Good luck, Chuck

After 10 years, Dukas is still plugging away in Hollywood

By Terry Date tdate@eagletribune.com May 11, 2015

Soon they’ll head West. It’s an annual pilgrimage after college graduation. New grads from New England schools board planes and pile into cars on cross-country journeys fueled by Hollywood dreams.

They will be hoping for a shot in the film, television, graphics or music industries. They will be seeking a toe hold, a footing, a stepping stone to somewhere in the entertainment industry.

Ten years ago, a new Merrimack College grad was in their boots when he made the pilgrimage.

Ten years later Chuck Dukas is still there, working in Hollywood, and has a firm foothold. He has forged a Tinseltown career cobbling together whatever work it takes to keep his dream alive.

That includes warming up audiences for shows including “Dancing with the Stars,” “America’s Got Talent,” “American Idol,” Nickelodeon’s “The Thundermans” and “The Price is Right.”

It includes roles in soap operas. He has appeared on every daytime drama — playing roles from a hospital orderly to a tabloid newspaper reporter.

In a late-winter segment of the “Bold and Beautiful” he knocked on a door and passed along crucial information about a behind-doors meeting.

He hosts award ceremonies and promotions, among them the sports turf management awards in Colorado, and a mega-millions promotion for the California lottery.

He did preparatory work for the Academy Awards 2015, playing the host and presenters in the week of rehearsals leading up to the big show.

Dukas works as an auctioneer, barking out bids to raise funds for schools and nonprofit organizations. He manages properties.

He also has one of the largest “Star Wars” collections — thousands of pieces collected over 20 years — and is in the early stages of starting a “Star Wars” fan club show.

His Hollywood tale is one of pluck, enthusiasm and being a pain in the rump.

“I’m never sleeping,” he said.

But in May 2005, when he climbed into a Chevy Monte Carlo and traveled 3,000 miles in five days with his grandfather Fred Palazzolo, the future was uncertain.

Fred, who died in 2008, was a World War II veteran who grew up in the Prospect Hill neighborhood in Lawrence.

As a child, Dukas and his grandfather would watch the game show “The Price is Right,” hosted by Bob Barker. Little Chuck loved the show’s excitement. He still does.

The journey west brought the grandson and grandfather past the arch in St. Louis, through prairie land, up against sudden mountains and through desert.

“That was the best week of my life,” Dukas said.

Afterwards, Palazzolo flew back home and Chuck got a studio apartment in Sherman Oaks.

Dukas’ first year was a struggle. He worked retail and kept after “The Price is Right” producer for a chance to work on the show.

Dukas thought about going home. Back to Boston. He grew up in Dedham. Twice in his time in California he has thought seriously about ditching his dream and heading back to New England.

But to understand his resilience, listen to a few people who know him going back his college days in North Andover.

Kathy Vaillancourt, an adviser for 15 years at Merrimack College, said Dukas the student/the one-man show made things happen.

There wasn’t much going on with the college television station when Dukas arrived on campus but he infused it with life creating dating, late night, sports and game shows.

He designed the sets, wrote the jokes, invited the guests, started a television club and inspired interest among students in the club.

He was probably more driven to reach his goals than any other student she has ever met, she said.

“I mean, he was 20 years old — 19, 20, 21 — when he was doing all this, so he was way above his years,” Vaillancourt said.

She and Kevin Salemme, the college’s director of media services, remain in contact with Dukas.

Both the adviser and media director remember the spring break trips to Los Angeles that Dukas organized for fellow Merrimack students when he was at the school. Vaillancourt and Salemme served as trip chaperons.

They both remember visiting “The Price is Right” show. On the visit, Dukas was selected as a contestant. He did not win the game but he got to meet his idol, Bob Barker. He also got to meet the show’s producer, whom he later wrote to for career advice.

The producer told Dukas that in order to get work in L.A.. you need to live in there.

Vaiilancourt and Salemme recall Dukas’ willingness to put himself out there, to approach people with enthusiasm and forge connections no matter the situation.

“I think he probably realized that if you are not driven and fully committed, you are not going to have a career,” Salemme said. “I think he learned you need to have that kind of energy and motivation in life, especially in Hollywood.”

Dukas made his first trip to “The Price is Right” in June 2002. It was the first time he’d been to a television show taping and he could feel the excitement coming from the audience.

He made a decision.

“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” he said.

Four years later, and a year after Dukas’ arrival in California, his pestering “The Price is Right” paid off.

He landed a his first official Hollywood job in April 2006 as a page working on “The Price is Right” — writing contestants’ names on their name tags.

“That was my penmanship you would see on every name tag,” he said.

In his take-the-ball-and-run style, Dukas took it upon himself to entertain the audience while they were waiting for the show.

The Merrimack business major and Dedham High, Class of 2001, grad — he played Mr. Mushnik in a school “Little Shop of Horrors” production — was on his way.

“The Price is Right” was a springboard to other positions. He met people connected to “Dancing with the Stars.”

Someone in the business once told him to get in front of as many people as he could since you never know who is watching.

He has gotten discouraged at times, especially with the politics and insincerity. It’s a roller-coaster experience. At times he’ll overly excited about a possible job only to be told there was a change of plans.

He has learned not take things personally. Every year is getting better, he said.

He has seen a lot of people come and go in the business.

For those young people heading to Hollywood this summer he has some advice.

Be persistent and know what you want. If you knock on every door and send your head shot to every possible job you will be rewarded.

“You can (have) talent, you can know somebody, but if you don’t have the drive, you don’t have anything,” he said. “It is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It is a journey.”