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How I lost a million dollars

Steve with Bob Lloyd, his agent in California
Steve with Bob Lloyd, his agent in California

One sunny morning (all mornings are sunny in California) I received a call from my agent, Bob Lloyd. I had been cast as the on-camera presenter in four TV commercials for Gallo Wine. It was an important campaign because it was going national. I had never worked at a Hollywood studio so I was excited when Bob told me to report at Paramount studios the following Monday for a 4-day shoot.

Paramount is one of the original movie studios which opened its doors in 1912. They were one of the first studios to produce ‘talkies’ in 1929. Their first musical was 'Innocents in Paris', starring Maurice Chevalier singing the popular ‘Louise’. Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino were two of their biggest stars and in the 30’s produced talkies with Marlene Dietrich, the Marx Bros, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Gary Cooper.

In 1939 they were one of the first to start producing Television programmes. More recently they released the biggest grossing movie in the world, Titanic, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. It grossed a staggering 2 billion dollars.

Steve in make-up at Paramount Studios
Steve in make-up at Paramount Studios

It was 7:30 a.m. as I drove through the famous Paramount arch, showed the security guard my identity card and headed for the make-up and wardrobe department.

The scene was a sophisticated apartment and I was holding an antique cut glass wine goblet. The wine was their best Barbera. By the third day we had shot three commercials which the producer and advertising agency were happy with. At the end of the day I asked the Young & Rubicam producer how much I would earn in residuals. He told me that it was a national campaign and in the first year I would earn about $250.000 for each commercial; that would make me a millionaire! I had never been one before.

Ernest and Julio Gallo were not the most popular clients in the advertising world and I soon found out why. I arrived at the studio the next morning to shoot the fourth commercial and was told that Ernie and Jules had disagreed over something and cancelled the whole campaign. Instead of a million dollars I was paid $1000 for a week’s work.

I sobbed uncontrollably for a number of years!

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