To Top

Meet Terry Ray

Today we’d like to introduce you to Terry Ray.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Terry. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Okay, the beginning is if you asked me at age 3, I would have told you I wanted to be an actor. No one knows where that came from. I’d never seen a play until I cleverly scored the lead at age 6 in THE UGLY DUCKLING. I was raised in Ohio but baby me always knew that one day I’d live in Los Angeles. I drove through a multi-state blizzard to move there. Somewhere in New Mexico I didn’t know where the road was anymore. My car got stuck, I walked toward a light in the far distance, fell in a hole of some type and was buried alive in snow until the little voice inside my head stopped saying “just relax” and switched over to, “ummm, you sort of need to figure a way to get out of here or you’ll be a popsicle in about 30 minutes.” I turned 25 still trying to drive out of the snow of that blizzard. Once I hit Los Angeles I knew no one. I’d never been west of Arkansas. I was driving a car that I had once left burning on the freeway, but a passerby put the fire out and it still sort of worked so I kept driving it.

I lived in a really crappy apartment in Echo Park with a roommate whose last name was “Moron”–which should have been a clue because he was. He moved out without notice, taking everything including my money for bills and rent that he only pretended to pay. The Whos in Whoville had more left after the Grinch stole their Christmas. In 1987 I moved to an amazing two story apartment on top of a hill in Silverlake with a view of the entire city back when no one wanted to live in Silverlake–the rent, $600 which I split in half with a roomie that I gave the bedroom to because I couldn’t afford the whole thing. For nine years, I slept upstairs in the living room–with the magical view of the Hollywood sign and the entire city at my feet until I could finally afford to live there by myself.

As for as the acting, my first audition was for an improv company which I got my first week in LA. Improv shows made me fearless but kept me poor. (Matthew Perry was in the shows with me before he started getting work.) . But then I went on the game show SCRABBLE and just went wild at the prospect of winning money. I accidentally outed myself on TV and my appearance was named by AfterElton as one of the top 10 gayest moments in the history of game shows after Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly (who later became my beloved acting teacher).

With my winnings over four days, I was able to quit my slave job as a room service waiter and truly focus on the acting. I couldn’t audition for a speaking role because you had to have a SAG card to do that–and you couldn’t get a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card without a speaking role. So I decided to do extra work so I could at least be on a set. I was sure I’d be discovered and given a line. After eight months of a different kind of slave labor, I had never even seen an extra get a line, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. On the set of the now cult comedy film ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK the townspeople were burning Elvira at the stake for being a witch, along with a separate mini stake to torch her poodle. They had the crowd chant “Burn the witch” in unison–no solo line there, but there was a big blank gap between each “Burn the witch” and I decided I was going for it–I’d get my SAG card or get fired. In the gap I screamed “Burn her! And her little dog too!” The director yelled cut. There was discussion with a lot of people staring at me before the director came over and said, “what you just did–let’s try that again.” SAG card!

That was the start–lots of TV shows, plays, and some films and commercials followed but still I was being type cast or just not getting the juicy auditions. Through doing several Nickelodeon shows I meet a casting assistant, Larry LaFond who wanted to direct. He thought I was funny and said, let’s do a project together so we wrote, produced and made the 20 minute short GAYDAR which became an incredible success. It was in over 120 film festivals, won a bunch of awards and spawned the Gaydar Gun toy which my brother made and I voiced and wrote the jokes for. I wrote 3 stage shows at the famed Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with classic stars such as Mickey Rooney, Dean Jones, Rhonda Fleming, Michael York, Brock Peters and new young stars at the time Amanda Bynes and Hilary Duff. Larry and I also made a comedy short film I’m proud of about life after global warming called COST OF LIVING.

I branched out on my own and created, wrote and starred in the gay cable network HERE TV’s first sitcom FROM HERE ON OUT which became their highest rated show. It was sort of like a gay 30 ROCK–a show about making an ultra cheesy, overly sexy gay show called GUY DUBAI: INTERNATIONAL GAY SPY. I also helped created that network’s first game show MODD COUPLES. Later I paired up with my Charles Nelson Reilly acting class alum, Wendy Michaels and we created and starred in our sitcom MY SISTER IS SO GAY with Loni Anderson as our mother and a cast that includes MAD TV’s Debra Wilson, TV movie hunk Tilky Jones and Rae Dawn Chong. New episodes just went up on Amazon Prime.

After ghostwriting (nearly always for no credit) several TV movies, I think 11 in total, and taking all the terrible notes that go along with that, I needed to feed my soul as a writer. I had fallen in love with writing and wanted to write something where the writer was king–no bad notes had to be taken, so I decided to write a play, something with comedy but also meat on its bones and a role of a lifetime for myself. I’m a long time veteran of theater–acting in over 100 plays with stars such as Elaine Stritch, Dixie Carter and Patricia Heaton. I intentionally wrote a role for myself that I knew I would never have been cast in–a romantic (but not in the traditional way) lead in a two person play that takes place over 40 years. I wrote ELECTRICITY. It’s funny, it’s sexy, and it’s powerful–the only adjectives from that list I’d been allowed to play before was “funny”. I miraculously met Michael Darner, an architect in Palm Springs, on a cruise to Alaska where I was a guest talking about FROM HERE ON OUT. Apparently, when I was mingling with passengers I mentioned that I had just written a play that I was excited about but didn’t have the funds to produce. Months later I ran into Michael and he asked to read my play. He came back and said it was his life story and that he’d produce it…but what exactly did producing mean?

ELECTRICITY premiered in Studio City to critical acclaim, but after an extended 11 week run I wasn’t ready for it to be over. The play takes place in hotel room so Michael and I talked about experimenting with performing it in a real hotel room as immersive theater. He knew the owners of a gay resort in Palm Springs called INNdulge. With Mel England as my co-star we premiered the show inside the hotel room over two and a half years ago and we’re still there as well as in the cabaret room at Oscar’s. I have moved to Palm Springs, Mel moved to Palm Springs, my director, Steve Rosenbaum is looking for a place so he can move to Palm Springs. We took ELECTRICITY to Minneapolis and it was named “Best Out of Town Production” alongside HAMILTON (I know it’s shameless to drop a title like that but it happened so I’m dropping). The Evolution Theatre Company in Columbus, Ohio brought the show and me out to do it there and it was named one of the top ten entertainment events of the year (including concerts, dance etc.). So now, my big news is we’ve taken it to New York for producers and have assembled a team that said YES, including Tony Award winners so ELECTRICITY is headed Off-Broadway!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I don’t even think the road was marked. It was more of a faint footpath. If you stuck with reading my previous answer you have a really good taste of what I mean. My first real film role was in a movie called NIGHT WARS (don’t waste your time) where I played a P.O.W. in Viet Nam–I got the role because I was so skinny you could see my ribs. For make-up they poured a can of motor oil over my head and told me to roll in the dirt. Then they literally tied me to a tree by my neck and hands but they forgot about me during lunch break. I was tied to the tree for 12 straight hours.

I struggled with money always. I did temp jobs to keep from starving including being the secretary to a dog. ‘Nuff said. Getting financing for my projects was always a huge question mark but I wrote them and somehow we’d figure out a way to get the money to make them. When my short film GAYDAR started getting distribution deals, I didn’t think we were receiving the money we should have–eventually we found out our distributer was keeping most of it. When confronted he literally said–“I only pay people who sue me.” So we sued him and won more than we asked for. As I mentioned, we did a spin off toy of the Gaydar Gun from that film. My brother did an amazing job with it. We went into major hock to finance it and it came out just as the economy was crashing before the Christmas of 2008. People loved it but it didn’t sell and we needed cash from sales right away to keep us afloat. We lost everything. I picked myself up and kept going. Wanna buy a Gaydar Gun? There’s still a couple left on eBay.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I think I’m most known for getting projects made. I have a lot of scripts and ideas that haven’t been made but the perception is that I get things done and in a lot of ways I do. Dawn Wells, who played MaryAnn on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND heard that I was working with Loni Anderson and wanted to read the script. Afterwards she and her manager Leonard Carter asked for a meeting. I thought well, I guess I should have an idea if I’m going to a meeting, so I pitched doing a little spoof series of her character still stuck on the island, but a little more wise and worldly. We made SHE’S STILL ON THAT FREAKIN’ ISLAND and I get to wash ashore on “Gilligan’s Island” and ask all the logic questions that we’ve all always wanted to ask. Her fans and others have eaten up the two episodes that we’ve made so far. I’ve got lots of irons in the fire. I think my projects are funny, but they also have heart. I’m most proud of the heart part.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t know if it’s luck or just putting yourself out there but I guess you could say I’ve had a lot of “lucky” things happen that helped me get up the ladder a bit. Like meeting an architect who became my ELECTRICITY producer on a cruise to Alaska. It’s nearly always about people you meet, but you have to be open and ready and willing to take a risk and have ideas ready to go. It’s certainly not about being safe. But there’s also a big factor of doing good work and being someone that people want to work with.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Electricity photo by Theo D. Robinson, My Sister Is So Gay photo by Billy Clift, She’s Still On That Freakin’ Island photo by Leonard Carter

Suggest a story: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in