The Dark Side of Stardom

an excerpt

Chapter One

Tuesday, April 13, 2004
6:12 p.m.

Standing under the soothing, warm spray of his studio trailer's shower, Grant Jackson relaxed for the first time since arriving at Paramount this morning.

The small voice in his head-the one that commonly nagged him-doggedly repeated the questions he had asked himself since NBC-TV had picked up the Our House pilot for series last summer: Are you ready for the dream-come-true-stardom in a network sitcom-and a great big dose of happy ever aftering with Cam?

Mentally, he answered the small voice: As it happens, I was ready. Or, at least, I was ready for everything that made network sitcom stardom my lifetime dream. I was ready for working at the legendary Paramount studio. I was ready for the money and fame, for being recognized at the Pavilions, at restaurants-everywhere I go. I was most certainly ready for the never ending compliments about the show and my work. And I was ready for the nonstop waves of sexual desire rippling off fans of both genders.

The warm shower spray soothed Grant physically. But the next thoughts that came to mind distressed him. Sadly, there's the other side of stardom, the dark side. The nonstop pressure to act and look like a star. The career responsibilities that extend way beyond my work on the series: the entourage of agents, managers, publicists, network and studio executives. And then, there are the probing interviews and the endless personal appearances. Perhaps darkest of all is a predatory media that builds you up, only to wait for you to crash and burn. I wasn't ready for any of them. I don't know if I'll ever be ready for this darkness. In truth, I only recently discovered its existence.

And I definitely wasn't ready for everything that intrudes upon my personal life, taking me away from home, away from Cam, the love of my life. As a gay man, I most certainly wasn't ready for the necessity of constantly dodging media questions about my private life.

Grant stopped the small voice in its mental tracks. When he allowed the silent speech again, it was harsh, self-critical, indicting: I have some nerve complaining about the dark side of my stardom-even silently.

After all, I'm on a hit series, making big money, and living my dream.

Taking his cue from Fonzie's thumbs up trademark "Aayyy!" and Joey Tribbiani's signature pick-up line, "How YOU doin?'" my producer gave me ‘Sup?' an every episode first entrance query that is trending on Yahoo, and repeated by fans everywhere. I've been on the cover of TV Guide, for Christ's sake. I went to the Oscars.

Cam, my Sugar Babe, is the one who is living the dark side of stardom. He's still Hottie's most expensive escort, but his adult film career has gone to hell in a hand basket. Twice already, he has played the older second fiddle to a teenybopper title star.

And then there's living with me! Not only does everyone kiss my ass, but I'm always rescheduling or canceling our personal plans because of something work-related. While I walked the red carpet at the Oscars, Cam sat at home alone in front of our big-screen watching his spouse schmooze with the nominees. By now he must feel like Norman Maine in A Star Is Born.

Grant refused to let his mental voice continue its rebuke. And so, he grabbed the soap bar and made the shower water warmer. I know hot water dries my skin. But it feels so good-so damn good.

A change of temperature brings a change of mind. Grant's thoughts turned away from self-recrimination, returning to the minutiae of his stressful workday.

He had been in the makeup room less than five minutes this morning when Clark Montgomery, one of his Our House co-stars-the impossibly handsome, self-possessed one-had rushed in, telling him that Kathie King, another co-star-the most talented, but increasingly unreliable one-had again called in sick.

The news had completely unnerved Grant. Most of his scenes this week involved Kathie King's character, Elena Evans. Kathie's stand-in, Charlene Mercedes, was a great gal, but her delivery and timing were very different from Kathie's. Grant's own performance was always askew when Kathie was absent and he rehearsed with Charlene.

Consequently Grant had gone through the blocking rehearsal, unable to make even his best lines work. James Burgess was directing the episode, wondering why Grant's delivery was flat, and imploring him to "get with it."

He had resisted telling "Burg" that Charlene's delivery was the problem. Her timing and her phrasing were radically different than Kathie's. He could not get the hang of playing off of Charlene. But his lips were sealed. Grant would not chance causing trouble for Kathie's stand-in though. Like all jobs on a primetime network series, stand-in jobs were hard earned. And Charlene was a good kid, even if she wasn't a catalyst for eliciting Grant's best performance.

That is why he had felt insecure and stressed all day. That is, until now. As the soothing, warm shower spray pelted his enervated young body, Grant literally felt it draining away anxiety and insecurity, and restoring him to a state of relaxed energy.

Finally he turned the water off and reached up to the top of the shower door for his bath towel. It wasn't there, and Grant suddenly remembered he had left it on the towel rack near the sink.

Stepping out of the engraved glass shower door, Grant saw his co-star Clark Montgomery, and not his monogrammed bath towel, awaiting him. Nude, dripping wet, and surprised to see Clark, Grant reverted to his Our House catch query, "Sup?"

Before Clark answered, Grant saw his co-star's "bedroom eyes" sweeping up and down his nude physique, lingering, or so Grant thought, on his privates. Despite himself, Grant felt his organ stirring, growing, under his co-star's gaze. Grant always became aroused when anyone eyeballed his nakedness He remembered the embarrassment of becoming semi-erect under the gaze of old Dr. Boecker during his yearly physical exams. Quickly returning to the moment, Grant thought, If I didn't know better, I'd swear Clark is cruising my junk!

But Grant's next thought was, If Clark is enjoying the view, then why the hell, not? Cam is always walking around the house and the backyard naked. And he's always telling me to become more relaxed about my own nudity.

After drinking in Grant's tanned, muscled torso, Clark quipped, "You've got a better body on you than I would have thought."

So that's it, Grant thought. It's just one guy comparing his stuff to the next guy's. But still…

Finally Clark handed Grant the plush royal purple, monogrammed towel, GJJ-the one Cam had given him on Valentine's Day. "I've got news, Buddy Boy. Big news!" Clark exclaimed.

"Do tell," Grant said, sighing. Instead of covering himself, Grant casually toweled off his long blond hair, now almost shoulder length for his role as Our House's Artie Miller. As he did so, Grant was embarrassed to feel his organ expanding between his smooth, tanned thighs.

Not only had Grant's platinum hair grown longer, the producers had compelled him to sprout a beard and a moustache, such as they were. All of this had been done in order to make him appear more convincing as the 

twenty-five-year-old character he was playing.

Grant would be twenty-four in October, but because of his baby-face everyone took him for much younger.

Although his thin blond beard and moustache required enhancing in makeup before he faced the cameras, Grant had not resisted altering his appearance. In fact, he had welcomed it, since it made him less likely to be recognized as Grant J, the Hottie International "escort" and gay adult film actor he had been until last August.

His hair and torso toweled off, Grant finally wrapped the towel around his waist. Only then did Clark's eyes meet Grant's own. "What's the big news?"

"You'd better sit down, Buddy Boy," Clark said.

Grant followed Clark into the sitting room. He sat on the plush leather massage recliner, and Clark sat across from him in a retro fabric-covered fan back chair.

"This is big-really big," Clark began. His excitement was palpable. "Ready?"

"Ready," Grant said, flipping the switch on the recliner's massage unit. It vibrated soothingly, increasing his feelings of peace and well being.

"NBC picked us up for twenty-two episodes!" Clark blurted. "That's a full September to May season."

With the news, Grant bolted upright, his towel falling to the floor as he stood. "All right!" he exclaimed, high-fiving his co-star. Clark had not exaggerated. This was really big news-a full second season pick-up!

Clark rose too, retrieving Grant's towel from the floor. As Clark did so, Grant noted that his co-star's eyes lingered a little too long at his crotch level, Clark's face was too close for comfort to his junk, before he met Grant's eyes and returned the towel. Once again, Grant felt a stirring in his loins.

"Can you believe it, Buddy Boy? A full season!"

"That's great!" Grant concurred, securing the towel around his waist once again. He was happy, ecstatic really, but not surprised. After all, Our House had debuted at number eighteen in January, and the series had never left the top twenty.

"Do you know what this means?" Clark asked, his voice near breathless with excitement.

"It means I'm holding on to this sweet trailer," Grant replied, light-heartedly.

In contrast, Clark's voice was dead serious. "It means I can buy that Holmby Hills house the wife wants."

Sitting down on the vibrating recliner again, Grant said cordially, "Before calling the realtor, why not fix yourself a drink?"

Whenever liquor was offered, Clark was all in. He crossed to the bar and poured his poison of choice: Stoli, neat.

Grant's thoughts remained on his co-star.

It would seem that Clark has everything: fame, health, world-class looks, a beautiful wife, and a hit series. So why does he always seem restless, somehow unfulfilled? Why does he drink so much? People magazine just named him one of their sexiest men alive, saying, "The raven-haired sitcom star looks like a twenty-first century version of another Clark - Gable."

Out of print, people often compared the actor to the comic book character Clark Kent. His thick mane of hair was so black that, under lights, it shimmered blue. Clark's face was classically handsome. You would be hard-pressed to find a single extra ounce of flesh on his muscled frame. In reviewing Our House, several critics had noted his resemblance to the young Matt LeBlanc on Friends' first season-before success caused his 

waistline to expand along with his fame and wealth.

Clark interrupted Grant's thoughts. "Your usual?"

"Sure." Grant never drank liquor at work. His "usual" was bottled water. At home, Grant still enjoyed one daily Cajun Dirty Martini before dinner.

As Clark handed him the water, Grant asked, "So, what's up this summer?"

Sitting again, Clark answered, "I'm doing The 40-Year- Old Virgin, with Steve Carell, at Universal. How about you?"

Grant had not heard of Steve Carell, or The 40-Year Old Virgin. But the title reminded him of another movie, an ancient one, The Old Maid, starring Bette Davis. One rainy winter afternoon he had watched the tear jerker on TMC-Mama and her tissue box beside him.

Grant took a long swallow of the icy water before replying, "I'm taking the summer off-going to my best friend's wedding, and then, hanging at home."

As ever, it didn't take long for Clark to polish off the cocktail. "I'd better get home to the wife," he said, rising from the chair.

"Thanks for being the bearer of great news!" Grant said, his bath towel slipping down a bit as he stood, revealing a tantalizing hint of platinum pubes. And he was thinking, Why does Clark always refer to Cindy Lou as "the wife?" I've never heard him call her by name.

"Thanks for the drink."

"No problema."

Clark crossed to the door, opened it, and disappeared.