I have never met comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, but in more than a quarter century in the television business I have met many people who actually were what Ellen DeGeneres is being accused of being.
I have met walking and talking cliches of the powerful TV stars who seem to have let their celebrity and power infest their very beings. I have seen actors refuse to come out of their dressing rooms because one word — yes, one word — of dialogue was not to their liking. I have been in a room where a very big TV star, someone beloved by millions of people for decades on the small screen, had a complete meltdown because a day player had not followed the blocking instructions for his one and only scene, and stepped in front of the star, putting the day player between the star and the camera.
I have witnessed a production grind to a full stop because two actors refused to do a “two-shot,” with both of them in profile, because they each had the same “good” side. Believe it or not, that’s a real thing. Actors and actresses can look very different depending on which side of the face is favored by the camera.
In this particular case, the actress in the scene was the guest star and the actor was the star of the show. So to keep peace in the future, the producer had to side with his star and the actress relented to do the scene with the less favorable side of her face exposed to the camera. The scene involved a tense confrontation between the characters that ended with a scripted slap across the face from the actress to the actor. When it came time for the slap, the still seething actress pulled no punches and slapped the TV star so hard she loosened one of the caps on a tooth.
So although I know nothing about Ellen DeGeneres or her alleged behavior, I do know one thing for sure. When she started out, working night clubs and trying to break into the business, she received an extraordinarily large dose of rejection. When I would sit in on casting sessions, we’d see dozens of actors and they were all, with a couple of exceptions, perfectly capable of saying a handful of lines in a non-awards-winning hour cop or private detective series, but all but one were going to be rejected for a variety of reasons out of their control. How could a daily diet of that not make anyone crazy?
Writers have to “audition” in a lot of different ways, too. At least we have the words we put on paper to blame for our rejection — actors are rejected for their essence. And those plutonium-toxic levels of rejection can do a lot of damage to the soul. If my own television career resulted in huge amounts of success, I shudder to think what I might have turned out like (though there are times when I do wonder what it would have been like).
Thankfully, through all my ups and then all those downs, I always had my faith. It carried me through my “career” in the TV industry and it has continued to carry me through real life as well.
Over time, seeing many more examples of behavior that would not be tolerated in a third-grade classroom caused me to reassess my thoughts on diva behavior. I think it takes a certain kind of personality to be able to handle the rejection that goes with being an actor. I think most, if not all, actors are born with that self-centeredness. So actors don’t get rich and famous and turn into monsters; there are a lot of wanna-be stars currently parking cars and waiting tables in this town who are likewise wired. Some of them get rich and famous and suddenly have an outlet for their pathologies.
Writing, producing, and acting can be a somewhat noble profession, but to balance the needs it demands with a spiritual (meaning Catholic) sensibility is a tightrope act. I envy those who can do it. For without a foundation of humility, real love, and service, you might find yourself walking down a backstage corridor and demanding no one make direct eye contact with you or screaming your disapproval that the chilled Perrier water is not exactly at 49 degrees in your dressing room.