I met Alan Thicke while working on my first real movie in 2006. It was a low-budget comedy and he was starring. I’d never heard of him before.
I was hired to be a producer’s assistant. Which really meant that I was an unpaid intern. The executive producer told me that he had absolutely nothing for me to do. He’d only hired me for tax purposes.
We were shooting on an empty floor in a Daytona Beach hospital. The set was crawling with leathery grips, who were indistinguishable from plumbers. All of the camera technicians looked like the walking dead with oysters under their eyes. The AD ran amuck like a headless chicken. The entire crew seemed perpetually stressed and miserable and haggard.
But talent were glamorously pampered. Each had his and her own trailer and enjoyed television and air conditioning and praise. The crew bowed and curtseyed and rolled out the red carpet each time an actor descended on set. They made out like bandits.
The only thing I ever had to do was help Alan Thicke troubleshoot his television remote. I was aimlessly wandering the hall when he stuck his head out and said, hey guy, can you help me out here? I stepped into his room and he pointed the remote at the television and shrugged. It didn’t work.
I vaguely recognized him. He had familiar features. A square-nose below a pronounced forehead below a thick silver mane. I fiddled with the remote, trying to place his face.
He was familiar like the neighbor with whom you’ve never spoken but always wave to. Like a grocery store manager you pass in the frozen section and nod to. Or like an old pediatrician I’d long forgotten. Namely because he was wearing scrubs for his upcoming scene.
They later told me that Alan Thicke was the dad on Growing Pains. I’d never seen Growing Pains before. Had to google it to figure out what it was.
No matter how many times I pointed the remote at the television, it wouldn’t work. Pressed the buttons as hard as I could and still it wouldn’t turn on. I began to sweat.
All the while, Mr. Thicke observed me with a sense of detachment, like he was in another room watching from a security monitor. I didn’t want to fail the only task of my internship. I didn’t want to let him down.
It took me a few minutes to discover that the television was unplugged. So I plugged it in. Then the television and remote worked flawlessly.
Mr. Thicke thanked me and asked how long before he would be needed on set. He wanted to take a nap. I said I didn’t know. He made a pffffft sound and scanned me from head to toe like I was defending a geocentric view of the universe. Then he asked if I wanted to be an actor.
I said that I wanted to be a filmmaker.
He raised his caterpillar eyebrows and nodded in slow motion. He settled on The Price is Right and stopped flipping through the channels and crossed his legs in the British style. Then he turned his full attention to me.
He said that he had a son about my age named Robin. Maybe a little older. But roughly the same age. Anyway, somehow, at some point, Robin had gotten it into his head that he was going to be a musician.
Mr. Thicke said that he’d spent years and years trying to deter Robin from pursuing a career in entertainment. He’d warned his son that it would be a long, arduous struggle and that there was absolutely no guarantee that he’d ever amount to anything.
My heart sank. Mr. Thicke looked me over and smiled. He said that filmmaking was a hard path, too. Even people with connections in Hollywood fail to break in.
What’s Robin’s backup plan? Mr. Thicke shrugged and said that he was a stubborn kid. He didn’t have one. And the unfortunate thing was, Robin’s career was slow going.
Very, very slow.