Just about the time Dennis Lambert was noticing that the phone in his real estate office wasn’t ringing so much, Hollywood called.
It was no big deal, really — only that actor Steve Carell was interested in making a film about Lambert’s life.
Lambert seems to take this little thunderbolt rather calmly, as if it’s just one more interesting detour in a life that has wandered over multiple maps.
"It’s a little crazy, my story," said Lambert, 63, acknowledging with considerable understatement that he’s probably the only real estate agent in Boca Raton, Fla., who also has a wall full of gold records, garnered in an earlier life as a songwriter and music producer.
Or who has diehard fans in the Philippines who a couple of years ago turned out by the thousands for his concert tour, which became the basis of an award-winning documentary.
That film, called "Of All the Things," chronicled the unlikely (and occasionally comic) comeback of Lambert, who, starting in the 1960s, wrote or produced a very long list of hit songs, including "Rhinestone Cowboy," "Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)," "One Tin Soldier," "Baby Come Back," "Nightshift," and "We Built This City."
At one point in his career, four of his songs were simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Variety magazine has described him as "an unsung hero of pop culture."
Until he went into real estate a few years ago, Lambert had spent nearly all of his life in show business, he said.
"I began as a child performer, 9 or 10 years old, working professionally," he said. As a teenager, he signed a recording contract. Then, still in his teens, he began to dabble in songwriting.
"This was something you could get to do every day, as opposed to waiting for your turn to make a record," Lambert said. "I had an abundance of unrecorded songs, and I began to shop them around."
Major names in pop music recorded his songs, and he turned to producing records, becoming well established in the industry in California. In addition to a string of awards from various sectors of the recording industry, he was nominated a dozen times for a Grammy Award.
In 1972, he recorded an album, mostly of his own songs, called "Bags and Things." But the recording "didn’t stick," as Lambert put it, though he tracked its international sales and was aware that it did "fairly well" in the Philippines.
Overall, though, Lambert chalked it up to the fickleness of the music business. And he moved on.
Throughout the California years, while he was still a major player in music, he invested in real estate; he bought, rehabbed and flipped apartment buildings, and helped develop a residential project in the Los Angeles area, he said.
By 1996, feeling secure both financially and in his career, he decided to make good on a promise to his wife to relocate to his native New York, he said. He founded his own record label, focusing on mainstream pop music.
"We did well, but we didn’t experience a major breakthrough," Lambert said. Plus, the entire record industry was feeling squeezed by the Internet, he said.
"Right around 2000, we experienced a moment of truth," he said. He knew the label either had to raise a considerable sum of investment money or fold.
He reluctantly decided on the latter. It wouldn’t be easy to pick up where he left off with songwriting, he said, so the question then became: What to do next?
He had never lost the interest in real estate that he’d cultivated in California, and while he was working on the record label, he and his wife also rehabbed and flipped New York apartments.
"We were working with a broker who said, ‘I know you’re using my help and I love that, but you’re very good at it,’ " Lambert recalled. "He said, ‘You should be licensed and be able to move these properties yourself without having to pay commission.’ "
Lambert was intrigued and did get his license, immersing himself in a New York market that was in the midst of an enormous price run-up, he said.
But though he loved New York, he said he was "itching for an easier, more attractive place to live and do my thing."
Smitten with South Florida, he and his family moved to Boca Raton in 2003 and he became affiliated with a brokerage specializing in high-end properties, then moved to a company that eventually became part of Lang Realty.
Lambert said he seldom mentioned his music-industry background to clients because he worried it might undermine their confidence in him as a real estate agent.
But then he partnered with Bob Lawten, a former IBM executive who convinced him they should emphasize their backgrounds to set them apart in real estate. They began to call themselves the Double Platinum Realtors.
While all this was going on, though, Lambert had become a nationwide singing sensation; the nation, however, wasn’t the U.S. Over the years, "Bags and Things" had found a following in the Philippines, where Lambert and his love songs had become a part of the popular culture.
"What happened, really, is a young DJ fell in love with the record," he said. "He was the guy singularly most responsible for it getting started. It did stick, in a big way."
One of the album’s songs, "Of All the Things," is particularly beloved in the Philippines, Lambert said.
"It’s been adopted as the unofficial Valentine’s Day anthem of the whole country," and has become a staple of wedding receptions there, he said.
The DJ, who later became a music promoter, contacted Lambert numerous times over the years and urged him to organize a concert tour there — to capitalize on his local fame.
"I kept saying no," he said. "I kept producing and writing, and I couldn’t see dropping what I was doing to tour."
But the promoter never gave up. In 2007, as the real estate market was sagging in Florida, he called again. This time, at the urging of his family, Lambert said yes.
Lambert said that after years away from the stage, pulling off the whirlwind two-week road trip was both exhausting and exhilarating, culminating in a concert in Manila’s 20,000-seat Araneta Coliseum, which is best known here as the location of the "Thrilla in Manila" fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975.
His son Jody and a professional film crew chronicled the entire trip — including scenes between concerts, with his father on the phone trying to keep a real estate deal afloat back home in Boca Raton.
Their documentary, "Of All the Things" (named for the song), toured a number of film festivals in 2008 and 2009.
The documentary caught the eye of some people in the movie industry who suggested it could be remade for commercial release, Lambert said. And now, potentially, that will happen.
"In Hollywood, it’s always a question mark," said Lambert, who has produced music for numerous movies and television series.
"But it’s on a fast track to happen. When you have an A-list star like Steve Carell who says, ‘I want to make this movie,’ they say that with a degree of seriousness."
Lambert said two writers are now working on a script, and he and his son have met with them.
"They’re claiming they’re going to play pretty true to the original movie in spirit and style," he said.
And the prospect of your life being depicted by Steve Carell?
"I do think he’s a good choice," Lambert said. "He was certainly very high on our wish list. We thought he was maybe a little too young."
Meanwhile, he said, he still writes the occasional tune, and managing the licensing of his hundreds of songs occupies a significant niche in his workweek, he said.
But mainly he’s waiting for the Boca Raton market to climb out of its slump, he said. He expects his real estate career — which he said he loves — to return to a more robust pace.
The focus definitely won’t be on show biz, though, "unless something really spectacular comes along, which it may," he said.
"Frankly, people are hearing about me again and knowing about me."
Something, as they say, might stick.