Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Inhabiting a Role

In between the small roles, background and stand-in work I have done, I was always looking for something else to do when work was slow, so when a friend asked me to cover for her on a gig, I was interested.
"Have you ever been a costumed character?", she asked me.
"Uh, no, I said, what do you mean?"
"Woody Woodpecker", she answered. "You appear at events as Woody Woodpecker."
"In a costume, that looks like him?" I asked. "Oh, yes, it's quite a costume!" she said, "It's fun, you'll have fun." My middle name!

So, a few days later, I went to Universal for orientation, do some paperwork, and pick up the costume. The girl running the program had worked at Disneyland as Snow White, and knew all about working with, and appearing as a costumed character. There all kinds of rules.

Number one. Don't talk! So even though the Woody Woodpecker laugh was one of my main parlor tricks as a child, I couldn't do it. Guess they don't want to be responsible for anything inappropriate someone might say while portraying a character.

Number two. NEVER take the head off when people are around. Don't want to give any little kids nightmares of a decapitated cartoon character.

Number three. Never walk around alone. It is hard to see and move in the costume, so this is a safety issue, also, some people can be mean and hurt the character, so you have protection. There is always someone with you to spot you.

Number four. Do not stay in the costume longer than 20 minutes. You are on and off every 15-20 minutes. Those costumes are very hot, and you can become dehydrated and/or faint.

Suiting up. First there is a foundation garment. This is like a leotard, close fitting to the body, and zips up, but the suit has padding on it, in various places to give the proper cartoon body shape. Then, the costume itself,a full body suit, fitting the contours of the foundation, and with arms and legs, like big fuzzy sleepers. The hands are big, padded gloves, with 4 fingers, so you put the two middle fingers in one glove finger, and then, the big oversized clown-shoe like feet. The head is very big, and quite heavy. You can see through the mouth.

I have to say, walking out into the event, as Woody, it was a pretty wonderful feeling to see all these little children run up to you, with joy and excitement on their cute little faces. "Oh, I know You!" One little girl exclaimed, and gave me a big, heartfelt hug. They all want to talk to you and touch you, and hold your hand. It's a very warm, fuzzy feeling, and not just from the costume.

That feeling dissipated quickly, on another gig, however, when I appeared at an event for the Braille Institute. Hordes of partially sighted and blind children swarmed me, and were poking, hitting, pulling, grabbing, clutching, molesting and assaulting me. I almost fell over. I was a little pissed that the kids were not better supervised, and when I mentioned it to someone in the administration, she said, "Yes, they are very tactile." Tactile! I was mobbed! I felt like I was Mick Jagger, or something.

Another time, at an Earth Day Festival, a young couple came by with a little puppy. I bent down to pet the pup, and he grabbed hold of my big white cartoon hand, and started playing tug of war with it, growling and tugging and shaking his head! He was not letting go! I had to struggle to hold onto, it; I could just see the puppy run off with Woody's hand! In front of all the children! Eeeeeek!

A little boy came up to me at another gig, and started doing a Chris Farley, when he would talk to a celebrity. "Oh, yeah, I know you. I seen you on tv. Remember, remember that time when, when, you were old, and, and you couldn't, you were too old to peck wood", and he started imitating an old Woody, too feeble to peck at a tree. I could barely keep from laughing out loud.

One of my appearances was very special, because I got to meet "my Daddy!". I appeared with Walter Lantz, and had publicity photos taken shaking his hand!

Another time, I was in a parade, and rode sitting on the top of the backseat of a convertible, waving to the crowd. I was hoping there was no lone nut in the crowd who had it out for woodpeckers. (They can be noisy little bastards, ever get woken up by one on a camping trip? If I had a gun, I'd think about it, ok maybe a slingshot!)

Most of the events took place on a weekend, so I would go to Universal on Friday afternoon, to pick up the costume, to appear on a Saturday or Sunday, and then return it on Monday. So, one Friday, I went and got the costume, and put it in the trunk of my car, and went to visit my sister, stay over night, and do the gig on Sunday. I wanted to show my sister the costume, so I said, "I'll go put it on."

I went down the hall, and went out the back door, and put the costume on and walked up to the front door, and rang the bell. My brother-in-law, Tim, opened the door with my 5 year old nephew, Chris, who was just astonished to see Woody.
"Hello, Woody, come in", Tim said. I came in and started doing all kinds of antics, and Chris was just cracking up. I shook hands with everyone, went over to the table and picked up a liter bottle of soda, and pretended to drink it, petted the dog, hugged my sister, played with a few more props, and then signaled that I'd better be on my way, and waved as I walked out the door. I went to the car, took off the costume, and went back in the back door, and walked down the hall into the living room. Chris came running up to me, "Terry!, Terry!, you missed it! Woody Woodpecker was just here!"
"Oh no, really!? I feigned disappointment. "I just missed him? Darn! How nice of him to come visit!"

Flash forward, 11 years later, I was at my sister's house, and she was helping me work on my resume. Among the many jobs listed, was; 'Costumed Character-Made personal appearances as Woody Woodpecker for Universal Studios'. The now 16 year old Chris, picked up the resume and was reading it, and all of a sudden he, says, "HEEEEY!!!" I looked at him, puzzled at first, and said, "What?", and then realized, he just realized, that it was really me, all those years ago. I guess it was kind of like finding out Santa wasn't real. "OH!" I said, and started cracking up. "I wondered how old you had to be before I could tell you!"
He said he always wondered what Woody Woodpecker was doing walking around the neighborhood in Valencia, California!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Upstairs, Downstairs, at the Academy Awards

In the 70's the year of "Nashville", my friend, who's husband was a producer, offered her Academy Awards ticket to me, and her friend, Tad. She had been several times, and the novelty of it had worn off, and she preferred to stay at home and watch it on tv.
I was very excited to be going to the Oscar ceremony, especially because 2 people I had become acquainted with, were nominated!
Robert Altman was the ex-step-father-in-law of a friend of mine, and I had gone with him to several parties at The Altman's,and to screenings of his films. Lily Tomlin was a friend of the Groundlings, had been to see our shows, and hired several of us to work on her specials.
Back then, it was held at the beautiful, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, downtown, now home to the LA Opera.
I wore a long, vintage, peach-colored, silk brocade chinese dress, with the high collar, and slit up the side. It was the closest thing I had to a formal. Tad in a tux, of course. I was shocked to see some people showing up in denim, but this was the 70's, after all. It was fun watching all the people coming in, and then we went to find our seats. We were in the very last row! There was equipment and monitors, and cables everywhere, some partially blocking our view. But still, we were there!
After the first few commercial breaks, where everything just stops, and there is just silence, and you can see the commercials on the monitors, but not hear, and you're just sitting there, I understood why my friend chose to stay home. It was kind of boring. But still, we were there!
And it was very long, like it always is.
After the show, as everyone was streaming out, I felt a little left out, as my friend had not purchased the tickets to the Governor's Ball. That was extra.

I was to attend the Governor's Ball another year, but not as a guest.

It was the year of "Titanic." I was doing catering work, and I got the call to work the Academy awards. Hmmm, this might be interesting, so I took the job.
Every person in LA who did catering work was probably there that night. I think it was one server per table, so they needed hundreds. Armies of actor-types in tux shirts and black bow ties.
This year, it was at The Shrine Auditorium. We got a briefing, and inspection, and were specifically instructed not to talk to any of the guest unless it was related to the job. And, DON'T talk to anyone in the kitchen!!! Those chef types are egotistical assholes! Who knew!? This was before all those asshole chef shows on tv!
The hall was huge, and gorgeous, all greens and golds, and plants, and matching linens, and little Oscar statues everywhere. Even some of the appetizers and desserts were in the shape of Oscar.
During the awards telecast, we were all busy bees backstage, and had no idea who won what. Not until they all started streaming in with their statutes in hand. Kim Bassinger! Yeah! James Cameron, Curtis Hanson. I nearly ran right into Kate Winslet; looking stunning in her emerald green, medieval-inspired, Alexander McQueen gown. Loved it!
I had Ellen Burstyn at my table. Deep Sigh. I had a personal story I would have loved to remind her of, but I couldn't. A very close friend of mine, who was a movie freak, wrote her a fan letter after he saw "The Last Picture Show." Because he was a very intelligent and thoughtful person, I'm sure it was a memorable letter, and she answered him. He was so thrilled.
Twenty five years later, as he lay dying of AIDS, in USC Medical Center, she happened to be visiting AIDS patients, and inexplicably, came to his bedside. He reminded her of the letter, and how much it had meant to him that she answered it, and she remembered.
I couldn't mention to her that he was one of my closest, oldest friends, and how much her letter, and the visit so many years later, meant to him. I just had to hold it in, and think about it to myself.
I worked my butt off that night, and the catering people who were running it were all high anxiety, and barking orders. I felt like a slave.
All in all,it was an interesting experience, but I would never do it again. Kind of like my trip to Morocco.
At the end of the night, as I was leaving, I picked up several of the real gold covered chocolate Oscars that people had left on the tables. I took a couple to my Mom. She had them in her fridge for years.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

We Meet Again

Before we moved to Hollywood, we had come to visit a few times. My mother's sisters were here, and my uncle, Kin, was in a folk group, The Back Porch Majority. Some of the members in the group lived together in a house out in the valley. They called it the folk house. We went there one time with my uncle, and met some of the other people in the group, and others who also performed at the club, Ledbetter's in Westwood, owned by Randy Sparks, of the New Christy Minstrels fame.
One person really stood out to me, and I always remembered meeting him. My uncle said, "Girls, meet John Denver." I will never forget his beaming face, as he said, "Well, I am so happy to meet you," as he shook our little hands. I learned later this was called charisma.
Back in Arizona, some of the folk house gang were on the road, passing through, and stopped off to visit. My mother's cousin, Diane was visiting from Detroit, with her 3 kids, and the 4 of us girls, so we had a houseful. Diane made John and the others grilled cheese sandwiches. Later, he inquired to my uncle, "How is Diane and all them kids?"
When we moved out to LA, we would go the the club to see my uncle and the group perform. They really put on a great show. The handsome guys in suits, and the girls in their pretty frilly dresses with big full skirts, picking and singing their hearts out, and they did some comedy bits too. They had a very loyal following on the college circuit.
One night, we were getting ready to go to the club, and my Mom said tonight there were going to be this really funny guy on the bill, Steve Martin. We couldn't wait to see this new act.
Yes, he did have the arrow through the head. Some things just always work. He probably started that back when he was at Disneyland. He was billed as "Just another banjo magic act".
Not many people knew for a long time, he is an excellent banjo player. He did put a CD out recently.
So, before the show, he was talking with my aunt and uncle, and my sister and I were standing there, and he mentioned that he forgot to get a newspaper. He needed a newspaper. And wondered where to get one before the show. "We'll go get you one!" we exclaimed, excitedly. We ran out of the club, and up the street to the Westward Ho market on Westwood Blvd. There were several newsstands out front. "Hmmm, do you think he'd want The Times, or the Examiner?" We got them both, and ran back to the club, and gave Steve the newspapers.
Onstage, during his act, he did "magic tricks". He comes to the newspaper trick. He elaborately unfolds the paper, and re-folds, and tears, and turns, it and folds, and tears, and folds, all with a flourish, and finally the newspaper page is all folded up very small , and he holds it up to the audience, and bends down, and puts it under the leg of the table next to him onstage.
Every holiday, my Mom would cook a big feast, and we would have a party, for family and friends, and she would invite all the people from the club who had no family to go to. One Easter party, Steve was in attendance at our house. My sister and I were taking a photography class is school, so we took some of the guys out in the yard to take pictures of them. Steve stood on his head, and his love beads draped across his nose. Snap!
Years later, I got to work with both of them in the movies.
On "Oh God", I had a vignette with John in the opening credits of the movie. When I met him on the set, I told him of our first meeting, when I was just a little girl, and how I always remembered him, and how he said he was so happy to meet us. He said, "Well, I'm even happier to meet you now!"
In the movie, John plays a grocery store manager, and I am having a hard time getting the shopping carts apart. He comes over to assist me. Ever since then, every time I get a shopping cart, I think of it.
I ran into Steve Martin on several of his movies. I would always say "Hi", and remind him of meeting him at Ledbetter's, and mention to him, how my uncle was, and what he was up to, and we'd have a little chat.
I think the last time I worked with him was on "The Man With Two Brains." I was standing on the street on Vermont Ave. across from a European style apt building, my little Audi parked in the shot, in front of the building. I was going to be crossing the street. The scene was supposed to be in Germany, so I got the job because they could use my car.
He came up to me and said "hello", and was chatting me up, and asked about the family. Knowing I would be seeing him again, I had dug out the photo I took of him in my backyard, when I was in high school, and brought it for him to sign. Later, when I took the picture over to him, He looked at it, turned it upside down, and said, "This is me?"
"Yes, it is", I said. "You came to a party at our house, I took it for my photography class." Maybe he forgot his hair wasn't always white.
He signed it, "To Terry, You made me what I am today."

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Pantages Theater

My very first real job, (not babysitting or housecleaning) was at the stunningly beautiful Pantages Theater, at Hollywood and Vine. I was not yet 16.
I saw a notice on the bulletin board at school for usherettes and candy girls. I still remember what I wore that day for the interview. A black and white striped mini tank dress.
As soon as I walked into the ornate, cavernous lobby, I fell in love with the place, and I had a feeling like I belonged there. I knew I had the job.
They were hiring a lot of extra staff for the premiere of a new Disney movie, "The Happiest Millionaire". We got period costumes to wear and had our hair done.
There was a big show in the street out front before the premiere. We were to seat all the guests at the premiere, including the stars. Well, this was all pretty exciting for a star struck teen, and getting paid to boot! After the premiere, there was a big party, and we were encouraged to mingle, and I had my first glass of champagne.
All the people who worked there were either aspiring actors, or or college students. We soon got tight, and the partying began!
I would come home from school, do my homework, eat something, and go to the theater. It was my social life, I just went to high school because I had to. Several of us became roommates together, just up the street from the theater, at the Castle Argyle, an old, swank spanish style apt/hotel from the hey day of Hollywood. Clark Gable used to live there. Apt. 302 was Party Central.
Our Boss, Mr. Perlmutter, we called him Mr. P, looked like a mobster. He had a big, black Cadillac, with a phone in it. This was 1967-69! We would have weekly staff meetings on the big staircase in the lobby. We discussed problems, and policy, and how things should be done. Everything had to be impeccable. For instance, you could not kick the door stop down with your foot. You had to bend down, and put it up by hand. This was not just any movie theater. All the movies had big premieres that we worked in formals and tuxedos. Then it was a reserved seat run, and it was the only place in town to see that movie. Everyone had to be seated personally, and we carried flashlights, and had special places to stand to greet the patrons. Then we had to stay inside the theater to watch for smokers. We saw the movies so many times, we made up trivia quizzes about them.
As much as Mr. Perlmutter taught us all about good service, and was good to us and fair, he had a lot of shady things going on. Years later, I found out he had people on the payroll that didn't exist. That was his gambling money. When the party planners called to ask how many cases of champagne were needed for the premiere parties, he added 10 to the count, and those went into the trunk of his car.
We all had a fondness for the theater and the history and lore. Besides showing movies, it was an old vaudeville house. There would be variety acts before the movies.
Howard Hughes once owned the theater and his office upstairs.
The Academy Awards were held there for the decade of the 1950's.
Miss Rupp was one of the assistant managers. She was probably in her late 60's at the time, and was a very prim and proper catholic lady. The story was, that she was jilted by one of the Pantages brothers, he married someone else, and she ended up being the family babysitter. She went with the theater. Whoever bought the theater had to have a job for Miss Rupp. She would ask to see people's tickets and direct them to the proper door. She was always on everyone about every little thing, and to not comply was grounds for immediate dismissal!
The uniforms we wore were old fashioned, but I loved them. A maroon top, with gold braid, and a zipper up the front. Big shoulder pads, and a cinched in waist, with a peblem bottom, and a black straight skirt that we rolled up to mini length. Men wore maroon blazers and black pants. Later, we got more modern uniforms, space-agey gold lame A- line mini-dresses with blue princess piping down the front.
We used to love to explore the theater. There were at least a dozen dressing rooms under the stage, and all kinds of balconies, and nooks and crannies that hadn't been used in decades. Once I found an old trunk backstage from one of the vaudeville actresses, and wore some of the 30's clothes from it.
We climbed up into the chandelier.
The projectionist, looked exactly like you would expect an old timey projectionist to look. We would go into the projection booth on our breaks and watch him change the reels. There was an older black lady, Pearl, who cleaned the ladies lounge, and kept the beveled, art deco wall of mirrors sparkling.
Because we were mostly Thespians, it was inevitable that someone would say, "Hey, Kids, let's put on a show!" We did a production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown". I was Peppermint Patty. Then, in the tradition of the theater's past, we did a vaudeville show. These were actually pretty good productions, but it was not for the public. Some legal technicality, so we invited family and friends.
For some reason, after a couple of years, the movies being booked there, got cheesier, and cheesier. And no more premieres. "Hell's Angel's 69". "Helga" with a live birth! "Three in the Attic", and "Spirits of the Dead". I left soon after that, it ws so sad to see the demise of the crown jewel of the Hollywood movie palaces.
Several years later, the Nederlander company bought and started bringing the big Broadway musicals there.
Flash foward 35 years, after running into a few people from the old Pantages days, we decided to have a reunion. We found as many people as we could, and we all went to see "The Producers" at the newly restored theater, and the manager gave us a tour of the theater. We had a party at a nearby restaurant. We all told stories about how much those days meant to us, what we learned there, and all the fun we had. For many, it was our first job, and for others it meant more to them than their college days. I found out I was not the only person who still carried fond feelings for "The Pan".

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How I Got Here

We got dropped off at the movie theater every saturday afternoon, with 35c each. 2oc for admission, and the rest for candy. People just did that back then, free babysitter. I'm not sure, but I think it was when my parents had sex. Or just wanted to get four girls out of their hair. Anyway, we loved it, and it didn't matter what was playing. There were no ratings! I remember seeing "The Slender Thread", and "Back Street", I knew these were grown-up movies, and there was something dark and voyeuristic about seeing them. I felt a little tawdry. But then there was "Jumbo" and "The Parent Trap"! And all those fabulous Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies! Loved those. And of course, all the Elvis movies! We watched the double feature twice. And then, when we came out of the dark theater, there was Dad in the station wagon waiting for us. We would go home and act out some of the scenes, or pretend we were Doris Day while playing with our Barbies, Elvis is my boyfriend! My boyfriend is Troy Donahue!
Any money I got was spent on movie magazines. I'd cut out the pictures and put them on the bedroom wall. I loved Tony Curtis, and Doris Day! Had big crush on George Chakiris when "West Side Story" came out.
When "Pollyana" came out, my uncle told me I looked like Hayley Mills! So I went around thinking everyone thought I was Hayley Mills. Oh, they're looking at me, I bet they think I look like Hayley Mills. I wrote to her, and told her I looked like her, and was disappointed to get a picture with a printed on signature, and something generic like, "thanks for writing".
I was always a movie crazy kid, and we loved all the tv shows too. I would read the TV Guide, cover to cover, loved the articles, and would circle everything I wanted to watch.
THEN -- The Beatles hit! I became the biggest Beatlemaniac, and our room was covered with Beatle pictures, even a poster on the ceiling, so we could dream about them. Rock and roll was competing for my attention, but I still loved movies and tv too.
I was very upset to learn that we would be moving from Scottsdale, AZ, to Los Angeles, CA. My mother had 2 sisters, and they had both settled in Los Angeles. I was being ripped away from my friends. Between sobs, I thought, Los Angeles, that is where Hollywood is.... So as much as it was a trauma, I was intrigued.
Getting settled in was quite an adjustment, it was a culture shock really. Scottdale was like a small town, Los Angeles was the big city! The kids were fast. Where we were just starting to make out, the kids in LA were light years ahead. I remember hearing of a girl leaving school because she was pg!
The surf craze was in full swing, and I could now actually go to the beach!! The real beach! Not just the public pool! We played on the lawn at Television City, and walked up to Hollywood Blvd, and walked along the stars! Went to Grauman's Chinese Theater! My friends from school were dancers on after school rock and roll shows. Rock singers lived next door to us. We went to see "The Dean Martin Show" In Person!!!
From my homeroom desk, looking out the open door of the third floor, I could see a studio, and a sign, with the name, Glen Glenn sound. Saw it a million times on the credits of tv shows. Just above the studio, a couple miles away, I could see the Hollywood Sign, on the mountain. I remember staring at it and thinking, " Wow, I really am in Hollywood!!!"