I recently shared a few thoughts on Stage 32, an online global networking and education platform for creative folk. The recent defamation cases involving Australian actors prompted me to share a memory from the 90s when a likeable head honcho of TCN Channel 9 Sydney instructed me to include a specific boob shot in a movie promo. (Lest we forget that sex sells.) He even gave me the exact timecode in-point to make sure I chose the right boobs.
In this #MeToo age, an incident like that would probably spark outrage. Back in the day, I just laughed it off, although my tolerance for relentless idiot box workloads was wearing dangerously thin. I interpreted the boob incident as a clear sign that the time was nigh to find a meaningful job.
You Just Never Know Who You’re Gonna Meet
My comments led to a compelling response from American film director David Trotti which led to a refreshingly frank discussion about the bright and not-so-bright sides of Hollywood. I asked him for permission to share his recollections about the razzle-dazzle trade and he kindly agreed. Bearing in mind that the following stories hail largely from the ’90s, echoes clearly still remain.
“Yeah. It’s always been a rough trade. I’ve heard stories of aspiring actresses in the early days performing favours for studio guards just to get on the lot to have a chance to get hired as an extra for a day. Casting offices would stop putting out mint-candy in bowls because the starving actors would clean them out.
It was bad enough that the wives of the studio executives raised money to build low-to-no-rent all-female apartment buildings to keep young women who’d flocked to Hollywood from sleeping in library basements.
In that sort of desperate power imbalance, a lot of people got taken advantage of.
I have been on shows where a producer cast an actress just to have a shot at her. I have been at a party where I had to keep my director from successfully seducing a prop girl who was too drunk to even say yes or no. Which should be an automatic no.
On the other side, I have witnessed actresses stalking directors, producers and actors with the intent of seducing them for jobs, love, hero-worship or just another notch.”
Stars In Their Eyes, Dreams In Their Hearts
“One of my darkest days in the business was when a buddy of mine was hired to direct a Roger Corman film called “Furious Angel IV” and he asked me to sit in on the casting. I don’t know if that was the final title. It has Catya Sassoon in it. It was a nude kickboxing movie they were going to shoot in the Philippines. Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of ambiguity about what was required to be in it. 1) Nudity. 2) Kickboxing. I will also say my buddy was a stand-up guy, the casting director was a pro and I was a guest in the room. So the casting session starts and I have to say that of the fifty so women who came and went that day, all of them could be broken down into three categories.
These girls were fresh off the bus from Iowa, Calgary, small-town beauty queens and high school musical Dorothys. They had no idea what they’d gotten themselves into, but they had stars in their eyes and dreams in their hearts. This was a job! In Hollywood! A SAG job that meant a Union Contract. Okay, maybe it might require some nudity, but it was going to lead to bigger and better things.
Unfortunately, most of these girls had been met at the bus stop by unscrupulous “agent” assholes who were really just camouflaged pimps.
They’d drag these girls around to all sorts of cattle calls before us as well as stops at Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler.
One poor girl – and I’ll always remember this – when the casting director asked for her “headshot” turned bright red and then reached into her backpack and produced a Polaroid beaver shot that she’d had taken at her first stop of the day. We quickly gave it back to her and said that’s not what we meant.
These were girls you just wanted to hand bus money to and say “Go home. Save yourself. Please.”
These were the gals who had been in town for a while and knew the score. But this was the job that was going to get them the next one that was going to get them a TV guest slot, that was going to turn recurring and pay the rent. They were jaded versions of the Category One girls, but they still had hope and dreams. And they weren’t going to go back to East Texas until they could show up, head held high and say they’d made it.
Then there was Category Three. And the decline from level two to three was so sharp and severe it was striking. These girls had been in town too long and they would do anything, and I mean anything, for enough scratch to score their drug of choice just to get them by.
You could see that these were Category one girls who’d had the dreams burned out of them by one of those asshole pimps who put cigarettes out on their skin nightly. They would walk in the door and flash breasts or drop dresses with the singular goal of selling the merchandise. They had no room for morals. I don’t even know if they consider themselves human beings anymore or if they, like their asshole pimps, found their only value as commodities of flesh and lip gloss.
Just Another Hollywood Story
“I think the Director and I were shell shocked by the end. The Casting Director was a good guy, but I think working at Corman’s he’d seen it so often he was numb to it. None of us did anything unprofessional, we certainly didn’t take advantage of the situation. But also, we didn’t hand out bus money. Heartless? Maybe, but we knew none of them would use the cash for bus fare. They’d use it to get by one more day in Hollywood. Because tomorrow, it was going to happen. Fame, Fortune and Stardom. Because no one believes they’ll hit Category Three. Till they do.
Anyway, that’s just another Hollywood story. Now go make magic!”
Pimps, Hitmen & Heroin
After reading that, I felt far from magical. If anything, I worried about our Australian starlets and studlets with ‘stars in their eyes and dreams in their hearts.’ And old memories resurfaced about losing my childhood best friend to pimps, hitmen and heroin in the 1980s. She could have been a Vogue magazine cover girl but her pimp boyfriend brutally killed that possibility. Instead, she swiftly spiralled to Category 3. Then Category 4 – drug mule.
She eventually ‘confessed’ to her secret life of drugs, prostitution and mafia bosses in the mid-80s after stupidly thinking I would believe her innocent ‘I’ve just had a 5-star holiday in Bangkok’ story. When I jokingly suggested she hire a hitman to get rid of him, she said: “I can’t do that. They’re all his friends.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. From memory, we laughed.
“He hates your guts, Linda. He’s scared you’ll go to the cops.”
I assured her I would never do that because I knew that crooked cops peddled heroin on the streets of Adelaide and threatened her with gaol if she refused to buy it from them. Even during her desperate attempts to kick the insidious habit.
And I will always remember her telling me this:
“I ended up being taken to heaps of Sydney’s exclusive A-lister parties. You’d be really shocked at how many celebrities and even sports stars are recreational heroin users. Trouble is, heroin is a disease. The first high is so mind-blowing that you keep going back for more. But you never get to that place again. You just fuck yourself up.”
Turns out Australia and Hollywood ain’t so different after all. Her sordid story would probably make an eye-opening Australian gangster movie one day.
My conversation with David then moved onto the brighter side of Hollywood where he provided further insights and useful tips for aspiring stars.
One In A Hundred Thousand Shot
“I would never wholly dissuade someone who has the means and desire from making the pilgrimage and trying to make a go of it if that is their life’s dream. I also have examples of people who did make it and did not go down that dark path.
I’ve worked with Yvonne Strahovski on Chuck and Katherine Langford on 13 Reasons Why. They both took the chance and came from Australia and are doing very well. But they are both talented actresses with families who love, support and encourage them. They also were fortunate enough to fall on the legitimate side of the business with professionals who do take their responsibilities as agents, producers and executives seriously.
The real problem lies in that shaky ground in between the extremes not just where physical and emotional exploitation can take place but also where lives and potential are wasted pursuing what is statistically a one-in-a-hundred thousand shot.
Even making it in Hollywood does not mean an actor can count on a sustainable career or a comfortable retirement.
And talent does mean a great deal. The problem is it gets lost in the sheer numbers. There are so many actors and actresses and so few paying gigs. And sometimes you can be the best performer but just not have the right look that the director had in mind. It can all seem very random and heartless and cruel. But it can also be a hell of a fun ride.”
Sage Advice For Our Young Dream Weavers
“If someone is young and attractive (male or female) with enough money to live for six months and wants to party in LA while making a go at acting, God bless them. Use a condom, don’t do anything that requires needles, travel with a posse you trust not to leave you behind in a gutter, don’t drink anything you didn’t see poured out of a sealed bottle, have enough money saved for airfare home and if you’re an actor, for God’s sake don’t get a tattoo. The rest you’ll figure out.”
Linda Summer, Scribe @ Lost For Words