Glen A. Unger
Income about $40,000 (1999)
Health Insurance none
Rent $850/mo. Utilities $80/mo.
Phone $220/mo. Food $400/mo.
“Someday I expect to make $20 to $30 million,” he says, sitting underneath a painting of a white sailboat on a bright blue sea in his meticulous apartment in a Midtown building. “I’ve always known I was going to be extremely successful. People are pretty much drawn to me.” Glen Unger, 26, tries out for leading-man parts. “Not to brag, but I’m fairly attractive.”
The otherwise modest Unger, who moved to the city two years ago from snowy, industrial Rochester, says he just got an agent but he still has to have a day job. Acting only brought in $2000 last year from small parts in soaps and films.
That did not get him down. “I decided to go into business for myself instead of doing small menial jobs—the last was doing office work for a jewelry designer and he couldn’t pay me. I wasn’t working for charity, you know. So I started my own woodworking business and in a matter of months my income doubled to $40,000. Now I’m in charge of my own life! I build furniture, paint faux finishes. I’m working on a new restaurant in Glen Cove, Long Island.”
Unger moved to New York with $200 and big dreams and lived on a couch, he says. “I’ve always had aspirations in spite of all the horrible things that happened.
“I grew up with a single mother, who was 16 when she had me. My brother was born one and a half years later, then my father left. My mother worked as a nurse’s assistant, earning like $8000 a year.
“But she’s a saver. You couldn’t pry a penny from her hands with a crowbar. We were never without food. Though me and my brother can never eat another hot dog. Friday was La Choy night. We had to eat it with chopsticks. It was like our ethnic night. We had this dilapidated house. It had plumbing but the pipes were rotted out. We had to flush the toilet with a bucket, heat water on the stove to take a bath. When I graduated college, SUNY Albany, I finally built her the most beautiful bathroom—black marble tile, an old Victorian tub. I did it all in whitewashed knotty pine. As my brother and I got more independent, things got better for her. She went to college. Now she’s an advocate for the state for a group home for the mentally retarded.
“It was the end of high school when I started learning woodworking from Gary Stam. He and his wife, Lynn Allinger, were like my surrogate parents. They gave me more confidence even though I came from a background without a lot of money. They always said, You set the playing field.”
Once he met Meryl Streep at a fundraiser—”one of my favorites because she’s earnest”—and she told him, “Keep going and don’t ever lose heart.” Other thoughts that have left a deep impression on him are: “Acting is like an investment in the stock market. It will pay off but it isn’t going to be today but tomorrow. . . . Anything worth having is not worth having right away. . . . I know that I may be 60 when success comes, but at least I’m trying along the way. . . . I’d rather be penniless trying than rich and doing nothing.”
Unger, who spends $600 a month on career and monologue coaches, scene classes, and head shots, has a résumé packed with skills. A lot of them begin with w—waterskiing, weight training, welding, Western horseback, woodworking, and whistling, the last realized when “one of my old girlfriends said, You know, you really are a good whistler. So I’m always walking down the street whistling. I’m always wearing a smile. People in New York look at me like I’m from Mars.”