They're Not in Fortune's 500 Top Businesses, but Hollywood Celebs Find Moonlighting Becomes Them
05/07/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT
If you're looking for a stable, profitable business with a guaranteed pension plan, acting is not it. Employment comes and goes, benefits are either outrageous or nonexistent, and even after a hit or two one can never be sure where the next rent check is coming from. For those recurring and dreaded dead spots between jobs, actors often find sideline businesses to fill the hours and replenish the checking account. While these are usually mundane pursuits such as restaurants and boutiques, a few actors stumble upon businesses that are both unexpected and unlikely. Jack (Quincy) Klugman owns Thoroughbred racehorses and a gourmet popcorn company. Jamie (AfterMASH,) Fan has a part ownership in a tugboat. The Smothers Brothers have a winery in California. Then there is the most famous of them all, Paul Newman and his ubiquitous salad dressing. The following five celebrity business owners share two basic characteristics: Each actor is directly involved, and each chose a field close to his or her celebrated heart.
Jill St. John is a designing sweater girl
If Jill St. John has any complaints about her role as Deanna Kincaid on Emerald Point, N.A.S., they involve her costumes not her dialogue. The acrylic sweaters she is given to wear, she complains, "unravel as you stand there" and simply cannot compare with the "delicious" creations she has in her closet at home. Of course, St. John, 43, is biased: Her sweaters are made by Smith-St. John Ltd., the Aspen, Colo. company she owns with best-friend Jayne Smith. Their handmade French wool and angora sweaters retail for $225 to $360, though the three-year-old company has yet to show a profit.
Jill (with longtime friend Robert Wagner near Aspen, above) and Jayne get their ideas from nature—feathers, mountains and clouds have all made appearances—and their sketches are brought to life by a crew of 40 knitters. The business began mostly by accident. "Jayne was making a sweater for her boyfriend, and when the sweater was finished, so was the boyfriend," recalls Jill, who also could knit one and purl too. "We started knocking around ideas, and before we knew it, we were sitting there with a business saying, 'What happened?' " Jayne oversees most of the day-to-day activities, and the two confer about designs by phone.
The sweaters are sold mainly in East Coast boutiques, but word has spread. "There's an underground," says Jill. "People are always asking, 'Where can I get your sweaters?' " Of course, there are problems. "It says 'Do Not Dry Clean' right on the label," Jill says, "because steaming shrinks the sweaters. Still, ladies do it and bring them back and complain. I tell them if they could read English, there would be no problem. I get a little crazy sometimes. I'm not the best at dealing with the public." There is also one more danger. "I'm not as in love with sweaters now as I used to be," she admits. "Once you've seen a couple hundred go by, it sort of loses its charm."
General Hospital's Chris Robinson digs Indian relics at an Arizona trading post
When Chris Robinson realized he needed a side business to complement his fluctuating income, the 40-year-old actor, who plays Dr. Rick Webber on the soap General Hospital, used two of his offbeat interests: Mixing archaeology and Indian art, he started a trading post and art gallery in Page, Ariz. Big Lake Trading Post, as it's known, opened a year ago boasting a gas pump, general store and truck stop. It has already grossed nearly $2 million.
Last December Robinson opened Big Lake Trading Post II, 180 miles south. Strictly an art gallery, BLTP2 houses most of the prehistoric artifacts Chris finds on his digs. Though he admits "some people call us grave robbers," he feels that digging up ancient cultures is important. "It gets scarcer as every day goes by," he says. "The rain will eat through the topsoil and destroy the art underneath. It needs to be excavated." He adds proudly, "Ninety-eight percent of our customers are Indians."
Commuting between his two lives is often exhausting, and Robinson has frequently considered leaving the soap. But he stays on for the "marvelous" moments that balance the "unenjoyable" ones. One thing he will never quit is his search for the Indians' unwritten history. "Every night you go home and think, 'What did they do and why did they do it?' That's where the investment is. There will never be another man who lived 1,000 years ago."
In antiques, Priscilla Barnes finds three is a company
Priscilla Barnes, 29, sits in the middle of the Helen Ware antiques shop, which she owns with her millionaire boyfriend, Joel Schur, 46. Noting the Gallé glass and Georgian silver that surround her, Priscilla says, "We're like two kids with very expensive baseball cards."
Barnes, of Three's Company, and Shur opened their shop (named for the manager, an L.A. art dealer, at left below, with Barnes) six months ago. The couple has been collecting antiques since they met in 1973, Priscilla explains. They prefer to be vague about their prices. Joel says, "We have some small gifts that go for as little as $10 and up to about $75. We also have objets d'art like Tiffany lamps that have gone for hundreds of thousands of dollars." But money is not the point, they insist. "It is a labor of love for both of us," Priscilla says. "I find myself in here sometimes late at night. It is very calming after the studio." Barnes also loves the risks. "It attracts me because it is so dicey." At times it requires the moves of a gambler, the finesse of a politician and the cunning of a businesswoman. "If I wanted to do something safe with my money, I'd put it in a money-market fund. But that wouldn't be any fun," she says.
David Hasselhoff's Rag Ball is both fun and safe at home
It doesn't talk back or hug the corners on hairpin turns, but David Hasselhoff's latest business partner is just as popular with many kids as KITT, his automotive co-star on Knight Rider. The object in question is a soft, harmless baseball called a Rag Ball. Made of compressed rag inside a nylon cover, it reputedly travels 75 percent as far as a baseball and is geared toward handicapped children or anybody else whose reactions are slow and who could be hurt by a speeding hardball.
Hasselhoff, 31, first saw the ball in 1979. While visiting his family in Somonauk, Ill., he spotted a man and his son, who had a leg ailment, playing rag ball on their lawn. The father, Chester Massino, had tried for eight years to market the ball, but Hasselhoff, using his star status (and salary), managed to attract other investors. Three years ago a small factory was built in Somonauk to manufacture the balls (they are also made in Hong Kong and Korea), and last year nearly half a million were sold at $3.99 each. Still, Hasselhoff says, "I haven't made a dime out of this." The rewards come in other ways. "There was one kid in a hospital who was so sad, and he just wouldn't smile. I gave him a Knight Rider cap, and he still wouldn't smile. Then I took out a Rag Ball and tossed it to him a few times. Slowly a big grin spread across his face. Things like that are worth a fortune."
To Cliff Robertson, de Havilland was the first star
It was 1963 when Cliff Robertson found his true love—not his wife, Dina Merrill, but his first de Havilland Tiger Moth, a World War II plane (below) that "putts around at about 90 miles an hour, replete with everything except white scarf and goggles." Twenty-one years later he has added a Messerschmitt, two more Tiger Moths, a French Stampe and a British Spitfire to his retinue, and is now president of Robertson & Associates Aviation Services, a vintage-aircraft leasing company. His planes have appeared in his own film, J.W. Coop, in Mike Nichols' The Fortune (Cliff did the flying) and on Falcon Crest, where Cliff plays Dr. Michael Ranson. The money is adequate. The planes rent for well over $200 an hour. But Cliff insists that love, not lucre, propels him. "Ninety-nine percent of the people in the aviation business are in it because they truly love it," he says.
Robertson's prized possession is a rare 1943 Spitfire, which he saved from cannibalization by the Belgian Air Force. "To me, the most sacrilegious thing you could do to one of these fantastic planes, a piece of history, is tear it apart," he says. But his commitment to flying isn't only antiquarian. In the late '60s Robertson was one of a group of Americans who flew food to starving Biafrans. "So aviation is not just an indulgence," Robertson concludes. "It can be a great humanitarian tool—as well as a very good business tool."