As they say in Hollywood—Cut!
Cut, in fact, to Hollywood. Or, to be exact, the CBS Studio Center in Studio City, Calif. There, just a beer-bottle toss from Matt Dillon's jail and around the corner from the old Mary Tyler Moore newsroom, another young man is going to work. He is extraordinarily handsome, with chiseled features and high cheekbones suggesting a bit of American Indian, and he has a powerful but compact body. Actresses, actors, extras, prop men, script girls, carpenters, security guards, all yell to him, "Hey, Charles! What's happening? You ready for football yet?" He stops and talks to all of them—"Oh, yeah. I'm ready"—and admits his embarrassment when he cannot remember their first names.
Although he has the cocky look and pearly smile of an actor himself, most of the show-biz people know the handsome extra is Charles White, the University of Southern California running back. If you watch carefully this fall you will see him, not only devastating the defenses of UCLA, Notre Dame, et al., but also—way in the background, for the time being—on TV shows like 240-Robert, Kaz, Kojak, and in such feature films as The Champ and Raging Bull.
This day White is working in what looks from the outside like an old airplane hangar, but inside there is a fake high school chopped up in pieces and put back together in no particular order. There is half a corridor over there, a part of a classroom here, a locker room, a coach's office and a complete gymnasium with bleachers. It is Carver High, and White is part of the "atmosphere" in an episode of The White Shadow. His part is to walk down a staircase with a girl while a bunch of Carver's basketball players once again conspire to do no good. More than half a dozen takes are required for the three-minute scene. Each time, White and the girl walk down the stairs to start the action. It is a tedious business, not unlike football practice.
When the scene is finished, a visitor asks the director how he likes working with Charles White.
" Charles White?" says the director. " Charles White? From Southern Cal? He's here?"
"He just walked out of math class and down those stairs nine times in front of your face," says the visitor.
"That was Charles White? I'll be damned. I guess I didn't recognize him without the number 11 on his back."
Charles White wears number 12. And he, not Billy Sims, is considered to be the favorite to win this year's Heisman Trophy. And what this little story illustrates is that in L.A. college football is just another pastime, like est or disco sail-surfing. In Norman, football isn't the only thing, it's only everything.
Outside of the Southwest not too many people had heard of Billy Sims before the middle of last season. After all, it had been three years since "Simbo" had become the second-greatest high school rusher ever, and injuries during his first three years at Oklahoma had caused him to disappear. At tiny Hooks ( Texas) High School, he had scored 516 points and gained 7,738 yards in three years. He never gained fewer than 123 yards in a game, and twice he topped 300. He had the kind of talent that prompted a coach to say after he first saw Sims run the ball as an eighth-grader, "I have just seen one of the greatest backfield runners ever." And it took just one look at a Hooks Hornets game film to set Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer's mouth watering.