Tough to tell the hour when fame and fortune, like lightning, strikes.
The oatmeal advocate Wilford Brimley made it to Hollywood with a measured amount of maturity. Another advocate of a sort, Ruth Westheimer, did the same. And not to be forgotten, Clara Peller, who found late-in-life acclaim asking about the organic structure of hamburger.
Yet this is an age where advertisers find their beef in television audiences primarily from 18 to 35 and where the movie and music businesses pursue youth in Ponce de Leon single-mindedness.
But there are people who swim against the demographic tides and give new meaning to middle age and beyond.
People like Rick Reynolds and Charles Joffe.
Here’s Reynolds, his biological clock sweeping past 39, the years of stand-up comedy clubs behind him, his hair thinning, his shoulders stooping, in his words “bland and nondescript,” nightly telling the Reynolds family saga, wart-gags and all, at the Canon Theatre in his one-man show, “Only the Truth Is Funny.” But for him, life has never been busier nor show business livelier.
When you have the presidents of four television networks asking you to write something, anything, just so long as it’s funny, 30 minutes long, funny, up to network standards, and funny, you’ve reached the peak, you’ve climbed every mountain, you’re Rocky at the top of the steps.
That’s been happening to Reynolds in the eight weeks he’s been at the Canon and in the past year since he talked his way into the San Francisco Improv with a 90-minute, one-man theater piece in a showroom where 10 minutes of stand-up is a career. Now for Reynolds, it’s show-business executives in hot pursuit. Directors at the door. Producers on their cellulars.
It’s all a “weird perk,” says Reynolds of his new, sought-after status in Hollywood. He’s far more comfortable being known as Cooper’s (his newborn son) dad or as Petaluma’s second best-known export (poultry comes first). “It’s hard to assimilate. It’s so weird that someone can make a lot of money doing this, and people point you out when what I do is no more important than baking bread. But I drive up to the theater at night and I see people waiting out there and it’s all focused on me. It’s really a thrill. It would be sad if it weren’t my career.”
What his singular performance has apparently demonstrated is that the Reynolds rap is real, he can write and he can act. That’s why he has a few projects and some choices to make once the current show closes Nov. 10 to make room for the scheduled return of “Love Letters.”
Reynolds may be spending his mid-passage years at all of the below:
* Developing a television network project, a series pilot or two.
* Writing a feature film.
* Taping “Only the Truth Is Funny” for Showtime, the cable network that is also a co-producer of the live show.
* Seeing a longer, book version of the show come out from Hyperion, a division of Disney.
* Taping “Only the Truth . . .” for the new recording company Gang of Seven.
* Or taking the show back on the road. It’s only been presented in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. It just might be ready for, say, Seattle.
Reynolds has options most of us can only dream about. The important thing is that he has options, that he can “control his destiny.”
The quoted words belong to Charles Joffe. He and his partner of 35 years, Jack Rollins, know something about options. As producers and managers, they’ve been involved in the careers of Woody Allen, David Letterman, Robin Williams, Elaine May, Billy Crystal and a few others.
They also know something about retirement: It doesn’t always live up to its billing.
Consider their now overflowing plate, one year after getting unretired:
* Their R and J Productions is developing a pilot with Lorimar for a half-hour series for ABC Television.
* They have a deal to produce four feature movies for Showtime, one green-lighted, three yet to be decided.
* They have a moviemaking deal with TriStar.
* And then there’s that handshake deal (that’s their way of doing business) to manage the destiny of Rick Reynolds.
Not exactly most people’s idea of retirement. “It’s a juggling act,” says Joffe. Five years ago, Joffe retired, followed later by Rollins, although they maintain their Woody Allen and David Letterman connections. For three years, Joffe taught at UCLA Extension, telling actors, directors, writers and producers what he knew best: how to turn professional.
Lured to San Francisco to see Reynolds perform, he telephoned his partner and told him, “Let’s go back to work.” There would be no thoughts of senior discounts.
What they saw was incisive, biting human comedy, a new talent. Talent can get you to San Francisco. Connections get you to Hollywood. And connections is what Joffe and Rollins have. Their project: Get Reynolds known beyond the Bay Area and by show-business decision makers.
Goodby, stand-up. Hello, showcase.
Goodby, San Francisco. Hello, New York and Los Angeles.
“We knew he had all the ingredients,” Joffe says. “Now that we’ve gotten this far we will sit down and see what Rick wants to do.”
Most other actors, writers and stand-ups crave the decision-making facing Reynolds and his handlers, hoping fame if not lightning would strike them. That’s why we see so many showvainists springing up all over Hollywood in one-person performances.
An economy stuck in slow-mo has also contributed to this outbreak. The showcase is a model of private enterprise and public performance. All a performer needs is a script, talent, someone to turn on the lights, someone to sell the tickets and someone to tell the actor when to get off and move on, a function usually performed by a landlord.
So we see Eileen Atkins appropriately alone in Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” at the Westwood Playhouse; Susan Tyrrell has moved uptown from Santa Monica to do “My Rotten Life” at the Cinegrill at the Hollywood Roosevelt; Rita Rudner will be in concert next month at the Wiltern; Sandra Bernhard is scheduled for the Fonda, also in November. Paul Hogan traveled from Australia for his stage debut last night at UCLA (actually a taping for an HBO special). And at the Tiffany, Norway’s Juni Dahr is scheduled next month for two one-woman shows, “Ibsen Women” and “Joan of Arc.”
And if you want more solo turns and can look hard enough you might find the one-person movies of recent memory by Lily Tomlin and Eric Bogosian showing somewhere, for even in Hollywood, it turns out, lightning doesn’t always strike the same person twice.