Friday, December 11, 2009

Fame Shmame

"Fame is rot:daughters are the thing"- James Matthew Barrie (aka -created Peter Pan).

Rot, huh..? I wish I had considered that before I practically flunked out of high school and rushed to Los Angeles to pursue my own rot, er, I mean  fame. It wouldn't have changed my mind, though. I was lucky enough to have the full support of my family, both emotionally and financially, and Los Angeles was a lot closer to my home town than New York. But I could never do it now. In the immortal words of the Cowardly Lion "no way, no how...."
I graduated from high school in white acetate gown with no one in the audience. It wasn't them, it was me. I really didn't give a shit if people cheered for me when I accepted my diploma. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there.
Soon after, I said adios to my family and drove in my classic 1967 buff colored VW BUG stuffed with my belongings, to Hollywood. I chose to drive past the Highland exit that the directions suggested and take the scenic route instead- from the Hollywood Boulevard exit all the way back through Hollywood to my slightly west of La Brea apartment. The year was 1987 and, while I drove I heard the Ry Cooder song about Hollywood in my head :
"Going down in Hollywood
You better hope that you don't run out of gas
Down in Hollywood
He'll drag you right out of your car and kick your ass
Down in Hollywood
They're standing on a corner waiting for a sucker like you
Down in Hollywood
Now, if you want to stay healthy just keep a-moving right on through
Be careful, don't look back, keep moving, keep moving "

Well, Ry was right. I somehow thought that it would have changed since 1979 when the song came out. I drove down Hollywood Boulevard wide eyed, past several  adult movie theaters,live peep shows, and dozens of tourist shops that I would visit later only to find they contained t-shirts with things like "ass man" on the front or endless rows of mini oscars engraved with names like " Shelly" and "Ralph" but never my name.
I did not see one single celebrity walking down the boulevard as promised by the Hollywood myth. The sheer number of obviously disenfranchised individuals on the street alone was staggering.It  felt dirty just driving through.
I crossed La Brea and things looked a little less seedy. But it was not what I had expected.
My sister and I had rented a one bedroom apartment on Poinsettia Place, right up the street from Rock n' Roll Ralphs.  It had a cool nickname because the Gutiar Center was down the street and every scrawny dude hoping to become a rock star was wandering around the produce section  in their leather bomber jackets and greasy hair pulled back with a grungy bandana.Someone also had their throat slashed in the condiments aisle at two in the morning, so it definitely deserved some sort of nickname(perhaps Shop til you Drop Ralphs would have been more accurate.)
I enrolled in commercial acting classes to capitalize on my "fresh faced look" ( read slightly chubby and freckles) and was profoundly disappointed when the teacher  kept giving  me  the Arby's counter person or the Pizza Hut delivery gal spots. Beside  the fact that I was a vegetarian,this was certainly not what I had passed on college to do. I spent my time in high school drama class playing Goody Proctor and doing one woman shows about Anias Nin. My angst amused the teacher, and he nicknamed me "Pup". I was actually kind of flattered in the beginning, since it obviously meant that I was making an impression on him. No one else had a nickname. As time went on, though, it made me feel a little condescended to, and I finally asked my teacher to,  please, stop calling me pup.
He blanched and never looked me in the eye again. He would mumble my name uncomfortably when it was my turn, and I would go up and read my material, baffled at how I could have gone from "pup" to " crap" in such a short period of time. I found myself wanting to say " Okay! I will be Pup! I loved being Pup! PLEEEEEAAAASEE call me Pup again?" . The name died that day, and I left the class soon after thinking the teacher must be psychotic to treat a naive fresh-off- the-boat newbie in such a manner. It didn't matter. I was awful at commercials.
I had signed with a small children's agency through a manager I met by fluke.I was eighteen, so a little long in the tooth to be catagorized as a kid, but they didn't seem to mind.They began submitting me for projects, and soon I booked my fist t.v. job, playing a blubbering homeless teen opposite Anne Archer. I was in heaven.
A few months later I got another job, a featured player on a series called " A Year in the Life"and got my SAG card. My parents cried when they heard the news, and I was never sure if it was from relief or from joy.
My grandmother, who was paying for my Big Hollywood Adventure, saw the show on t.v. and thought I was the lead- the pretty blonde petite daughter who is in almost every scene. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was the not so petite friend of the friend's friend who made the dick joke.
Los Angeles was not without it's negatives. My Bug was stolen twice, and eventually stripped. We had Russian squatters move in  next door who partied all night and day.We had witnessed our super,Gaetano,swing a shovel at a old woman's head.He missed , but we took this as a sign to move on.
We moved east, and soon after, my other grandmother sent me an article about the nine unsolved murders that had taken place within a two block radius of our apartment on Poinsettia during the two years we had lived there.That didn't include the Rock n' Roll Ralph's incident, but it scared the shit out of us. Our new place was in a worse neighborhood, but somehow trouble never found us.
While we hadn't become a murder statistic,I was quickly becoming an actress/waitress statistic.
Against the odds,  I was very slowly swimming into the more plentiful part of the sesspool, er, pond that was Hollywood. From 1987 to 2001, I worked off and on doing tv movies, commercials and films. I took acting classes with almost every teacher out there and have about twenty five different head shots to date.I shared management with Michael Jackson,Dolly Parton,Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger, to name a few and shared the screen with Clint Eastwood, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Urich, Ben Johnson, Matthew Perry, Jane Curtin, Alyssa Milano,Dan Butler,Kelsey Grammer,Ben Affleck ( got to faux make out with him) and many many more.
Honestly,I am not trying to drop names or impress anyone with my experiences, because they were all fraught with their own issues.I am actually trying to illustrate that I really did have every opportunity possible. I can't say that the business failed me. I auditioned for everything and everyone who was ever in the business. I guess it just wasn't what I thought it would be.
Now, I had a couple of "big breaks" along the way: in 1989 I booked the fifth lead in a mini series that was directed by the  phenominal English director of "Four Weddings and  Funeral". I spent nine weeks in Canada and made more money than I had ever made in my life.Looking back, it was actually not much more than scale, but it was a lot to me. After the miniseries aired I had what was called "heat" and was sometimes havings upwards of three meetings a day. Random agents called my house trying to lure me to somewhere bigger and better. I never left because I alwys thought loyalty was a good quality, but not so in Hollywood.
I think self preservation is the game everyone else is playing, so I was a bit of a fool not to look at my options when I had the chance. Still, I persisted,driving  my 1985 Chevy Sprint  to my meetings and working catering jobs to pay the bills. I tested for the lead in almost every successful sitcom on tv and never booked anything.
It was 1991, and I was catering with a guy who went to high school at Beverly Hills High. All of his clients were old classmates who had gone on to run huge agencies and studios, and I routinely visited their homes and fed them burritos. I had no idea who they were but knew the names from other people's conversations.
One of my boss' classmates also ran a medium sized agency, mine in fact, and when we pulled up to the building in the catering van I got a horrible feeling in my stomach. I asked which floor the Christmas party was on and when they said "third" I knew I was fucked. Nothing more impressive than seeing your client scraping sour cream off the rug and carrying heavy chafing dishes up and down stairs.
Needless to say, they were mortified.Uncontainably so. Every time I would enter a room with a tray or wipe up someone's mess there would be this gasp of sorts, and a lot of hushed mumbling. I think one of the reasons they were embarrassed was that many of the clients had been invited to this party. I was not one of them. At any rate, I got through it without crying and, right before we left, the head of the agency called me into his office. He offered me a cigarette and said  "You have done a very smart thing.Next year will be a good year for you". I said something innocuous and shook his hand. And he was right.
In 1992 I booked  five jobs and had to turn down a sixth, a guest spot on "Star Trek" due to a scheduling conflict.They had already fitted me for the spandex unitard,blonde mushroom cap wig and webbed nose bridge, so I guess I should consider that a dodged bullet.I earned over eighty thousand dollars in that year and did not invest it, did not drink it or snort it, did not give it to a reckless boyfriend ( okay well he did steal some..), but somehow at the end of the year I was still in the same spot- broke, waitressing, auditioning, training, WAITING. Always on call, at the ready, waiting for the phone to ring. When it did, everything else was dropped and the opportunity was forefront. That meant never making plans that were important,which is why actors are known to be flaky-they have to be. The process was exhausting.
When the call came, it was usually at five oclock and the audition was usually the next day.I would have to drive to pick up the material and would spend the evening rehearsing and trying to memorize the pages.
There are so many specific stories that I will save them for another post, but, generally,  I would go to the appointment, usually wait for upwards of an hour, go in, meet and greet,read with the casting director and leave. I would go home and analyze exactly what happened to give myself an idea of my chances of a callback.If the agent called, it was a callback.If I  had to call them , it was feeedback:( all actual feedback I received)

"too old", "too young", "should never wear black","too heavy","oh, you lost a lot of weight( not happy)"," "have you gained any weight?", "funny looking teeth( oddly that was for a play)", "needs to go back to acting class", "not all american enough", "too intelligent for the part", "we already have a readhead", "moves eyebrows too much", "almost got it","was number two", "see you in San Francisco"( never called again), "you are what I always dreamed of looking like"(from woman), "wear something more flattering next time","what color is your hair anyway?", "this picture does not look like you", "you are not sixteen", "hang on, I have to get the phone ( mid audition-even paused the tape)- it's Mariska Hargitay", "I asked you to be funny, can you make it funny?"( angrily)," you are perfect" ( mouthed at me while on the phone with someone else).

Rude, arbitrary, some true, some untrue, contradictory,bullshit lies and excuses=feedback.

Then there was the advice."You need to learn how to work the room..."," You need to lower your vocal register,really speak from here( grabs crotch)", " You need to be ten pounds overweight or ten pounds underweight- normal is the kiss of death"," Nice is the kiss of death", "Some people will think you're pretty and some people will think you are plain( what am I Lizzy from "The Rainmaker"?)","You need to stop moving your forehead when you talk", "You can ever miss an audition.Sharon Stone never missed an audition"," get out of your head and you will fly"....huh?

My favorite bit of advice was gleaned a lunch I had with an agent (who is now in real estate), who took me to lunch because I hadn't booked in eighteen months. She said two things.One, is that she thought I needed to tell casting people that I have been out of town for the better part of a year,  so they don' t think I have been foundering, but traveling the world instead.Second, that I need to make a change, something, hair color, weight, -something needs to change and that will jumpstart my career. She had no suggestions about what aspect I might try and change, but she was certain it had to happen.Now, at the very moment she spit out this pearl, a homeless guy approached our table. She ignored him. I reached for my purse to give him a buck and he said "no, I just wanted to tell you how beautiful you are. Really...really beautiful.." .My agent smiled and shrugged  coyly and said "Well, that was nice...." like some incredibly handsome, successful bachelor had just invited me to Paris for the weekend.Not only did she miss the irony of the moment, but  I was tempted to tell her that perhaps the homeless guy should represent me from now on since he seemed perfectly happy with me just the way I was.But I was still under thirty and had not grown my fangs yet, so I nodded and kept brainstorming with her about what exactly was wrong with me and how we could fix it.
 I have the photos to prove my commitment to change something. I was raggedy ann red, bettie page black and variations of in between colors for the rest of my career. I knew the red was too much and it was a pain to maintain. The dark hair prompted my mother to tell me I looked like I was in disguise, so I scrapped that. I could never get the eyebrow shade right, anyway, either too light or dark and angry looking.I finally found my go-to shade,"Praline"and did that to myself every four weeks until I got pregant in 2004.
Like Vegas, opportunity knocks a lot in Hollywood. However, according to the experts, the winning combination is "opportunity meets readiness".
 Well, I guess I was never really ready. Auditions were a crap shoot. My most memorable audition,aside from the one for "Coach" where I went in at my agent's urging despite the fact that I had just had my wisdom teeth removed and was on Percocet and drooling like a mental patient, was for a redheaded biker for some show that was supposed to be the next big thing.I read the sides and imagined  a slightly manly, Harley riding well intentioned character, that was a little clueless, who was just trying to seduce a guy. Sort of Lennie Small meets Kathleen Turner meets Wynonna Judd. I arrived in jeans and a plaid shirt and sat on the floor in the hallway to practice. They called my name and, as I arose, I realized that something on the floor was wet and, now, so was my entire posterior. I entered the room and figured I'd come clean so they didn't think I peed my pants or anything.I tilted my right cheek to reveal the huge wet ass of my jeans and said something like " sat down in the hallway... yep...". The room was silent. All nine men and women were silent. I guess they had either seen plenty of wet ass walk through the door  or they were too mortified to speak.Either way, I went right into the audition and figured, given the situation, I might as well go for broke. I played it up,I played it down on one knee, I grabbed my heart. Half of them laughed, really hard.Too hard. I realized about half way through the audition that the other half were not laughing at all.They were watching in stunned silence. One woman even  elbowed the loudest laugher, and he shrugged like " what, it's funny..".
I was all wrong.They wanted a sexy redheaded biker.They wanted ALL Kathleen Turner and NO Wynnona Judd and CERTAINLY no Lennie Small.  I was so far from what they wanted that they were totally in awe, but not in a good way.Not in an" Oh my god let's re-write the part" way. In more of a
" what the hell is THAT?" sort of way. It just so happened that it was the same casting director that gave me my SAG card, and who read me while doped up on Percocet. I am sure she figured that my years in the business had given me brain damage. Needless to say I never saw her again.  Sorry, Megan, hope you didn't get into trouble on my account.
The funny thing is that, although it was embarrassing, it was kind of fun to make them squirm for  a change. I wasn't crushed at all by that experience at all because I knew what was happening.  They were laughing at me, one hundred percent, and I didn't really care.  At least I made them laugh.
My whole career was variations on the theme of not quite right.The miniseries  I did in the very beginning was reviewed by everyone and they all liked it. I got some good reviews. New York magazine reviewed the show and they put a picture of the star,whose daughter I played, standing next to an extra and put my name in the caption. The extra was at least ten years my senior and was emaciated, so I guess I should have taken the thin part  as a compliment, but it wasn't a picture of me!
 In high school someone joked that one day I would be in People Magazine.Well, yes, he was right, I was.The t.v. movie was directed by the guy who did the motion picture version of "The Flying Nun". It was  based on a true story about a guy who robs a bank and a chase ensues and many people are injured, a few die. In the story, at one point, the robber uses a retarded girl( played by me) as a human shield during a stand off.What picture did they use for the People Magazine promo? A close up of my grimacing retarded face with his arm around my neck, choking me. Pretty much the opposite of glamorous, folks. And they gave the movie a D. So there you have it.
Another movie afforded me a huge picture in the local paper but they spelled my name wrong and the photo was of the make up artist touching up a huge zit on my chin between takes. Fantastic.
Another time I had to play a pregant hostage victim and give birth under seige with no anesthesia. I was awful as I had no experience giving birth.We had one more shot to go before we wrapped for good and the script supervisor came in to correct someone's dialogue.They yelled "rolling" and, as she rose, she accidentally farted. It was little, but she made this Betty Boop style "whoops!" sound  and we all became hysterical.No one could stop laughing.For like five minutes.She was such a nice person, too but we were all exhausted after hours of faux birthing and yelling and chewing the scenery that it was inevitable. The director stormed off the set. I guess that would actually have to be a highpoint in my illustrious career.I haven't laughed that hard many times in my life.
Toward the end,I got a part in a Clint Eastwood movie.One day, one line.The best experience I ever had. Not only was the set a respectable, quiet, pleasant place to be, where no one yelled or rushed or criticized, but I was, for the only time in my life,  a hot piece of tail(every actor on the set was at least sixty if not older). It was a fabulous experience, though my performance was mostly blinking and listening. I really respect Mr Eastwood for figuring out how it should be done. However, I was not invited to the premiere and could not get my agent to find me a ticket. I was told that no tickets were left.Well, my future husband and I got all dressed up,just like the White House party crashers must have, and strode up to the check in table outside of the premiere. After they looked and couldn't find my name, my future husband said "well, she is in the movie"and the check in lady got out the program and searched for my name. There is was waaaayy down at the bottom of the cast list, my credit: "Jerry's girlfriend". We shashayed down the red carpet, and I was the happiest nobody in the place.

I started getting a little bored with the whole scene just after I hit thirty. I had met my future husband already, and we were getting pretty serious and eventually moved in together. His career as a talent manager( that is how we met- subject of a future post) began to take off as mine basically dwindled into dust. I had a series of mini careers and was all but finished when I booked a guest spot on a nightime show. It was meaty and a good part and I was kind of excited, but in the end I didn't really have a very good time doing it. It just wasn't fun anymore. I did a good job and sort of decided that the guest spot was probably my last gig forever. It really should have been. It would have been a great way to end a 15 year career.
However, I was offered a medical video job for a friend of a friend and it was decent money for a morning of work, to play a patient in a training video for medical professionals. They didn't send me a script but had it waiting for me when I arrived. It was meant as an outline and there were certian points that had to get across but the words weren't set in stone. I was feeling grateful that  I took those improv classes way back when.
I picked it up and read through it to discover that the last acting job I would ever have would be  playing a person suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which I understand is an awful affliction. I mean no disrespect but the dialogue was as follows:
doc-"good are you feeling today?"
me-"okay, but I have been better.."
" uh huh, when was your last bowel movement?"
"uh, this morning..."
" and how did that go...?"
" uh... it was.. um..... uncomfortable.."( excellent improv by me)
" can you elaborate? uncomfortable how?"
" uh  well, .."
" did you have to strain?"
" yeah.."
" do you often have to strain..?"
"yeah.. I do.."
" and what was the consistency?"
" .. uh.. kind of.. umm...watery ....and.....uhh..."
" oily?was it oily at all?"
"uh, yeah I guess so.."
And so it went for the better part of an hour until they had accurately captured the footage that conveyed the doctor's concern and the patient's shame.
Oh, it was pure Method ,folks, no acting required.
So to wrap up this extremely long post, if "fame is indeed rot" and  "daughter's are the thing", then I would have to be insane to allow my children, both girls, to ever set foot in a casting office,right?
I am not so sure what I will do when the day comes when Big wants to be in showbiz. She is a ham and a half and could probably pay for college in a couple of years with a few commercials and  a franchise. But then I am reminded of the two Coreys, who were lured into sex drugs and rock and roll at the age of twelve and never recovered.
If Hollywood is a real dream of hers, we will have to consider it. I do think there is something gratifying and kind of fearless about following your bliss.Even if it doesn't have a real future, going with your gut is important.You may discover your dream  it isn't what you thought it was going to be, but at least you saw it for what it really was with your own eyes.And other things come along and it all works out in the end., so far..will keep you posted...

1 comment:

  1. I want to hire you right now to burp up a Aaron Spelling monologue and hand me a canape! You are fabulous and deliciously funny!