I’ve waited a lifetime to say…”I’m not a Janitor…but I play one on TV.” Yes folks ‘Janitor Johnny’ at your service at popular Screen Actor Guild prices. Have Mop will Travel. They call me ‘Sanitation Schmear Starr’ and the family is dang proud of it. Theatre Degree get thee gone sirrah (King Lear for those asking).
“Richard” is the other Janitor Background booked today on this Hip Hit Violent Cult Cable Show featuring a Major 1990s TV & Movie Comic-Book Franchise Star in his successful Comeback Series (a fine hint kiddies). “Richard” is a Mid-Forties Strong Masculine Latino who plays a lot of Cops, Army Guys and Janitors. His first words at 6:30 this morning are “You’re White. There are no White Janitors.” I replied “Gee I play them all the time when done with Cricket” Okay not really. I actually said “Oh. Ahhhh. Hmmm. I’m John Starr. Hi.” Thankfully the 2nd AD told us to jump in the Van from Base Camp to Location Set.
And what a Location. We’re shooting at an Industrial Warehouse doubling for a Mental Institute in an unincorporated part of East Los Angeles. Sorry but everyone is talking a lot about how scary the neighborhood is (the Off-Duty Real Police/Security Team is in full force). Wardrobe puts us in matching Work Overalls. Make-Up tells me to remove my glasses. Me without glasses. It’s a Whole New Look. Tough. Rough. And Ready.
The Action Scene we’re Shooting: Lovely Daughter (a Regular) has been kidnapped over a 5 episode arc and is held prisoner in this State Run Nut-House. Her Hero Father (The 90s Star) and his Band of Buddy Ex-Cons Who Live Life By Their Own Rules break her out in a Gun Battle Escape and desperate Pick-Up Truck tires squealing 360 Stunt-Driving Dust Busting Get-Away witnessed by two Masculine Shaved-Headed Janitors on the Loading Dock (and one of them is totally me). Me.
Oh my goodness but choreographing Gun Battles takes time. Something very important about no one getting hurt. Which brings us to this week’s delightful trip in the ‘Way-Back Machine’ called “John’s Misfire.” In 1974 I was booked for the first time as a “Pedestrian” for one episode of MARY HARTMAN MARY HARTMAN (the 1st Situation Comedy Soap Opera). I was in a Crowd Scene watching a Killer hold someone’s Daughter captive in a store (isn’t it always someone’s Daughter?). We shot it on the same Sound Stage where 1927’s Al Jolson “1st Talkie” JAZZ SINGER was filmed (now it’s KTLA and they shoot HANNA MONTANA there. Yes really). I got noticed for being the only Extra using the Popcorn provided to toss and catch in my mouth. It became my first on-camera “bit” and I was recalled for 10 more episodes and given an Upgrade to play “Killer’s Best Friend”. And I got to be the Killer’s ‘Hand-Double’ too (‘Double’ Bump. More Dough). Production saved money hiring me instead of paying Full-Rate for the Guest Actor on a day he had no other lines. So the Prop guy hands me a Loaded Blank Hand Gun and says just pull the trigger when they yell “Action!” There’s a Crowd slowly coming to the front of the store and Sound Guy plays back pre-recorded Killer’s voice over Mega-Phone “Get Back or I’ll Shoot!” and you see my real hand with the Pistol creep around the door and I fire On-Cue. And almost really kill or injure several people. Someone (let’s call him Head of Props…but no name calling please) forgot to tell me to aim the Blank Gun towards the floor. But this a-hole instead of fessing up blames it on me like I’m some kind of idiot who pointed a Blank Gun directly at people 10 feet away. Didn’t I know how dangerous these were? Well. actually no. I am sure it is your job to tell me that before you put a Gun in my hand. But I kept my mouth shut instead. Took the heat and most everyone quickly found out the truth. I was getting a lot of back-slaps by the end of that day from Crew who said I handled it all like a pro (I was all of 19). Lucky for me no one else liked Prop Guy. Timing. It was a wonderful 11 episode introduction to being a Regular Extra and the exciting possibilities of a career as a ‘Bit Player’. And thankfully no blood was shed by Johnny Two Lines (or as a favorite Casting Director sweetly calls me “Johnny One Note”).
Back to today. The Stunt Team is gutsy & fantastic and the escalating Fist Fight Shoot-Out after many thrilling Takes with much Shot-Coverage is completed. Surprise…the Daughter Escapes. Did I mention that after the 1st establishing Wide Shot the Director thought the Janitors were an “action distraction” and we were cut? We were held “just in case” they changed their minds…which they didn’t. We never were used again and won’t be on the show. Walking back to the Van some crew bitch murmured “clean-up on aisle five”…
P.S. In the late 1940s one of my Dad’s first jobs was writing for Al Jolson’s Radio Show (just before Dad worked for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin).
Check out Ben Starr’s amazing Producer/Writer Career on IMDb: