Just two years after moving to Hollywood, George Clooney made his national TV debut on this date in CBS' short-lived "E/R" hospital comedy starring Elliott Gould, Conchatta Ferrell and unknown Jason Alexander on Dec. 12, 1984.
Clooney, then 23, played "Ace," Ferrell's nephew hired as an EMT 32 years ago today, for the 14th episode.
"I came in late, they wrote 'Ace' for me. I learned from everyone involved," Clooney once told me when we met on the Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles.
Ironically, the "E/R" comedy was set in a Chicago hospital – the same setting where Clooney found fame 10 long years later in NBC's hit drama "ER" in fall 1994.
On CBS, Gould starred as a sarcastic doctor (similar to his Hawkeye Pierce in the "M*A*S*H" movie) moonlighting at Clark Street Hospital with his ex-wife (Mary McDonnell), a head nurse (Ferrell, later the Two And A Half Men" housekeeper) and very green hospital administrator Harold Stickley (Alexander).
"It was my first job in Hollywood. It was really my first serious foray into television." Alexander told me on WVXU-FM in February, in advance of his Cincinnati Pops performances.
The future Tony Award winner had appeared in three Broadway plays before doing the TV show at age 25. "It was a great learning experience and a lot of fun. I couldn’t tell you if it was good, bad or indifferent. But it certainly had a high pedigree cast that I got to work with," Alexander said.
Clooney, a 1979 Augusta Independent High School graduate, dropped out of Northern Kentucky University against his father's wishes in 1982 and drove to Los Angeles to pursue acting. He stayed with his aunt Rosemary Clooney in Beverly Hills.
"I came to LA in a ’76 Monte Carlo with nothing but rust. My aunt made me get rid of it when I moved out here and started living with her in Beverly Hills. It was such an ugly car for living in such a nice area of Beverly Hills. She was too embarrassed," he told me.
Getting started in Hollywood "wasn’t all that tough," Cloney told me. "I didn’t have to make a living immediately. I got to stay with Rosemary. I was able to take me time. She was very supportive."
Clooney's arrival didn't help the long-term prognosis for "E/R." The last of 22 episodes aired Feb. 27, 1985, and the show was canceled in May after one season. Clooney took a succession of series regular roles in "Facts Of Life" (1985-86), "Roseanne" (1988-89), "Sunset Beat" (1990), "Baby Talk" (1990), "Bodies of Evidence" (1992-93) and "Sisters" (1993-94) before NBC's "ER."
Fellow TV rookie Alexander said that "E/R" cast members "all knew George was talented… George was a delight. He loved working. He loved being with people. He was funny. He was a bit of a practical joker. He was full of life, and he had a ton of energy, and he was just a great guy to hang around at all times."
What they didn't see coming was how the "goofy kid" matured into an Academy Award-winning dramatic actor and social activist.
"One of the glorious things that happened with George was that, as he hit his mid 30s, his face -- which was wonderful as a young actor -- took on a kind of profundity as an adult, and that opened up all kinds of possibilities for him as a dramatic actor. He was kind of a goofy kid. But he could kind of evoke 'not goofy' presentation as an adult.
"He is the same guy now, except more mature than he was back then," Alexander told me. "Success couldn’t happen to a nicer guy."