Last week I was invited to participate in The Tellers live storytelling event at Livestrong Headquarters in Austin. This is the story I told.
No other city embodies tonight’s theme of “Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” quite like Los Angeles. As the famous saying goes, “LA is like a beautiful blonde with dirty underwear.” Meaning that nobody in that city is what they appear to be.
The rich looking guy in the Lamborghini is most likely in debt up to his eyeballs. The dirty looking dude in the lobby is probably the hottest new star on the WB. Anyone who hands you a business card and says he’s a producer definitely lives in his mom’s basement and makes pornos. And I don’t think we need to go into whether or not most women in LA were really born with size Double D’s.
I learned this lesson about LA very soon after I moved there in 1991 to become a famous movie director. Up until then, the only thing I’d ever directed in my life was a 10-minute long student film called “Hair Salon Horror”––starring myself, but that didn’t seem to matter. I knew I was just months away from hanging out with Scorcese and DeNiro on the Paramount lot. After all, I was young, I was ambitious, I had a film degree, and not only did I know what “film noir” meant, I could also pronounce it in a really pretentious way.
What I didn’t have was a single Hollywood connection, a computer or more than $400 to my name. I also didn’t have a car with air conditioning, so I always had to drive with my windows down. Which is super fun when you get lost in East LA and random men throw fruit into your car. Actually, that was the only way I could afford Vitamin C at the time, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.
I sent out resumes for weeks during my job hunt with no response. My $400 was quickly disappearing. Then finally, one day I got a phone call telling me I had an interview at CBS Television City. CBS Television City! Sweet Jesus, it was like being invited to the Holy Land for lunch. I mean, this was back when being a television network meant something. Nobody knew what the internet was yet. CBS Television city was where the Carol Burnett Show was taped. And Three’s Company. And Welcome Back Kotter. And—The Gong Show! It was legendary.
My interview was for a part-time, temp job with a research company that tested fall television pilots for CBS. So, basically one step away from directing a 30 million dollar blockbuster starring Mel Gibson and Sharon Stone. I was totally on my way.
As I’d find out later, the research company rounded up groups of sweaty tourists from Hollywood Boulevard or the Farmers Market, showed them a new show that was being considered for the fall line-up, then had them fill out a questionnaire to see what they thought about it. You know, because the American public is just so awesome at evaluating talent.
The morning of my interview, I dressed carefully in my best shoulder-padded jacket from The Limited with a matching skirt that ended halfway down my white-nyloned thighs, then I fluffed up my long, blonde hair and grabbed the brand-new graduation briefcase I used to carry around my lipstick and Bon Jovi cassettes. By the time I drove from the Valley to Fairfax Boulevard with my car windows down, and the hot smoggy wind blowing through my hair, I also kind of looked like Bon Jovi. Or at least I did from behind.
Arriving at the CBS lot, I mean, CBS TELEVISION CITY, I couldn’t have been more excited, but my excitement soon turned to panic when I had trouble finding my interview room. The place is huge. I went to the main executive offices to ask for help, and a bored-looking security guard stood up and said “I’ll walk you over there. Helpin’ girls fresh off the farm is better’n sittin’ on my ass all day.” Wow! I remember thinking. TV people are really nice!
Security man and I then walked down a flight of stairs, rounded a corner and began to pass a holding pen full of people waiting to go into a taping of The Price Is Right. I now know that there are 3-4 tapings of The Price is Right a day, and the audience waits in a small area outside for a really long time. That’s also where the audience coordinators earmark the most entertaining people who’ll be called to “COME ON DOWN!” when the show starts. So it’s a space full of squirrels on cocaine is what I’m saying. Not exactly a relaxed crowd.
As we passed by the pen, I glanced over and smiled at a woman wearing an iron-on t-shirt that said “KISS ME BOB!!!!”, but then she looked at me, looked at my security guard escort, and then she looked at my big, blonde Bon Jovi hair and she suddenly screamed, “OH MY GOD! IT’S BROOKE FROM THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL! IT’S BROOKE FROM THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL! WOOOO!”
And that’s when all hell broke loose.
Without warning, the admittedly easily-excitable 100 person crowd—most in bright t-shirts, some clutching stuffed animals waiting for their big moment to play Plinko—joined in and started screeching “BROOKE! BROOKE! I LOVE YOU, BROOKE!” and began to push each other out of the way so they could get closer — to me. I stood on the pavement and froze. Was I actually being mistaken for a soap opera star? Me, the person who was wearing shoes that she bought out of some guy’s air brushed van?
As the crowd grew louder and more boisterous, the security guard quickly grabbed my elbow, grunted, “Let’s move it! Now! NOW!” and the two of us ran past the screaming, clawing mob, whose disappointed moans of “Awwww! Brooke! We love you! Please don’t marry Ridge!” followed us around the corner.
Oh, and here’s Brooke with that bastard RIDGE. I guess she didn’t listen to The Price Is Right audience’s advice and married him anyway. Her mistake because he obviously spends two hours a day blow drying those feathers into perfect wings.
Before I could even catch my breath from the run around the corner, the security guard opened up a door right in front of us, said, “Here’s room 219! Good luck!” and gave me a little shove inside. Wow! I remember thinking. These TV people are really pushy!
Panting like I’d just done step aerobics, I staggered into the room and saw 10 people sitting around a conference table–all staring right at me. I started to smile, but then I caught my reflection in the window and saw my messy hair, wrinkly suit and face full of flop sweat, and I knew I’d just blown my big chance. Sure, to the what’s the price of a can of peas? losers outside, I looked like a star. But to these professionals, I knew I looked exactly like what I was: A 22-year-old Hollywood wannabe.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, I tried not to cry as I nervously stammered, “Um, hi…sorry I’m…but the…Bob Barker…over the…Showcase Showdown…Brooke…don’t know…need job…who’s Ridge?”
But before I totally lost it and started bawling, the intimidating man at the head of the table simply held up his hand for me to stop talking. Then he quietly stared at me for a minute, before breaking into a kind look and saying, “Listen, babe, don’t worry about it. Last week those idiots thought I was Tony Orlando. Now, what you got?”
Twenty minutes later, what I had was my first job in Hollywood–-testing a TV pilot about talking cats. What? None of you remember CLAWS?
While I never became a famous film director, I did go on to work at Disney, Warner Bros., E! Entertainment and the Gersh Agency. The interview at CBS that day taught me a few important lessons that I relied on for the rest of my years in LA. First, perception doesn’t always match reality. Second, no matter what, there will always be someone who’s nice to you. And third—when all else fails and your ego has hit an all time low, just fluff up your hair, put on some white nylons and go take a long, slow, glorious walk in front of the Price is Right audience pen.
Here’s modern-day Brooke. I guess now that she’s in poor health, I can kind of see the resemblance.