NewMexiKen notes that today is actor Alex Rocco's 72nd birthday. A long time ago I interviewed Rocco for a magazine piece, and he told me one of the best Hollywood-is-cruel stories I ever heard. I'm going to get details wrong, but the gist of the story is right.
In 1975, Rocco starred in a TV series called Three For the Road. It was a heartwarming series about a widower and his two sons, traveling around America in a motorhome and having wholesome adventures. The ratings were marginal, but there was a lot of controversy then about "family programming," and Three For the Road was an uplifting family show. The network liked having it on the schedule as an example of something that wasn't sex and violence.
On hiatus, the cast and crew were nervously awaiting word whether the show would be renewed for a second season or not. Sometime mid-week, Rocco's agent called and delivered the good news: the network had decided to give the show another chance, and had picked it up for another season.
Rocco was thrilled. Actors lead a difficult life, and the regular income of a TV series is life-changing. To celebrate he and his wife decided to get away for a few days, up the California coast. Those were the days before cell phones and even phone answering machines, so when people got away, they really got away. As I recall, Rocco and his wife hid-out at a luxurious bungalow hotel in Santa Barbara, toasting their good fortune and doing the things grown-ups do when they're secreted away in a luxurious bungalow hotel. It was a great few days.
Rocco and his wife returned to L.A. Sunday night, and Rocco drove early Monday morning to the studio to start work on the new season of shows. When he walked onto the stage, it was empty. The sets were gone. The lights were gone. The mobile dressing rooms and offices were gone. If you've never been on an empty stage, it's hard to describe just how empty one can be. They're cold and dark and cavernous. Rocco stood just inside a football-field-size room, and the only thing breaking the absolute flatness o the floor was a pile of his own clothing and personal items that he'd left in his dressing room trailer.
The network, it turned out, had changed its mind. The show had been canceled while Rocco was celebrating. No one had been able to get him on the phone. No one had left a note at his house. They'd just cleared-out the stage and left his stuff behind, assuming he'd show up for work on Monday and figure it out by himself.
He stood alone on the dark stage as his life crumbled around him.
He recovered, of course. He carved out a nice career and reached spiritual peace as a Baha'i, abandoning Hollywood day-to-day in favor of a more peaceful life in, as I recall, the hills around Ojai. When he told me the story he told it laughing, but he had to have been crushed.
Show business is cruel.