22: My Theory of Relativity

22: My Theory of Relativity

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

My Theory of Relativity

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

~Albert Einstein

In October of 1992, at the age of fifty-eight, the aerospace company I was working for offered me and 1,200 other senior employees early retirement, also known as the “golden handshake.” Up to that point in my career, I had not planned to retire until I was sixty-two. By then I would have had an additional four years, which would have given me a greater pension and allowed me to obtain early Social Security. Had it not been for my wife working at the time, I would not have been able to support the two of us plus a son who had just started law school.

A few months prior, my middle son quit the law firm where he worked and opened his own law practice. Recognizing that I was in dire straits, he offered me a part-time job creating forms from special software for attorneys. At the same time, I had already sent out résumés to obtain another job in the aerospace industry. As good as I was at what I did, no one was hiring fifty-eight-year-olds.

After a few months working in my son’s office, another attorney who rented office space in my son’s suite of offices approached me and asked, “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Albert Einstein?” With a puzzled look on my face, I simply said, “No.” He basically ignored my answer and told me to buy a mustache, take some black and white pictures of myself, and turn them over to him so he could send them to a lookalike agency. I had no idea what he was talking about. But, like he had said, what did I have to lose?

I did exactly what he said. I happened to have a good camera with a portrait lens and a tripod. I bought a roll of black and while film, set up the tripod and took some pictures of myself. I wore an old black sweatshirt like the one I saw in an old picture of Einstein. I should note that although my hair was white, it was cut fairly short and neatly combed. I never had long straggly hair. But for the picture, I messed it up a bit, glued on the mustache and removed my glasses.

A few days later, after the film was developed, I handed all the pictures over to the other attorney. He looked them over, chose a few and handed the rest back. He said he was going to send them to a lookalike agency.

Two weeks later, I received a telephone call from an agent. He told me his name was Brian Mulligan. Out of nowhere he asked me if I was available for a gig on a certain date. He explained that the gig was for a one-day film shoot for a Japanese production company. I thought someone was playing games with me and I hung up. A few minutes later he called again and convinced me that this was for real. He wanted to know if I had a headshot and résumé to give to the film producers. When I said I had neither, he told me to get an eight-by-ten glossy print made from one of the negatives.

He then told me he would help me create a résumé. “Are you kidding?” I said. “I haven’t done anything as an Einstein lookalike to put on a résumé.”

“Don’t worry,” he told me, “we’ll figure something out.” At that point, I told him to forget it and hung up again.

But he persisted. Since he lived close by, he asked me to deliver the headshot to him and that we would work on a résumé. How the hell was he going to do that? Worse yet, what was I going to do once I got on the set? I couldn’t have felt uneasier about going through with it. To this day, I don’t know how I allowed myself to get involved in something I had absolutely no training in or knowledge of. And what kind of agent throws an unknown out there, not knowing what he is capable of doing?

What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was all about “the look.” The next thing I knew I was in a Beverly Hills office auditioning for the part of Albert Einstein in front of Japanese producers and the director of the film. In the end, it didn’t matter that I didn’t understand Japanese. I could tell by the look on their faces how happy they were with my look. The following day my agent called to let me know that I got the gig.

That was the beginning of a twenty-two-year second career, which continues to this day. My résumé now includes commercials made all over the world, film and TV, trade shows and print ads. I even did a Pepsi commercial, for which I had to become a member of the Screen Actors Guild. I also became a member of AFTRA in order to be on TV shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, among others. I was in a movie, Breaking Up, with Russell Crowe and Selma Hayek. Then there was the Disney World production, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, with Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Nye, Jamie Lee Curtis and Alex Trebek.

I had no idea how much money I was going to make just because I happened to look like Albert Einstein. The Pepsi commercial alone made me $70,000 for the year it was on TV. Commercials made in Japan, Korea, Barcelona, Greece, and Panama City allowed me to earn $10,000 for one-day commercial shoots plus all expenses paid.

Although some years were more lucrative than others, I have been able to average $15,000 a year. After twenty-two years, that comes to $330,000. Not bad for just looking like the smartest guy in the world.

~Benny Wasserman

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