My dad, James Whitmore, Part Twenty One

The bandage covered most of my face. I was in a hospital bed. My first job as an actor. I had only one line. Forget now what it was. I was nervous as hell and probably was rising out of the bed like Regan from the Exorcist. I did the scene, fluttered my one line and was done. Say hello to Hollywood.

My dad, famous movie star James Whitmore, was not much help. I don’t think he wanted me to go into the business. Meanwhile, my older brother, Jim III, was doing quite well.

I didn’t like the business. I was sober now about three years and flying off the planet. Energy bursting forth like a rocket blast.

Show biz had too much bullshit. People talking all the time and doing nothing.I was doing a lot of plays. Small theater groups. Must a done half-dozen plays. Joined one theater group as a member. Always doing something but bored as hell. Got jobs here and there. Bit parts. Long periods of no employment. Took odd jobs. Life was spiraling downward.

I couldn’t pay the rent. Had to borrow money from my mother. She reluctantly agreed. I stood on a street corner in Glendale across from the center where they offered assistance to the indigent. Those who can’t take care of themselves. I was sober now five years. I applied and received food stamps. I was depressed as hell. A friend said, “Don’t worry you’ll get used to it.” I never went back.

I met a neighbor girl. Liked her. She wanted to get married. I eventually acquiesced. I wasn’t doing anything. A friend offered me a job in an off-set printing plant in their dispatch center. I worked alone and sent mechanics out to repair these off-set printing machines. Easy job. Sat alone all day. I wrote a screen play in long hand in about four hours. Decided to shoot it. Why not? Life is short. Give it a try.

I must say the movie wasn’t very good, but I wanted to do it anyway. I raised $7,000 from friends and family and made this movie, “Choices” over a weekend. Actually sold it to Public Television. Had a music score and everything. It really stunk, though.

At the same time, I was cast as a semi-regular on the soap opera “General Hospital”. It was during the time of Luke and Laura, which apparently was a big deal. One day I was on “General Hospital” and that same night my movie was on television. Thought I’d be happy. I was at a meeting one night around this time and broke down and wept. I hated my life. I left show biz after being in it for 16 months. Had no idea what to do but I knew it wasn’t going to be that.

A friend got me a job as a teacher’s aid at an elementary school that my niece and nephew had attended. Cahuenga Elementary school. I was a big hit. They promoted me to playground supervisor. I was a cross between Mahatma Gandhi and Idi Amin. I was having a ball. I was approached to be a teacher. No thank you, I said. I gotta move around.

I had met the city editor of a small daily newspaper covering Glendale and the surrounding areas while I was doing the movie. They’d done stories on me. I went to him to talk about writing for the paper. He gave me a story that nobody had been able to do. I agreed to do it, I would be paid a single dollar for every column inch published. Twenty-inch story would be twenty bucks. I agreed to do it. I walked the streets of Glendale, California, and interviewed people about this piece and turned the story in. They published it. I had a byline, “by Steve Whitmore, Correspondent.” I loved it. Something in me broke the malaise of my self-absorption and a sense of well-being emerged. Weird as hell.

My pop, who had bailed me out time-and-time again, beamed with pride. He said, “that-a-boy.”

Next up: Divorce. L.A. Times comes a calling. My first son. Born premature. Neo-natal ICU. Live or die.


About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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