It all started in 1998, Wyle told Fortune magazine, the day after the docu-drama “Pirates of Silicon Valley” aired. The ER star, who had play-acted Jobs’ days at the Homebrew Computer Club and taking LSD, heard his home phone ringing. It was Jobs on the line. The number was unlisted, but the tech king must have had an app for that.
My heart started beating through my shirt. And he said—and I’ve memorized this—"I’m just calling to tell you I thought you did a good job. I hated the movie, I hated the script, I think if you had spent a little more time and a little more money and maybe a little more attention to detail, you could have had something there. But you were good."
And all I could say was, “Thank you. Sir.”
“Listen, we do this thing every year called the Macworld convention. It’s in New York, at the Javits Center. There will be about 10,000 people there. And I think it would be hilarious if you came out on stage dressed as me and did the first five minutes of my keynote address. Are you interested?”
So he bought me a plane ticket to New York the next month and I went over to the Four Seasons Hotel, went up to his room, knocked on his door, and there I was staring face-to-face with Steve Jobs, and he looked me up and down from my toes to the top of my head, and smiled, “Yeah, you do look like me.”
He invited me into his room. It was just he and I. He had been shopping that day and bought me a matching pair of blue jeans and a black turtleneck sweater and matching round eyeglasses. He’d written a sketch for us to perform the next day at Macworld. I’d put my hands together in a kind of Jobs-like silent-prayer pose and then launch into his keynote. And then a few minutes into the address he’d come storming onto the stage and say, “Wyle, you don’t have me at all! What the hell are you doing? First I pick up my slide-clicker and then I put my hands together.” He’d say, “Ladies and gentlemen, Noah Wyle!” And then he’d kick me off the stage and take over, introducing the latest piece of Apple technology.
Afterwards, at a noodle shop in downtown Manhattan, Steve basically invented the iPad over dinner with ER man, his wife, and Jobs’ executive-design team:
And I kick myself over what happened next. They all—I don’t want to say they live in fear of him—are certainly are subservient to his will and whim. But I had no dog in the race I felt much freer to crack jokes and engage him in conversation, which surprised them a bit. At a certain point in the meal, out of nowhere, he turned to his designers and said, “You know what I want to make?” And they all snapped their heads around and replied, What, Steve? What, Steve?"
“You know those picture frames that has my kid in his baseball cap and uniform?”
“Yeah, Steve! Yeah, Steve! We know picture frames!”
“Well, I want to make a picture frame where the picture’s not a picture, but a little movie of the kid swinging the bat and hitting the ball. Can we do that?”
“We can do that, Steve!” said the designers in unison.
“I’ll show you what I mean.”
And he took his napkin and started sketching out the schematics and he passed the napkin around the table. They all approved the design – nobody touched it, there were no changes or suggestions. The check soon came and we started to get up the leave—and the napkin just sat there on the table. I thought to myself, “I got to take that napkin” and my hand was on it, but Steve called from the door and asked, “Noah, you want to share a cab with me?” So I put the napkin down. I could have had an Edison original.
Laser-sharp vision, insouciant damage control via self-deprecating humor, universe-altering napkin sketch over vegetarian noodles, unilateral decision-making to bring about the adjacent possible, and cab-sharing. This has all the hallmarks of a great Jobs Creation Myth, even more so in light of Wyle’s very un-Jobsian fumbling of an Insanely Great opportunity, leaving that million-dollar napkin to perish inside a restaurant dumpster.
The “ER” star heard from Jobs once again, about possibly visiting the emergency room set, but Jobs never showed. Wyle was never paid for his MacWorld appearance.