Lyle Waggoner always knew he was a better businessman than an actor.
The former regular on "The Carol Burnett Show" would seem the poster child for a dashing Hollywood leading man. He's tall, tan and lean with a thick head of gray hair.Instead, the 63-year-old Waggoner works behind the scenes pampering today's hot stars with elite Star Waggons, an outfit he founded in 1980 that is now Hollywood's leader in temporary housing for celebrities.
"Our job is to spoil the actors," Waggoner said from his 4-acre operation in the Sylmar area of the San Fernando Valley in California. Waggoner uses a computer to design the trailers. He picks out all the interior fabrics and furnishings.
Star Waggons' trailers are dispatched to studio lots and location shoots to keep ever-finicky celebrities pleased. John Travolta had three of them shipped to Paris for a movie. NBC's "ER" series keeps Star Waggons for entire seasons. In fact, there are 40 to 45 of the trailers at the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank year-round.
"We do everything we can to make them happy," Waggoner said, noting there are sometimes custom orders. "Everyone knows it's my company, and they know they can count on this equipment. It's clean, everything works and we have the quantity."
Star Waggons provided a swivel TV stand for Travolta, switched a trailer Jaclyn Smith got "bad vibes" in, covered mirrors at Steven Spielberg's request and raised a toilet so 7-foot basketball sensation Shaquille O'Neal's knees wouldn't hit his chin.
"Teri Hatcher on `Lois & Clark' wanted a dinette area removed and a makeup area and desk put in instead. We made all those changes for her and she was happy," Waggoner said.
When the trailers are returned to Sylmar, they are changed back to the way they were. Those trailers usually come back in good shape "since they don't sleep in them or cook in them," Waggoner said.
"Oh, sometimes you get an actor who has a fit and puts his fist through a door or something. But that's it," he added.
Despite the boxy, bland exteriors, these luxurious trailers provide creature comforts unseen in most homes: satellite television, surround sound, hydraulic makeup chairs, blackout drapes, three-way full-length mirrors, electric organs and exercise equipment.
"Heather Locklear walked into the Mega Star and said, `This is nicer than my living room,' " Waggoner said. "They are just totally comfortable."
He has 200 trailers in 17 models ranging from a basic two-room at $600 a week to the Diamond, Super Star and ultradeluxe 40-foot Mega Star at $1,200 a week. Each model is exactly the same - for a specific reason.
"This is an ego-based business," Waggoner said. "This way, none of the actors can feel less important than anyone else. They are upholstered with the same fabrics, things that would appeal to almost everybody.
"If they are the same, the stars don't have anything to complain about. . . . But if the microwave goes out, they are screaming."
Still, little things can mean a lot to a star in the insecure environs of Hollywood.
"We once sent out what we thought were equal motor homes for two lead actors and there was a complaint: one had hubcaps and one had painted wheels. The actress said she wanted hubcaps like her co-star or she wouldn't work."
Who was that?
"I could tell you, but I won't," Waggoner said.
Waggoner has even had some stars show up at his Sylmar headquarters to examine the trailers where many of them will spend up to 15 hours a day.
"We'll even drag them to a (star's) house for show and tell," he said. "We just took one to Pamela Anderson, who has a series coming up, to look at one. It's all a game."
Waggoner takes pride in having a hand in the evolution of celebrity pampering.
"Spoiled? Are they ever," Waggoner said. "A lot of the credit goes to us, though."
"I used to go on location and sit outside in a canvas chair with a fold-down counter as a makeup station," said Waggoner, who has abandoned acting ("Well, I still have an agent"), except for an occasional cameo role. "Now we have these 40-foot, eight-station electronic slide-out rooms with surround sound and CD players."