BEVERLY HILLS—My colleague Michael St. John’s new autobiography “Hollywood Through the Back Door” is a wonderful read. It’s filled with real-life anecdotal information that shows his arrival and rise in Hollywood did not come without a major price. Michael, however, has been an uplifting individual who mastered the art of networking in Tinseltown. Long before there was Facebook or Twitter, Michael was often at every Hollywood party, making deals and making new connections.
Hollywood Through the Back Door
However, as a minority in America, he faced an enormous amount of challenges and found that he had to work harder than others who arrived in this town at the same time, all trying to break into what we all know as the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. The one thing Michael never failed to do is succeed despite adversities. His book is an inspiring, easy read that is filled with the art of self-control and the grace and dignity in which he has led his life and career over the past decades.
The story of Michael St. John is of a man who through humble beginnings never let anything get in the way of his quest for success. He was born in West Chester, Pa. He spent the first six years of his life in a village called “The Holler.” There he confronted violence, rape and murder. But those early experiences only empowered him to want to live a better life, and it also was the impetus for his parents to move the family to Morton, near Philadelphia, where he was quickly introduced to the theater, television and radio world. He knew right then that this was his goal. His path may have been riddled with traps and barriers, but like any good American, he used every mistake or obstacle as a lesson to learn from, not a trap to fall in to.
Michael’s first semester at a college was spent at Earlham College in Indiana. While there, he was elected class president, the first African America to be so distinguished. It also resulted in his dormitory room being fire-bombed. As a result, he was transferred to USC in Los Angeles. Immediately, his life took on a major turn. St. John suddenly was propelled into the magic world of Hollywood. The young man quickly found that breaking the rules to get what he wanted was necessary to achieve his creative objectives. Having the support of film luminaries such as Bette Davis, Agnes Moorehead and producer David Weisbart, many doors in Hollywood were opened. He became further obsessed with the entertainment industry, one that only gave most minorities a slight nod. Michael faced every challenge to prove the Hollywood gatekeepers wrong. Although he was shown the backdoor entrances wherever he wanted to go, like Sammy Davis, Jr. Michael St. John only focused on the long-term goals he’d set earlier in life for himself.
“Hollywood Through the Backdoor” chronicles St. John’s arrival in Hollywood, and it questions many choices he was forced to make. However, his early childhood environment built this mover and shaker of today’s Hollywood to endure and build his fighting skills in order to survive and overcome whatever adversities were handed his way.
The reason Michael is so vocal today about African Americans playing demeaning roles is because, as this book describes so eloquently, he arrived in this town when the only roles blacks could play or any other minority for that matter were the demeaning roles often played by despondent and depressed stars, who felt typecast in a world that was not open or accepting.
When not in a classroom at USC, Michael could often be found on a film set, observing and meeting stars or those who might make it happen for him. I love how honest Michael is about pulling some outlandish and unbelievable stunts to get noticed by many in the industry, including Dan Dailey, Marlon Brando, Hedda Hopper and so many other highly respected creative movers in the industry, who held out their hand, giving him the necessary push needed.
Though what you will enjoy most about this book is that Michael truly did not give a damn how he got inside, he’d go through the “Backdoor” or the basement if it meant achieving his Hollywood dreams.
“Hollywood Through the Back Door” is a cautionary tale for any young people who are dreaming of success in a town that is known for toughness, but ultimately rewarding of persistence. Michael’s very tough, but he handles others with respect, and his book should be on every reader’s gift list for the upcoming holidays.
“Hollywood Through the Back Door” is available at booksellers around the nation and at Amazon.com.