A Profile in Courage


Louis Herthum

Because of its heart-throbbing reputation of being the historic apex of fussy film studios and melodramatic movie stars, the word “Hollywood” is used regularly as a metonymy, or figure of speech, of American cinema. It is here in Tinseltown where promises are unrealized, feelings are oftentimes discarded and big dreams can, in fact, be made out of clay.

A magnet for idealists, young hopefuls have migrated in droves to this starstruck locale on a daily basis for decades with little more than a money-clip of hope in one pocket and a prayer in the other.

Actor/director/producer/activist/adjunct professor Louis Herthum was different.

When he decided to bid farewell to his tranquil birthplace of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1982, the then-26-year-old handsome man — with piercing blue eyes, a thick mane of perfectly coiffed hair and photo-ready physique — had already sampled some of the toothsome spoils of show business.

“My first desire was to be a stunt man,” said Herthum as he recalled sitting in a movie theater in 1968 with his father, watching Bullitt, starring action hero Steve McQueen. It was that famous car-chase scene that hooked the then-12-year-old. So Herthum did whatever he could to break into the industry. Throughout his teen years and well into his 20’s, he modeled and appeared in television commercials.

It was 1981, the year that marked Herthum’s moment of absolute reckoning. That is when his agent arranged for him an audition for The Rainmaker, a Baton Rouge Little Theatre stage production.

“This scared the hell out of me,” remembered Herthum. “I thought, literally, that if I can’t muster the courage to go read for this play, how will I ever muster the courage to jump off a six story building when I get to Hollywood?” The aspiring daredevil got the job, received ovations for his work and critical acclaim for his subsequent performances in such musicals as Oklahoma and Grease.

Herthum quickly landed a small role in The Toy, a major motion picture starring the legendary comedic duo of Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason. By 1984, Herthum was cast in Louisiana, a war drama starring Margot Kidder. There was no denying that this Southern gentleman with a firm grip and boylike charm was bitten by the Hollywood bug and stung by a swirling swarm of optimism.

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