My aborted career as a Russian TV star

November 14, 2011

Some of you might be wondering what Jeremy was referring to in his comment about my brush with Hollywood. Well, here’s the full story in all of its convoluted glory….

In July of 1994, I was doing summer research in the Williams College biology department. Bon Appetit magazine came to campus to do a photo shoot for a Thanksgiving piece on Darra Goldstein, a professor of Russian who had written a cookbook. Since regular classes weren’t in session and Prof. Goldstein’s usual students weren’t around, I and some others were recruited to pose as her Thanksgiving guests. We gathered around a turkey and smiled at the idea of eating the still-raw-on-the-inside bird. One of the photos was indeed used in Bon Appetit‘s November issue. Shortly thereafter I was forwarded the following letter.

November 25, 1994

Darra Goldstein
Associate Professor of Russian
Williams College
Williamstown, Mass. 01267

Dear Prof. Goldstein,

I was wondering if you would be so kind as to to do me a favor and pass this letter along to one of your students. I shall explain. I am a producer, director and personal manager in Los Angeles…. I have produced many movies of the week and directed such shows as FAME, HILL ST.BLUES, MAGNUM P.I., DYNASTY, DALLAS, SILK STALKINGS etc. We have a very small but select group of actors that we manage and place in commercials, TV series and Feature films. One of them is ___ _____ who is the star of many movies of the week including the new ____ ______ which airs on Dec. 6 on CBS…. We now have been offered a new series deal for CBS and we are in the process of developing it. It is planned at the moment that he will have another character in the piece who is Russian or who can at least speak some Russian.

In looking through my BON APPEITE [sic] magazine, I saw the picture
that I am enclosing. [Stapled to the letter was the Goldstein article, with a circle around me and the words “THIS KID” written in pen.] The young man who is in the lower right hand corner has the look that we would want. I am assuming you know him and that he is a student.

This letter is to inquire as to whether or not this young man has ever acted or would be interested in checking it out. As I have come to know over the years, experience isn’t always necessary to get started in films and TV. It is a look and a personality.

If you would pass this letter on to this young man, I’d be most grateful and if he would like to contact me, please have him do so. I thank you very much for your cooperation.

______ _______

I called the guy and confessed my ignorance of Russian, as well as my plans to become a biologist rather than, say, an actor. Nevertheless, we agreed to meet when mutually convenient. This happened the following February, when I had a layover in Los Angeles en route to visiting UC-San Francisco as a prospective grad student. The guy told me that I wasn’t cut out for modeling (“they want dark, ethnic features”) but that he could help me get started as an actor. This would entail moving to L.A., taking a commercial acting class, getting a professional set of head shots, auditioning for commercials, getting an agent, and finding a non-acting job to pay the rent.

I declined this option in favor of the University of Washington’s Ph.D. program in physiology & biophysics, and the rest is history. But I’d like to think that in a parallel universe I’m a successful thespian — perhaps one who specializes in portraying Russians.


  1. so *that* explains your natural charisma in my ads…

  2. I still remember the picture he tore out of Bon Appetit, which he included in his letter with your head circled and a big arrow pointing to it reading “THIS KID”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: