A Tough Cookie
Soap Opera Digest, December 29, 1987
by Michael Logan
Article Provided By Wanda
By nature, he's a contradiction. Few others on the planet can simultaneously manage to be as thrilled about breathing and as angst-ridden. He can be cocky but charming, insecure but bossy. At the same time he lights up a cigarette, he'll order a healthful, fresh fruit salad with non-fat yogurt. He's more than happy to hand you his business card, but with its black embossed printing on black paper, it's fairly impossible to read. One minute, he'll positively refuse to tell you his age and then, half an hour later, he'll accidentally spill the beans. And while probably nobody's ever wanted to be an actor more, you suspect that, in the long run, he'd really rather be surfing.
And hyper? Unbelievably so. In fact, Jason Adams has the market cornered - which is pretty darned weird considering this bundle of raw nerves is a born and bred beach bum.
Raised at the California seashore (his first taste of the biz came as he watched his fellow grammar schoolers dropped off by such Malibu moms and dads as Cary Grant, Dyan Cannon, Ali MacGraw and Steve McQueen), Adams has been soaking up rays and hanging ten since he learned to walk - but there's none of that laid-back, vacant-eyed, brain-fried, manana manner that's so common among the sun, sand n'surf set. This guy's a live wire - and he's worse when he's not employed.
Prior to landing the suddenly resurrected role of John Ryan on Ryan's Hope (the last time we saw Johnny, he was twelve - two years later, he returned as a twenty-year-old daddy), Jason encountered four uninterrupted years of TV turndowns. chances are, you wouldn't have wanted him around.
"I am the most hostile person I know when I'm out of work," he claims. "I lash out at myself for not doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I'll stay awake all night watching television, sleep until noon, drink loads of coffee and smoke cigarettes until I drop." Even his Ryan's Hope screen test put him on a bummer, "I thought it was the worst test I'd ever done," Jason says. "I didn't know whether to commit suicide or go bowling." He did neither. "When my agent called to tell me I got the job, I hung up and cried for two hours. It was kind of the end of an era for me."
The gig necessitated a move to Manhattan - not an easy burg to get settled in - but he didn't accept the soap's offer of assistance in relocating. Grimaces Adams "they give you the Catch 22 - 'if you need help, let us know.' But they know damn well that we're not going to ask for it because we don't want to be pains in the ass. I didn't want them to think, 'geeze, we've hired a baby who can't get himself a place. We'll probably have to take care of him on the set, too. We'll have to hire his mother.' I mean, that's the stuff that goes through your head. You want to stay out of everybody's way because you don't want to blow it."
So handle the dilemma he did, though he's never quite gotten into the spirit of The Big Apple. "I like to work in New York," he maintains. "I just don't like living here. It takes me until one or two o'clock in the morning to unwind. I have moments when I really like it. I'll walk down the street and think this place is bitchin'. It's open all the time. You can get anything you want. You can get pizza delivered, sushi delivered, women delivered. For my brother's birthday, I had a stripper come over and everything. I actually just got on the phone and got a stripper." And now for the bad news? "New Yorkers," Adams states, "are pushy, rude and obnoxious for the most part - which is not where I'm coming from - so I've learned to be pushy, rude and obnoxious, too, which pisses me off."
He salvaged the situation by throwing out the life preserver. Los Angeles movie costume designer Debbie Green, his off-and-on paramour of the last three years, was issued a cordial invitation from Adams to drop everything, move to New York and set up housekeeping. But she accepted this offer a lot more readily than she did his first.
"I met her in a sushi bar in Malibu," he winces at the memory. "I looked like a jerk, I was wearing a leather jacket with no shirt on, my hair was greased back. I sent a sake over to her table. Then I sent another sake. You see, I turn to mush when I see a really pretty girl. I spent years building up my ego and, when I really need it, it locks itself in the john. Finally, I kind of sauntered over to her. She said, "naw, you're too young. I can't go out with you."
Eventually - thought not for several weeks - she relented. Green, whom he describes as "quite a bit older than me," appears to be a major, stabilizing force in his life, a true friend of which he insists he has few.
"With the exception of a few people I work with," Jason says, "I really don't trust anybody. I don't want to bare my soul to somebody, then have them turn around and do something with it. Nobody wants that."
Paranoid or just selective? It's kind of hard to tell, but, unmistakably, there's something of the stray puppydog about Adams - unshakeable, anxious-to-please and "friend for life" material. Despite this, he seemingly counts his New York buddies on one hand. Among them are Joseph Hardy, executive producer of Ryan's Hope ("if I've got a problem, I can go and talk honestly with him"), fellow heartthrob Grant Show (ex-Rick) and his on-screen mama, actress Ilene Kristen (Delia).
"Working with her is like being fired out of a cannon, because we're both so hyper. But when we hang out afterwards, it's very different. We've very trusting of each other and she's been of great help to mellow me out."
You'd never know it. Adams practically tingles with nervous energy, as if there's a bomb not so slowly ticking away inside him. But during this week of vacation back in low-key La La Land, he seems to want to reflect on less complicated times.
In the seventies, when skateboarding was the California craze, the post-pubescent Jason was paid by Pepsi and other companies to compete professionally. You name it, he'd try it. The whiz kid could skateboard while doing a handstand, he could zoom into the air off a 15-foot platform or, in a stunt he says his parents 'lost a little hair over,' he'd hurdle an Olympic-size swimming pool. The latter trick abruptly ended his career. Not wearing a helmet and miscalculating a leap one day, Adams hit his head on the bottom of the pool and knocked himself senseless. Upon recovery, he nevertheless turned the near-tragedy into a scene out of some soupy TV movie. "There was this little kid who used to watch me all the time," he remembered. "I went up to him, handed him my skateboard and said, 'I quit. it's yours.' And I never did it again."
He's still an avid surfer, though, even if he does bemoan the loss of an era.
"What I like to call the spiritual essence of surfing is gone. It used to be about going out and riding waves with your friends. Now, you've got all these kids with the earrings through their cheeks and green hair, paddling out with their purple and pink surfboards. Whoever sticks his chest out the furthest gets the most waves...that's not what it's about. It's given the sport a bad name."
While the seaside memories of his youth may be magical, other activities of that time were almost deadly.
"I ran with the gutter crowd," the actor admits of his early teen years, "and ended up in jail a few times. I'm not going to get into details - I was just fortunate enough to get out of it. We were just fifteen or sixteen years old, going to wild parties and getting into trouble. When drugs are accessible, kids are going to want to experiment. I did as many as the next guy and there were many times when I could have been killed."
What saved him then still propels him now.
"I realized about four years ago that I no longer wanted to detach myself. I'd seen too many people eat it, too many people drop. My biggest nightmare is that I would suddenly wake up at age fifty and realize that I'd blown it."
The young and reckless days may be officially over, but Adams still comes off as a bit of an upstart. There's a touch of the peacock, a touch of the punk. He wears James Dean sunglasses. He swears like a teamster. He dons a tough-guy exterior that just may, for a lot of people, seem like too much trouble to penetrate.
But c'mon, can a guy who actually puts on a Lone Ranger costume and goes back to his grade school to entertain the kids really be such a crusty cookie? Yeah, but the insides, rest assured, are soft and actually rather sweet.
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