The good news is that the theory behind economic freedom is rooted in history. It was good 100 years ago; it will be good 100 years from now. Civilization requires the exchange of goods and services in a free market, which provides an opportunity to behave morally in the sense that you must think about and deliver what the other person needs if you are to get what you need. So free market exchange depends on moral values, such as honesty, cooperation, trustworthiness, and fairness. These are the guidelines when you're making your own rules. I have always tried to apply these values in my business dealings as the basis for building financial independence.
I sought financial freedom from the beginning of my career. I was a young actor in New York City, and I was living with three other guys, one of whom was Peter Falk, in a $100-a-month walk-up at Third Avenue and 14th Street. It was summer, and there was no work in the theater. My agent, Jim Merrick, told me to take a summer vacation. "Jimmy," I said, "I'm broke, and I'm not working. What am I going to vacation from?"
I had a cousin in Los Angeles who said he would put me up, so I headed west. I was introduced to a legendary agent named Stan Kamen in the William Morris office. Stan took a liking to me and sent me around for meetings with TV producers. I landed a role in a pilot for a one-hour series and shot the pilot. After seeing the result, I caught the next plane back to New York. There was no way it was going to be picked up for a series.
That February, I received a called from Abe Lastfogel, who was the head of the Morris office. Abe treated the agents and clients like family in those days. Once you were with the Morris office, you were part of the family. They looked after you. They made it personal. Abe was calling to tell me that the pilot had been picked up for thirty-nine episodes. In the movie business, it's not about quality. It's about luck, timing, who knows whom, and a whole lot of other intangibles that are too convoluted to divine.
In those days, TV series shot thirty-nine shows with thirteen reruns, as opposed to today's twenty-six originals and twenty-six reruns. I had never seen so much money in my life. The fear of most actors is that their last job will literally be their "last job." While I didn't think that way, when so many in your profession are not working, it puts a little anxiety in your gut. Because there's a large number of people—some qualified, some not—all trying to break into a business that can accommodate very few, the odds of success are so stacked against you that you either have to be crazy or very young and naïve to continue. At that time, I was still young enough to take discouragement as a challenge but old enough to know that I had to save my money. Acting is an up-and-down career, so I knew I had to get used to long periods of unemployment. Using my earnings from the series, I began making investments.