Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ron George usually keeps quiet about the flashiest part of his biography.
But as he fielded a question about film tax credits at a candidates forum last week, George let slip that he had a brief and unglamorous career as a daytime soap opera actor.
"I got to die once and come back a couple months later," George told a crowd at the University of Maryland law school.
That's not all. The Republican delegate from Anne Arundel County is still a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild, he said, a distinction that over the decades has earned him bit parts in various productions.
Directors, George said, "want someone who is comfortable around celebrities."
With a little prompting, George confided to The Baltimore Sun that he once shared the silver screen with mega-star Robert Downey Jr. They spent a day palling around at the old Rockville courthouse while George played a bit part in the 1989 romantic comedy "Chances Are."
During his 35-second appearance, George portrayed a fastidious newspaper reporter who, sitting beside Downey at the film's climax, intently nibbled on his pencil eraser. At first, George is hard to spot, with his floppy hair and clunky, oversized aviator spectacles that have yet to come back in fashion.
"My friends almost tossed their popcorn when they saw me," George said.
Turns out, those glasses — as well as George's authentic reaction to Downey leaping over the courtroom's bar to rush the bench — were crucial to George keeping his spot right next to the film's star.
"The director thought we looked too much alike, so I put my glasses on," George said.
And if you look closely, you can also see George running around in the background of the newsroom in the critically acclaimed 1987 movie "Broadcast News." George said his speaking lines were cut when the director decided to eliminate the character from the production.
Given that George's political party usually finds itself opposing unions, political scientist Todd Eberly from St. Mary's College offered this tongue-in-cheek analysis of how George's little-known hobby could affect the Republican primary race for governor. "Think about the way conservatives rail against Hollywood," Eberly said. "You've got Ron George, who presents himself as a conservative guy, in league with two enemies — labor unions and the Hollywood elite!"
George, 60, is better known as a two-term state delegate and Annapolis jewelry store owner. He said he never would have earned a spot in the guild if it weren't for his qualifying work in several 1978 appearances — with speaking lines — in the long-running NBC soap opera "The Doctors."
An NBC publicist scoffed at the idea that any footage might still exist from the 30-minute episodes in which George starred, but George said his main line involved saying, "Doctor, doctor," while lying in a hospital bed.
As George tells it, he approached his soap opera role as a method actor. A football team injured in a bus crash brought George's character into the plot. He played the kicker, who eventually succumbed to his injuries, but not before undergoing treatment for a ruptured spleen. George said he consulted his brother, a doctor, about how a patient with a ruptured spleen would be treated, and how he would likely wail in pain.
A few months after he died on the soap, he returned to the show as a medical intern.
"I quit when I met my wife and moved to Maryland," George said of his acting career. But his continued membership in the guild brought him an occasional minor role that supplemented his jewelry business income.
"All of those bit parts, they added up. They helped pay for the down payment of our home."