By Katie Scarvey, Salisbury Post
Local artist Robert Toth watched recently as one of his sculptures took center stage on network television.
A Toth-created bust of Sigmund Freud was featured prominently in the new Fox sitcom, "Cracking Up, " which premiered this month. The show airs Mondays at 8:30 p.m.
"It's an odd sitcom, very irreverent," said Bruce Wilson of the Fine Frame Gallery, where some of Toth's art is on display, including one of his Freud busts. "Everyone who's seen it has thought it was very funny."
The half-hour situation comedy revolves around Ben (Jason Schwartzman), a graduate student in psychology who moves into the guest house of the Shackletons, a wealthy Beverly Hills family. Although Ben is there to help the family's youngest son, he ends up being the in-house therapist for everyone -- and their eccentricities keep him busy. Molly Shannon of "Saturday Night Live" fame stars as Lesley Shackleton, the family's alcoholic mother who crowbars her way into a locked liquor cabinet.
On the show's first episode, Ben is meeting the Shackletons. As he moves into the guest quarters, he takes the bust of his hero, Sigmund Freud, out of a storage box and cradles it for a while as he talks to his friend Liam. When he meets Tanner, the depressed 9-year-old son he's supposed to be helping, Tanner sees the bust and asks Ben, "Who's that?"
"Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis," Ben tells him.
For a prop, that's a star-making scene.
"Cracking Up" is written and produced by Mike White, who wrote the popular movie "School of Rock."
The show is "kind of a cross between 'The Addams family' and 'Soap,' " said Wilson. "Everybody has a dysfunction except the 9-year-old boy, the one Ben's supposed to be there helping."
Having his work featured so prominently was gratifying for Toth.
Two of his Freud busts were ordered for the show this past December, he said. The producers told him that one of the busts would eventually be broken, although Toth isn't sure in which episode that will occur.
This isn't the first time that Toth's work has appeared in television and film. He sculpted a witch that appeared in "The Amityville Horror," a 1979 film. More recently, his busts of Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln appeared in "Scary Movie 3," which starred Leslie Nielsen.
Television exposure is great for an artist, Wilson said. "There's no way to pay for that kind of advertising."
Toth is a savvy Internet marketer, and he attributes some of his commercial success to his Web site, www.roberttoth.com.
Toth continues to sculpt and recently created a Maltese Falcon statue based on the prop from the classic film starring Humphrey Bogart.
He's currently working on a bust of Ayn Rand, one of his favorite authors. Rand wrote "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead."
He's also sculpting a lion that will be cast in bronze for a gated community in Florida.
Toth follows whatever creative path beckons, and the more things he does, the more opportunities open up for him, he says.
Besides being a gifted sculptor, he's also a talented painter, known locally for his impressionist interpretations of downtown Salisbury.
He steadfastly refuses to confine himself to one medium or style, although he's been told that he needs to do so to be taken seriously as an artist. Toth disagrees. He believes that his creativity is fueled by working on diverse projects. As an artist, he pursues whatever inspires and energizes him.
Toth has worked with Downtown Salisbury to create a master plan for the revitalization of the downtown. He contributed different design aspects that are part of a vision for the future of the downtown, including 12-to-15 foot statues of figures from Salisbury's history.