In recent years Norman Lear, a producer with the nerves of a high-stakes gambler, has given television some of its most original—and most successful—shows, including All in the Family, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and One Day at a Time. Lear bet that viewers could find things to laugh at in the lives of a lovable bigot, the Fernwood Flasher and a divorc�e trying to make a go of it on her own. And he was right. Each of the shows struggled at the start, then soared in the ratings.
Three weeks ago Lear launched his latest long shot, a daily half-hour program called All That Glitters. The show is set at the Globatron Corporation, a multinational conglomerate that is run by women, while men hold the menial jobs. The female bosses work hard, drink hard, concern themselves with "the bottom line" and tend to employ very attractive male secretaries. If the early ratings hold up—All That Glitters was an instant success in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago—Lear has gambled and won again.
One of the show's handsome underlings is Wes Parker, the former Dodger first baseman, who plays the part of Mr. Nancy (Glen) Bankston, "who, although happily married, is largely unfulfilled and is determined to rekindle his acting career." Most baseball fans—and Dodger rooters in particular—will see the irony in Parker performing in a show titled All That Glitters. During his playing days, he was a 24-karat fielder who could gather in a line drive with a pair of tweezers. Parker's career fielding average was a glittery .996, a major league record, and he won six Gold Gloves. That and the fact that he was a solid .267 hitter made him a key member of the Koufax-Drysdale Dodgers of the mid-'60s, when the club did not score many runs. Defense was an integral part of Los Angeles' success, and it was not happenstance that the Dodgers won two pennants the first three seasons that Parker's glove was in the lineup.
Unlike most big-leaguers, Parker was fully aware of his limitations. He therefore avoided the show-business scene that distracts so many Los Angeles athletes. "I had to concentrate entirely on baseball," he says. "I wasn't equipped with the talent or the size of the great players. I noticed that the good hitters were well built from the waist up and I was well built from the waist down. Of all the players in the league, only Dal Maxvill [career average: .218] had smaller wrists than I did. One time Bob Gibson struck me out four times. Unless you've been a player, you can't even imagine that feeling. You feel overmatched, helpless; you sense that you don't have a fighting chance.
"But you'd see certain things that lifted you. Roberto Clemente was my favorite player. I was in complete awe of him. He had nobility and dignity, and I felt he was like some god who had come down to earth and could do anything he wanted."
When Parker left the Dodgers in 1972, he spent a season as a member of the Cincinnati Reds' TV announcing team. "We did about 30 games," he says, "and it gave me good experience at being on camera. It wasn't that difficult to cover the games. In fact, I think one of the toughest things about doing the broadcasts was finding my car at the Los Angeles airport when I returned home."
The next season Parker went to Japan to play for another year, leading the Nankai Hawks in almost every offensive category. "While I was there, I thought about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," he says. "I decided acting might be a way I'd be able to express myself." Parker went to acting school in Burbank, Calif. in 1975, then got small roles in Police Woman, Police Story, McMillan and Wife, Matt Helm, Gibbsville and The Brady Bunch. And like most budding actors, he saw some of his work—in his case, an appearance in a made-for-television movie called The James Dean Story—end up on the cutting-room floor.
In February '77 Parker signed to announce seven baseball games on Channel 52 in Los Angeles, a pay-television operation run by sports-TV impresario Jerry Perenchio, who, it turns out, is Lear's partner. "At that time, Lear was starting in on All That Glitters," Parker says. "He had every role filled except for Glen, who is an immaculate dresser—and knows it—and is very good-looking—and knows it. Lear casually asked if I'd be interested in the part. I said yes, but knew it was out of the question, because in real life things don't happen that way. Nobody walks in and gets on a Norman Lear show. I read for the part, got it and didn't sleep at all that night. I even cried for half an hour. It was an unbelievable break, just like the one I got with the Dodgers when Charlie Dressen decided that they should sign me though no other team was interested in me."
Since becoming Glen, Parker has put in a lot of 12-hour days and he is only now getting comfortable with the role. "In baseball you knew exactly what you were going to do at specific times," he says. "In acting you stand around a lot just waiting to go on. And acting doesn't require the same total concentration as baseball. One year as a player, I decided to give the game everything I had. I took a course in psychocybernetics. I even told my friends before the season started that I wouldn't see any of them for seven months. I didn't answer the telephone. I ended up having a tremendous season, with 111 RBIs. As an actor, at least I can answer the phone. It's tough work, but I love it."
If he loves acting enough to bring the same dedication and sensitivity to it that he brought to baseball, Parker may find that for him All That Glitters is pure gold.