Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Getaway Day Again"

It seems like I’m always going someplace lately.  I guess that’s what people who don’t need to be anywhere do.  I am dandelion hair.  I just blow with the wind.

Tomorrow, Dr. M and I – she actually has a job but she’s taking time off – are winging to back East for four days in New York City, a place I delight to visit, but have been bucked off on the several occasions when I tried to actually live there.

I shall spare you my medley of Manhattanal debacles, all of which left me defeated and desperate to escape.  I shall focus instead on a single, work-related visit that ended disastrously.  

Can I set the table, or what?

The year is 1981.  I am an Executive Producer, casting my first pilot, Best of the West.   Dr. M, who, preceding her current incarnation as a therapist, had gotten a Master’s in Film and Television, was gaining on-the-job training as my assistant.  According to our L.A. casting director, we had exhausted the West Coast talent pool, meaning it was time to fly East, and check out the actors in New York.

We would not be going alone.  Accompanying us would be one of my bosses who’s name was Ed.  (The preceding period appears appropriately at the end of the sentence.  But for reasons never adequately explained to me, it also appears at the end of Ed.’s name.) 

Ed. was a single and celebrated Ladies Man.  There was a movie back then called The Man Who Loved Women.  That unequivocally was Ed.  Ed. loved the ladies, and the ladies, the stories said, though many of them were related by Ed., loved him.  Despite my gentle teasing here – mixed with a soupcon of jealousy – I sincerely believe they did.

Our casting excursion was scheduled for five days.  Every morning, we would meet at the casting director’s office, and spend the day listening to New York actors auditioning for a job.

Many of the actors were substantial Broadway “names.”  One, who was then starring in a long-running murder mystery invited us to see him in the show.  Since our time was severely limited, we were only able to drop by for the Second Act, after which it was arranged for us to visit this respected thespian in his dressing room.

I felt demonstrably ill at ease over my impending intrusion on the life of a gifted stranger, squirming throughout the entire performance while reprising in my mind my oft-repeated mantra: “I’m nothing; he’s big.” 

Climbing the stairs of a surprisingly shabby backstage, I heard an excited voice above me call, “He’s coming!  “He”, unbelievably, was me.  Our meeting went off without major embarrassment, and I departed the theater, uncomfortable with the power my position afforded me to change another person’s fortunes.  The actor, though undeniably talented, was ultimately not selected for the show.

To a writer, the casting experience can be seriously humbling.  Actor after actor parade through, applying themselves games to your comedic guesses, a frightening number of them garnering no laughter whatsoever.  These misfires are a serious challenge to your confidence.  Is it the actors that are stinking it up?  Or is the script itself not good at all?

Even the bright moments were qualified.  One actor was hilarious, but not with the material.  A natural comedian, he was funny “between the words”, but otherwise, not.  After witnessing a more disciplined performance in a review he was appearing in, the actor was brought back and instructed to trust what was on the page.  This time, he connected.  He ended up as a “regular” on the show.  His name was Leonard Frey.  And he was wonderful.

An actress with a purring Marilyn Monroe whisper (and a not entirely dissimilar physiognomy) demonstrated promise, but her acting chops were substandard.  After she left, Ed. suggested that she come over to his hotel room, so he could “work with her.”  Aware of Ed.’s Casanovian reputation, Dr. M exploded with laughter.  Ed. reacted, surprised, and a little hurt.  “What?” he replied, in mock confusion.


During a break, while wandering the hallway, I met Juliet Taylor, Woody Allen’s longtime – and still today – casting director.  Ms. Taylor told me about Woody’s obsessive secrecy surrounding his scripts, and how a substantial part of her job involved, not picking actors suitable for the roles – she was in the dark about what exactly those roles were – but simply developing an instinct for what kind of women Woody preferred.  This sounded less creepy before we learned that the women he preferred included his then wife’s adopted daughter.

Finally, our visit was over.  Tomorrow, we would wing home to the pastel comforts of Southern California.  On our last day, at Dr. M’s direction, I went out, and picked up a “Thank you” gift for our New York casting director, an oversized, flowering plant.  The flowers, I believe, were yellow.

Imagine, if you will, the following tableau: 

I am standing at the intersection of Broadway and 59th Street, kitty-corner to the Gulf and Western Building, where the Paramount casting office we’d been working in was located, waiting for the light to change.  It’s a bitingly blustery day, the narrow, skyscraper-surrounded streets transforming into punishing wind tunnels. 

Suddenly, a powerful gust kicks up, and the single contact lens that I wear is blasted completely out of my right eye.  I cannot grab for it as it falls, as my hands at the time are cradling an enormous, flowering plant.

I am now standing on the corner of a major Manhattan intersection, helpless, and effectively blind.  Virtually sightless, I join my fellow pedestrians crossing the street, then cross again to get to my destination. 

I deliver the plant to hugs and appreciation, simultaneously announcing that my contact lens blew away, and I am now unable to see.  Dr. M asks if I have packed along my glasses as a backup.  My negative response drops me several precious notches in her estimation.

That evening, I attend, but do not see, the play Driving Miss Daisy, experiencing aurally only Morgan Freeman’s career-making performance. 

For a reason I no longer recall, Dr. M is scheduled not to fly home with me.  As a result, I return home alone.  Sightless.  I recover my luggage at airport.  Sightless.  I commandeer a cab.  Sightless.  And I fumble with my house key.  Sightless.  

Thus ended one of my lesserly nightmarish journeys to New York City.

Tomorrow, we return once again to the scene of the crime.  If you will allow me, I will stop writing at this point. 

While I have it in mind, I must repair to the bedroom,

And pack my glasses.
I'm a little ahead, so there's stuff for you to read, if I don't write in New York. I also want to respond to the comments about my pilots post.  But that'll have to wait till I get back.  Also, it's somebody's birthday today, but I'm not allowed to say who.  Happy Birthday, Anonymous.  Te amo, mucho.

1 comment:

pumpkinhead said...

Not Woody's wife. His girlfriend, with whom he never lived. Also, that was 20 years ago, and they're still married.