Photo by Max S. Gerber
“You can’t do this for the money.”
Bart Sterling takes a drag off his cigarette, ingests a gulp of hazelnut-flavored coffee and removes his ball cap. In more than 40 years, the 87-year-old extra has appeared in no less than 200 motion pictures and television shows.
In the summer of 1957, a 30-year-old Bart Sterling headed to Los Angeles. The New York native isn’t bashful about what he wanted: stardom and fortune.
“I was starstruck,” he says, grinning as he thinks of Tex Ritter and Jean Arthur and other golden stars of the silver screen. Sterling hoped to follow in their footsteps.
According to the Screen Actors Guild, there are more than 120,000 extras, or background actors, in Hollywood. Work is sporadic, and the money is sometimes just a few dollars over minimum wage: About 75 percent of all actors earn less than $11,000 a year.
In his late 40s, Sterling says, he realized, “I wasn’t gonna be a star.” So, he became a great extra. “I just loved being part of it — helping movies to get made.”
He’s worked on everything from The Mister Wishbone Show, a late-’50s early-morning kids’ show about pets, to more-contemporary TV shows like Simon and Simon and St. Elsewhere to movies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Sterling may not get his star on the Walk of Fame, but in more than three decades of work, he’s never been late to a set. And he met some of his idols, such as Tex Ritter and Roy Rogers. “I didn’t get to do everything that I wanted to do, but I got to do more than most.”