Book Excerpt: Wayne Rogers' 'Make Your Own Rules'

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When I went to Hollywood, one of my first jobs as an actor was in a Western where I was playing the part of a deputy sheriff. I had an immediate disagreement with the director. As the character, I had chosen to wear a round derby hat. I had invented a little story about the hat and how my father had given it to me. The director told me to get rid of the hat because I didn't look like a sheriff. I asked him what he thought a sheriff looked like. To which he replied, "A ten-gallon hat, a vest, and spurs."

"I see," I said, "but excuse me, you don't look like a director."

"What do you mean by that?" he asked.

"You don't have on a safari jacket, riding boots, and dark glasses. And you're not carrying a bullhorn," I said, conjuring up the clichéd image of John Huston.

He just stared at me, and, before he could say anything, the cameraman led me away. This cameraman was an old-timer who had been a bi-plane wing walker in his youth, and he was about to retire from movie making.

"Wayne, let me explain something to you," the cameraman said calmly, putting his arm around my shoulder. "Hollywood has been here a long time. It will be here a long time after you and I are gone. Don't try to change it."

"I don't want to change it," I said. "I just don't want it to change me."

Beneath this story is something fundamental to the way I think. What starts in a writer's mind as a blank piece of paper ultimately becomes a script. I was given the script, mostly dialogue and a brief description of the part I was to play: "Jack Slade, early 30s, Deputy Sheriff." That was it. Taking this from the two-dimensional word and making this person into a living character is what actors are supposed to do. So, I invented the story about the hat, how my father loved the hat, what it meant to him and, therefore, to me. This became something that personalized the character I was playing and gave me an attitude symbolized by the hat. It's the process of taking a one-line description of a character and turning dialogue into behavior and making subtext out of text.

Wayne Rogers: 'Make Your Own Rules'

This may seem trite, making up some seemingly elaborate story out of a simple object, but it all had a purpose, and it is surprising how the subconscious can take a thought and make that thought a complicated, rewarding solution to a problem. For an actor, this is the creative process. This is how one changes the written word into a living, breathing human being. And that process is the one that sets my story apart from most business stories. It is my belief that the best results in business come from a creative process, from the ability to see things differently from everyone else, and from finding answers to problems that are not bound by the phrase "we have always done it this way."

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I'd like to add another fundamental principle to this—individual freedom—and a concomitant dictum—control your own destiny. We all wish to have the freedom to do what we want, to fulfill our lives by making our own choices and not having to do things by force of circumstances beyond our control. In a free society, that translates into economic freedom. We work hard to support our families and ourselves. We try to save money so that we can become independent and retire. But independent of what? Retire to do what? These questions are derived from the fundamental one, the desire for individual freedom.

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