by Tracy Johnson
Opportunities have been lost, success missed and paydays squandered because of a basic human trait that has haunted most of us at one time or another. It has held back thousands of performers, including actor Alan Ladd.
The problem is an out-of-control ego. It kills careers and is a major problem on multi-personality radio shows that don’t embrace a FTS (For The Show) mentality.
It happens often. Air talent performing in well-cast roles become wildly successful. Like a band, they’re much better together than as solo artists. There’s a chemistry individuals can’t have on their own.
Many problems arise when personalities allow ego to change their perspective. A cohost wants to become the “star” of the show. Or a primary personality is jealous that another player’s name is on the show and theirs isn’t.
Sometimes personalities have to play a slightly different role than they want, or think they should, for the success of the team. This can lead to bad career choices, and often results in disaster.
You probably heard of Alan Ladd. Maybe even seen some of his movies. He was in 150 of them. But he never became what he could have been.
Yes, he was a box office draw through the 40’s and much of the 50’s. That in itself is miraculous because film critics rate most of his movies as routine or less.
Ladd was in some great movies. Most of the time, those movies featured him in a supporting role.
But he always wanted to be the star. He wanted the lead role. With a big break and the right role, the right director and a decent script, some observers thought he could be terrific. And may even have become the star he wanted to be.
But ego killed his career. And it held Alan Ladd back.
Director George Stevens wanted Ladd for a role in the 1956 movie”Giant.”
But the lead roles had already been cast with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. Ladd turned it down because he wanted the Rock Hudson role. He didn’t want to be #2 to Hudson.
Alan Ladd’s role was eventually played by James Dean. This was the role that launched Dean’s career. Giant would have done wonders for Alan Ladd, if only he could have overcome his ego.
You probably have heard of Andy Richter (Conan, Madagascar, Andy Richter Controls the Universe), an American actor, voice actor, writer, comedian and late night talk show announcer.
You’ve got to know the parameters of your role. You have to know that you’re second and take that supporting role, and also know you’re a valuable player.
Richter references a segment by NPR correspondent Sarah Vowell about Johnny Carson’s #2, Ed McMahon, as an example.
She pointed out the first line of Ed’s autobiography was something like, ‘I first met Johnny Carson….’ This was the first line of the story of his life. I think Ed believed in being No. 2 a bit too much.
In Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast, Dax asks Richter about being as “sidekick” or a #2, rather than being “the guy”. The response is a great lesson. Listen to the full episode for more insight.
Finding the right role for your personality is hard. When you find it, cherish it. Protect it.
At some point, maybe you’ll get that shot to host your own show. DeDe McGuire was cohost for Doug Banks for years before the opportunity to launch DeDe In The Morning at K104/Dallas. She’s now in syndication nationally with her own team of well-cast talent.
On the other hand, maybe it won’t happen for you. Maybe your best role is as cohost, or even producer, for a great brand. Tommy Sablan found his niche as Jeff & Jer’s producer, with a secondary on-air role. He excelled in the position because he knew how to make his team better.
Having a For The Show attitude doesn’t mean you don’t have an ego. It means you understand how the team works best. On a healthy team, individual egos are fueled by the success of the team.
I love what John Lennon once said:
I knew I wasn’t Elvis, but I knew that Paul and I together could kick Elvis’ butt.
Ego kills careers.
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