I is for items on a helluva twisty road.
Item One: My first agent was quadriplegic and lived in a high-rise under the Roosevelt Island Tramway in Manhattan. He conducted business while lying in bed next to a hanging urine bag attached to his catheter. He was able to book me on a repeat fit-modeling gig for subpar pay.
Years later, I heard that the fitting client was a bona fide pervert who hired young girls to try on his “designs”—suitable maybe for meth parties in the sewage canal—because he had some means of peeping into the dressing rooms.
I was a proud prude, however, and my granny panties made old-timey bloomers look scandalous. Call it paranoia or sixth sense, but even when undressing in private, I had a habit of keeping my back to a wall and my chest covered with my removed top. Pants only came off after a dress was pulled down over on them or a skirt was pulled up on them. While even a teenage ultra-prude straining to keep covered might have titillated the perv on the other side of the peephole, he surely would’ve gotten glimpse of more skin in public, and it would’ve been free and legal.
Item Two: There’s a portly, sweaty, not untalented director who’s made films with the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and is widely known in the industry to lure young actresses to his sexual bidding with the promise of writing a star-making role for them.
In the early 2000’s, I had just moved to Los Angeles from New York. In the ATM vestibule of Bank of America, he targeted me as his latest potential hungry wannabe.
“Are you an actress? Because I’m a big director. My name’s [Blank Blankity] and my movie [Blank and Blank] just came out.” He handed me his card. I had recently watched [Blank and Blank] in the theater.
Knowing nothing about his sleaze and tactics with starlet hopefuls, I agreed to a meeting in his suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Before accepting the meeting, it had occurred me to ask “why me,” since I was in flip-flops and a baseball hat. It’s not like Los Angeles suffered from a shortage of magazine-perfect ingénues.
His answer? “My dick decides, and it was pointing at you.”
I’d heard agents and managers speak crassly about how for an actress to be successful, men should want to sleep with her and women should want to be her best friend. So I chalked up the director’s answer to Hollywood straight talk.Somehow I didn’t find it unreasonable that beneath my baseball hat, plain-Jane hair and unmade-up face, I must have harnessed some potent goddess appeal that his savvy dick-pendulum was able to detect.
When it came time for the meeting, I walked on Sunset all the way from West Hollywood to Beverly Hills. I didn’t have a driver’s license yet and Los Angeles was primitive with its public transportation options: The buses were mental asylums on wheels, the metro didn’t go west of Hollywood and you couldn’t hail a cab from the curb the way you did in New York.
Clip-clopping in heels, the entire way to the hotel my mind chanted, here’s my big break, here’s my big break. It wasn’t my first “big break” chant, nor would it be the last. The chant ensued after landing any of my quirky feature film leads from the wanton loony bin escapee to the prostitute robot with amnesia.
Across the table on the patio of his suite, the director proved to be an intelligent, even charming conversationalist. It’s taken me years to realize that certain men spend a lot of time putting their targets at ease and gaining trust in order to more effectively pounce.
In [Blank Blankity’s] case, I would leave before any physical pounce was to take place.
In the meantime, once he steered to it, I was determined not to be intimidated by sex as a talking point.
I was both intrigued and repulsed to find myself in the middle of a Hollywood cliché and was convinced that I could handle myself, that the situation was too anthropologically fascinating to abandon right away. Listening to the Harvard graduated sex troll wasn’t very different than witnessing a rank guerrilla in an armchair lecturing on guerrilla mating in Oxfordian English.
His proposition was simple: Be his indentured plaything for three straight days so he could assess how fully I “trust and listen to” my director and simultaneously “show” my true self so he could write that life-changing role for me.
The man’s behavior is no secret and has been documented for years, most recently on Gawker. But I choose not to reveal his name because without the film industry context, this is merely a story about a man attempting to wheedle sexual consent, an unremarkable, everyday occurrence.
“Mr. [Blankity],” I said. “I’m not a wide-eyed kid from Nebraska. Even if three days were three minutes, even if I kept all my clothes on and stood across the room covering my eyes while you masturbated, even if you only drew circles on your stomach with your finger, my answer is no.”
“Fine,” he said. “Write me an essay explaining why. Maybe I’ll be persuaded to create a role for you anyway.”
I should’ve left then. But he held out a notebook and pen, and I took them. I was cocksure of my ape-wrangling skills.
Just then, his phone rang. He began a protracted conference call while I proceeded to scribble six pages about my unshakable honor and virtue. Part of me believed that there was still a chance for my “big break.”
By the time I finished the last line of all those words about honor, I became faintly disgusted at myself. I had finally reached my self-rationalizing threshold. Tearing out the pages I’d just written, I stuffed them into my purse and left.
He was still on the phone and didn’t bother to look up.
I probably kept those pages about honor somewhere.
Item Three: Last year, the director of the film I acted in as a child was asked to screen it at the Los Angeles Film Festival with a Q & A and whatever pertinent actors he could gather. In his attempt to contact me, he emailed a third party who forwarded the email to another party, who finally got it to me.
What was fascinating about the journey of the original inquiry is that by the time it reached me, I had one email with three forwards and my name spelled three different ways. None were correct, but more pointedly, none matched the way my name was printed in the film’s credits, which incidentally, was not correct either.
So this film, in which I acted thirty years ago, endured, but my name couldn’t survive a single email about it without multiple mutations.
And there you have irony, otherwise known as the comedy in tragedy.
~ Part of the A to Z Challenge ~
A post a day except Sunday for the month of April to cover topics beginning with each letter of the alphabet. Events always real, names always changed.
Cathartic Monkeyism returns in May.
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A career fraught with fraud.
These posts become something different once I’m actually done. But you mister, you don’t ever let me get away with the initial version, do you? You will have your fun. I don’t blame you.
Sooo, are we done yet? Huh? Huh? Huh?
I guess there are urban legends about these types of things for good reason. Kinda disappointing though.
Gross people abound in all facets of life, I think, and there’s nothing urban legend about the casting couch. However, it’s not as prevalent as some might think. At least, not to my knowledge. There are plenty of good around in the film industry.
GOOD! I’m relieved to hear it. I’d prefer that the rumours were based on the misbehaviour of a very few – the exception rather than the rule.
Oh my. You might be interested in the book “I’m no Angel” by Kylie Bisutti about her modeling experiences.