“When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”

— H.L. Mencken

My Democratic and independent friends are still mourning over the loss of their candidates, and I know how they feel. I remember how I lost, by only a hundred votes, best costume in the Hollywood Annual Gay Halloween ball.

No, I’m not coming out.

At that time, anyone, straight or gay, could enter, and a few of my friends and I went as the quartet from “Wizard of Oz.” We lost the prize of 100 bucks and a weekend in Palm Springs. The winner was a guy who came as a giant white Christmas tree. True story.

But that wasn’t the biggest loss in my career, and I’ve been saving this true story for 30 years for a time when my loser friends needed some consolation.

So here’s the true story of how I became, probably, the only struggling actor who was a victim of the Cold War. That’s right. James Devine vs. the Soviet Union.

If you don’t believe me, you can ask she, who still misses the possible $20,000 I lost, all because of the former Soviet Union. Or you could ask my former agents at the biggest commercial agency in Beverly Hills. They lost 10 percent of that amount, and it might have been more. But then again, it’s not about the money.

At the end of August 1983, I was one of over 200 actors auditioning for a big airline commercial. Cop shows are fun to do, but commercials are gold. There are actors who will turn down a spot on a hit show to take a Bayer Aspirin commercial, because they’re known to run forever and make you rich. That’s why George Clooney and Matt Damon are adding to their bank accounts by doing voice-overs.

An example: My friend Mike Bell threw a party at his Malibu Beach house the night he hit over a million bucks for a voice-over for Parkay Margarine. It ran longer than Gunsmoke. Just his voice. True story.

It’s like that today, only even more competitive. Hundreds get called. In my case, it was a cattle call. Then there was a call back with a surviving 50, another call back, and it’s me and 10 others. There’s a third call back, and it’s me and two other guys. This time I lucked in. I got the job.

So I showed up on set and shot the spot. It was a great commercial, using a sketch from Da Vinci’s notebooks, which then turned into yours truly sitting in a seat on a Korean Airliner, being served by a beautiful Korean hostess. I was paid $400 for the day (today I’d get $600) and went home and waited for the spot to run on national shows, knowing that each time it ran, I would be paid $100 a spot. Today, it’s three times as much and much more complex.

My agents were rubbing their hands. They remembered how a little Dry Idea Deodorant commercial I had made one year netted us $10,000 in just nine months. It ran all day and into the primetime night shows. Let the good times roll. Oh, did I mention that the airline was KAL, Korean Airlines?

Wait a minute. Hold on. What? On Sept. 1, 1983, Korean Airlines (KAL) flight 007 flew into Soviet airspace. Two Soviet fighters intercepted it. The fighter pilots rang up the airliner. No answer. They shot it down in the Sea of Japan, along with my possible $20,000, and KAL immediately canceled my commercial after three viewings.

My agents, humanitarians all, were deeply shocked at the loss of their 10 percent, and oh yes, certainly the loss of life. One of them suggested, and many of my actor friends agreed, that we should sue the Soviet Union for loss of revenue. They knew we’d never get a ruble out of them, but one of the agents said that the international publicity would make me a star.

I would, he said, be on the national news, front pages of the major newspapers, and maybe get interviewed by Tom Brokaw. The idea was actually discussed but then quickly vanished along with my possible $20,000.

So, to my friends who are angry at the Republicans, at least you can’t say they shot down an airliner.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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