In Memoriam — John Candy
Writer/Director Ken Tipton first met actor John Candy in St. Louis during the filming of "Trains, Planes, and Automobiles". John Candy was one of the most genuine and friendly people Ken had ever met and a casual friendship started. John mentioned that if Ken was ever in Los Angeles to give him a call. Ken never dreamed that he would take John up on his offer.
After the bankruptcy of his Video Library stores (See HEART of the BEHOLDER info) and the breakup of his family, Ken optioned his family's story to a Producer in Hollywood and moved to Los Angeles to act as a consultant on the project. TV networks loved the idea as a MOW (Movie of the Week) but the topic of religious censorship and intolerance proved to be controversial by network heads.
Ken tried to find any work he could which included work as an actor since he has been active in Community Theater in St. Louis as well as stand-up comedy at The Funny Bone. But becoming an actor is so much harder than people know. To get legitimate work you need to join the Screen Actor Guild Union (SAG). To earn your SAG card, you first have to get work which you can't get without the union card. It's a big Catch — 22.
You can earn your SAG card by doing background extra work. If you are lucky, a Director may notice that you are serious about your craft and give you a line of dialogue which will qualify you for SAG. Another way is for the 1st Assistant Director to notice that you are serious about your craft and give you a Union voucher after a days work instead of the normal non-union voucher. Once you acquire 3 Union vouchers, you are eligible to join SAG and pay the entrance fee of over $1400. (It is supposed to be raised much higher soon)
Ken busted his ass working on hundreds of movies and TV shows as a background extra trying to earn his SAG card. Out of frustration, he remembered what John Candy said about calling him. Ken decided to contact John and ask him to consider being a mentor to Ken as he pursued his family's story being produced and also any help John could give him that would help him earn his SAG card.
Calls to John Candy's agent, publicist, and manager were never returned so Ken decided to look for someone else he could contact that might help him reach John. One movie that John did that turned out to be a surprise hit was "Cool Runnings" about a Jamaican bobsled team. The Executive Producer was Dawn Steel who Ken had seen give a lecture at an independent film seminar. Ken sent a fax to Dawn asking if she would consider helping him contact John Candy and a few days later a fax came back saying that Dawn had just what he needed and to come meet her at the book signing for her book entitled "They Can Kill You but They Can't Eat You."
Ken was thrilled to meet Dawn. At her book signing, Ken introduced himself and thanked her for helping him. She told him she had everything he needed to not only contact John Candy, but also how to get ahead in Hollywood. The she handed him a signed copy of her book saying, "Everything you need is in this book. Let me know when you get in touch with John." Ken was so Midwestern naive that someone would actually help someone they didn't know, that he stood there in dumb silence until a store manager pulled him away. Over his shoulder Ken called out to Dawn, "But you said..." Dawn cut him short as she continued signing autographs. "Trust me", she said, "it's in the book."
There is more about Dawn Steel on her "In Memoriam" page.
More than pissed off, Ken tramped home mumbling about his apparent rip off. He reluctantly read the book which turned out to be extremely interesting. Dawn rose from selling "Cock Socks" and "Penis Plants" for Penthouse Magazine, to producing movie hits like "Flashdance" and "Footloose". She then became the first woman to run a major Hollywood studio, Paramount, and then later Columbia Pictures.
Ken read the book quickly trying to figure out how it would help him make contact with John Candy. And then finally he found the profound advice. The book says that everyone needs help getting ahead in Hollywood and mentors are extremely important. If you can't reach someone you need to such as an Executive, Casting Director, Producer, or whatever, then stop trying to go through the front door. Go through the backdoor, the basement, a crack in a wall. Do everything you can to reach that person and start by doing extensive background work on the person. So that is what Ken did and this is what he found.
John Candy was a partner in the Toronto Argonauts Football team. So Ken started sending faxes and letters there but still no reply from John. Further research showed that one of his partners in the Argonauts was hockey great Wayne Gretzky. Research on Wayne showed that when he was with the St. Louis Blues, he married an actress named Janet Jones who happened to be from Bridgeton, Missouri where Ken used to have one of his Video Library stores. Ken remembered that Janet's mother used to be a good customer and even brought Janet into the store when she co-starred in the movie "The Flamingo Kid".
So Ken went through his old customer lists and found Janet's mother's address. He wrote a letter asking her mother to give the letter to Janet to give to Wayne and then hopefully to John. Three weeks later John called Ken and agreed to be Ken's mentor. Extremely thankful for teaching Ken how to work the Hollywood system instead of just making a phone call, Ken sent Dawn Steel a basket of flowers with several cans of her favorite hairspray. (He found out her favorite brand from Dawn's assistant and while hairspray may seem a little weird, it was perfect because Dawn was known for having great hair).
John made it clear to Ken to not waste his time and to take the craft of acting very seriously. Ken understood and listened to all the advice John had to offer. The first thing was to earn a SAG card and John suggested this: call the L. A. office that issues film permits. Find out what is shooting as far away as possible from the city on a weekend at night. There was only one movie project that fit that description and it was "The Flintstone's". John told Ken to show up to the shoot unannounced and let them know that he was not on the call sheet but was looking to earn his SAG card through extra work. All of the background extras had already been chosen so Ken told them that he would just wait. If he was needed, he would be in the parking lot picking up trash, washing car windows, or whatever. Night after night Ken showed up until finally a SAG background extra didn't show up for the shoot. Since it was at night on a Saturday, the production company couldn't call Central Casting for a replacement and Ken got his shot. He worked on"The Flintstone's" as a member of the Water Buffalo fraternity and earned his SAG card.
Ken was very thankful to John for his advice and promised that he would help others earn their SAG cards. Ken has assisted 8 actors so far earn their SAG cards and many of those came from him while directing HEART of the BEHOLDER.
As happy and proud that Ken had finally acquired the union card of a professional actor, it came with one bitter disappointment. That was the unexpected death of John Candy during the filming of "Wagon's East". Ironically, once Ken's SAG card was processed and he no longer did non-union work, the first SAG job he got was doing photo-double inserts shots for John Candy on the movie "Wagon's East". It broke Ken's heart to actually wear the same clothes that John had worn and to finished the scenes for John.
Being from Texas and raised in Missouri, Ken had no belief or understanding of what Californians call "karma". He is now a staunch supporter and believer in the life lesson of "what goes around will come around".
Ken now mentors others and if you are serious about the crafting of acting or filmmaking, then he is open to mentorship. Just remember this: before you ask him, Ken has no time for BS. If you aren't following your passion in acting or filmmaking for the long haul and not seeking fame and fortune, then his email address is below. Once he accepts you as a mentee there are no excuses, no shortcuts, no glory. Just hard work, persistence, and passion.
John Candy's Credits - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001006/