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There Is a Doctor in the House

June 08, 1997|Kennette Crockett | Kennette Crockett is freelance writer based in Los Angeles

The mini-gallery reads like a Hollywood who's who: A picture hangs of John Travolta decked out in black, smoking a cigarette and looking very much like Chili Palmer from "Get Shorty"--the inscription, "Thanks for everything." Martin Landau is there as well, as are Samuel L. Jackson and Val Kilmer.

These are only a few of the hundred that adorn the walls--not at a popular Melrose eatery or Brentwood dry cleaner but in a doctors' waiting room in Hollywood. And no, they're not plastic surgeons.

If these walls could talk, they would say they belong to Don Michaelson, his son Gerald Michaelson and Paula Schoen, physicians who specialize in show business. They are among a handful of doctors around town whom industry people must see for physicals before and when they are filming a movie, a TV show or preparing for a music tour. Just like many of those they examine, these doctors are tapped by Hollywood via word-of-mouth.

"Our job is really in the entertainment industry," says the elder Michaelson, 74, who is now semiretired. In the past 25 years, he has examined many stars, including Robert Redford, John Wayne, Ann Jillian, Lloyd Bridges and Shaquille O'Neal and, recently, Clint Eastwood and the crew for "Absolute Power." "We help to get the movies and TV shows made," he says proudly.

With millions of dollars riding on movies, studios and producers want to make sure their projects have a good chance of staying on schedule. Illness can quickly derail a project, so Michaelson, Michaelson or Schoen make themselves available 24 hours a day to go to sets, homes, studios or wherever else needed.

"We have to be flexible and go when and where they need us. The other night we were on a downtown rooftop treating the director of photography for a film," says the younger Michaelson.

Routine services range from flu shots to physical exams. "It's a matter of looking at the ears, eyes and throat, listening to the chest and the heart, getting a pulse and blood pressure and temperature and that's it," Schoen says. "Basically the actors and actresses do not even get undressed. We usually are examining them out on a sound stage somewhere or in a room where they just finished a read-through."

"These doctors give you the once-over, checking your oil and then sending you on your way," jokes actress Janeane Garofalo, who currently co-stars in "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion."

Sometimes bond and production companies require actors to have more in-depth physicals.

"Some insurance companies are more detailed and are requiring more of the essential-element examinations, which include drug-testing," says Gerald Michaelson. "Some [actors and crew members] feel that it's too invasive."

"Producers want to protect their interest," says Suzzanne Douglas, who appears on the WB series "The Parent Hood." "They want to know if something could interfere with production."

A native of Iowa, Michaelson never could have predicted he'd end up giving checkups to movie stars.

"I was majoring in journalism [at the University of Iowa] before I enlisted in the Air Corps and flew planes during World War II," he recalls. "After I got out, I took a series of aptitude tests and I did really well in science so they pushed me toward medicine."

A bad case of the winter blahs prompted him and his wife, Solveig, to venture west after the war to Klamath Falls, Ore. But that city proved too small for his practice and his children's singing aspirations pulled them to Southern California. Four of his seven children were in a group called the Relations, "and they often toured here," he says. So the family moved to Woodland Hills in the late '60s and he practiced at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank.

There, Michaelson met Dr. Edward Gourson, who had examined many celebrities.

"He needed someone to fill in for him from time to time. He knew that I was ethical. His office was on Hollywood and Vine but the building didn't have a parking lot. So all of these famous actors would have to park and walk. So it's true what Bob Hope said," Michaelson says with a laugh, "if you stood on that corner long enough you'll see every actor in Hollywood."

As Gourson battled cancer, which eventually claimed his life, Michaelson did more and more work for the industry, and brought his son into the practice in 1987. "I was the medical director for 10 years at ABC, Universal, Paramount and Warner Bros.," he says. "I also advised Disney, Fox, Metromedia and I did all of the television networks because producers would call me to examine their actors."

He rummages through some of the autographed photos he kept when he handed the bulk of the practice over to his son. "Here is one of Madonna [dressed in vintage "Desperately Seeking Susan" wear]: 'To Doctor Mike, the best shot in the business.' " The doctor adds with another laugh: "That would be a B12 shot."

Unlike many of those he has treated through the years, Michaelson will never get his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Still, he and other industry physicians are appreciated. The message on Billy Crystal's autographed photo sums up a popular sentiment: "I'm always glad to see you because it means I'm working."

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