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Putting the holly in Hollywood; tips from Tombudsman

LETTER FROM L.A.: Putting the holly in Hollywood; tips from Tombudsman

copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


            Supposedly Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” because the lack of snow in Beverly Hills made him homesick. Any transplanted New Yorker can sympathize with him. But still, it’s not like the Christmas spirit is put away with the props out here (unlike the work, which has pretty much stopped). Toluca Lake, which is a walk away from Warner Brothers and has been home to actors as different as George Clooney and Bob Hope, holds a festival every year, with lots of cookies and drinkables (one jewelry store offered champagne) as well as carolers in a red and white, holly-hung  truck, riding up and down Riverside (the main drag) and waving to the strollers on the sidewalk. Director/producer Gary Marshall (“Pretty Women”, “Mork and Mindy”, etc) hosts a Santa Claus at his Falcon Theater (which is build on a French design and named for his old softball team.) The marching band this year included John Ratzenberger “Cliff” from “Cheers”. And so on.

            My own favorite stretch, Tujunga Avenue in Studio City, is most known to the rest of the world as the site of Vitello’s, where Robert Blake went the night his wife was shot. But it’s got a lot of other things going for it, not least the Aroma Café, where stars, students and aspiring writers mingle or browse the books in Portrait of a Bookstore, which is in the back. Studio City proper has its own, much larger, holiday fair on Ventura Boulevard, but the one on Tujunga is always fun, with crowds going between the gift shops, gourmet food store, spa and other attractions, including a stage set up in the tiny mini-mall on the corner. It’s all got a family feel – if your family includes TV personalities, musicians, producers and other such.

            I should mention too that Hollywood has its own, crushingly crowded parade. I skipped it again this year – and missed a bomb scare.


            As Back Stage West's “Tombudsman”, actor and journalist Tom Mills has been helping his fellow actors fight scams and ignorance since long before Internet boards like Wolfesden ( allowed actors to trade information. Now he’s got a book out: L.A. From A to Z: The Actor’s Guide to Surviving and Succeeding in Los Angeles . Years of answering questions have made him pretty knowledgeable, which made his recent appearance at Take One! Bookstore very useful for the actors who attended.

            One person piped up that they already had an agent, and a manager, and that they sent out postcards, and yet, nothing was happening. “Do it again,” Mills said, “That’s what we do as actors. Don’t do it, you won’t work. It’s about marketing.” On workshops, he said he doesn’t do them, but understands why some people do. Still, he sees them proliferating (despite recent moves against them) and less and less CD’s doing generals or otherwise seeing actors without them. He also pointed out that “lots of CD’s aren’t working either” and so there’s pressure on them to do the workshops.

            Does he always follow his own advice? Uh… no. It is NOT for instance a good idea to call CD’s. “But there are occasions when you break the rules.”

            He’s big on mailings, and said he’s gotten auditions from them. First send a headshot and resume, he said, preferably with a (short) personal note, then follow up with postcards.

            The overall picture? “It’s gotten worse for actors. There’s no more Movies of the Week – they’re all being shot in Vancouver. Work that was union is going non-union.” Someone else brought up Reality TV. He later added real people casting, and told of how he’d gone on an audition to play a fireman, only to discover that he was the only person there who wasn’t an actual fireman. After this litany though, he said, “But there never was a time when being an actor was easy.”

            He said that writing a column that may put him at odds with industry figures but really hasn’t hurt his career. “And I wouldn’t want to work with the people it bothers.” One thing has changed though – he took his picture out of the paper, after walking into too many auditions and having people say, “Hey, you’re Tombudsman.”

            Often with gratitude, I’m sure.