Saturday, March 7, 2015

A True Story with Mystery, Suspense, Spirited Confrontations,Plus Some Bits of Dialogue That I Think Will Provoke a Few Chuckles

Tom co-starring with Sandra Bullock in WORKING GIRL TV series

Tom as recurring judge on Law and Order, SVU
From the movie UNITED 93
The Sparky the Dog episode made Tom famous in Philadelphia

A man's man

Justin Marler on THE GUIDING LIGHT

Poster for DESERT HEAT the movie Tom wrote
It's a movement class at Goodman Theater School, then part of Chicago University. A tall, muscular, GI bill student and ex paratrooper has already caused an embarrassing scene by wearing his dance belt wrongly outside of his first pair of tights instead of underneath. Now he is manfully executing a leg stretch at the dance bar when, in his firm grip, the whole bar pops out of the wall, stopping the class. "Get out! Get out now!!" The teacher hollers in exasperation. "And don't come back!"
101st Airborne MP 19 year old tough guy who decided to
become an actor on the GI bill
           How about a New York City summertime opening night in an historical costume drama with all the top critics in the audience and the steam heat comes on causing an elderly actor to pass out into the orchestra seats. And the director caustically points out that was the high point of the show.

Or the revamped postal jeep radiator that sprang a leak on Fourth of July night on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu resulting in a very long ride home under the stars through expensive and fragrant real estate that became an unforgettable, mystical romantic journey.

Earthquakes, notice the plural, the Whittier and the Northridge to shake things up a bit.

Would you want to star in FROST ON THE PARSNIP? I thought not, neither did Tom. Or PORNO STARS AT HOME, at least he got to keep his clothes on.

The modeling shoot with the German model who spoke little English picking his nose during his close up, "I haf an animal in my nose", referring to a gnat in his nostril.

Yes, it was a wild and wonderful life, crazy ups and downs, Guest Star back to taxi driver, the constant terror of trying to get the next job, living not only paycheck to paycheck, but audition to audition. Always in Survival Mode. Stressful, yes, exciting always, the phone rings you got it or you're fired. Laughter and tears, lots of both.

DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB is Tom O'Rourke's journey to becoming a successful actor. How does someone become a working actor? If you want the answer to that question, you have to examine an actor's life, because his life is his laboratory. An actor is an artist in motion. Tom O'Rourke is gone and was far too modest to have allowed his story to be told while he was alive, but it's too good not to share. So here, compiled from my popular blog. is Tom's rollicking, no holds barred life story from his wry, candid private diaries, his personal photo collection, and the memories of his wife of 38 years, Marcy Casterline, a former model with Eileen Ford.

Tom and Natasha Richardson on the PATTY HEARST set
with Director Paul Schrader

Tom was the first child of a teenage war bride and a sailor, who later deserted his family. He had an impoverished childhood in New York City raised by his grandmother and his Merchant Marine grandfather, then off to the Army as a paratrooper instead of college, finally working in Chicago in a custom photo developing shop while he studied acting at Goodman Theater.

Tom and his Grandmother in NYC in the Seventies
On the road to success in show business, there are no quick fixes, no short cuts.  DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB has all the behind the scenes stories of Tom's years on national tour with a Broadway musical, backstage in the New York theater, the big break on the daytime soap THE GUIDING LIGHT creating the role of Justin Marler, the long rocky road to Hollywood, finally costarring in the nighttime TV series WORKING GIRL with Sandra Bullock, then on to his extensive work on LAW AND ORDER, and L&O, SVU, MAID IN MANHATTAN, AMERICAN GANGSTER, and UNITED 93. And then there was the movie he wrote, DESERT HEAT, shot in the desert heat 108 degrees; but his movie got made, starring Jean Claude Van Damme which doesn't happen very often in Hollywood.

The book has lots of photos because pictures, moving and still, were how we made our living and are very much a part of our story, a story of a love that grows through the shared passion for each other and struggle for success.

To Quote a New Yorker cartoon Tom loved, "It's a long story, but it's got everything--mystery, suspense, intrigue, two extremely spirited confrontations--plus some bits of dialogue that I think will provoke a few chuckles."

Tom and Marcy gone fishin
Tom in a sitcom with Nancy McKeon

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Desert Heat - from Don't Quit Your Day Job

Eddie Lomax and the bike

JUNE 2, Sunday 1974

We met May 1, 1974. June 2, a month later, was a beautiful day, according to Tom's Diary. 

We were up early, had breakfast, read the Times, walked through Central Park, watched the end of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Then we'd wandered up Madison Avenue around 85th street and bought some records and cookies. (Who would have ever thought that records would become obsolete? Cookies are apparently immune from ever disappearing.) We went to Tom's sublet apartment and drank some wine. Then because he'd talked about his writing, and I was interested, he showed me one of his screenplays. Diary entry - "Let her read part of my screenplay. That I think was a mistake" is what Tom, in a very tactful understatement, writes at the end of his June 2 entries. Fortunately, he was not in the least upset or influenced by my opinions. However, I continued to suffer from own erroneous ideas, feelings and understanding of how the world works for many, many years after this event.

I actually remember that moment like it was yesterday. I remember the perfectly and professionally typed up scripts, nicely bound, one even in leather. I still have them. Was I impressed with all the work he'd done and with the scope of his imagination and vision? Was I proud? Was I amazed at the effort he'd put into these scripts, all on his own initiative? Was I awed by the time, energy, the thought, the heart, the intelligence he'd displayed? No. Not for a second. Indeed, quite the opposite. I was appalled, overwhelmed, dismayed. Here was another windmill to tilt, and I was actually furious.

What I did not remember correctly was how soon this big blowup occurred after we'd met. We had known each other just one month and one day, and there I was passing judgment on his talents and hopes and dreams, raining on his parade and crushing his ambitions. Who the heck was I? This was such a combination of breathtaking arrogance and ignorance that even now I am deeply ashamed to remember it.

How could I have been so stupid, so misguided? I was very much a child of the middle class ethos, and the very essence of that ethos is to be self-effacing. Never overtly calling attention to yourself or your achievements or taking yourself too seriously is the first commandment of being middle class. The second is 'pass the martinis'. However, being self-effacing will not get you anywhere in the arts. The lens lice, strutting popinjays, narcissists, and exhibitionist all have a head start in the artist game. Tom was none of those, of course. But still, my whole nature revolted at claiming the right to not only be an actor, but also trying to thrust yourself forward as a screenwriter. The effrontery!!

Of course to Tom, who was not hampered like I was by the excessive vanity of such overdone modesty, it seemed perfectly natural that an actor should write a screenplay.

'98 on the High Desert in California to see Desert Heat shooting. Tom's dream come true.
And I made another miscalculation; I naively believed that before Tom should dare to write a screenplay, before he wasted more time and effort chasing another rainbow, he must earn the imprimatur of someone of theatrical authority. Then he would be justified in 'wasting' the time involved. I was firmly in the camp of its being everyone's moral imperative to work a nine to five job, unless you raised your hand nicely and teacher said you could be excused. Teacher, of course, being some recognized authority in the culture world.

In my view, he'd proved he had an acting talent by landing a great acting job first time out doing "Promises, Promises" for David Merrick, but writing? Who was he to pick up pencil and paper? What hubris!

I wasn't wholly ignorant about theater and movies. I was studying with Lee Strasberg, working at the Actor's Studio as house manager, auditing acting sessions there, watching all of their productions that I could, studying with Uta Hagen and had been for several years, and going to all the classical and contemporary theater that I could manage, and in New York City, there's always quite a lot of theater.

Though being blessed by those of high reputation in your field is a practical and financial benefit to your artistic ventures, for me, it went beyond practical. I looked up to those who'd achieved successes that I and the NY Times admired, and I revered and respected the opinions of those who seemed worthy. I felt they must have earned their place in the pantheon of greatness because they had demonstrated competence; you know, they passed the exam and their name was inscribed on a stone tablet somewhere so everyone would know they got an A. To me, they were founts of wisdom whose judgment was beyond question, certainly by the likes of me.

That may sound like becoming humility, but I think it was really just a way of avoiding putting myself on the line artistically, basically, cowardice on my part. Putting yourself on the line is tough for anybody. Your ego can end up taking quite a beating. There are creeps out there who live for doling out malicious criticism, merited or not. 

However, I did not fully grasp what was different about the arts until many, many years later. The difference is that working in the arts is not like the usual job. There are no objective standards against which to measure the integrity or perceptiveness of those who are at the top in their fields. Acting is not accounting or engineering or marketing or running a shoe factory. In those fields of work, it's perfectly obvious who is worthy, because there are measurable results. Plus, those who are unworthy usually go out of business.

But artistic professions are different. Lots of people in the arts can get wealthy without doing much of anything of any immediate or lasting value. For instance, there are Critic's Darlings, artists who some besotted critic has decided can do no wrong and who, as a result, go on to reap fortunes at the box office because of people like me who slavishly follow the critics; there are the trend following artists who hop on any bandwagon, 'you want vampires, I've got a vampire that will knock your socks off'; then there is stunting, a ploy which involves hiring celebrities of the moment like football players,(OJ), or politicians daughters, (Bristol, Chelsea) to get ratings, or one of Tom’s favorite Hollywood stunts, which he experienced firsthand, Smell-O-Vision, movies accompanied by evocative fragrance spayed into the theater, the combination of odors drove the audience out, so it didn't last very long; and lastly the very obvious and ubiquitous publicity hounds who decorate the tabloids every week, extolling themselves. Perhaps the most prevalent form of cheating is nepotism. As Moss Hart once said, "Nepotism runs like a giant river through show business." Those are a few of the types in show biz who are out there wasting everyone's time and money.
This is not meant to disparage the study of art history or the practice of art criticism. But scholars look back and explain the brilliance of the past, not the present, and great contemporary critics are even rarer than great artists.

For instance, in Shakespeare's day, playwrights were supposed to adhere to the Greek classical standard of unity of time, place, and action. That Shakespeare did not attend university or follow the dramatic unities led to his being critically underrated by the intelligentsia of England for almost 100 years. Samuel Johnson was the first literary critic to look seriously at Shakespeare's work and accord him genius status.

So Tom was right and courageous in pursuing his dream and his vision. And I was just as wrong and misguided as a person can get. No one can actually say who is a great artist and who is not, who is worthy or who is a waste of time. Some great artists die broke, some hacks make millions. Some of the most popular artists of an era are entirely forgotten in ten years, some rejected works of art go on to everlasting greatness. You just have to do what you do and sail by your own lights. Tom always knew that. And he knew it because he was an inveterate moviegoer. I used to kid him that he'd seen every movie ever made, and I was not far wrong. There was hardly a movie that we ever heard about, American or foreign, that he hadn't seen and remembered distinctly and was able to discuss its best scenes, good points and failings. He loved movies.

He did finally have a movie made from one of his scripts, which is a rare honor in Hollywood. It's called Desert Heat starring Jean Claude Van Damme, and it has done very well. Tom was a fan of Jean Claude Van Damme and of all good action/adventure movies. Desert Heat is a quirky action picture with a lot of comedy and some interesting characters in a script Tom wrote during our frustrating days in Hollywood. He loved reading people's comments about the movie on Amazon. I share a couple of them here below:

Van Damme Like Never Before, April 20, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Desert Heat (DVD)

With regular Jean-Claude Van Damme movies I expect a movie with no plot and pointless action, but Desert Heat was a hysterical action packed adventure of suicidal loner Eddie Lomax (Van Damme) on pursuit to reclaim his motorcycle from a gang of vicious outbackers. Meeting along the way unforgettable characters and of course killing those who got in his way. Van Damme actually does some good acting in this movie with punch lines that kept me laughing the whole time (ex."can't we all just get along") Those who expect regular Van Damme martial arts to used in this movie will be surprised because Van Damme uses character development and revenge as more of an approach to the key element in this movie (except for the end). I loved Desert Heat and recommend it to those who like funny action movies that are very entertaining!

Damme good movie., June 11, 2002
By Chris G, Willhoite - See all my reviews

This review is from: Desert Heat (DVD)

Based on the 1962 Samurai film, Yojimbo, Desert Heat captures the story well in a modern, desert setting starring none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme. Eddie Lomax{Van Damme} tries to escape the horrors he faced in the war, in the form of nightmares, by riding out into the desert to end his life and is also trying to deliver a gift to an old war buddy who he saved in the war. The action heats up when his gift is stolen and thus frees a small town from two rival gangs using war games and acting like a one man army. Even near the end a character asks a person out to a movie called Yojimbo as kind of a humorous hint as to what the movie was based on. An action packed movie with comedy, a touch of romance, and a bit of Native American lore, Desert Heat is an awesome flick for any fan of action, comedy, and/or Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The Sonic Motel set for Desert Heat with very good friend Randy Hall, stunt coordinator. Desert Heat was a very apt title. That day the temperature was about 108 F. the movie was also released as Inferno.

Thank God he didn't listen to me all those many years ago. He kept right on writing. Here's looking at you, Tom.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Interview For Soap Opera Magazine

How we met, Our Soap Story

This is an interview Tom did for Soap Opera Magazine. December 1976

Tom as Justin Marler with Jackie on 'The Guiding Light'

'Flashback to not so long ago, Tom O'Rourke was a man with an indeterminate future. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do and he wasn't having much luck.

Ten years later, seated in his dressing room at THE GUIDING LIGHT studio, is a handsome, promising young actor, who looks as if he's been wearing success-symbol grey flannel suits and button down shirts all his life. Yes, it's Tom O'Rourke. Same guy with a new lease on life. Now he has a career, a new job he loves and a steady girl he adores.

Flashback again to 1966, when Tom, fresh out of the army, (in which he was a paratrooper) has visited "every employment agency on 42nd Street- about 63 of them" in New York - no luck. A friend suggested he go to Chicago, with the pep talk: "If you can't get a job in Chicago, there's something wrong with you." On the day he leaves for Chicago, he finally receives the notice he's been waiting for, to go down and take the police exams. He had been thinking of becoming a cop. Too late. He's Chicago bound.

Tom was about 25 when he took off for the second city. In all, he spent about 6 years there, during which time, he did some of the following things: owned a tavern, worked in a film lab, became a still photographer, became a model, signed up for evening acting classes at the Goodman Theater, got a scholarship, attended full time and became a dedicated actor.

"Up to that time," says Tom, "I'd only seen a half a dozen plays in my life." He grew up on the West Side of Manhattan, and he was poor. "Theater was a luxury," he recalls. "I used to sneak in to see Joseph Papp's stuff in the park when I was a kid. Once I tried to steal some of the swords off the stage after Romeo and Juliet."

"When you're a kid, you don't know you're poor. All your friends are poor. There's no stigma attached to it. There's nothing to compare it with. It's your universe. You had the park, which was marvelous. I know Central Park like the palm of my hand. And there was the Museum of Natural History. I used to spend hours there."

Because his parents were divorced when he was a kid, Tom and his two brothers were raised by their grandfather, a Commander in the Merchant Marines. "Our house was like a museum," he recalls. "He had spears and flags and cannon balls. It was like a big curio shop all filled with wonders and magic." It was an ideal setting for a growing boy with an actor's imagination.

Tom has been playing Dr. Justin Marler for about five months now. He has never worked a soap before. Prior to this, "it was all theater," he says. "I was doing a show at the American Place Theater, Robert Lowell's The Old Glory, when this show auditioned me. It was nice. I finished that show and came right on this.

Tom is delighted with his new income and working schedule for another reason: He is getting married in the spring to Marcie Casterline, an actress and a model. It's his first and he hopes, will be his only trip to the altar. "This is it," he says. "This better be it. I don't plan on doing this again."

Before Tom met Marcie, he says, "I was something of a ladies' man. I had a good time. I think I satisfied all my curiosity. You get it all out of your system. And I did my running around, and dated a lot of wonderful gals, and we had a great time, and I was always very honest about it. I didn't want to mislead somebody into thinking something else was going to happen when it wasn't.

"I knew exactly what I was looking for. It's the screwiest thing, the way it happened. We met at an audition. I was about a half an hour late, and there she was sitting there when I arrived. I had always said to myself that I would know. Know. And I looked over at her, and I thought, This is it. This is it. She's five-foot nine, a redhead, has gorgeous blue eyes, and she's beautiful.

"After I talked to her, and the more I got to know her, the more convinced I was that this is the most fantastic, brightest chick I ever met. Because, aside from the physical attractiveness you're looking for, the most important thing between two people is the whole intellectual exchange, feedback, communication. If you don't have that, forget it.

Though they've known each other for three years, Marcie and Tom are still in the starry-eyed stage. They've planned a spring wedding specifically because they want to honeymoon in Paris in the spring. "Marcie worked in France a lot," he says. "And has been telling me how terribly romantic it is.

As for the wedding, it will be a small ceremony for family and close friends, says Tom, followed by "an immense, wild party, with a cast of thousands" which Tom would like to hold at Tavern on the Green in Central Park. After all, didn't he practically grow up there? Joy Rodney.

This is an excerpt from DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB