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I Coulda Been a Rocketeer

Disney staff writer Karey Kirkpatrick talks about his brush with Jeffrey Katzenberg and the A-list

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I Coulda Been a Rocketeer

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I'm a nobody. Let's get that out of the way. Maybe to my family and friends I'm somebody, but in Hollywood, where talent is dissected into A, B, and C lists, I mingle somewhere in the H's. But one Friday last year, that almost changed.

I was a staff writer at Walt Disney Studios, working on a new animated musical, when my partner and I were called in to show our stuff to the man, the head honcho, Jeffrey Katzenberg. After our presentation, out of nowhere, Jeffrey leaned forward in his chair, set his diet Coke on the table, and looked me square in the eye. ''We're doing this movie called The Rocketeer,'' he said, ''and we're having a hard time finding the lead. Karey, I think you're perfect. If you have the time, could you meet the director and screen-test for us?''

Of course I have the time, I wanted to scream. People live and die for a chance like this! Naturally I answered with an unaffected, ''Sure.'' Jeffrey made a few calls (my first taste of Somebodyness) and sent me to a exec's office to get the script.

''Can I help you?''

''I'm Karey Kirkpatrick,'' I said, confident the word on me had swept the studio.

''I'm supposed to read for The Rocketeer...?'' A blank stare. ''Jeffrey saw me this morning and...'' Ah, the magic word: Jeffrey. Executives shook my hand. They offered me Perrier, nectar of the Somebody, and gave me the highly confidential script. I floated over to Disney casting.

''Can we help you?''

''I'm Karey Kirkpatrick,'' I tried again.

Silence.

''I'm supposed to read for The Rocketeer.'' Their eyes rolled.

''I'm the one Jeffrey saw this...'' Raised eyebrows, open arms. More designer water. I thought, soon I'll be sharing my story with Johnny, Dave, and Arsenio. Hollywood lore in the making. Look out, Oscar. ''I'd like to thank my family, and the Academy. They like me! They like me!''

The audition scene was the one in which the Rocketeer discovers the top secret rocket pack. We didn't actually have a rocket pack, so I discovered a top secret pencil holder. ''Okay, very nice. We'll get back to you.'' This was, I believe, just a polite way of saying, ''No chance in hell.'' I returned to my office believing the fat lady had sung.

Then the phone rang. It was casting. Apparently Jeffrey had told the fat lady to sit down and shut up. He wanted me to meet the director and do a screen-test.

A screen test. Costumes, makeup, lights, camera, action. The whole nine yards. But in order to screen-test, you must negotiate a ''test deal'' — a contract confirming your fee should you land the role. Sometimes the deal will entail a guarantee for three more pictures. Three more movies? Hello, Spago, my regular table, please.

Lawyers and agents spent hours on the phone while I mentally shopped for beach-front property in Malibu. I thought, it can't get any better than this. No, but it can get worse. Disney was baffled — what do you pay a nobody? We settled on a video test instead, like a consolation prize — the Eskimo Pies of filmdom. I sat in a chair in front of a blue backdrop and read with a faceless casting person somewhere in the darkness. I didn't even have the luxury of a pencil holder.

Then it was over. No fairy-tale ending, no happily ever after. I went back to my word processor, someone else became a star, and my life as a nobody resumed. As the days passed, I decided that it simply wasn't meant to be. I was a writer, not a Rocketeer.

Later, I saw an ad for the movie featuring a photo of its lead, Bill Campbell. And you know what? The guy looks just like me. Maybe I set them on ! the right track, I thought. As I told this story to a friend, he studied my face and said, ''Yeah, I can see why Jeffrey picked you. You have a Campbell- esque quality.'' ''Campbell-esque? Au contraire. He's Karey-esque,'' I said. But the proclamation fell on deaf ears. After all, Campbell's the star of a major motion picture. He's a Somebody. Yeah, well, I bet he doesn't know Jeffrey. — Karey Kirkpatrick

Originally posted Jul 12, 1991 Published in issue #74 Jul 12, 1991 Order article reprints
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