It was the early ‘90s, Forrest was Gumping all over the country and Eric Martsolf’s (Ethan, PASSIONS) life was, quite literally, a box of chocolates. “During my college breaks, I was a singer/performer at Hershey Park,” he recalls, referring to the rural Pennsylvania candy kingdom. “The performers get to wear many hats over there. We did five shows a day, everything from Gershwin to country to Elvis. And I was also the emcee for this thing that they had called ‘The Sweetest Parade On Earth.’ Every evening, [the Hershey people] picked out ‘The Sweetest Family Of The Day.’ I don’t know exactly what it involved; I didn’t pick them. I’m sure that they had to have a real aura of sweetness around them.
“But once they were picked,” he continues, “we’d have ‘The Sweetest Parade,’ which was basically me clad in a silver tuxedo driving ‘The Sweetest Family Of The Day’ around in a golf cart with all the Hershey characters – people dressed up in giant candy-bar costumes – following behind. Kit Kat, Twizzlers, Gummi Bears, Fifth Avenue, they were all there. It was actually a lot of responsibility at an early age because the candy bars couldn’t see three feet in front of themselves, and it was up to me to make sure that they didn’t bump into one another.” Naturally, the candy bars were indebted to him. “They became some of my best friends. The Fifth Avenue and I were really close,” grins the actor.
While it wasn’t the most glamorous of gigs, Martsolf enjoyed his summers at Hershey enough to switch his professional focus from law to entertainment. Shortly after graduation, he accepted a position crooning to patrons on a Hawaiian cruise ship. “I was in the All-American Jubilee,” he explains. “We did two shows a week, and then my other big responsibility was making sure that everyone on the boat was drinking enough. But there were other duties, like, I had to play bingo once a week. That was an actual duty of mine as a Jubilee member.”
It was all very LOVE BOAT (“We has our Gopher, we had our Isaac”) – fun at first, but ultimately a little stultifying. “You get homesick after awhile,” he reflects. “When it gets down to it, you’re on a boat for a year, and it makes you antsy.” That being the case, Martsolf headed back to the mainland when his contract expired. Three weeks later, a chance meeting with Dolly Parton’s posse in a Georgia hotel lobby led to yet another oddball opportunity. “They were looking for a narrator for the Christmas show at Dollywood,” Martsolf says. “I was like, ‘What’s Dollywood?’ I had never heard of it. And I had never in my life imagined that I would move to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. But it sounded like a good opportunity, so I packed up my cowboy boots, hopped into my Honda Accord and went.”
Two years later, Martsolf said good-bye to Dollywood and immediately jumped into a four-year run in the Osmond family’s national tour of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Eventually, at the urge of sometime Joseph co-star Jodi Benson (“She was the voice of the Little Mermaid”), Martsolf and his girlfriend, Lisa, who was one of the lead dancers in Joseph, and who now does a lot of work for Disney and was working on a project with Deborah Gibson (“Don’t call her Debbie”) at the time of this interview, decided to give L.A. a whirl. True to form, his first job was at yet another theme park, playing various characters at Universal Studios. “I am very much indebted to Universal Studios; it definitely helped pay my rent,” he says. “Were there times where I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I’m in a skirt, wearing The Scorpion King wig, holding a sword, how did I get here, did I take a serious U-turn?’ Sure. But everything happens for a reason. I love where I am now, and I really believe that if I hadn’t gone through all these other steps, I wouldn’t have ended up here.”
“Here” is another theme park of sorts: PASSIONS; and this is Martsolf’s third trip to Harmony. After auditioning for the role of Ethan before production began (the part went to Travis Schuldt), the actor was hired, first as “the demon who pulled Theresa into hell when she committed suicide off the wharf,” and then as “the demon cop who Zombie Charity threw into the mix to try and stop Kay from rescuing Miguel.” “I was so concerned when I got the role of Ethan. I was like, ‘Aren’t people going to remember me?’ They were like, ‘That’s the beauty of this show, Eric,’” says Martsolf.
And that’s the beauty of life: As Mama Gump’s infamous platitude about the chocolate goes, you never know what you’re gonna get. “I never in a million years would have thought that I would be doing what I’m doing today,” Martsolf muses. “I was going to be a lawyer and spend my life behind a desk, which [appealed to my] interest in political science and it would have been the safe and stable path. When I decided to go into entertainment, I knew it had the biggest failure rate of any business. But at this point in my life, I’m confident that I made the right decision. Plus, I’m playing a lawyer on TV now,” he concludes, “so really, it’s the best of both worlds.”
True Dollywood Story
Arriving in Pigeon Forge for his Dollywood gig, Martsolf got quite a shock. “It’s like Vegas down there! I was completely amazed,” he laughs. “I thought Dollywood was gonna be, like, a little cabin on a hill with a wooden coaster in the back. And I got there, and it was just miles and miles of theaters and activities and neon. I was in heaven. But it was totally surreal talking to my college friends because I’d be like, ‘How’s med school? How’s law school?’ And then they’d be like, ‘How’s Ronnie Milsap’s Cafe?’” During his two years in Tennessee, Martsolf met Ms. Parton a number of times and even sang “Since I Don’t Have You” on-stage with her. “She is probably the most down-to-earth celebrity I’ve ever met,” he says. “She’s wonderful. Everything good you hear about her, I can vouch for. The woman is so sweet and generous.”
Just The Facts
Born on: July 27, 1971
Hails From: Harrisburg, PA
Alma Mater: Dickinson College (B.A. in political science)
He Drives: A brand-new Audi TT Roadster
Must-See TV: ALIAS
Cooking Speciality: Cereal, “I’m the first to admit it – I’m awful in the kitchen.”
Best Quality: Persistent
Worst Quality: Procrastination
Musical Talent: Drums