Even the song about big, loud dreams and clouds didn’t lift my spirits as I drove. I switched the radio station to something gloomier. I had a dream like that, I thought. Maybe it’s time for something else.
People can’t be a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) actor until they’ve been in some SAG movies, and they can’t get into SAG movies until they’ve become a SAG actor. For the non-SAG to land a part in a SAG movie, actors have to know someone who can open doors. And I do.
My agent, a doppelgänger for Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! (slightly smaller hats, though, but just as flamboyant and enthusiastic), is on a first-name basis with many of the casting directors. Cara can get meetings at Paramount, Universal, TriStar, everywhere. She puts us in for everything she possibly can—TV shows, movies, commercials—for twelve to fourteen hours a day, hardly even coming up for air. If we want to meet with her we have to feed her by taking her to lunch or dinner (never breakfast). She lives on peanut butter on crackers, otherwise, and happily so. When she gets paid those huge sums (not! at least not often) for getting us gigs, she lavishes it on…us. She spends it all on her flock of ducklings, as she calls us, paying for headshots, video reels, and lunch if we’re between jobs.
She gives us something special that we can’t get anywhere else: a touch of old Hollywood. Hundreds of old-time gadgets and gizmos and prints and paintings celebrating the Golden Hollywood Era fill her home/office. But it’s not just in things that she gives the feel of old Hollywood. Some days she can look like the other Bette, although pronounced differently, as well: Bette Davis—on a good day…..well, usually, that is. She has her moments after pulling an all-nighter for us, and then she’s Bette on a bad day…and I’m talking like straight out of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? How could one person look like Bette and Bette? Well, Cara pulls it off somehow.
She’s seen so many trends and fads and phases come and go. She was first to get on the techno-geek train, just before all the TV shows suddenly had a beautiful killer with black-rimmed glasses who can work a computer like it’s a child’s toy in order to take over the world. She saw that trend coming, along with many, many others.
High tech she’s not. Usually some Millennial intern volunteers do her tech tasks for her like update the website and do the social-media stuff. It’s usually some young softies who wanted a brush with the Hollywood dream without having to go through the heartache—live the palm tree, convertible, Malibu, Hollywood Reporter thing until it got boring, because they were completely missing the point, and then go back to Kentucky and Iowa.
Over the years I’ve helped Cara do submissions for “breakdowns,” as they’re called…the casting directors put out a list, a breakdown of the kind of characters they’re looking for in upcoming filmings. For some cop show, for instance, they could ask for “Caucasian man, 35, drug addict” and “African American woman, 42, steely-eyed scientist.” These are for acting roles, those with lines. There are other companies that handle the extras. For main TV shows, the ones with the leads already established, the roles can be very small all the way up to the main guest star. During pilot season, when the networks (and Netflix, et al.) are putting together new shows, the breakdown includes the leads. For movies, the list can go on for pages. Sometimes no age, race, or gender is mentioned, so Cara puts in most of her peeps. Oh—the hours and dedication this woman puts in is beyond the beyond.
So…love? No agent loves her actors more. She never had kids. She’d been proposed to numerous times, but “Getting hitched and starting a family never seemed to be the right thing to do at that particular time,” she’d laugh. We were her kids, and she loved us beyond the norm. I’m not sure my own mother loved me more. For some of us, this was the first motherly love we really received. (My mom tried, truly. More about that in a bit.) And it is totally reciprocated; her actors swoon over her, fuss over her, and stumble over each other to dote on her. She calls us all honey, and we all call her dear. One of the biggest surprises about LA is how often everyone calls everyone dear. It reminds me of my long-gone grandparents.
Another thing to get used to in LA is how people shower little gifties on each other all the time—even if the two people just saw each other two days ago. I’d never seen anything like it, but I quickly learned: never show up anywhere empty-handed. They also do that double-sided-air-kissing-face-to-face-touching thing like they do in Europe.
I walked into Cara’s office bearing flowers for her. Even all the movie mementos and posters didn’t pick up my spirits.
“Hooooonnnnnnneeeeeeey!” She flew across the room, arms outstretched, and wrapped me in her hug. No one else hugs like that. It’s so wonderful to get that hug any time, but especially after a rock-solid audition, then four callbacks, and still not get the role. And even more especially today. We did the double-sided-air-kissy thing about fourteen times.
“Honey, how are you doing?”
She’d been at the memorial since she’d been Cyndi’s agent, too, at one point, but we hadn’t really talked.
“Maybe you could send me out for another zombie audition,” I groaned. “It wouldn’t be acting.”
Earlier I mentioned that LA has ’fifties-style diners and restaurants tucked in here and there all around town. Some are kind of Art Deco, all are definitely a step back in time. They remind me of my grandmothers’ living rooms. And the waitresses (I know that’s politically incorrect, but these gals are still waitresses), even the young ones, definitely remind me of my grandmothers.
Canter’s Deli on Fairfax is my fav, although I can’t say that in mixed company. It’s just not cool to a few of my oh-so-tremendously-stylish peeps (so that’s more about them than Canter’s), who just have to flock to the newest trendy place. But Canter’s does make the LA Hotlist quite a bit. I love going there.
For some reason they kept the phone jacks in the booths—a throwback to the pre-cellphone days when managers, actors, agents, and producers would tell their people where they’d be, so they could receive calls. The restaurant manager would bring the phone to the table and plug it in.
Cara prefers HMS Bounty over on Wilshire, but she acquiesced this once in honor of my broken heart. Oh, all those lunches with Cara—we’d spend so many hours dreambuilding and going over photographs and scripts and just yakking. This time I didn’t feel much like yakking.
Cara took my hand. “Why don’t you take a break, honey?” she suggested. “Why don’t you take a trip or go home for a bit?”
Home? LA is my home. Going to my previous home grew to be a chore. People were glad to see me, but always lurking in the undergrowth of their effusive flattery was that unspoken “Haven’t you made it YET?”
They had no idea. When someone shows up on a TV program or in a movie or even at an awards show, it looks so easy, so “of course.” Before that day came years and years of acting classes, auditions, workouts at the gym, schmoozing at parties to meet that singular someone who knows someone who’s looking for someone just like that particular actor. We have to be more than devoted. We have to be beyond obsessed.
So, why haven’t I made it yet? Listen, pal—do you have any idea how much it takes to “make it”? Friends who’ve landed parts in soaps told me they get ridiculed “back home,” but hey, it’s a start, it’s good money, it’s something really big in our world. Also, do they have any idea how many people who make it have a parent in the industry? The kid’s talent has to stand on its own, of course, but the doors open more easily to let that talent shine and be seen by the right person in the right place. Many more have relatives and friends of the family who work in a studio or with a casting director or someone else who can open the door. I miss the idea of the ice-cream parlor where Lana Turner was, rumor has it, discovered.
Over the years I’ve heard my actor friends talk less and less about their auditions and more and more about their construction projects, small businesses, real-estate jobs, or the little stores they’ve opened.
They (whoever they are) say that most people who come to LA to act last about three years. I heard about one young woman who came, had one audition, and went right back home to Kansas, or wherever she came from. Okay, it was Ohio. That intrigued me, and I was even a little envious that she wasn’t plagued/haunted/fixated on this crazy acting thing. Obviously it wasn’t her thing, and hopefully she quickly moved on to whatever her thing was. Sometimes I wish my thing was….anything else.
Some of my peeps who call themselves “actors,” well, aren’t…actors, that is. They show up late and/or blow their auditions—kind of on purpose. Me? I’m never late for an audition. Never. Not once. If there’s ever an accident on a freeway, I take the next exit and race through backcountry surface roads. As I mentioned, I usually leave hours ahead of time anyway; if I’m early, I write or make calls. But I’m never, ever late…
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