William Henry Pratt was an aspiring actor of the twentieth century. Pratt was not exactly what you’d call “star” material–tall, gangly, sunken-in-cheeks, and deep-set eyes, physical features that were an obstacle to the kind of roles he sought.
One day Pratt was walking around a Hollywood studio when he bumped into a man named James Whale, a famous director who at the time, was casting for a movie called Frankenstein. Whale took one look at Pratt, and with stunned amazement said “You’re the one! I’ve found my monster. You’re perfect!”
Years later Pratt was approached by a young Christopher Lee, who was seeking career advice. Pratt offered the following words as council: “Find something other actors can’t or won’t do, and if you can make an impact doing that, you’ll never be forgotten.”
Now that’s what I call advice, sage advice in fact, from the would-be forgotten William Henry Pratt and the never to be forgotten Boris Karloff.
A “star” in entertainment today is so much more than a handsome leading man or a girl with a pretty face. In fact “star-power” is not necessarily attached to the lead role at all. A “star” is born when the innate uniqueness of a person is used to its full advantage to create a performance that only that person can convey. The longer I live, the more I am fascinated by this concept and the more I am willing to embrace it.
In college I worked at a radio station. When I was tested to be on the air, the only thing that was better than the awe-struck look on the general manager’s face was his exclamation of “You’re a natural!” It’s a phrase I heard frequently during my college years until I got my first full-time job at KUPI-FM in Idaho Falls, ID. The feedback I received here was starkly different.
“You sound like Hank Hill,” I was told.
I was given an overnight shift so that I could “practice,” and I diligently plugged away at it for about a year until I was given a prime-time slot. I found it to be rather sardonic when I “found my niche” as the Morning Show Newsman.
I began my college years with the intent of becoming a television news anchor, but as time went on I discovered I didn’t necessarily enjoy the daily routine of that role. A lot of my duties at the college radio station were news-related so when I got the news gig after college, I realized that others compliments of my “natural abilities” were based upon that bit.
Like Boris Karloff, my characteristics were not suited to the type of roles I was seeking at the radio station, but my supposed obstacles suddenly became assets when acting in a role that enhanced my natural traits. My “Hank Hill” sounding voice was a huge setback for a DJ job but as a newsman it could be a trademark.
Becoming the Newsman set a new direction for my desire to be a radio announcer. I was able to fill a role that no one else could do in the moment it was needed, and because of it I’ve never been forgotten.