Poorman’s Radio Days: From Radio to the Big Screen

He’s a star! Art by Federico Medina.

In my nearly 38 years in radio, I would estimate I’ve done more than 10,000 interviews. The list of interviewees includes some pretty famous actors such as Keanu Reeves, Johnny Depp, Jennifer Lopez, Rosie Perez, Rob Lowe, Jennifer Anniston, Christina Appelgate, Billy Bob Thornton, Steven Baldwin, the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 and many more. Actors were usually gracious and respectful, and on many occasions, I’d bond with them during the course of the interview. With some we even became “buddy-buddy.” I developed a good friendship with Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Soleil Moon Frye, David Faustino and Corey Feldman. This relationship with the acting community of guests on my radio shows took a surprising turn when I made a career decision in early 2012.

I’m going to let you in on a secret that I’ve told very few people. It’s an OC Weekly EXCLUSIVE! In August of 2011, I moved to New York to do a syndicated radio show from the Big Apple entitled Poorman’s Nation. The Nation very quickly turned into the Disaster. After only a month and a half of broadcasting from a barrell (I’m not kidding), the syndication came to an end with only one small station. I had nearly seven months left on my lease in New York with no job. Thus, I decided to become an actor in March 2012. I had virtually no acting experience, but kind of always felt I’d get into it later in life. I didn’t want to tell anybody, because I wanted a fresh start without bringing “The Poorman” and “his radio dramas” into the mix. Also, I didn’t want anybody to know if I crashed and burned as an actor. I started applying for acting gigs in New York and began getting booked immediately. My name as an actor was my real name, James Trenton. Nobody in that world knew who the Poorman was. Without taking acting classes, I learned on the job. In November 2015, I moved back to California. To this day, I’ve been involved in more than 150 acting projects on both coasts. Along the way, I’ve run into a few famous actors on sets who, unbeknownst to them, had previously been interviewed on the radio by The Poorman. The situations were quite interesting!

In 2013, I was booked for a day of reshoots during the remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Ben Stiller. This was a big, expensive scene where the production shut down major streets in midtown Manhattan, and Ben and his stunt double skateboarded for blocks down the streets while New Yorkers walked by on a busy sidewalk (my role in the film). Ben had been a guest of mine when I hosted Loveline on KROQ. I interviewed him for the entire show. He knew me well … too well. I decided not to go up to Ben and let him know who I was for fear he might have me removed from the movie set. Here’s why: In 1993, Stiller was just beginning to become famous, and my producer booked the entire cast of the late, great The Ben Stiller Show airing on the fledgling Fox Network as guest “Love Doctors” on Loveline. The Ben Stiller Show only lasted one season, and I was furious. I ripped Producer Ann a “new one.”

“How can you book the cast of the last place rated TV program in primetime as guests!?! They’re in 92nd place out of 92 shows!!! How can you possibly bring in these unknown actors!?!” I immediately went on the air, and told the listening audience: “Folks, we could have the cast of the No. 1 TV Show in America as guests, but instead we have a special treat for you. We have the cast of the last place rated show in primetime as guests on Loveline tonight! Yes, please welcome Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk and Andy Dick, the stars of The Ben Stiller Show! Hey Ben, how does it feel to have the last place rated show in primetime!?!”

You could have heard a pin drop in the studio. I kept bringing this up the entire night. Obviously, all of these actors have become super famous since then, and they were all in the studio with me that night on Loveline. Ben even booked me as a guest on his TV show as “the Anti-Cupid.” I shot Cupid’s arrow into a racist white man who immediately fell in love with a black woman and started chasing her around, because he was suddenly in love. Very twisted. That’s how rude I was to Stiller. There’s one more small, unrelated detail to this story.

In 1994, Stiller starred in and directed the film Reality Bites. He was on a press junket in New York and was doing interviews in a hotel room. Ben had already done 30 television interviews. In addition, there were print media interviews. A total of 100 reporters had interviewed him. Toward the end of a long day, he was burnt out and tired from promoting his movie. My former producer Mike Levin was part of this junket. It was his turn to do a TV interview with Ben. Mike was all perky, in a good mood, and knew Ben had been on Loveline, because he was in the studio that night. Mike tried to get a little bonding going, “Hey Ben, I worked with Poorman!” A tired Ben’s response was: “I hate that guy!”

I’m sure you can understand it was probably a smart move not to reaquaint myself with Ben Stiller on the set of his film. I have a feeling the reunion might not have gone well.

In 2017, I was booked as an actor to be a Washington Post reporter in the Steven Spielberg-directed film set in the 1970s The Post starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. The movie was shot in New York, and I was booked for three weeks. We were doing scenes with Tom, who played Post Editor-in-Chief Ben Bradlee, and Meryl, who played Post owner Katherine Graham. We shot my scenes for three weeks in a rebuilt, exact replica of the 1970s’ Washington Post newsroom. The stage was built in a nondescript structure in New Jersey, nowhere near Washington, D.C., where the real Washington Post is located. In a weird twist of fate, my involvement in this shoot presented an example of “what goes around comes around,” as you will see.

First, let’s take you back to 1984. Tom Hanks was doing press for his first starring role in a film, Bachelor Party. He played Rick, a nice guy who was about to get married to Debbie, who was played by Tawny Kitaen. This movie was a comedy. Hanks was booked as a guest on the Ramondo and the Blade morning show on KROQ to promote the film. I was the feature reporter on the morning show. The day Tom was in studio, Richard was sick, and I filled in as the show co-host with Ramondo. At that time, Tom was a tall, skinny young man. I can’t remember much of the interview. What I do remember is how friendly he was, just a great, chill dude. We all went to breakfast after the show at Pie ‘N Burger in Pasadena. Obviously, I’ll never forget that experience, and having breakfast with a future Academy Award-winning actor.

With that back story, we fast forward to 2017, and the three-week shoot in the makeshift Washington Post newsroom. As one of the Post reporters, I interacted with Hanks and Streep and the other actors playing reporters. This was an amazing experience to work with these legends and wear ’70s-era suits and glasses. Not only that, they had me smoking a pipe with herbal tobacco. (You get smoke pay, in case you were wondering). I wanted to reintroduce myself to Tom, who was cracking jokes the whole time in between nailing scenes every single take like no one I’d ever seen. Spielberg would pace up and down the newsroom at the beginning of the day, eyeballing every one of the reporters on the set. His eye for detail was pretty unreal. It was really nerve wracking thinking about how I would approach Tom in the middle of a Spielberg shoot and reintroduce myself 33 years after the KROQ interview and breakfast at Pie ‘N Burger.

Additionally, I discovered two of the other actors were, lo and behold, alumni of the late, great The Ben Stiller Show on Fox! Just what I needed, right? Bob Odenkirk was one of the stars of the show who I interviewed on KROQ with Ben in 1993. He is now very famous in his own right, having played the lawyer Saul Goodman in the AMC crime drama series Breaking Bad and now again in Better Call Saul. In The Post, he was Assistant Editor Ben Bagdikian. David Cross was a writer on The Ben Stiller Show, best known for his HBO series with Odenkirk Mr. Show and as Tobias Fünke in the long-running Fox/Netflix series Arrested Development. He played Post Managing Editor Howard Simons. I ran into these dudes very early on at lunch during the first week of shooting. You could tell they were good friends who had worked together a lot. I told them I was the Poorman, and Bob remembered me interviewing him with Ben on Loveline. You could tell he didn’t harbor any ill will toward me. He was pleasant, but professional. David knew who I was, and was a bit warmer than Bob. He said “I have good memories of The Ben Stiller Show … and then there was Andy Dick.” It’s hard to explain what it’s like on a set. There are no bonus points for being a radio star. You’re shooting a movie, and that’s the world you’re in. They were unimpressed, but not condescending. Let’s just say in their world I wasn’t high on the food chain. As mentioned, “what goes around, comes around.” The moral of the story is “don’t burn bridges.” You never know when you may run into somebody again. I’ve learned that the hard way.

I became friends with two fellow Post newsroom actors, John Grigley and Justin Osterhaler. Whenever I’m in New York, I stay at Justin’s cool pad in Harlem. Very early on I told them about my radio career and interview with Tom Hanks. They both thought I needed to reconnect with him on the set. Tom had actually gone on the KTLA/Channel 5 Morning News in Los Angeles five years earlier while promoting an independent movie, and, in a loud voice, he asked entertainment reporter Sam Rubin: “Whatever happened to Malibu Dan and the Poorman!?!”

The big moment finally happened in the third week of the shoot. It was the third to last day I was on the set. I had my opening during a break in shooting, walked up to Hanks and said, “Tom, I’m the Poorman.” He responded in his loud comedic voice, “Poorman, you’ve lost a lot of weight!!! What happened to you!?!” I told him I was a long distance runner now, putting in a daily 10- to 12-mile run, staying in shape … and that was it. I wasn’t invited to his dressing room, no reunion breakfast on or off the set. He was zoned in as the dominating actor that he is, and I was a spectator in his world.

Justin witnessed our reunion. “He was glad to see you, and a bit surprised you were in his movie,” he recalled. “I expected him to be more gregarious. He was reflective. You took him back in time a little. It looked like he was remembering when you were Poorman and he was just Tom. You knew him before he was the $500 Million Dollar Man and just a kid, like a reunion with a baseball player’s first coach.”

One more point: I did have an exchange with Steven Spielberg. We were shooting a scene surrounding the desk of one of the few female reporters, played by actress Alison Brie, in the Washington Post newsroom during the 1970s. Brie, who portrayed Lally Graham, is best known as Annie Edison in the NBC series Community, Trudy Campbell in the AMC’s Mad Men and Ruth Wilder on Netflix’s GLOW. A group of us were handing her papers. At the desk were Alison, three actors also playing reporters and myself. My back was to the camera. I asked Spielberg if I should face the camera and hand Alison some papers? “NO!” And that was it.

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