Bill Porter's 'Door to Door' determiniation

Friday, July 12, 2002

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Bill Porter, a door-to-door salesman with cerebral palsy, sold home products by walking Portland's neighborhoods seven miles a day. He typed orders with one finger on a manual typewriter, never letting his back pain, crippled fingers and arm, and slurred speech impede his becoming a top-flight salesman.

Struck by a car on a downtown street several years ago, Porter, 69, decided to stop making his rounds on foot. Now he sells Watkins Inc. home products by phone and over the Internet. Despite his disabilities, he remains one of Watkins' top Northwest salesmen.

"Bill is an impressive fellow," said William H. Macy, who plays him in "Door to Door," an original TNT movie that airs Sunday at 7 p.m.

Macy, 52, said the lesson to be learned from Porter's life is: "Attitude is everything."

Porter's life also tells Macy there is such a thing as karma.

"If you, as Bill Porter does, put out respect, and hard work, and optimism, and humor and lightness of heart, indeed those things will come back to you," Macy said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "I find that to be humbling and reassuring and moving."

Macy, whose film credits include "Fargo," "Boogie Nights," "Pleasantville" and "Magnolia," said his biggest challenge in doing the movie was learning to mimic Porter's speech impediment and awkward walk.

"It was exhausting and rough. I made it up as I went along," said Macy, who consulted with a cerebral palsy patient and a doctor in California.

Hours of time with hair and makeup crews also helped Macy become Porter in the movie. It co-stars Kyra Sedgwick ("Something to Talk About") as Shelly Brady, Porter's friend and associate; Helen Mirren ("The Madness of King George," "Gosford Park") as his dedicated mother; and Kathy Baker (television's "Picket Fences") as a faithful customer.

Macy saw Porter's story featured on ABC's "20/20" in 1997. The actor said he wept as he watched it, moved by Porter's stoicism, optimism and dignity. Macy and writer Steven Schachter decided to do the screenplay together.

After the "20/20" piece, thousands of e-mails and letters were sent to Porter, said Brady, the salesman's friend whose book "Ten Things I Learned From Bill Porter" was published last month.

She and Porter often appear together in public. She helps him in interviews because his slurred speech can make it difficult for him to be understood.

Porter learned to live with his disabilities by accepting there was little he could do about them.

"You can't do anything about the negative. It's impossible to change it," Porter said in an interview at his home in Northeast Portland.

Brady, who was also in the room, said of her friend's outlook on life: "Bill didn't want people to take pity on him."

The 39-year-old Brady was a high school student responding to a help-wanted ad when she went to work for Porter, helping him with cooking, cleaning and other household chores.

When Porter was a child, people told him he couldn't work and he should go on disability. But his mother urged him to work, telling him that if you can imagine something, you can do it. Porter took that lesson to heart.

He always had trouble tying his shoelaces, knotting his tie and buttoning his cuffs. He usually found others to do those little things for him, so he could go out and earn a living by pounding the pavement.

He continues to sell -- cooking and household cleaning supplies, herbs and spices and personal care items -- because "I can't imagine full retirement. I like people, and I'd like to continue as long as I can."


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