It May Be His Lucky Number
Preview: The Pantagraph Entertainment Magazine
19 September 1987; p.5 and 22.
When he was a second-grader in Normal, John D. LeMay became involved in his first theatrical showdown between good and evil: As the writer-producer of a classroom adaptation of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," Lemay played the allergy-afflicted Sneezy, who in this particular version (courtesy of a little pre-pubescent artistic license) becomes the hero by letting go with a big one and blowing the wicked witch off a cliff to her richly deserved doom. ("I also doubled as the mirror on the wall," LeMay recalls.)
Now, 17 years later, John D. LeMay is preparing to do battle with the forces of evil once again, only this time on a slightly larger slightly more fearsome scale. As the star of Paramount Television's newly syndicated "Friday the 13th: The Series," the Illinois State University theatre graduate will play a latter-day heir to the throne of Sneezy and his nasally-fixated witch-bashing heroics. His name is Ryan Dallion, and along with a distant cousin named Micki Foster (played by an actress who goes solely by the name of Robey), he inherits an antique store bequeathed him by a mysterious uncle.
No standard-issue antique store this is, however. As it turns out, the cousins' late uncle had sold his soul to the Devil, who, in turn, cursed all of the antiques in the store, transforming each one of them into an instrument of - what else? - evil. Ryan and Micki uncover a listing of every item and its purchaser and set out to retrieve the objets d'evil before tragedy strikes. Apparently enough of the antiques were sold to satisfy the demands of a weekly television series, which, as this synopsis should make perfectly clear, has absolutely nothing to do with the six mega-gross mega-grossing "Friday the 13th" feature films.
"Nothing whatsoever," confirms the 25-year-old LeMay, ... [of] Normal. "No attempt is being made to do the movies on TV." The show, which premieres locally October 2 at 10 p.m. on Bloomington's WYZZ and 11:10 p.m. on Decatur's WAND, has been designed as an anthology-style horror series with a set of continuing characters, along the lines of Darren McGavin's "Night Stalker" series of the early '70s. Although being programmed in latenight slots on stations throughout the country and thus being accorded more lenient standards vis-a-vis the depiction of sex and violence, "Friday the 13th: The Series" will feature no axe-wielding maniac in a hockey mask dismembering, disemboweling and otherwise disentangling lovemaking teens out in the woods.
LeMay, who claims never to have even seen a "Friday the 13th" movie, says he doesn't appreciate "those kinds of shows. I like good suspense, not non-existent characters being slaughtered one by one. If there is any sex or violence [in the series], it has to be contrasted with real characters and situations. But there also has to be a payoff in the end - the Devil doesn't mess around when he kills people." He admits that the "Friday the 13th" name is being used merely as an audience-snaring hook, and that the title's exploitability resulted in the show being sold in 95 percent of the country's television markets. "The name tells people it's a horror show. That's the only connection."
The long road from Sneezy to Hollywood and Ryan Dallion has been a fairly smooth one for LeMay, the first Bloomington-Normal emigre since McLean Stevenson to land the lead role in a major television series. Following his second-grade stint as the heroic dwarf, LeMay's thespian tendencies were nurtured by his love for singing. The first consummation of that love came when he won first place in a talent contest at Normal's Parkside Junior High School with his rendition of "It's a Grand Night for Singing" from "State Fair." It was a girl's song, but my voice hadn't changed yet, so everything was okay," he recalls.
From there, LeMay moved on to a pivotal involvement with the Normal Parks and Recreation Department's High School Summer Theatre program, where his passion for musical comedy was fanned by performancees in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" (as Linus), "Guys and Dolls," "West Side Story" and "Pippin." He also hit the local footlight circuit, performing at the former Central Station Dinner Theatre, Community Players and Conklin Dinner Theatre. As a student at Illinois State University, where he had a contract major in theatre, music and dance, LeMay's most crucial experience was performing in an experimental "Free stage" production of David Mamet's "American Buffalo," directed by Phil Shaw on location in a theatre prop room. Although only 18 audience members could fit into the room per show, LeMay says that, "as far as my being an actor, it was a turning point. It was then that I really fell in love with acting."
He went on to spend a semester of his senior year interning at the Theatre Building in Chicago, where he played jack-of-all-trades, manning the box office, doing odd jobs and performing on stage. He also landed a role in the Balliwick Reportory production of "Room Service" and played a transvestite in the Blind Parrot production of "American Gothic." That was really something to sink your teeth into," LeMay said, recalling that most of his roles up to that point had been as "all-American boys, chorus boys and nerds."
LeMay's first foray into the Hollywood rat race occurred several years ago when his agent sent an audition tape to L.A. in hopes of landing his client the lead role in the ill-fated teen horror spoof, "Once Bitten." Although LeMay eventually lost the role, he was offered a bit part: "It was a shower scene or something. I said 'nah, I don't need that.'"
After making the move to L.A., what he did need was a new agent. "I had to make a quick choice, so I chose the agent who had the best-looking ofice. As it turned out, I made the right choice." (LeMay feels his standard for agent selection is a good one - "it shows who's making the most money"). After procuring the agent, however, it was rude-awakening time for the small-town kid from the Midwest.
"I really had no idea then of what it's all about in Hollywood," he said.
"It's not necessarily about acting, and it's not necessarily about what you learned in school. I do know that L.A. is a weird place to go to find artistic satisfaction.
During the next two years, LeMay found work in a couple television commercials (everything from Equal sugar substitute to Budweiser beer to Taco Bell) and guest shots on a several TV series, including "Twilight Zone," "Remington Steele" and, his very first, "Facts of Life." "It's a hideous show, of course," he said of the latter, "but it was a real confidence-builder."
Confidence or no, the jobs still weren't pouring in. So he spent his free time taking a couple acting classes, waiting by the phone and hanging out in Hollywood ("I saw Lauren Bacall at a bar one night, and I about flipped. I mean, this lady slept with Bogie!")
Then, as things are wont to happen in Hollywood, LeMay auditioned for "Friday the 13th: The Series" a year ago and landed the starring role.
"In my big plan, this wouldn't have happened for another 10 years or so,"LeMay says. "I have a real affection for that struggling artist thing. Part of me wishes I were a down-and-out type. But all of a sudden all those short-term goals were all screwed up. All of a sudden I was there (Hollywood) in three days, meeting people I never dreamed of meeting.
And now John D. LeMay is in Toronto, Canada, signed to a six-year-contract, filming an hour-long weekly TV series, carrying much of the considerable work load on his shoulders.
"I'm still not sure whether I like the job. I haven't been doing it long enough yet," he says. "I know I don't want to still be doing it when I'm 30. I mean someday I'd like to get married and have a real life. But I love to be busy and I couldn't be happier. I'm really growing now: I've learned more in the last six weeks than in the whole two years in L.A. And I'm acting now, which an actor must do to survive."
Furthermore, says LeMay, "I'm convinced I was fated for the role. Soon after I auditioned, I accompanied a friend to a psychic, and was told I would be moving east. And, on the day of my audition, my horoscope said that anything I wanted would be mine. Is it any wonder I'm here in Toronto, in a show called 'Friday the 13th'?"