Off The Record
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
by Jennifer Lenhart
It became quite obvious. sometime during the compilation of our last special issue, that we did not know the names of a certain actor's children. They are nowhere to be found - not on the Internet Movie Database, that treasure trove for all items trivial - or anywhere on the Internet, for that matter. There was no special article about their births in our archives; in fact, their mother's name isn't even common knowledge. It's a miracle we even know they exist, though no one has ever seen them. Certainly, these kids have names, and someone out there knows them - a whole family's worth of people does - but so far, they're all keeping mum. And yet, as each person in the office read the list of facts for every actor on every show, the omission of those names was questioned. Every editor, without fail, scrawled a note - "children's names'??'?!" - on the copy. It's unclear why this information is so crucial - are fans compiling a baby book? Do they need to write these kids a letter ("Dear so-and-so, Your dad sure is a swell actor....")? But we are the press, after all, and technically, it's our job to provide them.
Alas, it's safe to say that we (and therefore, you) will never know a single thing about So-And-So. Jr. It's doubtful we'll ever be given a tour of Susan Flannery's (Stephanie, BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL) home. We're unlikely to be invited to spend a day in the life of ONE LIFE TO LIVE's Michael Easton (John) anytime soon. And Hunt Block's (Craig, AS THE WORLD TURNS) recipe secrets are safe. These are some of the actors who, for one reason or another, do not do press.
"It's not that Susan doesn't personally like the press," says one insider of Flannery. "In fact, on the set, she's very friendly to reporters; she simply isn't publicity hungry, which is unusual for someone in the entertainment business. She looks at her acting career as just a job to do and she really loves the daytime community. The only instance you see her doing any press is when she has been nominated for an Emmy. That seems to put her in a `talka¬tive' mood:' The same can be said for Block, who is by all accounts one of the most genuinely friendly actors at ATWT; he simply waits for the tape recorder to be switched off before he comes to chat. OLTL's Easton surprised many attendees at the ABC Super Soap Weekend when his answers at the fans' Q&A session were lively, hilarious and articulate. It seems that no one knew he had it in him. "Just because an actor doesn't do press, it doesn't mean they're not a nice person," points out one show publicist who has worked with press-shy actors.
So, they're nice and smart and funny. Why not share that with the world? "That's a very personal thing that would be hard to answer for someone else, but maybe they're afraid to express themselves. It's also probably out of some kind of fear," says B&B's Joseph Mascolo (Massimo). "I'm sure that a lot of people who don't like to do press have at one time been hurt by it. They probably had an interview or experience that when they read it in print, it was totally not
what they said or it was taken out of context. That certainly would turn somebody off."
Even in soaps, that happens more than you'd think - this magazine included. "I have always found that people who don't want to talk to press have had a bad experience. Something didn't turn out the way that they had planned. They felt they had been misrepresented and decided that that was enough. It's hard to go back in that water once you've been burned," agrees Martha Byrne (Lily, ATWT), who - it's important to note - was not discussing anyone in particular, though her cast includes perennial media-evaders like Block, Larry Bryggman (John) and Roger Howarth (Paul), all of whom used to do interviews and eventually stopped. "And some people just don't feel comfortable talking about themselves. They don't like the way they come across. Sometimes they don't want to talk about their family or open the door to their home."
"There are a lot of different reasons for not doing it" says the show publicist. "Some people have been burned, and some are just really more interested in doing their job and getting home to their family and not having to - I hate to say 'waste time' - but they have better things to do:"
A long-time personal publicist agrees: "Many of them work very hard, they have families that they care about, and it's often an imposition," she says, and that's often cited as Justin Deas's (Buzz, GUIDING LIGHT) primary excuse. And obviously, doing press is not compulsory. Though some shows' head honchos may be more persuasive than others, it's not in anyone's contract and is, therefore, technically not part of the job. Plus, doing press isn't easy - you try answering a "Roundup" question on the spur of the moment without annoying your spouse or your boss or your coworkers or looking like an idiot. "Doing daytime in the entertainment industry is much more like a regular job. There's continuity and long-term benefits. Actors figure, `I've got a contract and I don't have to do anything,' " continues the personal publicist, who has ended relationships with clients because they weren't willing to work hard enough. "I find that distressing and very detrimental to the shows they're on:"
That just brings us back to those kids: Why are they so vital? "Being seen is important," explains Talent Manager Michael Bruno. "It makes actors more popular with the fans, therefore more indebted to the shows, therefore they keep their jobs. When you're being paid a certain amount of money. I think it's an important part of the package."
"I don't think it's mandatory, but it's in everybody's best interests," says the personal publicist. "It's a very wide field. In order to stand out, you need to figure out what sets you apart. Very often, the people who are most shy really have strong commitments to a cause. The fans tend to care about the whole person, and if they know you're concerned about a particular issue, you can use your celebrity to do good for other things. Build your celebrity, and then use it to help other people."
Byrne, who hosts an annual star-stud¬ded benefit for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, has done just that. "I did A BABY STORY, so I obviously have no problem sharing with the world, but it is a little weird when you go to the Emmys and people are calling your husband's name," she admits. "But I want to share that, because maybe if someone can read something that helps them and makes them feel good or makes them feel like we're all the same, that's a positive thing. But I also don't think people should be judged for not wanting to do it. You have to respect that and say, `There must be a reason; it's their decision.' I wouldn't take it personally."
Okay, but it doesn't make us less curious about those kids. Maybe one day, they won't be such a mystery. (And maybe then, we'll figure out why we all care so much.) And there's hope: A bad experience once left Mascolo with a good reason not to do press, but he still does it anyway. "You just get over it," he shrugs. "Besides, in our kind of work, you're not dealing with National Geographic."