Lyle Waggoner's name is attached to nearly every hit out of Hollywood, from "Breaking Bad" to "Avatar," from "The Hangover" to "Gran Torino." However, you won't find the veteran actor's name in the cast credits. Instead, it's scattered all over the set.
Waggoner is the owner of Star Waggons, a company of 800 trailers built to accommodate every conceivable need on location. Revenues in 2015 were somewhere around $17 million, up 18 percent in a year.
Movie trailers have come a long way. "When I first started, we had a plywood box with a little bed in it, a mirror and a light bulb over the top," the 80-year-old Waggoner said, sitting inside a massive trailer decked like out a modern hotel room.
A lifelong entrepreneur, Waggoner's strange path to manufacturing success started in St. Louis, where he worked as a door-to-door salesman. Customers kept telling him, "You should be an actor." So he moved to Los Angeles to study acting and admits he got very lucky, very quickly. He landed a spot on "The Carol Burnett Show," and later on "Wonder Woman." "I wanted to have my own business, and being an actor is really having your own business," he said. "You're the product, you're the salesperson."
While working on "Wonder Woman," Waggoner's contract allowed him to have a trailer on location. "They gave me a motor home," he said. "This was a big improvement." He found out the motor home was being rented from a local resident. Waggoner's entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. He went to the show's transportation coordinator and asked, "If I had a motor home, would you rent it from me?" The coordinator said yes, "So I went out and bought one."
Soon Waggoner was buying a fleet of motor homes and renting them out to studios all over town, using his star power to sway loan officers and paycheck as collateral to get more money for more vehicles. "I didn't know if this was going to work or not," he said, "but that's what entrepreneurs do, they take a risk."
Star Waggons started paying off almost immediately. For every $50,000 motor home Waggoner bought, his monthly payment was around $400. "I was renting them for $400 or $500 a week." Waggoner ended up with 90 motor homes, and a business he originally envisioned as a "backup" to acting soon had a starring role. "There was some pushback from the fact that I was an actor," Waggoner said of how studios reacted to his new business venture. "But if they didn't want me in there, why didn't they do it?"
Then came a huge decision. In 1988, Waggoner decided to stop buying motor homes and start building trailers instead. The RV business in Los Angeles had taken a downturn, so there was plenty of manufacturing talent available. Waggoner figured trailers would be better than motor homes because they could be towed, they didn't have transmissions, which needed fixing. Also, building his own trailers allowed Waggoner to customize them for actors. "You needed a makeup area, you needed a full-length mirror."
His goal: Make the best trailers in Hollywood.