What's My Room Number?
Jess Hartman was surprised to hear from Dallas McBride after so many years. He had left that part of his life behind, moving as far away from Hollywood as possible and he didn't miss it, having reinvented his life as a small business owner in a picturesque New England town. He never bothered changing his name but it had been so long since The O'Sullivans was a hit that people didn't associate him with that realm and those who were aware of his past rarely brought it up.
Jess had been a child actor, brought into the business by his mom when the family was stationed in San Diego (his father was career Navy). Jess landed his first professional gig (a peanut butter commercial) when he was eight and his career slowly progressed from there – a few more commercials, small parts on various television shows, and one scene in a Tom Hanks movie. His big break came when he was thirteen, cast in the new television series called The O'Sullivans which was a combination of Ozzie and Harriett, The Partridge Family, and Seventh Heaven.
Jess' parents had divorced by then, Jess and his mother staying in Los Angeles while his father moved on with his military career. The O'Sullivans was created by Rob and Annie Sobato, a married couple who enjoyed moderate success and fame as a 1960s folk music couple.
The premise for the new fictional show was that married former pop singers Mike and Pat O'Sullivan were now a middle aged couple with four children who inherited their parents' musical talents. Sean Sullivan (Rob Sobato) leaves his job as an executive to resume his musical career with his partner wife (played by real life wife Annie), but this time as a family act with their four children.
The show ran five seasons and made celebrity teen sensations out of Brice Ballston (Sam O'Sullivan) and Myra Rose (Lindy O'Sullivan), the two older O'Sullivan teens. Jess (Danny O'Sullivan) and Dallas (Gertie O'Sullivan) were cast as the younger siblings but they didn't enjoy the same level of success as their older co-stars although the series brought them reasonable notoriety and a steady income. Jess also got other roles during the series hiatus based on his popularity and recognition.
Jess was burnt out by the time the series ended and he decided to take a break from the show business life, enrolling in college on the east coast while his mother remained in LA, working as a wardrobe assistant for the studio that had produced The O'Sullivans. When he graduated with a degree in computer science four years later, Jess decided to pursue that career instead of returning to Hollywood. He ended up using some of his saving from The O'Sullivans to invest in a computer business in Vermont and he never thought about resuming his acting career (although he sang in a local band and performed in an occasional community theater production).
Brice Ballston became a martyred dead celebrity hero when he enlisted in the Marines not long after 9/11 and ended up a casualty of the war a few years later. Rob Sobato passed away from cancer and his wife Annie retired shortly thereafter. Myra Rose became a serious actress in alternative and independent films and she largely disavowed herself from The O'Sullivans experience, not wanting to associate herself with what she considered to be lesser work.
Dallas McBride – the youngest of The O'Sullivan's cast – became the stereotypical doomed former child actress, battling drug addiction for years, bouncing in and out of rehabs and relationships while struggling to maintain her career that was reduced to an occasional forgettable small part in some irrelevant television series or movie, including a scandalous blood and gore appearance in a grade B horror movie that signal that she had hit rock bottom.
Dallas eventually got her life back on track, maintaining a clean and sober existence and landing a reoccurring role as a mom to one of the co-stars of a Disney Channel sitcom, having come full circle from her own child actor days. She contacted Jess out of the blue because she was writing a book called Growing up O'Sullivan and she wanted to interview Jess for his insights, memories and perspectives from that time in her life. Jess had only been back to the west coast twice – for the funerals of Brice Ballston and Rob Sobato – but he was fond of Dallas and he was happy to help her out in any way he could.
Dallas and Jess spent a long weekend at Annie Sobato's home where the three former cast members reminisced while enjoying a warm and happy reunion. It was surreal to be in LA again and Jess was amused at how easily he adapted to the environment as soon as he landed at LAX. The publishing company sent a driver for Jess and he was escorted to Annie's house where his former television mom and sister were waiting for him.
Dallas started laughing as soon as she saw her former co-star in Annie's living room and the two hugged for a long moment upon greeting one another. Annie and Jess were able to answer any question Dallas asked and they posed for photographs together that would be featured in the book. Dallas looked remarkably well and she was upbeat and positive, although she did share that her third marriage was in trouble.
"I'm not the same person now that I'm clean and sober and that's putting a strain on the relationship," Dallas sighed.
Still, for Jess, it was a walk down memory lane seeing Annie and Dallas again and he enjoyed every moment of the relaxing weekend. His mother also joined the reunion and while visiting with her and Annie was meaningful and fulfilling, Jess was surprised by how taken he was with Dallas, who had played his kid sister for five years. Now she was a 33 three year old woman who had been through the meat grinder yet she remained optimistic and was the same bubbly and humorous person Jess remembered from his days on the show.
Jess was flattered that Dallas felt comfortable enough to confide in and be honest with him during their numerous walks around Annie's spacious grounds. Dallas' life story was a depressing one and Jess felt far removed from her reality and the Hollywood life style but his bond with her growing up on The O'Sullivan set was as strong as ever even after eighteen years apart and it was easy to pick up where they left off so long ago.
Dallas looked different these days, her hair a darker color and style, her face worn from the drug abuse, her body almost frail but Dallas insisted that she was doing well and that she was healthy. She was also affectionate toward Jess even though she was a married woman. Jess was flattered by the attention and he was struck at how easily they got along.
"Did I take you away from somebody back there in Vermont?" Dallas asked at one point and Jess blushed sheepishly.
"I guess I'm married to my work," he said.
Jess was actually sad to leave Dallas and Annie to return to his normal regular life back in Vermont. The weekend of reminiscing was sentimental and nostalgic and seeing his two friends again made him think of his magical glory days. He enjoyed being an actor and appearing on a popular and successful series. Rob Sobato had been a second father to him and Brice Ballston the big brother he never had. He missed both of them terribly and seeing Annie and Dallas again made him realize how lonely he was in his present life, even as a successful business owner.
Dallas hugged onto Jess for dear life when they said goodbye at the end of the weekend, not sure if she'd ever see him again.
"Good luck with the book," Jess said, giving her an unexpected kiss on the lips before heading for the limbo taking him to the airport.
Jess went through a few days of withdrawal and sadness when he returned to Vermont trying to forget about his past and eventually he fell back into his normal routine. A year later, Dallas sent him a copy of her new book with a very personal inscription sprawled on the inside cover.
"Dear Jess – You are my fellow O'Sullivan and I hope this book serves as a faithful reminder of the good times we shared together. All my love – your little sis, Dallas."
Jess read the entire book that night. Dallas briefly covered her early childhood, raised in the business by a distant father who was a television director and a work-obsessed mother who was a script supervisor. It was natural that Dallas would be exposed to the profession at an early age, visiting various television and movie sets and eventually being cast as an extra in one of her father's productions. That debut led to more roles and by the time she was ten years old Dallas had more than a dozen professional credits to her name.
The young professional had already been a regular on two television series when she was cast as Gertie O'Sullivan and most of the book was a testimonial and reflection on the five wonderful years she spent as an O'Sullivan. She considered Rob and Annie Sobato wonderful mentors and teachers. Like most adolescent girls, Dallas had a crush on teen sensation Brice Ballaston, only she had the luxury of knowing him personally.
"He never treated me like the goof I was," Dallas wrote with affection.
Dallas didn't write too much about Myra Rose who, she remembered, was "detached and disinterested" even as a teenager when the aloof actress spent most of her time in her dressing room trailer "away from the rest of us". Dallas admitted that she didn't know Myra well and that she resented the actress for not being more positive about her O'Sullivan experience.
"I doubt Myra would have become the success she is today if it hadn't been for the kindness and tutelage of Rob and Annie Sobato," Dallas wrote. "Myra learned to act on our show."
Jess was flattered at what Dallas had to write about him, calling him a "good friend" and "terrific actor". She saluted him for leaving Hollywood and making a life for himself and she wrote warmly about their experiences together on the O'Sullivan set.
Most of the book was a valentine to the O'Sullivan family – "they were fictional, but they made me feel special and real," Dallas wrote.
Then Dallas addressed her life after the show went off the air.
"I guess I couldn't deal with the reality that my O'Sullivan world was temporary," Dallas wrote. "I had a hard time adjusting to life after Gertie O'Sullivan. I missed my television family and being part of something special."
She said that was the main reason why she was unable to avoid the downfalls that plague so many former child actors who try to transition to the adult world, especially as an actress.
"Everybody knew me as sweet and innocent adorable Gertie O'Sullivan," Dallas said. "I couldn't get cast in other roles because I was stereotyped as Gertie. Frustrated, I escaped from the loss of the show and my inability to land new roles by partying too much and hanging out with the wrong sorts of people. When Brice died, I felt like nothing mattered anymore and my problems only got worse."
But Dallas made no excuses for her problems. "I alone am responsible for my failings," she insisted. "I made the choices I made. Nobody else."
Dallas devoted an entire chapter to her recovery and turnaround before concluding her autobiography by saluting the values, virtues, ethics, character and innocence of the O'Sullivan's and urging readers and fans to embrace the morals of the O'Sullivan clan, especially during the challenges of the present environment.
Jess was impressed with Dallas' book and he was moved by her honesty. It made him realize how much he missed those days and those people. He put the book on the bedside table, turned out the light and went to sleep assuming he'd never see Dallas McBride again.