.

“Four and a half years ago when we came down to San Diego cold turkey, everyone in Hollywood laughed their asses off,” J.P. continues. “San Diego has some terrific natural locations. There are places that look like Venice and alleys that look like Chicago, and I was following my hunch that the industry was beginning to move away from New York and Hollywood,” she says. “I did it the hard way, though. I left Hollywood with nothing. It wasn’t easy. You shoulda seen my first office, honey. It was in the Sherman-Gilbert mansion in Heritage Park. At the turn of the century, it was a stopover for visiting actors and opera singers. It even had its own ghost,” J.P. digresses. “Uncle Alice. Naturally, my office was in Uncle Alice’s bedroom. All I had besides a ghost was a borrowed card table and the Yellow Pages. You shoulda seen me hustle. I called every swimming class, every gymnastic class, and every dance class in town. I even went to baby beauty pageants. Know why? A casting agent will agree to see a kid without previous experience, so it was easier to start with kids as clients.”

But besides her having to drum up a clientele without leads, San Diego took some getting used to. “Compared to Hollywood, this is Oklahoma by-the-sea,” she laughs. “In Hollywood, everyone has a specialty. If you’re a director who specializes in television comedy, you direct comedy shows for television, and that's all you do. Here, the same guy who writes the scripts also directs, produces, and sometimes does the casting for all different kinds of productions. Ya gotta be much more flexible in San Diego,” J.P. concludes.

She eventually became much more flexible, and the Janice Patterson Agency began to attract clients. In August of 1984, J.P, Jimmy, and Nicole celebrated success by throwing a poolside extravaganza for 200 television-connected guests at their lavish home on nearly two acres atop Mount Helix. With a live band, a circulating astrologer, five waitresses dressed as French maids, magicians, mimes, clowns, valet parking, nonstop caterers, and a John Belushi lookalike dressed in a toga à la Animal House, the scene evoked Hollywood circa 1940. “I pulled out all the stops on that one. It took me six months to pay it all off,” J.P. laughs heartily. In a flowing, diaphanous lime green gown covered with sequins, replete with matching turban and flowing veil that swept the ground, J.P. mingled with local and Hollywood producers, entertainment industry lawyers, and casting directors. “I was dressed conservatively because my mother was there,” J.P. later apologized. “I come from a background of strait-laced Elks, Masons, and D.A.R”

One of the guests that evening was Wally Schlotter, head of San Diego’s Motion Picture and Television Bureau. According to Schlotter, making television commercials is the fastest-growing service-related industry in San Diego County. “Even Canadian and European companies have been filming TV commercials in San Diego,” says Schlotter, who attributes our city's growing attraction for that industry to climate, economic feasibility, and the cooperation of his staff. “We’re the ones who secure permission for locations and make sure things run smoothly on the set,” he explains, “and the economic impact of visiting production companies on our economy has recently gone from half a million annually to eight million.’’ There are three talent unions in San Diego — SAG (Screen Actors Guild), SEG (Screen Extras Guild), and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), with a combined membership of more than a thousand — but because there are many nonunion people making commercials, it's impossible to figure precisely how many San Diegans participate in this burgeoning business. A five-year study shows that since the Motion Picture and Television Bureau opened in 1976, the amount of money the industry has spent in filming television commercials in San Diego has grown from two million to twenty-six million dollars annually, Schlotter says. J.P. claims that more than three quarters of a million dollars of that action went through her Old Town office in 1985.

Poolside chez J.P. is the setting for monthly Saturday afternoon seminars held for clients. There are canvas director’s chairs, a gold and white decorator phone, and J.P.’s voice intermittently booming out to the terraced garden and then disappearing into the microphone around her neck. The topic is rejection. “Good acting doesn’t have much to do with getting the part,” she assures her clients. “Sometimes you’re either too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, or your hair color is different than what the producer had in mind....” She suddenly interrupts the “rejection” speech with the announcement that, “Hey, ISSCO out in Sorrento Valley needs twenty men ages twenty to forty-five dressed in business attire for an eight-hour shoot starting right now. It’s a student film and there’s no pay, but it’s good on-camera experience, so get going,” she says. The men sitting and standing around the pool rush toward their cars.

After they leave, nine members of an adult education class arrive to attend a three-hour overview presentation. “So ya wanna break into commercials? Well, here’s what ya gotta do ...” the spiel begins. Although prospective clients don’t do any on-camera work, they do get an instant personal analysis.

“Whiten your teeth, honey," J.P. whispers to a large middle-age woman wearing an outrageous hat and tennis shoes. “Your appearance makes a statement," she tells them all. “Suburban mother type ... character type ... older executive," J.P. characterizes most of them.

“Right now the ad agencies are looking for Hispanics," she tells a light-skinned black woman who bluntly asks about her chances for making commercials. “Hispanics are the hottest thing in Hollywood today." As far as formal training is concerned, four studios teaching techniques for acting in television commercials have sprung up, but J.P. prefers the undertrained client. “Yi gotta watch fifteen minutes of TV commercials every day for a month," J.P. insists, “because that's how ya learn. Time’s money and nobody’s got the time to teach ya how to hold a prop so ya gotta watch the winners and they're all on TV.” She grins and pats the pompons on her beige boucle turban. “If one little hair's outta place, they gotta redo the whole shoot, so pay attention to your grooming. Be prompt, stand on your mark, say your name, hand them your photo, thank them for the audition, and leave right away. Don't hang around."

After two hours of advice, caveats, and personal tips, for which they have each paid thirty dollars to Pathways, the session degenerates into an intimate poolside Hollywood gossip session that includes name dropping and vicarious moments with Rock and Tab. They all love the Clara Peller legend of the obscure manicurist who won instant recognition and fortune with the three words in a Wendy’s commercial that were later echoed in the 1984 presidential campaign.

Two stragglers from the earlier session have remained for show business talk. Wally Kaye, who signed up with J.P nine months ago, has made four nonunion commercials with nonspeaking roles that have earned him barely enough gasoline money to keep his 1973 Cadillac running. (Before he bought the Cadillac, Wally confesses that he'd been using Dial-A-Ride, taking cabs, and begging friends to transport him to auditions.) Wally's been star-struck for a quarter of a century. Ever since he waited on Marilyn Monroe and Robert Loggia at a New York City restaurant. Today, at age forty-five, Wally shares a two-bedroom La Mesa apartment with his seventy-four-year-old mother. Between her social security checks and a few cryptic odd jobs here and there, the divorced father of three teen-agers says that he and his mother manage. “If anyone can get me to Hollywood, Janice Patterson can,” says Wally as he inhales from a cigarette. “I’ll do whatever she tells me to because I believe in her. I wanna be somebody, and she can make it happen.”

When Pamela Pillsbury, the other straggler, signed with J.P., she had already done several nonspeaking walk-ons in London in such films as Reds and The Elephant Man, and now she’s determined to make television commercials her career. “I just bought a $250 get-up to wear for a fifty-dollar singing gig,” she laughs at herself, “because you never know who’ll be in the audience. It's the element of gambling that attracts me to this business.”

It's the element of gambling that attracts J.P. to a business she describes as insane. “If Nicole and Jimmy weren’t in this business, I wouldn’t be with them. Only people in the business can understand how obsessed we are. Ya know what it’s like being on a set watching forty capable adults putting all their intelligence and all their energies into delicately arranging the right amount of flakes in a bowl of cereal with tweezers and having the desired level of milk meticulously placed in the bowl with an eye dropper? Isn’t that insane? The lengths we go to so audiences won't tune out the commercial! Instead, all that energy could be devoted to curing diseases. Why do intelligent people with busy careers keep four changes of clothing and props in their cars at all times and drive up to Hollywood on a minute’s notice? They wanna be noticed, that’s why. They wanna be different. They all have their dreams. Hey, why d'ya think I'm on the phone ninety hours a week? I gotta dream, too,” J.P. pauses. “Know what I dream about? I dream that someday one of these characters sitting around the office’ll really make it big in the movies. One day one of 'em’ll win an Oscar. When he's up on stage accepting it in front of all those people in Hollywood, he'll see me in the audience and in front of everyone, straight into the mike he’ll say, ‘Hey, J.P., thanks a bunch.' That’s my dream, sugar.”

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Janice Patterson - Image by Craig Carlson
Janice Patterson

When Janice Patterson cruises San Diego boulevards dressed in her blue fox jacket, she notices faces. If she sees a face she likes, her bejeweled fingers signal the other driver to roll down a window. Then she flicks a button and puts her turbaned head out the window of her shiny black Lincoln Continental. “Hey! Ya wanna be on TV?” she bellows. “Call SAG and tell ’em ya want the fat redhead in Old Town!”

Patterson pulls this stunt at baseball games. Little League fields, shopping centers, cinema lines, even church steps. “No place is sacred,” she laughs. “Most of the time I don’t even get out-ta the car.

“I'm not looking for glamour or for Hollywood glossies,” Patterson explains. “L.A.’s full of ’em. Lots of unemployed actors. I came to San Diego to find real people. Real Yuppies and Yummies [Young Urban Mommies], Midwestern farmers, executives, and P&G’s [Procter and Gamble types]. Ya don’t hafta be glamorous unless ya sell cars or perfume or clothes,” she elaborates. “Ya just hafta be a stereotype. Ya gotta look real.’’ The bubbly voice booming optimism at the beginning of the thought interrupts itself periodically with guffaws reminiscent of Totie Fields, then plunges to a breathless decrescendo. Her employees sometimes refer to her as the “Queen Mother,” but in the inner circle, Patterson is known simply as J.P.

J.P.'s enthusiasm is infectious; office assistants often act as off-duty talent scouts. One assistant, for example, discovered Helen Wade standing in line at the Balboa Avenue branch of Bank of America; Wade has since made several guest appearances (spoofing Sophie Tucker and Cyndi Lauper) on Larry Himmel’s half-hour TV show.

“Being in that bank line changed my life,” explains Wade, a Mae West lookalike widow who is now preparing herself for sitcom auditions in Hollywood. “There I was, waiting to deposit a check, when a stranger handed me Janice Patterson’s business card. She told me to call the office if I wanted to break into television. I have so many things to look forward to now — auditions, call-backs, seminars given by producers and make-up artists. I just dropped twenty pounds, and I’m going to lose more.”

Wade describes J.P. as a persistent bulldog. ”I owe it to her to do a good job on camera. Maybe I’ll get an audition for Murder, She Wrote,” muses the Clairemont grandmother of five. “I wanna be a star.” She means it.

During the Seventies in Hollywood, J. P. helped launch such talents as Valerie Bertinelli, Sally Kellerman, Lynda Carter, Karen Knotts (daughter of Don), and David Matthau (son of Walter). Today J.P. represents Gary Crosby (son of Bing) and is a Screen Actors Guild-franchised state- and city-licensed talent agent whose clients appear in television series on major networks and in nationally and internationally distributed films. But now J.P.’s forte is TV commercials. On national television her clients have been hawking hair dye, hamburgers, headache remedies, automobiles, peanut butter, soap, perfume, beer, Tampax, toothpaste, insurance, cereal, coffee. Cabbage Patch dolls, computers, golf balls, department stores, popcorn, and Alaska (Board of Tourism). Of the approximately 200 clients on file in her Old Town office, ninety are working steadily (Patterson also has an office in Riverside). “Steady means two or three gigs a week,” says J.P., and of those San Diego clients who are doing what she calls “Class A nationals,” several of them are earning $100,000 per year, she says.

“Wednesdays it’s the Gong Show around here!” That’s how J.P. describes her outer office when it’s packed with bartenders, attorneys, doctors, housewives, realtors, students, and bankers hoping to be chosen to sell drain cleaner and deodorant, hoping to become household faces, hoping to achieve immortality through dog food. Of the sixty or seventy per week who turn up by word of mouth, from ads in the Pennysaver, or who have literally been swept off the streets in J.P.’s slinky Lincoln or in her 1934 white Auburn, only twenty to twenty-five percent actually sign contracts (which usually give her ten percent of the client’s fees for commercials). Since J.P. no longer has the time to conduct individual interviews, there is a group of hopeful household faces from six-month-olds to eighty-year-olds listening to her opening spiel. “Don’t expect me to faint, make a phone call, and bingo! you’re sellin’ Pepsi on prime time,” she warns them. “It’s more complicated. It takes lotsa hard work, and ya gotta really be motivated. What ya need is instant availability, a reliable car, and back-up transportation. Ya need answering machines, beepers, and lotsa phone numbers. Friends’ and relatives’ phones. Anyone who knows where y'are. We gotta be able to reach ya right away, even if it’s five o’clock in the morning. If they want ya for an audition or a call-back, they wanna see ya in two, three hours. Ya gotta keep four different wardrobe changes in your car. Makeup and a razor should always be in your glove compartment. You’re always on call and ya gotta be motivated enough to drop whatever else you’re doin’ and drive to wherever they want ya t'be,” she continues. They, she explains, are casting directors.

Br-ring! The phones are going mad. Nearly every sentence is interrupted by urgent business. J.P. aptly switches gears. “Everything is priority number one around here,” she tells her audience. Br-ring! “Yes, precious wecious,” she purrs at a local casting agent as she examines her nine dragon-lady scarlet fingernails (the tenth nail is painted gold). Br-ring! “Hi, darlin’!” She lights up an Eve cigarette and; discloses to the caller that she is hopelessly addicted to Famous Amos cookies. Br-ring! She puts everyone on hold and hollers, “Let’s do coffee!” to Linda, the fifth in a series of overworked secretaries during the past few months. (“I’m impossible to work for,” J.P. admits. “I’m too demanding.”)

During a brief hiatus between phone calls, a computer spits out its urgent need for forty skateboarders for a national Mountain Dew commercial to be filmed in Presidio Park the following day. More urgent phone calls, after which J.P. separates dreamers from the dedicated. Returning her attention to the group in front of her, she tells the assemblage of prospective clients that they’ll need composite photos — photos that depict four or more poses on a single sheet — before they’ll even be considered for a casting call. “Composites can cost from $350 to $500,” she says.

In the waiting room, anxious mothers and grandmothers sit with infants on their laps, sharing with each other visions of big money. One grandmother wants to start a fund for her seven-month-old granddaughter’s education, she says. “Brooke Shields began her career as the Ivory baby,” says one of the mothers. “Jodie Foster was the Coppertone baby,” clucks another. Since America’s cornucopia of visual images is constantly being renewed, perhaps one of these babies has the look that stimulates the imagination. Maybe one of them is that magic commodity, that particular ounce of image that’s worth a pound of talent (and a few million dollars) to some corporate big spender.

On some days, the Queen Mother sweeps into the Old Town office at noon in a peach-colored ensemble and turban that match the walls of her inner sanctum, decorated with photos of her royal self posing with John Ritter and Jack Lemmon. The walls of her outer office are plastered with black-and-white glossies of her clients. Most recognizable among the local collections are the faces of Jeannie Miller, former cohost of P.M. Magazine, Kathy Diamant, cohost of Sun-Up, C.R. Jones, the Marlboro Man, and Mark Wenzel, the peripatetic mime whose whiteface unicycle antics have been amusing Sea World and Balboa Park visitors for fifteen years.

Throughout the recent holidays, Wenzel's face had been seen on MTV in a Trip West commercial. He has periodically promoted the Padres, KPRI, Trend Furniture, and the now-defunct Tuned In magazine on local stations, and he will be flown to San Jose to make several automobile commercials that are scheduled to be shown on national television as well as locally in the Bay Area. Of every ten auditions he does, Wenzel lands one job. He's made twenty-five commercials altogether, which means he's gone to approximately 250 auditions, callbacks, and actual shoots. “When I stand around in the hallway waiting for my turn, I recognize characters I've been watching on television for years. You never know their names, but the faces are familiar," he says.

Many of these auditions are in Hollywood, where J.P sends her most polished San Diego clients. “San Diego is the warm-up ground where my new clients get experience," J.P. explains, “but top-notch clients fly and drive any place there’s a high-stakes audition. Los Angeles jobs are mostly union. Union rates are $321.50 per diem [even if it’s only for an hour's work] plus extras. Most commercials made in San Diego are nonunion and the pay is peanuts, but it’s getting better all the time.”

Wenzel's one-out-of-ten ratio is above average. Some of J.P.’s clients are rewarded for their long freeway treks with only one job out of every fifteen or twenty auditions they do. “At an audition all you do is stand on your mark, say your name, hand someone your photograph, and you leave. The entire process takes less than a minute,” Wenzel explains, “and that’s all the time you have to create a fantasy and make yourself unforgettable. It's completely different from stage work, because there’s no immediate reaction. You get back on the freeway and hope they remember you. I’ve made the Hollywood-and-back run so often that by now the casting agents know me, so I've got an edge," he says. To supplement that edge, Wenzel has two Los Angeles agents, a personal manager, and Janice Patterson, and between making TV commercials (for which booking agents get ten percent of his fee) and making personal appearances, Wenzel says he’s been earning $50,000 per year for the past decade.

Patterson seminar in Old Town

“Why do I make that six-hour round-trip drive to L.A. on short notice?" he asks rhetorically. “Why do I still do public service announcements that pay nothing or practically nothing? Because I get a copy of the reel. The tapes are my resume. When you make a personal appearance, there’s no record of your performance except in the memories of the audience. When you’re on tape, you’ve got tangible evidence. And when the producer sees that tape, he knows what you can do, and either you get a call-back or you don’t."

In addition to Janice Patterson, six other agents in this city (all women) represent talent for TV commercials. Wenzel says he chose Patterson because she’s the only local agent whose computer equipment can match a client with the needs of a casting director in New York or in Hollywood, or anywhere, within seconds.

Gail West is a stage actress whose photo also graces the walls of J.P.’s waiting room. West, who relies on her dimples, she says, to make herself memorable at auditions, claims she does commercials strictly for the cash. “Commercials support my acting habit," she says. Most of her television work has been aired in other parts of the country, but she was seen locally last year introducing Scripps Hospital’s Alcohol Rehabilitation Treatment Center. Making commercials isn’t fun for West. “It’s hard work being on call twenty-four hours a day" she insists, “and there’s lots of tension." (When she was doing Charley's Aunt at the Lamb's Players Theatre, she received a call at dawn instructing her to be in Hollywood that afternoon for an audition. Driving back, the traffic was so heavy that she missed the first act of the show. Fortunately her performance was only in the second act. “I couldn’t afford the time to get off the freeway and look for a phone to let them know I was on my way, and everyone in the cast was wondering where I was and if I’d ever show up again,” she remembers.)

Although both West and Wenzel have managed to maintain a one-to-ten job/audition ratio, J.P. says that extensive stage training usually works against actors doing television commercials. “The consummate actor is too sensitive. He’s trained to build a character and develop a role, and he loves the art of acting. Commercials make some of them feel whored out when they have ten seconds to become an asshole over a stick of chewing gum."

West first discovered the Janice Patterson Agency two years ago through an ad J.P. had placed in the Pennysaver recruiting children for commercials. West brought her two-year-old daughter Miranda into the office hoping that Miranda would immediately dazzle the producers and would begin earning enough to put herself through Harvard. “Right now we don’t need any more two-year-olds,” J.P. told the actress bluntly, “but since we’re desperate for thirty-year-olds, we’ll take you.”

Mark Wenzel, Gail West, Ted Harchanko, Janice Patterson

Like Gail West, Frank Genetti, the “father” in an Apple II commercial that recently aired on local channels, also began making commercials by showing up in J.P.’s office last year with his child, one-and-a-half-year-old Ryan. “Ryan behaved like Dennis the Menace. He was impossible,” Genetti says, and instead of encouraging the toddler, Patterson encouraged the father to have composites made. “I’ll put you to work right away,” she assured Genetti. “There’s a big demand for executives in their early forties, and you’ve got the look.” Before long, Genetti was doing local spots for City Chevrolet, an Alzheimer’s disease public service announcement, and several others. Unlike Gail West, Frank Genetti doesn’t drive around San Diego and Los Angeles with a trunkful of composites and wardrobe changes for the cash. On the contrary, Genetti has been a successful stockbroker and has managed and owned several restaurants here and in Colorado. “I like to have a zillion things going at once,” he claims. “I can’t stand being alone. I love having people watch me. I’ve had constant attention all my life. In high school I was voted most popular, best athlete, and most likely to succeed, and I was an All-American football player at UC Berkeley. I always wanted to be a star. Maybe one day when Tom Selleck breaks a leg, one of the producers will call me. If not,” he shrugs, “when Ryan gets a little older, maybe we’ll do some father-and-son commercials.”

Richard Garcia is a Chula Vista welder whose twelve-year-old daughter Blanca has signed a contract to be represented by Janice Patterson. Because Garcia works the graveyard shift at National Steel, he sometimes forgoes a night’s sleep in order to drive Blanca to auditions in Hollywood. The Garcias became encouraged when Blanca auditioned for the Star Search TV program. There were four days of taping. Producers of the show supplied a drama coach and paid for the flight to Los Angeles and hotel accommodations for Blanca and her mother, and in the two consecutive weeks in which Blanca maintained the status of champion of a Junior Star Search, the twelve-year-old earned $5000. To date she’s been to thirty auditions and has made three local commercials, all of which have been nonspeaking parts. (The on-camera principal receives the same pay for nonspeaking as for speaking.)

“I drop everything whenever we get an audition notice,” Garcia says. “As I’m driving up, I keep thinking, this is the one. This one will make her famous!” His obsession with having a celebrity in the family is understandable. “When I was twelve years old, my mom took me to audition at a small video production company in Pasadena. The people in charge told her I had a potential for comedy. I was selected to enroll in classes to develop those talents, they told her. The classes cost a thousand dollars. My mom thought it was a scam, and it probably was. But who knows? Maybe it was a missed opportunity.” He doesn’t want his daughter to miss her opportunity. “Now there isn’t a morning that I don’t wake up and say to myself, ‘Maybe this will be the day that it happens.’ Every time the phone rings, I think, ‘Maybe this is the call.’"

Patterson

Betty Harchanko of Tierrasanta is another stage parent. Two years ago when her only child, Ted, was thirteen years old, he told his mother that being in TV commercials looked easy. “I bet I can do it!” he said, and his mother took him up on it. Shortly afterward when he signed up with the Janice Patterson Agency, he filmed a late-night Channel 6 announcement, sponsored by a small group of TV industry executives, that explained how to begin making television commercials. He was paid twenty-five dollars for the part. When he was fourteen years old, Ted was cast directly from his photo (no interview took place) and was paid seventy-five dollars plus lunch plus a cherry-coconut popsicle by a German ice cream manufacturer for carousing on a San Diego beach with two pretty young girls wearing hula skirts. (The film was shown only in Germany.) Within two years, Ted has made five commercials, including a Caliente Racetrack commercial in which he was hardly noticeable.

Before he began auditioning for television commercials, Ted’s prime interest was soccer, but today he spends his spare time taking drama classes, commercial acting classes, and voice lessons, leaving no time for sports. Even so, he considers making television commercials a hobby rather than a career because he’s realistic about competition. “If 150 kids my age audition for three roles, the odds are too much against me to take it seriously,” he realizes. (According to J.P., the golden years in commercials are for ages eighteen to twenty-four, and for little kids, the magic years are six to ten.) Even though Ted is realistic about his hobby, his auditions are top priority in his mother’s life. “There’ve been times when my car’s been on the blink and we get the call for Ted to get to L.A. for an audition. That’s when I rent cars.” she says.

What accounts for J.P.'s patience with stage parents is that she’s also a stage mother, to her daughter Nicole. “I never had any outstanding talents when I was a kid, so I pushed my dreams on Nicole. I’ve been on more than 800 sets, and that’s where I learned the business. Nicole was only six years old when she began making commercials, and I always hung around. I’ve seen what happens when kids earn more than their fathers do. Hey, I saw a guy come on the set once and yell at his wife, ‘Get your butt home right now or you'll get a divorce!' and she went home with him. I’ve seen this business split families and create all sorts of domestic problems!” And because she’s been on both sides of the issue, J.P. understands relationships between young clients, their parents, and the agents. “When Nicole was auditioning, there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for the agent. The agent was God. And then, once you really make it big, the agent becomes just an answering service,” she laughs. “Hey, what was that remark Harvey Korman made about his former agent? That he had a tree uprooted in Israel in his memory?

“About the same time that Nicole was getting into the business, I was married to a guy who was so stingy, I had to beg him for money to buy a pair of panties. He was also the kind who didn’t want his wife to work. Know what I did?” she says, fluttering her diamonds and rubies. “I began cleaning houses. That way I didn’t really have an official job. And I was able to arrange my hours to spend time on the set with Nicole.” During her short-lived career as a free-lance domestic in Los Angeles, J.P. quickly learned that if she brokered out the cleaning jobs, she’d earn more than if she did the work herself. “It was all phone work. Then I expanded into pool cleaning and paperhanging. Piece of cake! Bingo! This was my real talent — representing other people.”

J.P. answering the telephone

Her newly discovered ability coincided with six-year-old Nicole’s commercial success. To further her daughter’s marketability, J.P. took Nicole to voice, tap-dancing, and ice-skating lessons. Nicole became hooked on performing in front of the camera, and J.P. got hooked on Nicole’s ice-skating instructor, national and international ice-skating champ Jimmy Darlow. The trio has been together ever since.

That first year, according to J.P, Nicole made seventeen nationally aired commercials. With residuals, the child netted $60,000. “Kids her age were earning even more,” J.P. remembers. “Isn’t that ludicrous? How can these kids be worth that much money? When blue-collar families work hard, hold down a coupla jobs, and still can’t make the rent, there’s something that isn’t fair about all this, and sometimes I feel a little guilty,” she reflects while phones ring every minute. Br-ring! “Oh Jesus, what’ll we do now,” she shouts, lighting another Eve. “Would you believe that a client’s car broke down on the way to a shoot?”

When Jimmy Darlow was leaving for Japan to skate in the Olympics, J.P. pouted that she’d be bored in L.A. without him. “Know what he said? He said if I became an agent, I wouldn’t be bored. Maybe he was kidding, but it was a challenge, and I took him up on it,” she laughs.

She began as an apprentice for the agency representing her daughter, then worked as a subagent in a large Hollywood agency. But after these experiences J.P. says she felt as though Hollywood had “chewed her up and spit her out,” and she knew it was time to move on. “Jimmy was discouraged, too,” she recalls. “Champions were a dime a dozen in Hollywood, so he wasn’t a novelty. Being an ice-skating champ didn’t impress anyone, and he was having a hard time,” she says.

“Four and a half years ago when we came down to San Diego cold turkey, everyone in Hollywood laughed their asses off,” J.P. continues. “San Diego has some terrific natural locations. There are places that look like Venice and alleys that look like Chicago, and I was following my hunch that the industry was beginning to move away from New York and Hollywood,” she says. “I did it the hard way, though. I left Hollywood with nothing. It wasn’t easy. You shoulda seen my first office, honey. It was in the Sherman-Gilbert mansion in Heritage Park. At the turn of the century, it was a stopover for visiting actors and opera singers. It even had its own ghost,” J.P. digresses. “Uncle Alice. Naturally, my office was in Uncle Alice’s bedroom. All I had besides a ghost was a borrowed card table and the Yellow Pages. You shoulda seen me hustle. I called every swimming class, every gymnastic class, and every dance class in town. I even went to baby beauty pageants. Know why? A casting agent will agree to see a kid without previous experience, so it was easier to start with kids as clients.”

But besides her having to drum up a clientele without leads, San Diego took some getting used to. “Compared to Hollywood, this is Oklahoma by-the-sea,” she laughs. “In Hollywood, everyone has a specialty. If you’re a director who specializes in television comedy, you direct comedy shows for television, and that's all you do. Here, the same guy who writes the scripts also directs, produces, and sometimes does the casting for all different kinds of productions. Ya gotta be much more flexible in San Diego,” J.P. concludes.

She eventually became much more flexible, and the Janice Patterson Agency began to attract clients. In August of 1984, J.P, Jimmy, and Nicole celebrated success by throwing a poolside extravaganza for 200 television-connected guests at their lavish home on nearly two acres atop Mount Helix. With a live band, a circulating astrologer, five waitresses dressed as French maids, magicians, mimes, clowns, valet parking, nonstop caterers, and a John Belushi lookalike dressed in a toga à la Animal House, the scene evoked Hollywood circa 1940. “I pulled out all the stops on that one. It took me six months to pay it all off,” J.P. laughs heartily. In a flowing, diaphanous lime green gown covered with sequins, replete with matching turban and flowing veil that swept the ground, J.P. mingled with local and Hollywood producers, entertainment industry lawyers, and casting directors. “I was dressed conservatively because my mother was there,” J.P. later apologized. “I come from a background of strait-laced Elks, Masons, and D.A.R”

One of the guests that evening was Wally Schlotter, head of San Diego’s Motion Picture and Television Bureau. According to Schlotter, making television commercials is the fastest-growing service-related industry in San Diego County. “Even Canadian and European companies have been filming TV commercials in San Diego,” says Schlotter, who attributes our city's growing attraction for that industry to climate, economic feasibility, and the cooperation of his staff. “We’re the ones who secure permission for locations and make sure things run smoothly on the set,” he explains, “and the economic impact of visiting production companies on our economy has recently gone from half a million annually to eight million.’’ There are three talent unions in San Diego — SAG (Screen Actors Guild), SEG (Screen Extras Guild), and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), with a combined membership of more than a thousand — but because there are many nonunion people making commercials, it's impossible to figure precisely how many San Diegans participate in this burgeoning business. A five-year study shows that since the Motion Picture and Television Bureau opened in 1976, the amount of money the industry has spent in filming television commercials in San Diego has grown from two million to twenty-six million dollars annually, Schlotter says. J.P. claims that more than three quarters of a million dollars of that action went through her Old Town office in 1985.

Poolside chez J.P. is the setting for monthly Saturday afternoon seminars held for clients. There are canvas director’s chairs, a gold and white decorator phone, and J.P.’s voice intermittently booming out to the terraced garden and then disappearing into the microphone around her neck. The topic is rejection. “Good acting doesn’t have much to do with getting the part,” she assures her clients. “Sometimes you’re either too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, or your hair color is different than what the producer had in mind....” She suddenly interrupts the “rejection” speech with the announcement that, “Hey, ISSCO out in Sorrento Valley needs twenty men ages twenty to forty-five dressed in business attire for an eight-hour shoot starting right now. It’s a student film and there’s no pay, but it’s good on-camera experience, so get going,” she says. The men sitting and standing around the pool rush toward their cars.

After they leave, nine members of an adult education class arrive to attend a three-hour overview presentation. “So ya wanna break into commercials? Well, here’s what ya gotta do ...” the spiel begins. Although prospective clients don’t do any on-camera work, they do get an instant personal analysis.

“Whiten your teeth, honey," J.P. whispers to a large middle-age woman wearing an outrageous hat and tennis shoes. “Your appearance makes a statement," she tells them all. “Suburban mother type ... character type ... older executive," J.P. characterizes most of them.

“Right now the ad agencies are looking for Hispanics," she tells a light-skinned black woman who bluntly asks about her chances for making commercials. “Hispanics are the hottest thing in Hollywood today." As far as formal training is concerned, four studios teaching techniques for acting in television commercials have sprung up, but J.P. prefers the undertrained client. “Yi gotta watch fifteen minutes of TV commercials every day for a month," J.P. insists, “because that's how ya learn. Time’s money and nobody’s got the time to teach ya how to hold a prop so ya gotta watch the winners and they're all on TV.” She grins and pats the pompons on her beige boucle turban. “If one little hair's outta place, they gotta redo the whole shoot, so pay attention to your grooming. Be prompt, stand on your mark, say your name, hand them your photo, thank them for the audition, and leave right away. Don't hang around."

After two hours of advice, caveats, and personal tips, for which they have each paid thirty dollars to Pathways, the session degenerates into an intimate poolside Hollywood gossip session that includes name dropping and vicarious moments with Rock and Tab. They all love the Clara Peller legend of the obscure manicurist who won instant recognition and fortune with the three words in a Wendy’s commercial that were later echoed in the 1984 presidential campaign.

Two stragglers from the earlier session have remained for show business talk. Wally Kaye, who signed up with J.P nine months ago, has made four nonunion commercials with nonspeaking roles that have earned him barely enough gasoline money to keep his 1973 Cadillac running. (Before he bought the Cadillac, Wally confesses that he'd been using Dial-A-Ride, taking cabs, and begging friends to transport him to auditions.) Wally's been star-struck for a quarter of a century. Ever since he waited on Marilyn Monroe and Robert Loggia at a New York City restaurant. Today, at age forty-five, Wally shares a two-bedroom La Mesa apartment with his seventy-four-year-old mother. Between her social security checks and a few cryptic odd jobs here and there, the divorced father of three teen-agers says that he and his mother manage. “If anyone can get me to Hollywood, Janice Patterson can,” says Wally as he inhales from a cigarette. “I’ll do whatever she tells me to because I believe in her. I wanna be somebody, and she can make it happen.”

When Pamela Pillsbury, the other straggler, signed with J.P., she had already done several nonspeaking walk-ons in London in such films as Reds and The Elephant Man, and now she’s determined to make television commercials her career. “I just bought a $250 get-up to wear for a fifty-dollar singing gig,” she laughs at herself, “because you never know who’ll be in the audience. It's the element of gambling that attracts me to this business.”

It's the element of gambling that attracts J.P. to a business she describes as insane. “If Nicole and Jimmy weren’t in this business, I wouldn’t be with them. Only people in the business can understand how obsessed we are. Ya know what it’s like being on a set watching forty capable adults putting all their intelligence and all their energies into delicately arranging the right amount of flakes in a bowl of cereal with tweezers and having the desired level of milk meticulously placed in the bowl with an eye dropper? Isn’t that insane? The lengths we go to so audiences won't tune out the commercial! Instead, all that energy could be devoted to curing diseases. Why do intelligent people with busy careers keep four changes of clothing and props in their cars at all times and drive up to Hollywood on a minute’s notice? They wanna be noticed, that’s why. They wanna be different. They all have their dreams. Hey, why d'ya think I'm on the phone ninety hours a week? I gotta dream, too,” J.P. pauses. “Know what I dream about? I dream that someday one of these characters sitting around the office’ll really make it big in the movies. One day one of 'em’ll win an Oscar. When he's up on stage accepting it in front of all those people in Hollywood, he'll see me in the audience and in front of everyone, straight into the mike he’ll say, ‘Hey, J.P., thanks a bunch.' That’s my dream, sugar.”

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