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TOUGH MONEY: Entertainment

A Day in the Life of a Gofer

PA Chris Wayne performs his role with gusto. Granddad John (yes, that one) also saw hard work as a key to success.

March 24, 1997|GALI KRONENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When a door on the set of the NBC television show "Wings" won't close, a director bellows for a production assistant to stand behind it and hold it shut. Chris Wayne leaps into action. He braces the door until the final take, literally propping up the props.

But that's OK with Wayne. As a PA, it's his job to hold things on the show together and to not mind if no one thanks him for fetching a doughnut, copying a script or taking a phone message.

Part wet nurse, part coolie, PAs labor under the belief that success in the industry rests on their ability to provide writers with their Chinese takeout still hot and the quickness with which they provide a bottle of liquid paper to a producer.

So on a recent Monday, it is no surprise to find Wayne on the Paramount lot tidying Room 206 of the Wilder Building at 6:10 a.m. Even on this, an unusually early morning, Wayne isn't due in until 6:30 a.m. But, as he explains: "This way you're ahead of the game. When someone asks you for something, you're ready to roll."

Without sounding self-important, Wayne has a way of making even the most menial task sound as critical as last-minute preparations before a battle. This may be genetic. After all, John Wayne was his grandfather.

But where the actor vanquished outlaws with a six-shooter, Chris pacifies studio egos with kindness.

By 7 a.m., 29-year-old Wayne has run 40 copies of the day's call sheets, taken messages off the answering machine and made three calls to Graphic Services to make certain that the day's scripts have been delivered to Stage 19.

Copies of the newspaper and the trades are fetched. Phones are answered. And the weekly grocery store run is made to stock up on cookies, doughnuts and orange juice for the show's writers. (The drug run to replenish supplies of Advil, Motrin, Excedrin, Actifed, Sudafed, Tums, Maalox and Alka Seltzer for the writers' kitchen/pharmacy is only once a month.)

At noon, the temperature is an unseasonable 92 degrees and the back of Wayne's lavender Brooks Brothers shirt is damp with sweat. Despite the heat, he pursues his work with the steadfastness of the Energizer bunny. Everyone else at Paramount appears to be at lunch. But Wayne still needs to pick up $1,500 in old $100 bills that are to be used as props later that afternoon.

He bounds up the stairs of the Schulberg Building, two at a time, to withdraw that sum from Judy "The Estimator" Chesser, the show's accountant, who is punching numbers on a calculator while listening to the soap opera "Another World."

"Nice background noise," she says before sending Wayne to another part of the lot to first obtain a prop master's signature. As it turns out, the prop master, too, is out to lunch.

But none of this coming and going, schlepping and toting, perturbs Wayne. No, his "Sure, I'll pick your wife up at the airport" attitude has made him a valued and trusted PA. Howard Gewirtz, the show's executive director, joked that the perfect PA is someone who is underpaid, overworked and good-natured about it.

As it happens, that's also a description of Chris Wayne.

Michael Sardo, a "Wings" producer, has his own theory about what makes Wayne such a valued PA.

"I'm convinced Chris was born in the '40s, came of age in the '50s and was frozen and brought back to life three years ago when he came to work here," jokes Sardo. "His values and his work ethic represent the best of another era."

It's 12:20 p.m. Still no sign of the prop master. Back at Wilder, Wayne stabs a slice of turkey with a plastic fork from a deli platter in the writers' kitchen. But the phone rings, he is told the prop master has just returned, so he delays biting into the turkey and heads back into action.

At 12:33 p.m. Wayne nails that signature. Back to "The Estimator" and, with her blessings, he's off to the cashier. For the umpteenth time and with considerable embarrassment, Wayne explains why he is working with a photographer and reporter in tow.

"These folks are from the L.A. Times. They're doing a story on production assistants."

Cashier: "So they chose the best one."

At this, Wayne blushes.

She counts out his petty cash. Wayne places the money owed each individual in a separate envelope. He licks them shut and, for good measure, rubs the back of each envelope a few times with the bottom of his fist. When she hands him 15 $100 bills, Wayne sheepishly asks, "Anything older-looking?" She musters several crumpled bills. Satisfied, Wayne forges ahead.

Whoops. He jogs back a few steps to the teller's window: "Thank you, Lucy."

It's now 1 p.m., and things actually begin to slow down. Wayne has his turkey sandwich on a kaiser roll, noshes a few fistfuls of potato chips and even lobs a Nerfball back and forth with fellow PA Rachel Schwimmer. They manage a dozen hits before the phone rings.

At 2 p.m., Wayne heads over to New York Street, an outdoor set designed to resemble neighborhoods in Greenwich Village, the Upper East Side and the Financial District.

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