a personal story about Fred Willard

plus "We Need to Talk About Britney," the JLO photo conspiracy & Frogmore home loan assistance

A personal story about the late, great, Fred Willard.

In July 2012, I got my second Hollywood job working as a talent agent’s assistant in New York City. My boss, Diana*, was a top commercial voiceover agent who represented many celebrities and Broadway stage actors in their transition from narrative acting into selling things like yogurt and dog kibble.

For absolutely meager wages, I sent actors from both coasts out on auditions and to recording sessions. Back then, 80% of my work was conducted via two landline telephones that I turned on at 8:30AM. I’d answer calls on 32 different lines for the next 10 hours, until we unplugged them and went home.

It was also my job to “roll calls” from important people to Diana’s office. “I have Diana for you,” I’d say, trying to sound like our relationship was more of a mentor-mentee situation than it was. In reality, the only time we ever talked in person was when shit hit the fan.

Shit did hit the fan. One summer morning, my coworker Sam* swiveled his computer towards me to show me a TMZ article, “FRED WILLARD ARRESTED FOR LEWD CONDUCT.” Fred had been arrested the night before in LA, for having his pants down and his penis out at a porno cinema called the “Tiki Adult Theater,” during a random police raid. To this day, I really don’t know what porno movie theaters are for except public masturbation, and the entire thing confuses me as to why what Fred did was a problem. It struck me then, as it does now, as a way for police to humiliate a famous person and increase their quotas.

I always loved Fred Willard’s work. I had seen Best in Show in theaters when I was only about 13. Waiting for Guffman was a transformational experience for me. When the cast of A Mighty Wind got some TV time to perform at the 2004 Academy Awards alongside self-serious musicians like Sting and Elvis Costello, it was the first time I realized there’s room for weirdos like me in Hollywood.

“He’s gonna lose the La Quinta contract!” Sam shouted. Fred was, at the time, the official voice of La Quinta Inns & Suites. As a 72-year old, he hadn’t acted consistently, and he was making good money off of this gig.

I doubted Sam’s claim about the contract. Fred had done literally hundreds of spots for them, and La Quinta motels didn’t strike me as a particularly “family-friendly” brand. If La Quinta the company knew what went on at La Quinta the motels, they’d never let kids in there.

We Googled it. Right on La Quinta’s website was some bullshit mission statement about “family values.” Then, as if on cue, my phone rang - it was the ad agency that represented La Quinta. I rolled the call to Diana and AIM-chatted her the TMZ article for reference. He lost the contract.

I put my head down on my desk, thinking (as I often do) about how stupid America is with our dumb puritanical values, and how upset I’d be if Fred’s story went the way of Paul Ruebens. I didn’t care about the motel contract - as an hourly employee I didn’t see any of the profits from that anyway. I cared about how the world might destroy Fred.

Diana was standing over me. “I emailed Fred and told him to call me back when he wakes up. If he calls, get me immediately.” I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be a part of telling a 72-year old comedy legend that he was fired. I told Sam I was going on my lunch break, and took a 90 minute walk around Union Square. I made Sam deal with it.

Was that a dick move? Yes. But Sam wanted to be a talent agent some day. I didn’t. I thought it was good training for Sam’s career.

The next week, La Quinta’s agency sent out a casting notice looking for a “Fred Willard-type” to be their new brand ambassador. As for Fred, he made the most of it, joking about his arrest on every late night talk show. Here’s what he told Jimmy Fallon.

“Let me say this: It’s the last time I’m gonna listen to my wife when she says, ‘Why don’t you go out and see a movie?'”

*Names changed

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