I’ve worked with Professional Child Actors since the Hit TV Show ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ in 1979 (& yes everyone knew back then, the path those youngsters were already on). They were nice to me. The good news is not every single kid in Show Biz these days is a Demon Seed. Just most.
“Wacky Balloon Guy” Johnny
Today I’ve been hired to be “Wacky Balloon Guy” on a TV Comedy, shooting on location at a Palace sized Mansion north of the city (call the area “Rocky Ridge”). Smokey Robinson lives in the Tudor Mansion down the street. Hi Smokey. These days many simple old-school things have new exciting names for no good reason (change change go away, go and visit Doris Day). 10 years ago I made “Balloon Animals.” Now, instead, I am called a “Balloon Artist”. Fancy. Excuse me while I tie a knot in this.
My Balloon Crowns are “like Art”?
At ‘Base Camp’ a burly Transportation Guy asks “Could you make a Pink Poodle for my 2 year old please?” Gladly. Wardrobe tells me they love my Burnt Rust Short Sleeve Summer Silk Shirt & Ralph Lauren Khaki Cargo Shorts so much, their Leading Man is already wearing the identical Outfit. Oops, I have their good taste. Instead they let me borrow their Loudest Vintage Aloha Hawaiian Shirt if I’ll make them a Giraffe, an Elephant & Elmo. Gladly. Thank you ‘YouTube’ for the “How to Twist Elmo Balloon” tutorial (his eyes are so tricky). I ask if I can now take a Van to the Mansion Location Set and the Driver replies “Not in that Shirt.” He’s kidding. I think.
It’s a Fake Upscale Birthday Party for a very rich 6 year old & his supposedly sweet and friendly private school chums. 15 kids are booked as Extras (& most are greedy & spoiled … & Production knows in the 1st hour, that Houston has a problem). These little Angels have their real-life Mommies hanging out back in 1 of the 3 huge garages. Let me repeat that…only one Mom is watching her son. The rest of the actual parents are not bothering to watch their own kids, for hours, while we shoot all over this massive house. The adult Background Performers, who are assigned to play each kid’s Fake Parents, me, and a Production Assistant on Walkie-Talkie inside the Grand Entry Hall, are all awaiting our cues to come out the front door on “Action!” I’m told to start pumping out balloon animals so each child has one in every scene all day. Until they pop them accidentally repeatedly because they really are 6 year olds & want to rub the balloons & squeeze them & can not stand still. My balloons are irresistible. Pop! Pop! Pop goes the weasel & my nerves. I paste a smile on my face and pretend that patience thy name is ‘Balloon Artist Johnny.’
“The Cement Pond”
Mansions to the left of me … Mansions to the right, & here I am stuck with the kiddies again. We are now out by the large pool & the children do not want to follow the 2nd ADs’ instructions. The kids are repeatedly told to give the animal balloons back to me after each Scene Take so everything matches. Instead the girls (who are far worse then the boys) fight over everything. We are On Set & still they cry & scream. Where are the Parents? Oh, Drinking Turkish Coffee in a 4 Car Garage? Nice. Never mind, don’t bother them. Only one Mom continues to watch her kid (nice child & Mom was polite & on top of it). The Script Girl tells me my Balloon Crowns are “like art”. The kids think differently and keep popping stuff faster than I can pump and twist (the new dance craze). I go through my 1st bag of 100 balloons before lunch. Uh oh. Thankfully I have an emergency bag of 200 I grab from my backpack. By the end of the days my fingers are a bit raw from tying knots but my animals are a smash. The sharp kids keep their Crowns & get to wear them in the big gift-unwrapping scene. These kids are featured, & I keep hearing “No no…use the kids with the balloons.” The Bratty She-Devil Spawns have bubkis (nothing) after popping all their multiple Crowns. Hello and welcome to a learning Karma experience children. There is no sense of guilt as these kids are politely shamed by Production. All day long. Don’t ‘cha know?
Late in the day, I’m told to switch to something simple … just Swords … because they’re faster. Suddenly everyone is Luke Skywalker & the fighting gets so out of hand, the parents are finally called over to talk some sense into their mini-monsters. The Moms all think that Production is talking about the other trouble makers, not their little darlings. Wrong. The Crew is placing bets on which kid will melt down 1st. I’ve got my money on Bratty Chatty with the pigtails. She wins ‘Worst Behaved’ behind her back. I heard a PA gladly repeat it on the in-house mike PA system.
“Notice me much?”
While the Prop Crew re-wrap identical real toys to be repeatedly ripped open during multiple camera angle coverage, I decide to sneak around …
“Ellie May git down here right quick!”
This Palace has Verandas, Terraces, a Tennis & Basketball Court & a Pool House Bar straight out of Margarittaville. The decorating is very “One Grecian Urn” (more like ’25 Grecian Urns’). Question: Should there be a limit on too many Chandeliers & Marble Columns? Answer: Please God Yes. Mix 1 part ‘Dynasty’ & 2 parts ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ then toss in a daughter called “Ellie May”…
“I like Fireplace with Naked Gal Statues. You, too?”
Just before wrapping, the 2nd AD asks, as a favor to her, if I will please make each kid just one more animal balloon for them to take home. Cue screaming Kids. What a treat to answer their demands “Just One each.” “But my Mom says I can have as many as I want!” “Really? Cause I’m making only one for you & if you pop it no more.” Yes folks I said “no” to spoiled misbehaving professional brats & loved it. Meanwhile I privately complimented 3 Mothers on their charming kids who followed directions & were polite all day (hope for the world).The rest of the Parents should take a hard look at why they are doing this to their 6 year olds besides dreams of money-makers. Not that I’d judge (okay I’ll judge…’Danger – Bad Parenting Crossing!’).
Back to ‘Diff’rent Strokes’…the fact that my talented Dad co-produced & co-wrote the show may have had a lot to do with me getting repeatedly hired for “Under 5” Bits (okay Norman Lear gave Dad “Nepotism of the Year” Award once…happy now?). Anywhoo, I was booked as a Delivery Boy who rang that show’s Penthouse Doorbell in so many episodes, my family still kids me with my personal classic line “Package for Mr. Drummond.” And will I cash those $3 Residual Checks that still trickle in? Gladly.
Check out my Dad Ben Starr’s incredible Producer/Writer Career on IMDb (click here).