Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Dennis Woodruff, Actor


All photos, except as noted, by Harrod Bank, with the permission of Art Car World

Back in the early 80's, my crew landed a three week gig in early January lighting a series of toy commercials. The job paid full commercial rate for fifteen days, and since the toys and sets were tiny, we wouldn't have to light up the world -- which means there would be no heavy lifting, making this a fat, lucrative start to the new year.

That was the good news -- the bad news was that we then had to spend three long weeks in a dark sound stage at Raleigh Studios doing what amounted to table-top lighting, a meticulous, time consuming task that some people love ... but I am not among them. Truth be told, I hated  table top work, which was fun for about half an hour, then rapidly morphed into a soul-crushingly tedious chore. Still, a job is a job is a job, and nobody says you have to like the gig to appreciate the paycheck.   

The head agency man -- responsible for delivering what the client wanted -- was named "Ralphie," a diminutive, rotund, bearded garden-gnome with a voice that seemed to float atop a wobbly bubble of phlegm, and day after day, Ralphie had a lot say about each and every shot. As we entered the second week of this special little Hell, I was starting to go a little bit insane, which made our daily hour-long lunch break an oasis to be yearned for all morning long, then dearly missed each afternoon once we were back at work.

Among our favorite lunch spots were Lucy's El Adobe, Nickodells, and Orzas, a small Eastern European restaurant next door to Paramount -- a friendly little cafe with good food at reasonable prices. On our way there one day, we noticed posters stapled to every telephone pole along that stretch of Melrose, each featuring a black and white Xerox image of a 30-something man in a black leather jacket striking a dramatic pose aboard a large motorcycle, a cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth. In big bold print below the photo was the phrase  "Dennis Woodruff, Actor."

Self-promotion is nothing new in Hollywood, but the earnest, low-rent approach of these posters was intriguing. It's one thing for Angelyne to attract eyeballs with posters and billboards of her scantily-clad and undeniably impressive pneumatic charms, but something else for a guy to sell himself as "Dennis Woodruff, Actor."

As we took a table in Orzas cramped dining room one day, the gaffer turned, and in his typically dry tone of voice said:  "Look: it's Dennis Woodruff, actor."

Sure enough, there was the man himself at a table on the far side of the room reading a paperback while sipping a small cup of very strong Turkish coffee -- a specialty of Orzas. He appeared to have come straight from the wardrobe department of a spaghetti western: black boots, black pants, black shirt, black leather vest, and a black straight-brimmed hat. The image in those posters had come to life, and he sure as hell looked like an actor.

A woman at the table next to us leaned over and rolled her eyes. 

"I work at Paramount," she said, shaking her head. "He calls us Every. Single. Day..."

A few minutes later, Dennis Woodruff, actor, finished his coffee, paid the check, then stood up and walked out.

I didn't seem him again for a few years, and forgot all about Dennis Woodruff until he began driving the streets of Hollywood and the surrounding cities in a series of outlandishly modified cars, each advertising his thespian skills to a film industry that continued to ignore him. But if Hollywood looked the other way, the rest of us couldn't help noticing those astonishing cars, and his underground fame began to build.  

Nobody gets ahead in Hollywood waiting to be discovered, though, so this tireless self-promoter began making and selling his own movies, and you have to give him credit: the man has made a lot of movies.* I'd occasionally see him popping into laundromats or walking the streets of Hollywood selling VHS tapes of his work for $10 each to anybody who'd listen to his spiel. He did pretty well at it, too, raking in upwards of 250,000 British pounds by 2011 according to the Daily Mail, which would be over $400K in US dollars at the time. That figure sounds a bit suspicious, but apparently he made enough selling his movies to buy a bungalow in Hollywood, and those don't come cheap, so I suppose only Dennis and the IRS knows for sure.  

Then one slow Sunday after another long week working on my show, I was washing a load of dirty clothes when who should walk into the Laundromat but -- drumroll, please ... Dennis Woodruff, actor -- only this time he arrived with a camera rather than in a fully pimped-out car. He had me in this viewfinder before I knew it, asking a series of probing questions, and like any good director, prompted me as to how to respond.  

Any of you who've been reading the stories here for a while will recall, I am neither an actor nor remotely comfortable on camera -- there's a good reason I chose a career behind the lights rather than out in front feeling their heat -- so I wasn't particularly thrilled to be put on the spot like this on my day of rest, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow and have a sense of humor about things. And truth be told, Dennis Woodruff was a calm, gentle director who knew what he wanted, but was willing to roll with whatever happened without insisting on having his way.  I was merely one of many people Dennis corralled into appearing in Horror Stories from the Laundromat, so if you're curious and have thirty minutes to spare, you can take a look and figure which one is me. 

It seems the ambition to star in bigger films made and financed by someone else continues to burn within, so I have to applaud Dennis Woodruff, who's kept chasing his dream no matter what Hollywood thinks of him. He's been at it for a long time, but hasn't gotten discouraged yet -- and so with true respect, I doff my cap and wish him all the best. 

And hey, even if Dennis hasn't yet made it big, at least one of his cars did!

                       One of Woodruff's cars featured in the 1997 movie Volcano
                    (Source unknown)

Have yourselves a great Thanksgiving.

* Twenty-nine, as of 2020.

PS: If you'd like to see more outrageously creative, fantastic automotive art -- many that go far beyond what Dennis Woodruff has done -- click on over to Art Car World.  There are some terrific photos there, along with books and DVDs that explore the work of creative people who use cars as a canvas upon which to create art. Check it out!