Johnny Carson: What is the best way an aspiring starlet could get into Hollywood?
Bette Davis: Take Fountain.
I could have had a True Hollywood Story.
When I was 23, I was “discovered” while waitressing at a swanky hotel/restaurant in NYC by a big entertainment lawyer who saw something in me.
He gave me his card, and said, “If you’re ever in LA, get in touch and I’ll help you.”
It’s happening! My big moment! It’s all red carpets and paparazzi from here!
I had recently graduated from an acting conservatory and starred in one indie film, so I was all ready for take-off!
Of course I had misgivings about the lawyer since I had only just met him, and maybe he was hitting on me. But it turned out he was quite legit, knew a lot of influential people, and when I was in LA visiting a friend, he kept his word and put me in touch with a big-time Hollywood manager. And I only had to sleep with him once! (Kidding, he didn’t even try, can you believe it).
The manager was a rail thin, pretty Russian woman who used a therapy- ball for her chair and had a breathtaking skyrise view overlooking the entire city.
I had only been to LA once before.
Also, I had no idea how to drive. So, I decided to learn the way I’ve learned most other things, by doing.
GPS wasn’t that sophisticated yet, so I would map out the directions by hand, then call my friend at various intersections asking if I had the right of way. A few times I didn’t realize I had to wait for yellow before making a left-turn and got honked at by everyone west of the 405.
I barely knew how to park and would avoid all spots wherein parallel parking was required.
But I didn’t care.
I was in LA, being introduced to a manager, and my golden destiny sat waiting like Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage. Who cared how I got to the palace?
At our first meeting, the manager barely spoke to me, then proceeded to make a dozen random phone calls while I sat there politely in awe.
“She’s 21 and just graduated Carnegie Melon,” she said with her perfectly intimidating accent, perched like a regal swan atop her purple thera-ball in her skinny jeans and designer tank-top.
She hung up and I quietly corrected her, “I’m actually 23 and I didn’t…”
“It doesn’t matter honey. They don’t care!”
I didn’t love the lying, but she didn’t seem open to feedback, so I decided to trust her judgment and kept my mouth shut.
“Listen, honey, it’s in the middle of pilot season, so I’m just going to send you on everything!”
“Great! You’re adorable…Check your email. And be on time everywhere you go.”
“Ok.” I was perfecting my smiling and nodding.
I had no idea how difficult it was to get these auditions. I had no idea how massive an opportunity it really was. And I had no idea how thoroughly unprepared I was.
Since the most challenging thing of all was just arriving at said audition, seeing as I could barely drive, had no idea where I was going, and had no clue how far apart everything was, I would arrive safely at the correct destination, as if that were the entire challenge, and the audition was just the cherry on top.
For the next two weeks, I bombed every single audition.
I barely knew my lines, spent my nights hanging out with friends instead of preparing (I think we even went to Vegas once), didn’t know who I was auditioning with, or what I was auditioning for half the time.
Full of blind optimism and naïve arrogance that this was my moment, I thought simply arriving was enough.
“I am here! Let down the Hollywood drawbridge!”
I was the prime example of luck NOT meeting preparation, hence botching every single opportunity.
A week went by, and the manager called me. She wanted to know what was going wrong.
“You haven’t had a single callback. Can you come in and read with my assistant to see if we can help you?”
“Oh. Sure…” I was embarrassed, but determined to prove them wrong. I was a trained actress. I knew how to do this!
I came in and read with her assistant, Tim, who was a nice, sensitive man I could tell wanted me to succeed.
We read a few sides together and he came out and gave me a glowing report.
“She’s great!” he said, “Very natural.”
“Ok. Well, maybe you were just nervous, honey?”
I shyly agreed and she said she’d keep sending me out.
The next week I must have had another 12 or so auditions.
I tried harder, but still something wasn’t clicking. Maybe it was lack of confidence, maybe it was the stress of learning a new city. But either way, I simply wasn’t ready.
It wasn’t my time, after all.
At the end of the 3-week trial period, I showed up to her office to see if she’d represent me. (I promised myself that if I got a manager, I would move to LA immediately).
Her secretary looked at me and shifted awkwardly, “Oh… she’s at lunch.”
Two seconds later, a handsome actor in his 30s came to the desk and said he had a meeting with her.
I watched as the secretary tried to lie to me, while simultaneously telling the other guy she’d be right with him.
“She’s at lunch (to me) but she’ll…be…back very soon (to him)….but…just finishing at lunch….(back to me).”
I was naïve, but not dumb. I knew what was happening.
Blinking back tears, I turned around, leaving this big- time office, with the view overlooking a future that wasn’t mine.
I walked down the cold hallway to the elevators and wept on the way to the parking garage
It was humiliating. I had blown my one big chance at stardom.
“She couldn’t even face me! What an embarrassment!” I sobbed on the phone to my friend, wandering aimlessly around the parking garage.
“I’m such a failure!”
And then, in the middle of the conversation, in the middle of my big, dramatic pity-party, something happened to me.
Out of the shame and humility, I felt a flicker of strength. Some hidden force that was quite stubborn and impenetrable.
This wasn’t going to stop me. This one manager ignoring me wasn’t going to shame me into giving up all of my hopes and dreams.
I would move here anyway. I would come here anyway.
I turned my tears into inexplicable stubbornness and said, “Hell with this. I’m moving to LA, and next time I get this opportunity, I’ll be ready.”
“That’s the spirit!” my friend cheered me on, relieved he wouldn’t have to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning in the parking garage.
“Now where the hell is my car?” I laughed, tears still drying on my cheeks.
And just like that, I moved the next month, learned how to drive, found my way around LA.
I put in years and years of hard work. That wasn’t the last time I would be ignored, dismissed, rejected. But it got easier, less painful. More just part of the deal. Brushed it off, moved on. Kept going.
Many moons later, I realized, I hadn’t done anything wrong. I wasn’t a failure.
That just wasn’t my path. Acting wasn’t my true destiny, comedy was.
It took me over ten years to learn this. And I have booked some acting roles here and there, which of course are always fun, and I love doing it.
But if I had booked a big show back when I was 23, the first time I arrived in LA, and set out to be an actress, that’s all I would have been.
Finally (only 8 years ago), I figured out that I want to say my own words. Write my own jokes.
Most of all, I want to turn my experiences of struggle and failure into jokes and stories about rising above and finding the humor in the saddest, most humiliating moments. Because, I truly believe those are the shining, sparkly times that make us most human. Most real.
I am still creating my True Hollywood Story, but when I get to the end, I am sure I will be proud to know that even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s not glamorous, it’s mine.
Because, I wrote it myself.