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Four Years Before the Cast

When Jeffrey Paul Whitman hit Hollywood 10 years ago, he was determined to be Tom Cruise. Instead, he wound up as Richard Henry Dana Jr.

OK, he isn’t getting rich. But Whitman, 36, is philosophical about it: “In my own way, I’m making a small contribution to society. And having a great time at it.”

By day, Whitman works as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles County. The job allows him to fit acting gigs into his schedule as they come along. In the past 10 years, he’s played in 18 Shakespeare productions.

But the role that lets him take center stage is “Two Years Before the Mast,” which plays annually in Dana Point Harbor. “Two Years” is sponsored by the Orange County Marine Institute there, which will hold a VIP preview Friday night.

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The one-man play, in which Whitman performs multiple roles, is taken from Dana’s classic American novel of the same title, about seafaring life in the 1830s. It’s based on Dana’s travels aboard the original Pilgrim, sailing from Boston to California. Dana Point, of course, is named for him.

This will be Whitman’s fourth season playing Dana (regular performances begin next month.) He recently completed his third annual short run of the play at the San Diego Marine Institute.

Whitman was the archetypal struggling actor--waiting tables by day--when “Two Years” came his way. Through friends, he met Daniel Trent, who had long starred in and was co-creator (with the late Victor Pinheiro) of “Two Years.” Trent was dying of AIDS complications in 1994 and wanted to turn the play over to someone he felt could be trusted with it.

Whitman and Trent worked on the play together in Trent’s apartment, with Whitman adding his own touches to the character. Trent died not long after that.

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It appears Trent was right in choosing Whitman. Daniel Stetson, director of maritime affairs at the Orange County Marine Institute, boasts that Whitman is marvelous in the role. “He really makes the characters come alive,” Stetson said.

Whitman says he got hooked on acting early--in the third grade. He was a theater major in college in Texas, then toured the nation with a repertory troupe, seeing 47 of the 50 states that way. Since arriving in Hollywood, he’s gone through six agents. And if he’s never the next Tom Cruise?

“I’m doing what I want to do,” Whitman said. “Every year I make a little more money at it than I did the year before. In ‘Two Years Before the Mast’ I play Dana, then Dana as a young man, plus the ship’s captain, the first mate, and some of the sailors. What actors get to do all that?”

Three Bills Later: Judy Manto of Newport Beach tells this heart-warmer with a twist about $300 that found its way home, thanks to an honest waitress.

Manto and her husband were having dinner at a TGI Friday’s in Palm Desert when her purse strap broke and she lost three hundred-dollar bills. She didn’t discover the money missing until later.

Someone knew it, though. After 22-year-old waitress Dawn Sims turned the money in to her manager, someone not at Manto’s table claimed it, and even left Sims a $50 reward to add authenticity. Sims didn’t know Manto by name, but was certain the wrong party had made off with the money.

So Sims got her bosses to track down Manto through her American Express card. Now get this: The young waitress wanted Manto to take the $50 reward, so she would at least get something for her loss. Manto declined, saying Sims deserved the money.

Next thing Manto knows, the restaurant chain, after hearing from the waitress, sends Manto a check for $300. Manto was just floored by this kind of honesty.

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“It’s so great to know there are people like Ms. Sims out there,” she said.

When I called Sims, I discovered that she is a single mother with a 4-year-old daughter named Brittany. She said it never occurred to her to pocket the $300 herself--or to give up on finding the rightful owner.

Nothin’ Could Be Finah: On the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. tour, winning the Dinah Shore Open in Palm Springs is like winning the Master’s for the men. Kellee Booth of Coto de Caza hasn’t even turned pro yet, but she’s got her fans here boasting about her new Dinah Shore honor.

No, she didn’t win the tournament. Booth, who will be a senior at Arizona State in the fall, has been honored by the LPGA as the woman collegiate golfer with the best academic record. She won the Dinah Shore Trophy.

Booth has a 3.53 grade-point average as a business management systems major. Now she needs to win the Dinah Shore Open, so she can have bookends.

20/20 Vision? Have you heard that new slogan the League of Women Voters is promoting: 50/50 by 2020?

The league’s goal is 50% women in Congress by 2020. Members of the Central Orange County chapter say they found Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) receptive to the idea on a recent Washington visit.

But, according to the chapter’s latest newsletter, Sanchez was more cautious when the delegation tried to promote campaign finance reform, health care and clean water. Sanchez warned them that her first priority, “because of the needs of her constituency, is jobs, jobs, jobs and education, education, education.”

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Wrap-Up: “Two Years Before the Mast” reads like a sailor’s journal, but it is listed as a novel. Whitman explains why:

Dana kept a journal of his voyage to California, but later his trunk with the journal in it was stolen. Precious notes were gone forever. But Dana did retain a 14-page outline of what he wanted to write. The 1840 book is based on that outline, and Dana’s memories.

“Two Years Before the Mast” will run July 12, 19, 26 and Aug. 2. There are two nightly performances on each date. In past years, Whitman has performed it aboard the Pilgrim, a replica of the original, harbored at Dana Point. But because the Pilgrim is getting a new deck, this year’s play will be at the Institute’s new Historic Maritime Center, near its museum.

Jerry Hicks’ column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by call-ing the Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or by fax to (714) 966-7711, or e-mail tojerry.hicks@latimes.com


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