Nannette Troutman recalls agency's go-go '80s
Like an actor whose phone has stopped ringing, Portland's talent business is in a slump, says Nannette Troutman.
Troutman ought to know. Her Portland-based talent agency, Troutman and Associates, flourished in the 1980s. At its peak, the agency represented about 700 people, including actors, models and kids Ñ many of whom worked nationally and internationally.
Troutman sold the agency in the early '90s to pursue a career as a Hollywood producer and casting agent. She recently returned to Portland.
Here are her observations on the rise and fall of the city's talent business.
There were only two minor-league talent agencies in Portland when Troutman hung out her shingle in 1980. She had made quick work of a $1,000 loan from her mother, investing in a desk, business cards and a phone that had critical features: two lines and a hold button.
'That phone was important,' Troutman says. 'It helped create the illusion that I was running an established business Ñ even if it was out of my leaky-roofed apartment in Tigard.'
John Casablancas, founder of the eponymous chain of modeling schools and world-class playboy, was certainly none the wiser. Troutman had the city's top model in her office, trying to convince her to sign a contract Ñ and not having much luck Ñ when the phone rang. It was Casablancas.
A representative was sent to Troutman's apartment to check out her models, one of whom was immediately dispatched to the Big Apple. Business took off, and Troutman never looked back.
'Within three months, we were working out of a beautiful office in the Weatherly Building,' she says.
Troutman and her growing staff of agents began building what would become the city's premier agency. Troutman says it was her eye for talent Ñ coupled with a strong maternal instinct Ñ that made her business formidable. Her timing was also impeccable: Marketing budgets at local businesses were growing.
'Nike, Fred Meyer and Jantzen were very good to us,' she recalls.
Hollywood's growing willingness to look northward for talent and locations also was critical, a trend that would fuel the local talent business for years.
Troutman swiftly reels off a long list of actors the area generated at that time.
Brendan Frasier was a protŽgŽ of Troutman's, as was Jim Caviezel, who starred opposite Jennifer Lopez in 'Angel Eyes' and can be seen in the recently released 'The Count of Monte Cristo.'
The agent also represented a number of successful child stars from Portland, including Melanie Chang, who played the protagonist as a child in 'The Joy Luck Club.' Salem-born Julia Whelan also got her start with Troutman's help. Now 15, she was selected as a cast member of the television show 'Once and Again.'
'The '80s were very good for local child actors,' Troutman says. 'We had a contract with Disney, who made a lot of their movies here.'
Being so closely interwoven in the lives of the people one represents can be painful, Troutman says. She was especially close to Rebecca Schaeffer, a Lincoln High School grad who Troutman helped make the leap from junior modeling to acting. Schaeffer was living in Los Angeles and co-starring in the sitcom 'My Sister Sam,' with Pam Dawber, when she was murdered by a deranged fan.
Her protective instincts are only one of the reasons that Troutman has firm ideas about children in the business. 'It's got to be the child's idea, not the parents',' she says. 'Otherwise, it's doing more harm than good. Besides, I never did like stage moms.'
Troutman and Associates also was the primary source of fashion models for many local retailers during the '80s, a decade of bloated budgets for the likes of Nordstrom and Meier & Frank.
Despite their reputation for often behaving in a less-than mature manner, Troutman maintains that her models never gave her grief Ñ at least more than once. 'I didn't have anyone who was 'high maintenance.' They knew better,' she says with a sly smile. 'Because while I've got a huge capacity for love, I also ruled with an iron hand.'
In the late '80s, a number of factors combined to cut Portland off from the talent industry. Key among them was a nasty rumor.
'There was the perception that there were union problems in Portland,' Troutman says. 'It wasn't true, but it was enough to scare the industry.'
The changing economic climate, coupled with a fresh opportunity for Troutman, was enough to convince her to sell her agency.
'I was asked to produce 'Claire of the Moon,' an art house movie that was filmed here,' she says. 'That was enough for me Ñ I fell in love with producing.'
Production work led to gigs as a casting director for two television shows being shot in Portland. It was her job to fill up to 24 roles per week, using local talent. But when the shows were canceled, it seemed her newfound career was running the same risk.
'I had to make a choice,' Troutman says, 'whether to get out of the business or to go to where the business was.'
After several years in Los Angeles, Troutman is now taking a break from The Business and working in the insurance business. But many locals who promote people and products miss her golden touch.
Anthony Ledbetter, a commercial photographer who was given his break by Troutman, is one of them. 'Nannette has an eye for talent that goes beyond Portland and the Northwest,' he says. 'We could use her own talent right about now.'