Lenz’s debut memoir recounts his four decades on the stage and screen.
Brushes with greatness are a recurring theme throughout Lenz’s reflection on a lifetime playing Hollywood bit parts and regional theater roles. Among the memories: an old friendship with Goldie Hawn, a fight scene with John Wayne and a bout of drinking with Jason Robards and George C. Scott. Lenz concedes that he peaked early, however, gaining minor buzz in the late 1960s as an up-and-coming actor only to follow a trajectory that delivered lots of work but not much acclaim. “My God, people listened when I spoke,” he recalls in one wistful memory of early promise. “Naturally, I assumed this was the way it would always be.” Instead, Lenz was relegated to endless auditions and decades of journeyman roles in TV series like Marcus Welby, MD, The Six Million Dollar Man and Falcon Crest. His story is freighted with disappointment, although the author blames only himself for some of his bad breaks. These include the decision to pass on a stage opportunity with a well-known Hollywood director for a lead role in a Kansas City dinner-theater production of The Owl and the Pussy Cat. Lenz uses the present tense to suitable effect in sustaining immediacy between flashbacks from decades ago and more recent events, and he documents a career longevity that is breathtaking. He writes with self-punishing honesty in places, opening up about substance abuse, failed marriages and troubled children. He describes visiting a Los Angeles speakeasy to revel in his notoriety as a working actor only to have his bubble burst by a drunken community college professor who taunts him for not being better known. “You know what you are? You’re a loser.” It’s a slap in the face, but it lends Lenz the clarity to see that fame isn’t everything. His story is more about self-acceptance than glory, and readers will cheer Lenz as he reaches that realization himself.
A touching, bittersweet remembrance of a workaday career in acting.