Film legend has it that an Idaho native named Julia Jean Mildred Frances (better known to most of us as Lana) Turner got her big show biz break when a Hollywood reporter spied her sipping soda at Schwab's Drugstore on Sunset Boulevard - and that the place has been a favorite hangout for starry-eyed starlets ever since.
Which leads one to believe that if the Brian Wimmer saga continues, it soon may be tougher to get a table at Magleby's in Provo.Wimmer, a Provo native and a son of BYU economics professor Dr. Larry Wimmer and the late Louise Wimmer, currently plays Boonie, the lifeguard in charge of facilities at China Beach (Wednesdays at 9 p.m., Ch. 4). But his big break came in 1984 when he was working at the Utah County restaurant.
"I was 23 years old at the time," Wimmer said during a telephone interview Monday. "I had been bouncing around for a while, trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I had tried out just about every major at BYU. I ran track for a couple of years. I was on the ski team for a couple of years. I worked at Sundance for a few years. I even went on a semester abroad program in England with my father for six months."
But nothing really clicked until fate took him by the hand while he was working at Magleby's. The feature film "Footloose" was filming in Utah County at the time, and a number of members of the cast and crew used to frequent the restaurant. Wimmer became friendly with a location manager, and offered to help in any way he could. Soon the Utahn was out on location working as a production assistant, which is film talk for "gopher."
But that was OK with Wimmer. "I was fascinated by it," he said of his first up-close impressions of the film industry. He helped out around the set, handling crowd control, running errands and even scouting for dancers. But he didn't get on the other side of the cameras until fate stepped in once again.
"I was just standing around talking into a walkie-talkie," Wimmer remembered. "They were testing a new lens, and so they took some footage of me." That footage ended up in Los Angeles, where the young man on camera - Wimmer - so impressed producers that the next day he got two phone calls from Lalaland.
"They told me that the camera was good to me," Wimmer said, "and that I'd ought to think about working in front of the camera."
He didn't have to think twice. He got a little on-camera time in "Footloose," and right away he could tell that "this is something that would hold my attention."
Looking back at Wimmer's growing up years, one wonders why it took him so long to give acting a serious try. He actually made his first movie appearance while he was a student at Orem Junior High in a film he wrote and starred in called "Buck's Brother's Tennis Shoes." He participated in drama at Orem High School. When he worked at Sundance he found himself observing people like Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack, and their lifestyle, he said, "appealed to me."
His parents, too, made drama an important part of the Wimmer family. "We went to New York a few times," Wimmer said, "and we always tried to see a Broadway show while we were there. When I was in London with my father I got front row seats to shows like `Amadeus' and `Evita.'
"My father is a very pragmatic man," he continued, "but he always said he admired anyone who could draw or sing or act. He taught us to appreciate the arts. And my mother was an artist herself. She sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I used to say that my father could put anything on a graph, and my Mom could sing it."
Both of his parents therefore supported his decision to pursue an acting career. In fact, the last thing his mother said to him before she died two years ago was an old theater axiom: "Break a leg."
"My parents never pushed me to do anything other than what I wanted to do, and I'll always be grateful for that," Wimmer said. "My family is 100 percent behind me. Whenever I go back to Utah, it's like recharging my batteries."
And an actor's batteries do need to be recharged from time to time - even one whose big break seems to have been handed to him on a silver platter. "I never figured this was going to be an easy career, and it hasn't been," Wimmer observed. "I've been taking lots of classes, and I've been through lots of auditions. It's like when I first got started, one of my `Footloose' friends gave me a book by Stanislavski - `An Actor Prepares.' Inside it he had written: `And prepares. And prepares. And prepares."'
But that preparation is starting to pay off. Wimmer landed parts in "Nightmare on Elm Street," "True Confessions" and the recent TV-movie, "What Price Victory?" And now he's working in "China Beach," a critically acclaimed series he claims to be proud of because of its "responsible filmmaking" and a cast "dedicated to doing it correctly."
"People look at `China Beach' and they say, `Oh, no - another Vietnam War thing," he said. "But the way I see it, there's got to be enough of these shows that we never forget the Vietnam experience, and never allow anything like that to happen again."
It's just a good thing for Wimmer that nobody ever said that about the Lana Turner experience.