From the driver's seat of his tour bus, David Rigsby maneuvered along palm tree-lined roads, past the lavish celebrity homes of Richard Geer, Billy Bob Thornton and Danny DeVito.
The tourists in Rigsby's bus listened through headphones as he recited the multimillion-dollar price tags and lore behind the expansive homes in Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and Hollywood.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, October 23, 2010 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Tourism: An article in the Oct. 22 Business section about aspiring actors who work as tour guides misspelled the last name of actor Richard Gere as Geer.
An aspiring actor himself, Rigsby has been trying for nearly 30 years to land that break-out role that will have him living in such rich real estate. So far, his resume is a catalog of small parts, supporting roles and stand-in gigs.
Until he lands that big role, Rigsby's part-time job with Starline Tours helps pay his bills and fills the work gap between auditions, commercial roles and voice-over jobs.
"I won't say good-bye to Starline until that magical moment happens," he said as he started a two-hour tour from a parking lot behind Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. "That's my goal: to do this until I don't have to."
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of workers like Rigsby in Southern California's $54-billion tourism industry see their jobs as a pathway to something bigger.
Tourism, the largest job creator in the region, employs 861,000 people. But the jobs are often low-wage positions that offer only seasonal or part-time work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For the 49-year-old Rigsby, who isn't looking for a tourism career, the part-time gig is ideal. He drives a tour bus because the hours are flexible, the tips can be generous and the job doesn't demand a college degree or much training. The tourism industry abounds with such jobs.
No one can estimate how many tourism workers see their jobs as a temporary paycheck until they break into a higher-paying career.
But tourism jobs fit the bill.
"In terms of creating opportunities for people who are at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, I don't think there is anything like the leisure and hospitality industry," said Carl Winston, director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at San Diego State.
Tourism jobs fit especially well in Los Angeles County, home to about 262,000 workers in the entertainment industry.
"When people are trying to get their start in Hollywood, they look for jobs that are going to give them flexibility to attend auditions and workshops, and hone their skills as a performer," said Terri Ann Becherer, the Screen Actors Guild's director for background actors.
That was evident earlier this summer when several aspiring actors joined nearly 800 other job-seekers at an audition for part-time tour guide positions at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Among the candidates waiting in line in the hot sun was Michael Cutt, an actor who had worked regularly in the 1980s playing police officers, firefighters and military officers in television shows including "Knott's Landing," "Hill Street Blues" and "Knight Rider."
But acting jobs have been scarce lately, he said, so he applied for the tour guide job to earn some extra money until he can reestablish himself in the industry. "I'm just looking for work in the meantime," he said.
Cutt and Rigsby hope to follow the path of other noteworthy entertainers who worked in tourism before breaking into the entertainment industries.
Andy Fickman, director of "You Again" and "Race to Witch Mountain," began his Hollywood career guiding tours at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Actor Steve Martin honed his comedy skills in the 1960s at the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park. Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks worked as a bellman at the Oakland Hilton in the 1970s, years before he got his big acting break in the 1984 movie "Splash."
Rigsby continues to make the rounds at Hollywood auditions, hoping he will make a splash soon.
So far, his most prominent role, he said, was playing a doctor in the Learning Channel's popular show "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant."
Meanwhile, he continues to work on weekends, throughout the summer and during the holidays, driving a tour bus for Starline Tours. The job pays $10 an hour, but the tips can double or triple his daily pay.
He makes no secret that he accepts tips: He pastes a sign on his bus that suggests tourists leave $10 to $20 per person if they liked the tour.
"This is like the perfect marriage," he said of his tour guide job.
Once in a while, he pockets $300 to $400 a day in tips. But, he said, he hasn't seen such sums since the recession hit two years ago. "This has not been a good year," he said.
The extra money is critical for Rigsby, who became a father again this year to a baby girl. His wife is a receptionist at a pediatrician's office in Beverly Hills. He has a grown daughter from a previous marriage.
The showbiz bug bit Rigsby when he was 18, attending a school for the arts in Jacksonville, Fla.
When he was 20, he flew to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career. But from the beginning, the jobs have been mostly low-paying background roles. One of his early gigs was playing a background dancer in Lionel Richie's 1984 music video "Hello."
He has tried his hand at other entertainment jobs, working behind the scenes as a grip and electrical worker. He has tried writing scripts. He even tried stand-up comedy in the late 1980s.
Still, Rigsby said, leading a tour of about a dozen tourists can be good training for an aspiring entertainer. "It's like being on stage for four hours a day," he said.
Despite his struggles, Rigsby is not the type of guy to give up. When he drives his tour bus, he brings along a stack of resumes and headshots, hoping the tourists on his bus will include a TV or movie executive.
"My boss said if I make it on the red carpet, she wants to be there with me," Rigsby said.