In 1986, I was living in Dallas, ostensibly, working on my modeling/acting career, but really mostly waiting for my slacker rock and roller boyfriend to make it big - become Bono or something.
I had done quite a bit of dreadful local catalogue modeling, a fair bit of dreadful “artsy”, fashion modeling, several dreadful local tv commercials, and a lot of really dreadful local theater. I was paying the rent for myself and said slacker rock and roller boyfriend by working as a nanny for two very sweet children.
Then one day, my agent Harold called and told me that he wanted to put me on tape for a tv pilot audition. Harold was a great guy. He had once been an LA agent, but for some reason that had something to do with his wife, had moved to Dallas. He hated Dallas, and often talked about how much he missed LA. He kept a bottle of Scotch in his bottom desk drawer, and if you were in his inner circle (I was), and dropped by after 5:00, he’d pour you a drink in a coffee cup and talk about his glory days.
Anyway, Harold was all excited, because it was unusual for a Los Angeles tv pilot to cast out of Dallas, this was a rare exception at the time. The problem was that they were searching for an actress who looked like a model, but who could handle comedy, and they were coming up dry. Harold video taped my audition and sent it in.
A few weeks later, I got the call. Colombia Television was flying me to Los Angeles for a network test for this tv show. Now, it’s hard to explain how huge this was, and I certainly didn’t understand it at the time. A network test is the last step before being on a series. By the time one gets to network test, they’ve usually narrowed it down to two or maybe three people for the job. Actors work their butts off for YEARS just dreaming of such a thing. It was my first audition.
They flew me out and put me up at The Mondrian Hotel on the Sunset Strip. Fancy schmancy. A limo picked me up at the airport. They were paying me a per diem, almost all of which I spent on tiny bottles which I found in the refrigerator in my room. Looking back, I remember feeling very excited and a little nervous, but I honestly don’t think I even remotely understood what a big deal this was. I was very naïve.
The casting director was a WONDERFUL man named Marc, who ended up becoming a friend of mine. He completely took care of me, thank God. It could have been very different if he had been less nurturing and protective.
The show, was a very silly sitcom pilot called “She’s With Me”. The writers were the writing team of Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye, who, a year later, would become HUGE as the writers/producers of “Married…With Children”. If you remember that show, you can guess the sophistication and taste level of “She’s With Me”. The plot revolved around the unlikely friendship of two women – the pretty one and the quirky one. I can’t remember the character's names or what wacky plot devices brought them together, but I’m sure much wise-cracking silliness ensued.
I was…the pretty one, and they paired me up with the actress who would be testing with me as…the quirky one. The actress was named Melanie Mayron, and they got us together to rehearse, and amazingly, we got on well. Melanie was making extra cash shooting headshots for people, and the morning of the test, she picked me up at my hotel and I went along to help her on a photoshoot – hand her equipment and hold up the light board and stuff.
You may remember that about a year later, Melanie ended up becoming a big star on “Thirtysomething”, and her character was…a photographer.
It’s difficult now, after living in Los Angeles for so long, to remember my first impressions of the place way back then. I remember thinking everything was so…green. Flowers bloomed everywhere. The weather was sort of perfect. And everything everywhere was iconic. Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard. I’ll never forget when they were driving me to the studio and I saw the Hollywood Sign for the first time. It totally blew me away. Now, it’s just part of the landscape. I see it every day. It might as well be a 7-11 or a McDonalds for all the attention I pay to it.
For the test, Melanie and I drove together over to NBC in beautiful downtown Burbank, a big rambling studio, where all the network offices were, and all the NBC soaps were shot. They took us in and shut us in an office. It was at this point that we were presented with our contracts. One of the most nerve-wracking and inexplicable aspects of the network test is that just before you go in, literally within the last 20 minutes or so before you perform the audition of a lifetime, you are presented with a contract which spells out for you exactly how much money you will be making if you get the job, and the pilot does, in fact, go to series. Let me repeat…just before you go in to audition, you are shown that if you are “good enough” you will cease being a nanny, earning minimum wage in Dallas, and suddenly be making $25,000 a week, or whatever. Such is an actors life. Over the years, I have been through this many times, and it's always a little flabbergasting.
After being kept waiting for ages, we were brought in, and performed our scenes for “The Suits”. That’s a showbiz term. “The Suits” being the network executives, who aren’t necessarily the most creative types. Leavitt and Moye sat in the back laughing uproariously at their own words. I have since learned that this is a common trait of comedy writers – they do love their own stuff.
We were then taken into another room where we waited for another endless amount of time. Secretaries kept bringing us coffee and waters. Finally, the casting director came in and explained that they’ve narrowed it down to two actresses for each of the two lead roles – Melanie and I, and another pair of actresses. They now wanted us to split up and each read with the other actress reading for the other part.
So I was taken in and introduced to the other “quirky one”, an actress named Dinah Madoff, while Melanie went in to work with the other “pretty one”. Dinah was very nice, and I felt like we worked well together too. Both Melanie and Dinah were absolute nervous wrecks. Completely neurotic. Of course, they both ended up playing that type – the nutty, neurotic girl. I, however, was such a baby, that I was cool as a cucumber. I honestly didn't know any better.
After all this mixing and matching, we were all sent home to stew, and told we’d hear something within the next day or so. On the ride home in the car, Melanie informed me that the actress I was reading against, the other “pretty one” was…Jerry Hall. Yes, supermodel Jerry Hall. Yes, Mrs. Mick Jagger Jerry Hall.
So, of course, Jerry and Dinah got the jobs. The pilot “She’s With Me” was shot and tanked and was immediately buried in a vault somewhere. Leavitt and Moye went on to “Married…With Children” success, Melanie Mayron went on to “Thirtysomething” success, Dinah Manoff went on to "Empty Nest" success, Jerry Hall went on to divorce Mick and take him for gazillions, and I went on to…hmmm...oh that’s right, write this blog. Sigh.
Actually, it ended up that Columbia Television put me under a holding contract, and gave me a bunch of cash, and ended up flying me out several other times. My new casting director friend, Marc, got me my first agents and my managers, and the whole thing spurred me to get off my butt and stop nannying and move to Los Angeles, despite the slacker rock and roller boyfriend, kicking off what was to be my long and incredibly mediocre career.
So that's the story of my first trip to Los Angeles, and my first brush with success. Please head over to Sprite's Keeper for more Spin Cycle posts about Firsts.