Not to cast aspersions on any of my high school friends who read this, but in retrospect I think Luke was wrong. While it’s possible most of Santa Clara was more together (mentally) than me, I don’t believe the bulk of my contemporaries charged toward their destiny without a missed step. Luke and I made the mistake of comparing how polished my friends looked on the outside to how messed up I felt on the inside.
In truth, teen-agers navigating the tail end of the sixties had plenty of reason to be confused about the world and their place in it. From the vantage of almost fifty years worth of hindsight, many of my peers explored multiple paths before finding their purpose. Sandy Walker briefly aspired to be a dental hygienist. (Not to disparage dental hygienists, but it wasn’t Sandy’s thing and she lasted a month.) At her next gig – receptionist for the Whirlpool Company – she made it all the way to two. Today, she teaches fitness classes part-time (Yoga and Pilates mostly) for a Modesto health club. Tal Pomeroy traveled the country, butchered meat and sold encyclopedias before he became Tal Pomeroy, MD. Against all odds, my art major college boyfriend Luke became an accountant – I didn’t see that coming.
If you, too, travelled bizarre career paths before you found yourself where you belong, feel free to comment here or on my domain. I’m endlessly intrigued by the strange trajectories of our lives.
Mr. Farrington thought he was doing something nice by calling attention to the fact I was writing a book (long-hand, in a spiral bound notebook, not exactly a professional effort). Ironically, his instincts were correct – I did crave attention, I still do sometimes – I just didn’t want to work (perform) for it. As discussed in prior blogs (link), work in any capacity isn’t one of my strong suits.
In this case, the problem was deeper and more complicated than sloth. I’m an introvert – a loner. In a group – be it therapy, a classroom or a party – I position myself on the fringes or in corners and feign disinterest in their social games. Secretly, I’m far from indifferent. In fact, I’m obsessed with other people’s opinions – of me. I want to impress them and I want something else I can’t admit. What I can’t ask for, I try to steal.
I’m talking about attention. I want people focused on how special I am. I want to fascinate with my quirks, my habits, my trivia. I want the cover of Time and Seventeen magazine. I want Johnny Carson to devote a week to mesmerizing me. What am I prepared to do to make my dreams come true?
Nothing, actually, but let’s call it my “counter-intuitive” strategy. I try to hi-jack attention by falling mysteriously silent. Some concerned soul will ask what’s going on. The more secretive my answers, the more people want to know.
To say the least, it’s far from foolproof. As often as not, people ignore the dull girl with nothing to say, in which case I fume in frustration and resent them for being shallow and stupid. For someone who claims to treasure solitude, I blubber like a baby if I’m not invited to the party where everyone else will be. I do not want to go, understand. But life loses all meaning if I’m not invited.
Hmmm, “Stage-struck.” Based on the sizzling synopsis, I’m baffled it failed to become an international sensation. Unfortunately, the title – the characters – and the story-line – are all too typical of what I generously considered “creative” writing at thirteen. My oeuvre was stories about junior high girls, one popular and one brainy, frequently involving show biz.
Mr. Uebel was one of my favorite teachers although I was a nervous wreck in his room, I was so desperate to impress him. Mr. Call, our Spanish teacher, was great too, as evidenced by their musical duel. The innocence of these times seems unreal from the perspective of 2017 yet I can unequivocally swear life actually was this innocent, this simple – at least at Jefferson Jr. High.
At thirteen, it never crossed my mind to rebel against a teachers or authority figure – and to the best of my knowledge, none of my classmates did either. Maybe Jefferson got lucky and employed teachers with big personalities who loved teaching.
Full disclaimer – far from being anything close to a radical dissident trouble-maker, I was a kiss-up sycophant who idolized my teachers. I made it my mission to be teacher’s pet (not exactly a fast track to popularity, in case you’re wondering). More often than not I succeeded, not because I was so special or brilliant (although I liked to think so) – I just tried harder.
Looking back, I regret how eager I was to be free of our Friday family nights. Little did I know that once gone, those nights could never be recaptured in quite the same way. I should have treasured and prolonged every last minute.
Proms have become a trope in teen-age movies, which would have one believe that attending (or not attending) the prom defines high school existence (Pretty in Pink springs immediately to mind although there are plenty of others). This wasn’t my experience.
I went to several proms – all in the same lace-encrusted blue dress – and while they were all memorable in their own way, they were not the apex of my teen-age years. I doubt I’m not alone in this. I’ve never met one single person who claims their prom was the defining moment of their high school life.
In real life, I don’t think who got crowned king and queen of the prom was of matter of life and death (Carrie). I was never in the running so I didn’t really care. My parents, however, were the King and Queen of their high school prom
Our Prom Party sent up the movie-fantasy stereotype of a high school prom, it didn’t have much to do with the real thing. One of my Columbia students, Holden Weitz, wrote a hilarious teen movie that parodies this trope. That’s the movie I want to see made!
For John’s 30th birthday, I threw him a genuine surprise party (with a little help from my friends). I’ve never done it for anyone else and no one has ever thrown one for me. I’m not sure how I’d react. Given my social anxieties, probably not well.
There were a few logistical hiccups. We were leaving for Hawaii in a few days but – to avoid going to work – J told his boss, MPR, he was leaving today. I couldn’t advise him against this without spoiling the surprise even though – since I’d already invited his office staff including MPR – everyone knew he lied. Fortunately, they had a sense of humor.
The party lasted well into the following morning, as most did back then. Turning thirty was a big deal. Only yesterday “Don’t trust anybody over thirty” was a catch phrase. How could people as young as us turn thirty? What happened to our twenties?
Decades later, thirty no longer sounds old and the question is different. What happened to our thirties, our forties, our fifties? Before long, we’ll know what Paul Simon meant when he sang “How terribly strange to be seventy.”
I don’t feel like I’m fifty, let alone sixty, so I can’t possibly contemplate seventy. I doubt I’m alone here. Almost everyone my age eventually says something like, “I know I don’t look my age.” I assure them it’s true even though it’s patently false and they do the same for me. In my mirror, I don’t look my age either but it’s meaningless. In my own eyes, I never will.
J doesn’t seem to age either, at least not until I see him – or myself – in photographs. There, the truth is revealed. Sometimes I don’t spot myself at all because I’m looking for someone younger. Sometimes I wonder how my mother snuck into the picture. Why are photos so much crueler than the mirror? Someone out there knows the technical reason. Maybe they can also explain where my thirties and forties went.
To develop new talent, the DGA accepts applications to their Assistant Directors Training program once a year. The lucky few who ace the test and then the interview spend the next two years as salaried AD trainees on films or TV shows. Completing the program earns you membership in the DGA and a shot at a career in production. The odds of success are approximately 2.5 percent, I think. My math hasn’t improved since I failed the test in 74.
A few ADs transition to directing. Walter Hill was an AD trainee on Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run. However, it was his writing skill rather than his AD experience that broke him into directing. More typically, 2nd AD leads to 1st AD which leads to Production Manager, and then if you’re lucky and so-inclined to co-producer, line producer or producer. These are hard to get lucrative jobs that often require ungodly long hours. I didn’t take the test again.
My sister Janet didn’t pass the first time either but she applied again. On her second attempt, she won an interview but didn’t get selected. Undeterred, she went back for more and applied again. Her tenacity paid off – she got in. As a trainee, she worked on 9 to 5, the series Vega$, a quirky Jeff Goldblum pilot called Tenspeed & Brownshoe and various TV movies and mini-series.
As a 2nd Assistant Director she worked on Rocky IV where she cast my son Christopher as one of Rocky Jr’s friends… he ended up with several lines in the scene and is still earning residuals. Currently, she’s a Co-Producer/Production Manager on the Judd Apatow Netflix original series LOVE. She also serves on the Assistant Directors Training Plan board (which has evolved since 74).
In college, her dual major was French and American Culture. Who would’ve guessed she’d wind up here?
Twice nominated for Primetime Emmy awards, Janet remarks, “Boston Legal didn’t win but happy to be there & nominated.”
Being both director and mom, Janet is trying to convince her son, Connor, to say “Bye, Dad” to the actor (a stranger) in the upcoming scene for “Sisters.” He’s not going for it. She’s begging!
The night before – my 22nd birthday – the guy I was dating took me to see Rudi Nureyev in Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet of Canada at the Shrine Auditorium. Jani’s boyfriend from Irvine took her to the ballet too so we met them at intermission – Jani’s 20th birthday would be the following day. I don’t know about Janet, but this is the only professional ballet I’ve ever seen. The lavish fairyland sets were amazing, as was Rudi in his prime, but the truth is ballet doesn’t hold my interest. I pretend to be interested, because I feel like I should be, but I’m bored. I don’t blame ballet – I’m well aware it’s my own attention span that’s deficient. (Yet another reason I failed to realize my early dream of growing up to be a ballerina, see November 7, 1966)
Jani’s comment – “Did you try and do any of the ballet steps when you got home?” – got to me. It was so spontaneous, so in the moment. Obviously, she paid attention, so much so that she was moved and inspired to try to do the steps at home. I envied her enthusiasm then and I still do today. I’d love to be that kind of person but it’s impossible to be somebody I’m not.
The closest I’ve come to ballet since then is taking my kids to ballet lessons. CD and his BFF Geo Ackles took ballet as toddlers. It was a great excuse for the boys to get together and for me to chat with David Ackles but neither lad looked like a future Nureyev.
Sam was more interested in climbing than ballet although she did play a dead ballerina in one of my television movies, Friends to the End. She and a dead male ballet dancer haunt the villainess in the final scene. Her blue costume was the reason I wanted to be a ballet dancer in the first place – the gorgeous fantasy clothing.
Alex was spared ballet, to his great relief, so no embarrassing photo ops of him.
My tenure as Roger Corman’s “Assistant” at New World Pictures was one of my better jobs. I also served as his receptionist which consumed the bulk of my time. Aside from answering the phone, everything else I did was interesting. I might be deployed to Max Factor’s to pick up gallons of fake blood for an afternoon shoot. Frequently Roger sent me home with a script for overnight coverage. I didn’t consider it working overtime because it was thrilling. Whether or not Roger agreed with my notes, I felt validated because he paid attention. He was an extraordinarily good listener.
It was Roger’s wife, Julie Corman, who liked my resume and hired me to work for Roger. Since New World was known for its violent exploitation films, I expected Roger to be a bombastic vulgar bully like other studio heads I heard rumors about. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He wielded his considerable power quietly, with dignity. Corman had class and brains (he graduated from Stanford, for starters.) While I was there New World made “Candy Stripe Nurses” and “Caged Heat” but they also released Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-nominated “Cries and Whispers.”
I don’t claim I knew Roger well. In my opinion, he wasn’t an easy guy to know but he was worth the effort. It wouldn’t surprise me if people who worked for him in different capacities saw sides of him I didn’t. To me, he seemed like a classic introvert, an enigmatic sensitive artist as opposed to a tyrannical boss from hell. He built a reputation as a hard-nosed businessman but I remember unexpected generosity and kindness. When I quit – that’s another story for later – I wasn’t entitled to health insurance but I was sick and he extended my coverage. Not forever – he wasn’t stupid – just long enough to make a difference.
When I left, we promised to stay in touch and we did for a while. New World’s offices were on Sunset, not far from the Tower Records, so it was easy to drop in and say hi. Inevitably, contact tapered off, then ceased. Still, although my time at New World was brief, Roger’s quiet integrity and decency remain vivid after all these years. I’m hoping he’ll read this and know I said hello – and thank you.
This event was an anomaly, the farthest thing from a typical day in my life. My prior attempt to model a dress I made in 7th grade home economics came to a humiliating halt when I discovered I neglected to leave arm and neck holes in my garment. (How did this happen? When I failed to spot where I’d made a mistake, my teacher smirked and urged me to “model it for the class.” It was a lesson I never forgot.)
How did I come to model chinchilla coats and wraps? JoAnn aspired to be a model and her father raised chinchillas. In 1969 it was not politically incorrect to wear fur or raise animals to become fur. Almost six feet tall and gorgeous, JoAnn was the show-stopper. I tagged along because at 5’9” I was one of her taller friends.
Somebody else did my make-up and hair. Never – not before or since – has my hair looked anything like it did that night. Given my life has been one long bad hair day, I’ve got no right to complain – but still. Let’s just say my up-do hasn’t stood the test of time.
Much like my other insane early aspirations – trapeze artist, ballerina and cowgirl spring to mind – I daydreamed about a thrilling career as a model. I suspect a lot of girls did the same because superstars like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton made it look so gosh-darn cool. My one night modeling furs at the Hyatt House was as close as I ever came.
Naturally, the charter members of the “Whale Groupies” fan club (See August 12,1980 Blog) celebrated the TV premiere of Robert Lovenheim’s movie “A Whale for the Killing” with a screening party. Robert himself – at that time, the only one in our group gainfully employed in the entertainment business – couldn’t be there, he was out of the country on his next project.
Looking back, I wonder why we had so much more time to socialize and hang out in the seventies and eighties. Or did we just have more energy? In those days, J and I entertained different mixes of friends almost every night. This evening fell on a Sunday, so most people needed to rise for work the next day, hence the 11 PM departure. Some Friday or Saturday nights lasted till dawn. Very few evenings ended before 3 AM.
I had no idea how much the digital revolution would change things. If I’d understood what computers and smartphones could eventually do, I would’ve expected them to simply my life, reduce the time required to take care of life’s business, thereby freeing up vast frontiers of time.
My experience has been quite the contrary and – as far as I can tell – so has that of most people I know. Somehow social media replaced our active social lives. Before personal computers, J and I entertained ourselves with games of Scrabble when we were home alone. I can’t remember the last time we did that – I doubt it was more recent than thirty years ago. He plays on-line bridge or chess, I transcribe old diaries, write these blogs, cruise through Facebook to see what my friends are up to and sometimes work on my novel, the ostensible purpose for getting a computer in the first place.
There’s no point wondering if our world changed for better or worse. It changed forever. I’m sure it will continue to change in ways I can’t imagine – and equally certain it will never change back to the way things used to be.