Tuesday, August 02, 2005

There's Something About April

If you go back to my MySpace profile, and look in my (very under-populated) Friends list, you'll see the smiling face of a gorgeous brunette. (No, not Tom.) Her name is April. And we've never met, never spoken to each other.

So why do I feel we were separated at birth?

April is an L.A.-area voice actress and radio personality -- you can definitely call her a "celebrity". Now, I've become quite passé about celebrities. I work with many, I'm friends with some, and heck, I even have a couple of them on my cell phone's speed-dial. Celebrities are people too, and most of them -- most of them -- will only act like the stereotypical "celebrity" if that's how you treat them.

(I'll digress for a moment to tell you this story. I was an extra in the film "Casino". There is nothing like working for a day as an extra to shatter the Hollywood glamour mystique for good. The face of the huge casino set that you saw in the movie? Silk-screened canvas. The back? Raw plywood. And our "dressing room" was a concrete parking garage on the premises. We would be herded up to the set when we were needed, and were left in the garage when we weren't.

So, late in the day, I'm standing out in the parking lot, getting some fresh air, and I find myself standing face-to-face with the film's star, Robert De Niro. [Actually, since he's about 5'9", it was more like face-to-Adam's-apple, but that's neither here nor there.] But there was no "BIG STAR" and "little movie extra"; we were two professionals on the set of a film. I nodded at him, and he nodded at me. We smiled. I believe we were about to strike up a conversation.

And then, a rather large female extra comes out of the garage and begins screaming. "OH MY GOD! IT'S ROBERT DE NIRO! I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!!!" [Oh come on, you're working on a Robert De Niro MOVIE! Whom did you expect? Go change your pants and get a hold of yourself!] Needless to say, Mr. D beat a hasty retreat.

The moral of the story: Celebrities are people too. Treat them like a celebrity, and don't be surprised if they act like one. Treat them like a person and they'll respond like a person. [Except for Tom Cruise. That guy's just nutty as a Zagnut bar.] Anyway, back to April ...)

I found April's website when her father, a former TV star, passed away. I had been a fan of his, and knew of April only from some of her voice work. So, when her father died, I punched up her name on Google and ended up at AprilWinchell.com -- and was shocked to read that she was getting hate mail from fans of her father. In response, April wrote a blog entry that I thought was one of the most inspired, most brilliant essays I had ever read. Mustering more tact and diplomacy than I ever could have under the circumstances, she managed to describe her grief about losing her estranged father, reveal her pain and anger over the hurtful e-mails she had been getting, and gently remind us that what we see on the screen, or hear on the air, is rarely the truth.

She ended her essay with the line, "Please try to forgive me if this causes you unhappiness. I am at a place where it's your life or mine, and I have to save myself." There is so much hurt and anguish buried in that sentence. And at the moment I read that, all I wanted was to give her a long hug.

So, I did something I had never done before: I wrote my first fan letter. And my letter extolled not April's talent or her work, but what I had seen of her personality. She wrote back and we've exchanged a couple of brief e-mails since then.

But I have also had the chance to listen to April's archive of radio shows, which I had never heard live since I'm over 1000 miles away. I have gone through about 60 hours of April's broadcasts in the past month (it's okay, I work at my computer, and listening to April beats listening to Sean Hannity all to hell) and am just flabbergasted at how similar her take on the world, and her sense of humor, is to mine.

Now, for those who know me, it's no secret that I had a difficult childhood; heck, we all did. And for a long time, I was hesitant to talk about it, because we had a roof over our heads and food on our table, and I knew there were kids who had it a lot worse than I did. But what I have learned from April is that you can have a tough, painful childhood even when your family is rich and famous. In fact, it can even be worse for those kids, because nobody wants to believe the horrible truths about someone they idolize. So when the victim speaks out about their famous folks, the public does what people have done for centuries: they attack the messenger. And the pain of the abuse gets compounded, and the victim gets further victimized. And that's something I know a little bit about.

Despite our very different backgrounds, April and I have a lot in common. It has shaped our senses of humor and the way we view the world. I feel connected to her by our pain.

And I still want to give her that long hug. And April, if you're reading this: It is my fondest wish that someday, I will get to.

posted by Gary @ 11:53 AM


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Location: Houston, Texas

Why the heck wouldn't you want to read the toxic byproducts of my mental processes? It's not like you're too busy to waste a minute or two here, you know. You ARE just killing time by mindlessly surfing the web. Pop open a brewski and stay a while.

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