A Big Man's Hollywood

Life in the Fat Lane

Mid-weight loss on Hollywood Blvd...

*Note — I wrote this article ten years ago. Since then, I've moved back to New York, got married and left the industry. I currently work in nonprofits as the National Director of a small organization and am, unfortunately, in the midst of a divorce (more in my next piece).

During the past ten years, I did the "yo-yo" and gained about 100lbs back — today, I've lost 104 lbs, and have 37 or so pounds to go.

and today... In the Hamptons

I moved to Los Angeles roughly 187 pounds ago. I say “roughly” because when a human being is pushing a quarter-ton, it gets a bit difficult to weigh oneself on anything but an industrial or truck scale. I’m not really sure when I started the ultimate descent into that healthy, nutritional regime that has allowed me to shed weight, but I think it happened when my Hollywood dream clashed with the prejudicial, hypocritical ambience of “real” Hollywood. I’m still heavy; I have 42 more pounds to go, and counting. Here’s a bit of the story of my circular existence in the swirling flush that is the toilet called Hollywood…

For years, I knew I was different. Being fat was never a hindrance in most aspects of my life (except in points like work, love and health). Honestly, I never considered myself as a “fat” guy, but I did relish in my physical difference. Okay, I did know, but I wasn’t that large? Was I?

I liked being uniquely big. I actually enjoyed the stares and discomfort that people threw in my direction. The realization that the objectifying of my personage was negative didn’t really fit into the equation — people were validating my existence; I really didn’t care if the feedback was good or bad, it was casual indifference that would kill me.

My morbidly obese size left me with an excuse as to why my stories, my tales, my dramatic dreams were not being considered, fought over or discussed as tangible quality materials. I know that I’m a good storyteller, damn it! I KNOW I’ve got the talent to make it here in LA-LA land; was it my hugeness that held me back?

It sometimes appeared that I was self-destructive enough to use my weight as a crutch for failure. Being close to 500 hundred pounds was my armor against banality, facelessness... simple commonality. Yet, I didn’t move across the country not to be noticed.

Coming here from New York, my style of clothes remained unchanged. I still wore the loud, look-at-me, Guido/clubbing attire of bright silk shirts (red was always a favorite color), slacks and dress shoes. It took me a few years before I even bought my first pair of jeans; for some reason, jeans never look right on a fat guy, they are either too snug or too loose — there is never a happy medium for the large.

The odd thing about clothing in Los Angeles, there isn’t an actual proper dress code for an office employee (clean is about all I can surmise). At a job interview, according to Mister Dale Carnegie, my dad, and other professionals, there is a modicum of dress that requires one to present oneself in a well-dressed manner — usually a suit. In Hollywood, however, I discovered casual attire is the norm. Ties are a conundrum and suits are the silly things worn by lawyers, agents, and top executives, not the regular guy who works in the lowly production office.

To me, an office is a place of professional attire, manners and the dogged pursuit of the almighty buck. The buck is still king in Hollywood; it’s the informal chase that confuses my poor, uninitiated East Coast upbringing and work ethos. I often pondered if this casual work ethic is a reflection of the industry or is it rather a “Californian” desire for comfort, looseness and indolence? Or is that the same thing?

Please understand I’ve never been the grungy, dress down sort of fellow. Though I was large in the extreme, I carried it well and always wore fine clothing. To explain, one must realize that fat people clothes are not only twice as big but also twice as expensive. From the initial purchase of those yards of cloth that make up a shirt to the cost of cleaning, things tend to add up. I recall one dry cleaning place that insisted that I pay double for my clean clothes because it took more effort to press a 62 waist pair of slacks or a 5X shirt. Now that hurt; I never went back again.

It was pretty hard to wrap around my five-foot waistband, nevertheless my brain, but in New York, I was venerated for my skills — as a salesman, an orator and all around charming, witty, well-dressed and urbane fellow who happened to be overly large (horizontally challenged would be the politically correct statement). In Hollywood, however, in this diabolical land of façade, illusion, and fads — I was an enigma. My outer appearance offered to those unwilling or uncomfortable to see beyond my girth, a hasty judgment call that I was a lazy, uncouth, loudmouthed oaf (oh, the woes of being a New Yorker) who didn’t have the decency to, on the outside, be trendily thin, active and narcissistically vain about my size.

I thought I was happy; I pretended I was the typical jolly fat man (without the red Santa suit, just the shirt, NEVER the whole suit), admired by all. Actually, I was a rather sad person who was committing suicide in a ponderous and slow, exhausting sort of way. On the inside, I was just like everyone else I’ve met in Hollywood — bitter and unhappy. If you think I’m perhaps mistaken, I suggest a perusal of the yenta magazines. Why do you think drugs, divorce, and crime are so prevalent here in the “biz?”

To those who live in Los Angeles and for the most part do not work in the “industry” the point about my size was moot, for as my New York acquaintances, they had the unmitigated gall to look beyond the obtuse and judge me for the internal rather than my external flair. Sometimes I wonder if I take the offered appeals of love and friendship for granted. I, like so many others, am always looking for approval and acceptance in places where I am not welcome or not kindly received. To all my friends, I apologize.

The job search proved to be difficult. For the uninitiated, Hollywood is the land of dreams and glamour. In reality, it is a heartless machine that on one end swallows hopeful aspirants and on the other spits out disillusioned cynics. I should have realized what was happening after my first “job.” Everyone has to start somewhere and in the “industry,” one starts off either in a studio or agency’s mailroom or on the set of low-budget film working for little or no money. I chose the production route.

Working on a movie or television set does invite a certain amount of glamour to those who have no concept of what it really means — 18-hour days, seven days a week for months at a time, only to find yourself, once again, looking for that elusive employment as soon as the project is completed. There is no time for a personal life, dating is non-existent; for that matter, laundry, cleaning house and normal, everyday affairs must be set aside for the almighty honor, the opportunity to work on a set. Did I mention no money?

The problem with being obese can be exasperated on the enclosed environs of a shooting set; from the wheeze of breathing too loudly and disrupting the ambient sound during a take (you try lugging around 250 pounds of excess fat) to, when told to move a c-stand (metal, stable stands designed to hold filming equipment), and having your butt knock over five others — CLANG! Sometimes it was hard to get a grip that my fat ass was constantly in the way.

On one fateful day, a producer left his phone on the picnic table near the craft services table. Lo and behold, the fat guy (guess who?) was lurking about near all the free candy, chips and sodas, gorging to his heart content when the warble of that cellular beckoned. After taking a message from the vendor on the other end, my fate was sealed. The producer, overhearing my tête-à-tête, so impressed by my phone etiquette and smooth conversational tone, immediately transferred me into a paid office position. My first gig!

I do, humbly, admit that I give great phone. My ease of manner while engaged in non-face-to-face stems from my teen years working for my mother’s real estate brokerage and engaging in that wonderfully annoying occupation of cold calling. So there I was, a permanent fixture in the office; the first in the morning, the last out the next morning, or was it the next day, night or whenever I could get home for that quick three-hour sleep? That’s a lot of stress for anyone, let alone a guy whose body dimensions matches his car’s DMV registration weight and size.

My career flourished for a bit under the tutelage of that producer. He was the first non-judgmental person I’ve met in this image conscious town. He was involved in mostly commercial work and I worked for him for seven or eight projects, gradually moving up the ladder. When things got a little slow and my mentor upped and moved back to San Francisco, I turned my attention back onto the job hunt; this time I was prepared and armed with at least a few productions under my enormous, stretched out belt (I think I had to cut another hole in the front — it was getting snug again).

So, back to interviews and it became increasingly obvious that production people, no matter the skills I possessed, weren’t comfortable hiring a fat man. Some of you might say that I am being overly sensitive. You’re wrong. As I left one of the multitudes of interviews, I overheard a producer mention to the production manager who led the interview, “Geez, do you think that guy could even fit in our office let alone work here? We’d have to move everybody else out into the hallway so he could sit at the desk!” It wasn’t the words that struck the deepest chord; it was the chuckles and guffaws that followed his remarks that crushed my fortitude. I was tempted to go back and kick that guy's ass, but in Hollywood, everybody knows everyone else and getting a reputation for beating up potential employers wasn’t something I wanted to be posted on my resume.

And the job search continued… I did manage to eke out a living doing low-end movie gigs, and the strength of my personality, wit and good demeanor got me even more gigs. The unfortunate aspect of the production end of the business is that you are constantly searching for more work. Arranging contacts and schmoozing are big parts of the game. No matter how charming, interesting or well spoken, it often appeared that my weight was a factor in my being passed over for that next employment opportunity.

Personality can only take you so far. From work to dating it all gets difficult when you’re fat. When you’re broke, disillusioned and time-restricted, dating is to say, at the very least, not easy. Compound those normal difficulties of the typical American male with being humongous, and you can imagine how disappointed and disenchanted one can become. I think love was and is the most frustrating of all my immense overflow of psychological and physical dilemma.

I’ve come to the realization that though women proclaim that it’s the emotional strength, not the external appearance that is critical (they spew rhetoric that the internal is more important than the external), it just isn’t true. My experiences tell otherwise. The distance that most fat people reach is something I call the “big brother” syndrome. We’re all familiar with it; you know exactly what I’m writing about — “I like you as a friend,” proclaims one cutie, “you remind me of my brother/ cousin/ fill-in-the-closest-relation,” states another young lady. See where I’m heading with this? I guess skinny people also fall into that scenario, but at least sometimes they do get to move beyond that phase and get laid once in a while; for a fat guy, we usually tread into those murky waters of friendship and wallow heartbroken but with a stoic façade of “that’s okay, I only like you as a friend myself.” Why do we lie to ourselves that way? I guess it’s better than facing the pain of truth — pizza won’t ever break your heart (a button on your shirt, maybe, but never your heart).

The, what I call, “Hollywood factor” comes into play on a lot of dates in this town. Remember, this is the city of the pretty — pretty obsessed, pretty vain, pretty cruel - pretty, pretty, pretty. I don’t know when hope turns into cynicism but it does happen. Young people from all over the country and large parts of the world descend on Los Angeles in droves. The high school drama queen (boy or girl), the young debutante from Oklahoma, the hunky stud from Texas; there are thousands of stories about a myriad of people who come here with delusions of grandeur, only to be squelched by the predators that hunt these fertile grounds.

Now that I’ve set up the scenario, here’s the gist — everybody has an agenda. Keep that in your head as we continue, it’ll help you get a feel for the rest of this dissertation. When dating here, DO NOT date anyone else in the industry. The old adage of sleeping your way to the top is commonplace; the facade of love and caring is, usually (there are exceptions), overshadowed by the hungry, marauder-like goal of stardom, fame, and fortune. My familiarity with this factor is one of the main catalysts that helped me realize that being fat was not a comfortable shield against normality, but was rather a stained and dirty window that kept me in the shadows of life’s wonderful bounties.

I must thank that young woman who dumped me after meeting someone higher up on the ladder of Hollywood success. I know the reasons to why our relationship ended was because of status climbing with only a peripheral mention of my weight when her best friend (and close friend to me) described the conversation this woman had with her two months before we broke up. Not only was she cheating on me, she was searching for a better job in the biz. On a positive note, at least my enormity wasn’t the only issue that shattered my vulnerable heart. My only vindication about the whole episode is that my rival to her affections lost his job a few months afterward and both have since left the business. Cynicism and cruelty must be rubbing off because on hearing about their misfortune, I felt good.

About three years ago, I had an epiphany, though it needed some prodding, as I stated above, from external forces first. With complete clarity, I can remember the day that changed my outlook on the myths and realities of my “fatness.” My closest friend in Los Angeles made a remark that though he thought was encouraging and helpful actually exposed my deepest, darkest truth for me to examine and reevaluate. Now don’t get me wrong, I love this friend all my heart and appreciated his honest sincerity for my health, but part of “chubby-kosis” is to be overly sensitive and astute when people are just trying to be “helpful.” This friend, so I perceived, was embarrassed to be associated with me at some Hollywood social functions. Oh, the remark that changed everything? “Lose 50 pounds and I’ll take you to a big party.” See what I mean? I do thank him now for the motivation but at the time? I was really pissed.

Fat, lonely and miserably broke, I decided, finally, to change as many aspects of my life as I thought possible. The first challenge as to what I perceived as the lynchpin to all my difficulties was my girth. It was the one thing that I felt I could control internally and from there I could assert myself with more confidence and embrace the things I could not control with better understanding, patience, and resilience.

The majority of fat people are closet eaters; kind of like women, who, on a date, will eat a small salad, but afterward go home and inhale the entire contents of the ‘fridge — all behind closed doors. That’s the way I used to be; but, like them, I wasn’t fooling anyone. My eating habits have not changed too much. I still eat all of the “bad” things that tend to add to my mammoth size, but instead of eating the whole chocolate cake, if I feel the need for sweets, I eat a small piece. Moderation, consideration, and ramification are the keywords that now fill my entire existence. I’ll even wander into the occasional fast food joint for a burger and fries. This time, however, I ignore the disapproving stares of the patrons as I gorge myself on that fatty, grizzle ridden slab of meat and greasy fries. I’ll work it off at the gym.

Like everyone else, this wasn’t the first time I’ve attempted to lose some inches in the past; so I dusted off my old lifetime membership to the gym and ignoring the stares of the employees and other hard-bodies, got my fat butt into an exercise regime. I started slowly, walking at a very slow pace on the mechanically protesting treadmill (I was about 150 pounds over the maximum limit). We, that treadmill and I, became very good friends. As I started to drop poundage, his groans and creaks lessened and we entered into a symbiotic relationship of sweat, effort and well-lubed rollers. Funny thing, as I lost weight, I realized that I was incredibly strong; not from any gym time, but rather that after lugging around 250 pounds of excess poundage, my muscles were toned — albeit hidden beneath all those layers of blubber; to reduce that burden of chubbiness and expose those muscles is the goal.

Here’s another kicker — I do not own a microwave. Like most people today, I want instant gratification; with no microwave to fulfill that desire, food had become less psychologically gratifying to my unwholesome wishes for appeasement. I’m a late-night binger and it was very easy to stick a frozen dinner, pizza or a 1/2 dozen burritos in the “nuker” and munch to my heart’s discontent.

Too, I don’t keep much food in my house. The foods that I do store are mostly dry goods that take the longest to prepare. I’ve stolen a page from the European lifestyle and now only purchase my daily food requirements. It’s a pain, but it helps. And with no microwave, if I do want something to eat, I must, like in grandma’s day, prepare food in a stove or in the oven. Now, it takes time, consideration and preparation. By slowing things down, I’ve sped up the process in which I am losing weight — how gratifying is that?

The final critical addendum to my loss I’ll share with you if you send me $14.95 plus shipping & handling to… just kidding.

My last secret is really very simple but comes with a little anecdote. During a bout of insomnia, while pondering my slow weight-loss unprogress, I spied one of those late-night infomercials about losing weight by ingesting a concoction of herbs, leaves, and supplements that literally expand in your stomach thereby making your body trick yourself into being full. “Hmm,” I muttered to myself. Now, somewhere along my perusals of the periodicals in my local library, I came across an article that mentions that a normal adult is supposed to drink between eight and twelve 8oz glasses of water a day (1/2 to 3/4 of a gallon a day) and that most American adults consume less than half that amount. Again, “hmm?” Why spend all that money on a product that fills your belly when, if I drank all that water, I’d be just as full? At the beginning of most meals, for the last three years, I drink two to three large glasses of water; the downside is that I have to visit the loo fairly often — but I’m not hungry and my waistline is decreasing.

As I pontificated on these matters so dear to my heart, I realized that this article is part of my journey. The feelings that I imply and the emotional release offers me the opportunity to see how far I’ve gotten and how far I have to go. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel in this stage of self-betterment I just hope it’s not a trainload of chubby-checkers.

This story will never be complete until my carcass is thrown into a hole somewhere. Every day is a new, sometimes wonderful, sometimes frustrating exploration into who and what I am and how I fit into (and I fit much better now) this crazy societal riddle called Hollywood. I feel must conclude that the question of why I’m still in LA, why I’m still trying to make it in Hollywood is that all my life I’ve been that “fat” kid who wanted to hang out with cool kids and screw the cheerleaders. Nothing has changed; well, something’s have changed. I still want to hang with the cool crowd, but now, I want to sleep with lingerie models.

Hollywood is the land of glitz and glamour, and isn’t the dream of all of us who attempt to penetrate this most difficult of industry, to rise above ourselves and follow our dreams of recognition, acceptance, and approval? 

Matthew Ehrlich
Matthew Ehrlich

In my youth, I lived a bit of a Hemingway life, 'been there, done that.' Today, I've a career in a small nonprofit.

A teacher taught me to NEVER stop looking at the world through a child's eyes, for THAT is where creative genius lies

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A Big Man's Hollywood