What is he doing in there?" whispers the photographer, and the people who have been lounging around this Chicago studio squirm a little more.
The star disappeared into the dressing room 25 minutes ago, and now—nothing. An account exec clears her throat. The creative guys nibble at food. The two photo assistants pace. The makeup man flips nervously through a magazine. Everybody is thinking the same thing—$2,500 a day for this studio and the photographer. Time. Money. The campaign. Careers. Sometimes stars become snobs. Sometimes they lose it completely. Sometimes they just stay in their dressing rooms and do weird things....
Abruptly the door flies open and out steps William Perry, clad in a football uniform. All eyes turn to this familiar shape, the most recognizable 300-pound man in the United States.
There is tense silence as the Refrigerator surveys the scene. His appearance fee, says agent Jim Steiner, is "10 and 15, in and out of town, cut and dried." That is, $10,000 in Chicago, $15,000 anywhere else, plus three first-class airline tickets to the job, one for the Fridge, one for personal manager Conrad Ford and one for Perry's wife, Sherry, who goes everywhere the Fridge goes. Appearances last an hour or so. Anything more means lots more money.
"I guess he's had about 35 to 45 appearances all told since November," says Ford, who courted the Fridge for Bry & Associates, Ltd. (for whom Steiner also works) when Perry was at Clemson. " General Foods called and wants a video with him and his mom, cooking. Let's see—auto shows, print ads, TV...uh, he'll be busy the rest of 1986."
For this deal with Rath Black Hawk, a Chicago-based packaged-meat company—still shots with bacon and ham today, a 30-second film spot with bacon yesterday—Fridge is earning well into six figures. And he could ask for more—tons more—and get it.
"The requests for William are overwhelming," says Steiner. "Occasionally there's a lull—35 to 40 requests a day instead of 50 to 75—but recently it's been busier than ever. People said this thing would stop. They were 100 percent wrong."
How is the Fridge holding up? Nobody breathes. A man who is more than six feet around at the shoulders should look either ferocious or gentle, but the Fridge shows nothing at first.
Then it comes. The twinkle, the smile, the big hole in the grin where a cousin shot out a tooth with a pellet gun back when the Fridge was just a little icebox in Aiken, S.C. Warmth, good humor.
"Hi," says the 10th of Inez and Hollie Perry's 12 children, the chairman of the board of William Perry Inc., and the whole room sighs.