Monty Bass behind the camera

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HOLLYWOOD - Monty Bass has been a grip technician in Hollywood for 15 years. Last September he landed a job on the new groundbreaking NBC cop drama "Boomtown." While the 2002-2003 TV season is on hiatus for this summer, Bass has just found out that "Boomtown" was picked up for a second season. Bass says it will be harder work but he's been around labor all his life and enjoys it.

He was born in Los Angeles where his father (Sac and Fox) worked as an electrician in and around Disneyland. Bass grew up Okmulgee, Okla., where his mother (Creek) was from, after his parents divorced. Even with his family split Bass was always connected to the Hollywood industry but he just didn't know it.

Growing up Indian, Bass was subjected to being treated as a third class citizen in the public school system. His fondest memories were of spending time with his father every summer. Bass ended up at a boarding school in Tahlequah and loved being around other Indian students. During this period he excelled as an artist and his teachers praised him. He graduated and enrolled at Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, N.M.

Bass says that IAIA was a turning point in his life. He wanted to be defined by his own actions and had a great time alongside new and creative people. He felt very alone but liked the idea of starting all over again. He never graduated though because his life took a surprising turn in 1975 when he saw the film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

He sat in that theater and watched his uncle, pioneer Indian actor, Will Sampson, become an idol to Indians across America. Bass always knew that his mother's brother was in the business but when he saw "Cuckoo's Nest" Bass felt even more proud and inspired by his uncle. He was speechless, emotional and truly moved. He decided right then that he wanted to follow in his uncle's footsteps. He set out to become an actor.

Bass found out later that Hollywood blood runs through his veins but not only from Sampson. His father's sister had lived in Hollywood and was married to a bit actor named Tug Smith. When Bass was a boy in the 1960s, Tug would tell him stories about the world of Hollywood and its celebrity. Bass never thought that he would also take the path of a background extra to become an actor.

Bass remembers that Sampson was always a hero to him. Sampson often gave Bass advice until he passed away. He remembers that as a boy he would sometimes just sit and watch his uncle paint. Then at age 19, Sampson brought him to Hollywood and Bass followed his uncle around for two years. In 1978 Sampson did a pilot for TV called "Born to the Wind" which appeared only in 1980. Bass got on as a background extra. He recalled how Sampson was always an advocate for Indians playing Indians on TV and he fought hard for them to work on this pilot episode.

While on set, Sampson pointed out the grips and technicians to Bass. His uncle highlighted this vital job because he felt acting would never be a sure thing. Bass went over to talk to the grips and the seed was planted. In 1987 Sampson was in poor health and Bass had landed roles in the movie "War Party." Sampson was so happy for him that he sat up in his bed and told Bass "To hang in there." But, after "War Party" there was no work. Bass remembers that Sampson always advised him to take advantage of every part of the industry because he might learn something. Bass never had a chance to say thank you before Will Sampson passed away, but continued to follow his mentor's advice.

In 1988, he went to the American Indian Registry and joined a workshop that taught about grips and lighting technicians. Bass said only two guys showed up and he decided to stay and learn about working behind the camera and has never looked back.

Bass found a whole new set of mentors, Richmond "Aggy" Agular and his current boss R. Michael Stringer. They hired him and taught Bass everything they knew. Over the years Bass has worked on film, TV and video but likes to help those Indians who want to follow him.

Bass continues to act and does occasional roles here and there. He felt that being part of "Geronimo" (1994) was a great career highlight for him. It was one of his best experiences and he felt totally comfortable working alongside Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman and Wes Studi. His other personal favorite was "Lakota Woman" (1996) which starred Irene Bedard.

He looks forward to the coming fall TV season on "Boomtown" and is happy to have found a group of co-workers who have become his family.

Bass is always looking for other Indian men or women who want to work behind the scenes in Hollywood. He'd like to help those in the industry like his mentor Sampson helped him. You can contact Bass at montybass@hotmail.com.