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Paying Your Dues 

Wednesday, Apr 26 2000
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Acting is a crazy business. As Old Blue Eyes so immortally phrased it, “Riding high in April, shot down in May” — or, in the case of Cher, Oscar in April, infomercial in May. Still, veteran TV and commercials actor Guerin Barry was “bemused” late last year when he received an acting payment of minus 3 cents. That’s right, 3 cents was actually deducted from Barry’s account for appearing in the film Number One Fan.

How can they give me a minus gross?” asks Barry, who noticed the deduction in his Screen Actors Guild (SAG) residual statement. “Thank goodness I didn’t make more of these shows.”

The deficit payment was a residual, that unpredictable but indispensable check an actor receives each time his work is rerun on television or cable, or sold in the videocassette market. (Coincidentally, residuals are one of the issues in the SAG strike, which is slated for next month.) Residuals can be the lifeblood of the workaday actor, continuing to trickle in years after the original role. Barry, for example, received thousands of dollars last year for a 1.5-second acting turn as a bewigged marquis in a car commercial.

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As time goes by, however, shows fall out of syndication, the actor’s per-episode compensation drops, and residuals can dwindle to minuscule proportions. Still, Barry doesn’t understand getting paid in the negative column. And the –$.03 wasn’t his only deficit check of the year. He also received a –$.01 pay stub from the TV series Beauty and the Beast, he says.

SAG spokesman Greg Krizman says Barry’s negative residual most likely was issued to cover videocassette returns. At some point, Barry was paid based on estimates of the number of cassettes the show expected to sell through video stores. When an unexpectedly high number of videos were returned unsold, an adjustment was made, Krizman explains.

“This is obviously an extremely rare [occurrence],” he adds.

Well, maybe. Re$iduals, an actor’s watering hole in Studio City, used to give a free drink to anyone who came in with a residuals check under $1. No more, says owner Mike Francisco.

“People would come in with a whole stack of checks,” he laughs.

“In a way it makes some kind of left-handed sense,” says Barry. “It’s amusing to get a check worth less than the stamp on the letter informing you about it, not to mention the cost of the labor and paper.”

HOMIES UNIDOS TRIUMPH

Jose Rodriguez almost missed his court date Wednesday morning, April 19, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered. His case was closed before he got there.

Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum told a Superior Court judge that the prosecution was “unable to proceed” with murder charges against Rodriguez, who spent eight months in juvenile hall as a suspect.

Rodriguez attorney Jorge Gonzalez said his client, a lanky and taciturn 15-year-old, arrived late because he resented having to come at all. He’d protested his innocence from the beginning, Gonzalez said, and had an ironclad alibi to boot.

Rodriguez, then 14, was arrested by LAPD Rampart CRASH last August 12 and charged with a gang-related homicide. He was released from custody last month after the survivor of the double shooting failed to identify him in a live lineup.

Rodriguez and his attorney contend that the arrest was actually a frame-up, part of an escalating campaign by Rampart officers against Homies Unidos, a gang-peace project operated out of a Wilshire Boulevard church. In fact, Rodriguez told police investigators the night he was arrested that he’d been inside a Homies theater workshop when the shooting took place.

Deputy D.A. Hum said Wednesday that it was the testimony of the people at that meeting — particularly the statements of Thom Vernon and Rana Haugen, instructors at the Homies workshop — that persuaded him to drop the case against Rodriguez. “With these alibi witnesses there’s no real room for error. Either he didn’t do it or they’re lying, and they [Vernon and Haugen] don’t have a real strong motive for lying.”

It seems like a reasonable conclusion — one that the cops might have reached last August, when Vernon, four days after Rodriguez’s arrest, told the investigating officers that he could vouch for the 15-year-old. Four days after that, by sheer coincidence, Vernon encountered the investigating officer on the case at a party and repeated that Rodriguez was at the Homies workshop when the shooting took place. Both Vernon and Haugen, along with a third witness, Kim Gee, also submitted sworn declarations to that effect to attorney Gonzalez, who submitted them to the District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutor Hum said last week that the charges were not dropped at that time because detectives were unable to get Vernon and Haugen to agree to an interview. “We’d been trying to get in touch for several months, but they were advised not to cooperate,” Hum said.

Attorney Gonzalez said that account, like the charges against Rodriguez, is bunk. “The entire gist of the case, from the moment I got it, was to try to get them to look at this as a case where the guy was innocent.”

—Charles Rappleye

TYRONE POWER–ADJACENT GRAVE FOR SALE

What do you have to do to get buried in Hollywood? Forty or 50 years ago, the answer would have been: Be a glamorous film personality. Today, the answer is: Be John Q. Public. At least that’s what Hollywood Forever Cemetery (formerly Hollywood Memorial Cemetery), the final resting place of over 300 Hollywood legends, including Cecil B. De Mille, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Marion Davies, is trying to tell you.

For the past six months, the 100-year old final resting place for 80,000 bodies has been aggressively advertising its no-frills steel- or wood-casket funeral for $988. Daily ads in the Los Angeles Times and La Opinión, as well as a huge banner at the entrance to the storied Santa Monica Boulevard location, trumpet the cemetery’s new mission: bringing death to the people.

“The death culture has changed. Funerals aren’t as well attended. Families are dispersed all over the country,” said 30-year-old owner Tyler Cassity. “In general, people don’t want to spend money.”

Included in the price is a funeral director to arrange and perform the funeral, a chapel service, embalming, a one-hour visitation and a video tribute. The big draw, says Cassity, are the videos, which memorialize loved ones in their own home videos or photos. (Forest Lawn Cemetery charges $2,432 for the same services, without the video.)

The additional cost of being buried at Hollywood Forever, in the ground or in a mausoleum, starts at $900. (Securing your final resting place next to Tyrone Power, however, will put you back $8,000.)

Unorthodox by traditional standards, but Cassity is making no apologies.

“I have encountered funeral directors who were appalled with having anything untraditional,” said Cassity. “Here is this strange tradition which is based on the premise that even if a family wanted something they couldn’t have it.”

Since the ads started appearing, the 62-acre cemetery has averaged 52 funerals a month — a big improvement for a business that, just two years ago, was bankrupt and in serious disrepair. Funerals were so few and far between that Cassity was lucky to sew up one or two ceremonies a month. As a matter of fact, most of the money that was trickling in when he bought the place came from having remains interred elsewhere. (The body of makeup artist Max Factor was moved to another cemetery on the orders of angry relatives.)

Since his takeover, Cassity has put $3 million into renovations, as well as his ad campaign to stamp out the general public’s misapprehensions about Hollywood Forever.

“Many people think it is just for stars,” said the 30-year-old Cassity. “It is a huge misconception. A cemetery serves people in the five-to-10-mile radius around it.”

—Christine Pelisek

Edited by Gale Holland

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