One of the things my publicist, Suzanne Rosewood, had me do right away was to associate myself with a charity. Signing on with a charity meant I would get my photo taken, be interviewed, and even receive plaques for my “good” work. “We’ve never seen Joseph before and never will again, but we are honoring him for being a great role model to the kids.” Or something like that.
I don’t know that all celebrity-driven charity work is as mercenary as mine was, but I am cynical by nature, so I tend to harrumph whenever I hear some celebrity being lauded by some organization for being involved in some cause.
You see, I quickly learned that the entire thing is often a charade, the purpose of which is to get publicity for both the charity and the celebrity. The publicist has a relationship with some charity that is in need of getting some publicity, or selling some tickets to their annual fund-raising banquet. The charity will then “honor” the celebrity with some award. People buy tickets, so that they can rub elbows with someone famous. Sometimes, the celebrity doesn’t even show up to the event, they simply lend their name and send a representative to collect the hardware. The public sees the celebrity associated with a charity and thinks, “Wow! Look at that. All that fame and fortune, but he still cares about crippled children.” The celebrity gets interviews and the charity gets their name mentioned. None of that requires that the celebrity actually do any work. I mean, prior to getting on The Cosby Show, I did real volunteer work. Every Tuesday, I was working with the Veteran’s Bedside Network at the veteran’s hospital. I actually did real work and was never asked to make an appearance at a party or get my photo taken.
Of course, sometimes just showing up is all that is required. I did several events for the Special Olympics. All I was asked to do was mix with the kids and sign autographs. The kids were always excited and eager to shake hands and have their photo taken with Olivia’s Daddy. I actually grew to enjoy working with the Special Olympics and was always ready to show up when they asked.
I also began working with another charity that worked with at risk youth. The charity was looking for someone young to speak to the kids. I spoke to the kids once, but mostly just showed up at their annual fund raising banquets. They gave me an award. Eventually, they asked that I try to get Bill on board for some fund raising event. Ahhh. Now I see why you love me!
I also got to be friends with a couple that worked closely with the charity. I socialized a bit with the husband, who was on the board of directors. The wife was certain that she could get me a sponsorship deal worth millions. (I wonder what happened to that deal.) I even had them over to my home. I was enjoying meeting new people who I clicked with.
I was more than a bit disappointed to discover the entire business of publicity is one big hustle, and to my way of thinking, the ones being hustled the most are the young actors who are being told that they must spend goo gobs of money in order to raise their profile. The truth is that the job will raise your profile. Your work will raise your profile. Eventually, you may need someone to sift through all the offers, but as far as I’m concerned, the rest is one big waste of money.
I can’t quantify the results of hiring Suzanne (or having not learned my lesson the first time, the two publicists I hired afterward). Yes, I received interviews, a magazine layout or two, the key to a couple of cities, but I cant point to one acting job I received as a result of hiring a publicist. And publicity was supposed to lead to more and better work.
During my first year on The Cosby Show, I paid the Rosewood Agency $3,500 per month as a retainer. In addition, I paid Suzanne’s expenses. On top of that, she charged me an administrative fee. In other words, I paid for her expertise and her time, every phone call she made and every paper-clip she used and then, I was charged a fee to cover the cost of her doing business. It is almost unheard of to pay expenses and an administrative fee. Each month, I received a packet of itemized charges, in the hundreds of dollars for phone calls, taxi rides, postage and pens. I paid for the air she breathed and sometimes whatever crossed her mind.
In December of my first season on the show, I appeared at an event in The Bronx. I took the train, which was no short ride from my home in Brooklyn. Suzanne’s boyfriend, who worked for her – doing virtually nothing as near as I could tell – rented a car and drove to the event. Let me repeat that, so we are clear. I took the subway from Brooklyn to The Bronx. Boyfriend with vague job description rented a car and drove. Guess who got charged for the car, not just for those few hours, or for that day, but for the weekend? Did I mention that I took the subway to and from the event?
Similarly, one month, I noticed a charge for a subscription to GQ magazine. “What’s this for?” I questioned.
“Well, we need to keep up on the fashion trends for you.”
What the hell? I suspected that idle boyfriend was reading GQ instead of working and told her to take that shit off my bill.
I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so it took me a while to get hip to the game. However, once I did, I began to notice all sorts of odd charges. I began to look closely at the calls on the phone bill. I was being billed for long distance calls that had nothing to do with me, or at best had some distant relation to business on my behalf. The game I had twigged to was called “bleed Joseph dry.” And what did I get for all of that money? The cover of Chocolate Singles magazine! Chocolate Singles is exactly what it sounds like, a magazine geared towards Black singles. I graced the March 1990 cover. I am not tossing shade at Chocolate Singles. The folks treated me well and hey, they did give me the cover. But I paid Suzanne a LOT of money.
In fairness, Suzanne did try arranging for me to go on a date with Debbie Turner, who had just won the Miss America beauty pageant. This was the game called “date someone famous so that you can get photographed.” I think she pitched it to me as “Miss America meets Mr. All-American.” Debbie was a beautiful woman. I actually had a bit of a crush on her and had I actually met her, I would have loved to have taken her out. However, after a bit of thought, I nixed the idea. Getting kudos for doing charity work that I wasn’t actually doing was bad enough. Dating someone for publicity just seemed, well, bizarre, as if I was being pimped out, or maybe Debbie was being pimped out. One of us was being pimped out and it didn’t feel right. But even had I gone through with it and Debbie agreed, and even if we’d had a freak-nic worthy love affair that inspired folk songs and pornographers, even that wasn’t worth the small fortune I paid Suzanne Rosewood.
Next…But I NEED a business manager. Shut yo’ mouth!