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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Surprise! All About Marilyn: The Failed Novel Attempt Chapter 1

I’m gonna be busy all next week and the beginning of next year. I’m in the middle of final edits on The Temptation of John Haynes. The cover is done, and now I’m proofreading and line editing from a Lulu test copy, writing a press relase, trying to fit in the back featurette so it’ll cost out, developing the final layout and…making myself crazy.

I’m 175 pages into proofreading  this 400 page book and I’m hoping to have the final book up on Lightning Source soon and up on by the end of January/early February. But I still want the blog to have content. So until Next year the blog will feature…Chapters of an unfinished story from the depths of my old Dell Inspiron 2500’s Hard drive.

But not any unfinished story. It’s gonna be All About Marilyn: The Novel.

After I wrote the All About Marilyn screenplay, I tried to write an All About Marilyn novel. I wanted to see if I could write the same story in a different medium and how both stories would compare with each other. I didn’t get past the first couple of chapters Just couldn’t make it click.

So until The Temptation of John Haynes drops in 2011, it’s still All About Marilyn. Merry Christmas!


Scene 3,498,768,365,838. Take 1.

Fade in on me:

Sitting on a leather sectional in the waiting room of the All-American Talent Agency. I’m wedged between a clown lost in his ipod and a mime chatting on her cell phone. It’s a crazy manic office space. There are files all over the reception desk with fresh headshots jutting out, the phone is ringing constantly and the poor receptionist is about to lose her mind. I anxiously clutch my cracked black leather portfolio and wait to see Sabrina Lowenstien, my agent. My Mentor. The closest thing to a mother I have in this crazy town. She left a message on my cell phone last night saying it was urgent. Maybe this will be audition for the role that’ll break this slump I’ve been in for the past ten years.

I check my watch and look around the packed waiting room. 8:45. There must be fifteen, twenty people here already with more coming through the door. Typical of the usual C or D agency, places like AATA will take anyone with a modicum of talent. They represent for everything, but specialize mostly in finding talent for work in TV shows and B-Movies like some of the larger budgeted independent films or direct to video. Sometimes they handle extra work on the blockbusters. It’s the kind of place people get their start at before they move on top level B agents or low level agents at A-List places like ICM, CAA, or William Morris. I should have moved on from here ten years ago when my sitcom All About Nikki ended its run-

Man, those were the days.

I gaze up at the series of posters on the wall across from me and see my eighteen-year-old self in designer 1990’s clothes sitting on the hood of a candy apple red 1989 Mercedes 500SL convertible with a smug smile on her face. The rest of the supporting cast playing my family, the maid and the butler stand on the steps of a mansion set looking annoyed. I thought I had it made when I took the picture for that promotional poster way back in 1992. If I could go back in time I’d slap myself up the head and tell myself go to college instead.

I remember the day of that poster shoot. It was June 28, three days after I graduated from Burbank High. We just finished shooting the pilot and got the order for a 13-episode run from the network. It was half a season, but at least we were on the fall primetime schedule. At eighteen I had no idea how big this was, I was just happy to be on TV. I thought it would go on forever-

Unfortunately, forever is actually six years in Hollywood time.

That’s how long All About Nikki actually ran on the network. In TV years it was a good run; we were even able to tape a series finale to wrap Nikki Desmond’s story and give her a happy ending.

My story is well… a work in progress.

When the show finished its run in 1998, I was ready to start the second act of my career: Marilyn Marie, Movie Star. Apex Studios, the people who made my hit TV show were ready to take me to the next level. They cast me to star in this big budget movie called Dark Ride. A horror-thriller. A summer blockbuster. A “tentpole” movie. They told me it would make me a star. They told me it would show the world a different side of me. I should have read the script before I signed the contract. I never knew anyone could pack so much nudity in a screenplay.

But I signed the contract and I had to soldier on. During filming they told me not to worry about my co-star even though he was so drunk he made no sense. They told me not to worry about the director even though he was so high he made no sense. One test screening of the finished product and they stopped returning my phone calls.

So try again. Career, act two, take two. Marilyn Marie struggling actress. A 24-year old woman who hauls herself around Burbank in her shiny red 1992 Mercedes 500SL convertible going from audition to audition trying to get whatever part she can to pay her bills. Popular enough to be recognized, on the street by the public, not popular enough to find steady work with producers. In the past ten years I’ve played everything from Hookers to Hot dogs in B-movies, cable sitcoms and made-for-video nonsense even I don’t want to see. I’ve even worked every comic book convention in the Los Angeles area signing autographs and taking pictures. I mean, I don’t mind working the comicons; most of the people who attend are kind of nice. But I know working comicons for an actress is just one step away from rock bottom. That’s why I’m praying Bri comes through with my big break today. I’m this close to being washed up.

The clown comes out of his ipod daze as the gangsta rap song he’s listening to ends. He yanks the buds out of his ears as he looks at me then at the All About Nikki poster. Oh God I’ve been recognized.

The awe-struck clown looks at me like he’s got a thousand questions he wants to ask. Underneath the white greasepaint I see the bright blue eyes of a young kid no more than nineteen or twenty. He probably watched the show religiously when he was little. I can spare a minute.

“Hey, aren’t you Nikki Desmond?” The clown asks eagerly.

Dammit, doesn’t anyone read the credits at the bottom of the screen? My name is right there in big bold letters at the start of every episode. “Yeah. I used to play her.” I reply politely.

“Man I used to love that show when I was a kid!” The clown gushes. “I loved how you used to tell people off and shit-”

I smile at him. “I’m glad you enjoyed the performance.”

“Man I wish I could be like you. I’d tell my boss where he could stick this clown suit.”

He must be fresh off the bus from Iowa or Indiana. The last thing any seasoned Los Angeles resident would want to do is quit their day job. It pays for all those wonderful amenities we struggling actors enjoy between gigs like rent, electricity, and ramen noodles. I need to get him back down to planet Earth with me.

“So…you’re a clown?” I inquire.

“Yeah, it’s just something I’m doing until I get my big break. Y’know Nikki, in a couple of years I want to be just like you. Nice car, big mansion-”

“Marilyn. My name is Marilyn.”

The Clown gives me a puzzled look as he examines my face. “I thought you were Nikki-”

“Nikki Desmond was the character I played on TV. My name is Marilyn. Marilyn Marie.” I say extending my hand.

“I-I’m sorry er-Ni-Marilyn.” The befuddled clown continues as he shakes my hand. “I guess I got caught up in the character.”

“It happens.”

The clown quickly recovers from his gaffe to ask me more questions. “So what are you here for? Pick up a big royalty check? Inside track on a movie-”

I wish. “A call just like you.”

“I guess your agent swore you to secrecy on this project? What is it? Drama, Comedy, Reality Show? I bet it’s something to give Paris Hilton a run for her money-”

“I’ll find out when she tells me.”

He looks down at my yellowed white poet blouse, faded baggy bleached blue jeans and well-worn Saucony running shoes eager to ask me more questions. “Are the clothes for the role too? What is that? Vintage Gap? All you need is the Blossom hat-”

Vintage Gap? Boy, this was the style way, way, way back in 1993. I wore this exact same shirt with these exact same jeans and some Doc Martens on the cover of YM fourteen years ago. If the black velvet Blossom hat hadn’t faded to purple I’d really show you something about style.

Before I get a chance to answer the Clown’s question, the weary receptionist peers up from the stacks of files and pastes a smile on as she looks in my direction. “Ms. Marie, Sabrina will see you now.” She says politely.


I ease up out of my seat and stroll past the reception desk into the boiler room. It’s even more chaotic back here than reception. A dozen junior agents sit in their cubicles with a headset wrapped around their heads while they frantically type on computer keyboards like they were extensions of their own bodies. Interns and assistants hurry around me like a racetrack pit crew handing them coffee and copies as they network and make deals. Anything to set up an audition or turn a bad audition into a booked gig so they can get ten percent off the top. The rank smell of ambition is so strong in the air I can smell it.

I turn the corner at the water cooler and head down the hall. The ambition smell mellows to a musk as I read the names of senior agents on the brass plaques of the ash wooden doors. Seventeen years since I first came here and the usual suspects are still in their offices. Henry Jacobs. Mark Horowitz. Amy Plant. Louise Rosenbaum. Jerry Titus. Shawn James. Shawn James? Hold on, he must be new.

Sabrina’s office is at the end of the hall; I pause at the circular red marble reception desk in front of it waiting for permission to go in from her latest assistant Ava. The willowy brunette dressed in a designer gray sharkskin skirtsuit peers up at me from her computer terminal and headset then gestures for me to go in.

Butterflies bubble up in my stomach as I stroll into Sabrina’s huge corner office. The tall slender silver haired beauty dressed in a tailored gray business suit hears my footsteps and stops staring out at Downtown Burbank from her huge picture windows. Her dull blue eyes light up at the sight of me.

“I got your message. What’s up?” I ask

“Close the door Marilyn. Have a seat.” Sabrina replies.

Sabrina leads me over to the two leather chairs sitting in front of her glass-topped desk. As I ease into the soft leather seat she takes my hand and gives me an earnest look. My heart races in anticipation of hearing her big news.

“I’m retiring.”

Oh my God. “I-I don’t know what to say-”

“Nothing to say honey. I’ve been in this business for forty years. I’m tired of it.”

I can’t say I blame her for retiring. After forty years of putting up with us I’d be tired of this business myself. It can take a lot out of a person dealing with our crap day in and day out. Bri is the one who dries our tears after a bad audition and listens to us complain when we get an audition for a good part we don’t want. She gives us pep talks to get us ready before an audition, and makes our case with casting directors who are on the fence about us. She’s the one who makes sure the studios give us decent paying contracts and makes sure we get our checks on time. She insists the studios accounting offices do audits of their books so we got every last cent of residuals due us. Then she watches us grow up, move on and sign with a bigger agent who has better connections.

“It can take a lot out of you working these long hours-”

Sabrina lets out a chuckle. “You’re so sweet Marilyn. That’s why I’m telling you this face-to face.”

”I take it everyone else is getting a form letter.”

“Everyone else will have another agent by the end of the week. At least you care about me.”

“So this call isn’t about a gig?”

“No. I wanted to give you some advice before I closed up shop. Get out of this business Marilyn. Get out before it kills you.”

My eyebrows cock up at her request. Get out of the business. Stop acting. Retire? She can’t be serious. I’m only thirty-four. I’m in my prime. I still have some time left.

“You want me to retire?” I bristle. “I’m 34-”

“That’s exactly why you need to get out.” Sabrina continues. “You have your whole life ahead of you.”

To do what? All I have is a high school diploma. No one is going to hire me to work in their office as an assistant or a receptionist with my Hollywood past. Who’d want TV’s favorite bitch sitting at their front desk?

“Bri I’m still getting work-”

“Come on Marilyn get real. You’re so typecast the only auditions I can send you on nowadays are guest spots on cable shows, bit parts in B-Movies or you work some bullshit comic convention signing autographs. You don’t want to spend the next twenty years dealing with that shit.”

She makes a good point. Do I really want to do this for the next twenty years? I’ll be 54 then. Probably middle aged with graying hair. Would I still want to be driving around town all day going to auditions for no-budget productions then? And what kind of parts would I play at 54? There are hardly any good roles for an actress my age now, let alone for parts for an older black woman. I mean, how much longer can I keep doing these two-bit jobs for a couple of hundred dollars? I mean, it was fun working the comicons when I was 27, but these days it just feels weird. Last week when I attended the Comicon at the Great Western Forum I spent more time trying to answer stupid questions about scene errors in All About Nikki episodes than signing autographs. Would I really want to deal with that nonsense for twenty more years?

“Bri, all I need is one good role to make people forget about Nikki-”

“Marilyn you can’t keep doing this to yourself-”

If I could I’d try something else. But I don’t know how to do anything else. Acting is all I’ve known since I was seventeen. What else can I do besides acting?

“I have to work-”

“At what cost?” Sabrina pleads. “Nikki’s living the high life in syndication and you’re losing your best years trying to get away from her ghost.”

“This is just a slump-”

“Slump? It’s been ten years since you last worked steady. You’re in freefall.”

“Bri it’s not that bad. I’m still making money. I still get royalties-”

“Honey I’ve seen those checks.” Sabrina says. “They’re so small I don’t even take my ten percent. All About Nikki residuals won’t even get you a whopper and fries at the Burger King downstairs.”

Yeah, that last quarterly check she sent me was what $646? I think the only place they still run All About Nikki reruns is a small town in Arkansas. And that’s probably because Gilligan’s Island episodes cost too much.

“That’s before taxes.” I concede.

“I’ve seen a lot of good kids like you lose everything because they were too scared to move on.” Sabrina continues.

“Is that what you’re afraid of? Me winding up on drugs or a mental case-”

“No, something worse. I’m afraid you won’t let the acting bug go.”

“What do you mean?”

“Kids like you hold on to acting because it’s all you know. You’re afraid to try something else. You know the boat is sinking but you’re so scared of drowning you go down with the ship.”

“Either way I’m in the water.” I sigh.

“I don’t want to help you drown.”

“Is that why you’re retiring?”

“It’s my job to look out for your career. I’m hoping this will get you swimming to land before it’s too late.”

“If I’m not acting, what do you suggest I do to make a living?”

Sabrina gives me a sly smile. “Go out and have some fun.”

Not the advice I expected. “That’s not an answer-”

“It’s not supposed to be. Just give yourself a shot out there.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Sabrina pats my hand before we ease out of the office chairs. She smiles at me proudly then gives me a hug. The embrace is warm and full of love. Tough love. The kind that hurts.

I break the embrace and catch Sabrina’s dull blue eyes. I’m going to miss having her as my agent. She’s one of a kind.

As I leave her office I suck up the pain, choke back the tears and ask myself a tough question: What am I going to do now?

1 comment:

  1. Shawn, this is both an interesting and excellent idea. I have Mailyn and hugely enjoyed it. Best of luck with John Haynes. Tempatation never fails to be entrancing, especially if you're not the one involved:)