71 – March 12
“Behind every successful woman…is a substantial amount of coffee.”—Stephanie Piro
My first movie role was in The Lucifer Complex, a low-budget sci-fi movie starring Robert Vaughn, Aldo Ray, and Keenan Wynn. It was about a group of women who are kidnapped by a bunch of neo-Nazis who want to impregnate them with little Hitlers. Very excited, the first day on the set I arrived before my call at 7:00 A.M., adrenaline pumping through my system, eager to participate and learn and enjoy every minute of the experience. I got into costume, makeup, and coffee with some of the other girls on the set.
Then we got to experience the real truth of being on the working set of a movie: waiting. We waited while they set up the camera, then we waited while they changed the scenery. Next we waited while they reset the camera, tested the sound, changed the scenery again, set the props, reset the camera…get the picture? At 3:00 P.M., they were finally ready for us to shoot a scene. By then, I was exhausted. My excitement had been at fever pitch all morning—now my nerves were shot. But I cranked up my energy to act, determined to do a great job.
The director blocked the scene for us, showing us where to stand and what to do. Then we did a run through. Then we did another run through. And another. Finally, we were ready to film. We did the scene. Oops, a fly buzzed around the microphone—do it again. Someone flubbed a line—do it again. A plane flew overhead—do it again. And again. By the time we were done, I could barely drag myself home. But I was happy! I was living my dream.
I didn’t have a call again for two days and thought I would just sleep. But during the night I had a horrible pain in my chest and couldn’t sleep a wink. In the morning I saw the doctor, who informed me that I had pneumonia. “Walking pneumonia? I asked. “Well,” he said, “you might be walking but your shouldn’t be. You have pneumonia.” He gave me a prescription and told me to stay in bed for the next couple of weeks. Right. I’m making my first movie and I’m going to call in sick. No way.
Of course I showed up on the set the next day. I explained to the director that I was a trifle under the weather and needed to lie down someplace between takes, so they found a spot for me—Robert Vaughn’s trailer. Robert ran into his trailer one afternoon when I was lying there and asked, “What’s wrong with you anyway?”
“I have pneumonia,” I replied.
Horrified, he said, “You should be home in bed!”
“I can’t do that!” I exclaimed. “I’m making a movie!”
“Oh, of course,” he smiled. He understood: When you’re living your dream, you don’t let minor irritations like pneumonia get in your way.
“I am happy, healthy, and living my dream!”
Ah, show biz! Back in the day when I had stardust dreams, I loved acting so much! It was such fun to create a work of art with a team of other players, dance among the wondrous sets, wear beautiful costumes and look gorgeous – or wear rags and look wretched, it didn’t matter – and perform to applause and laughter. I reveled in it.
My senior year in college, I was cast as Charity Hope Valentine in the musical Sweet Charity at the Park Theater in Santa Barbara. This was 1969-70 and there was a lot of student unrest because of the Vietnam War, and anti-war protests were raging at college campuses across the nation. I took part in some peaceful demonstrations, sit-ins, etc. but was careful to leave when the police moved in and started arresting people.
One night during a performance of the play, the stage manager called us all together during intermission – the theater owner had an announcement to make.
“The students at UCSB have rioted, burned down the Bank of America, the Governor has called out the National Guard, and the police have cordoned off the neighboring Isla Vista area,” he said soberly to the bunch of us, breathless and shocked in our brightly colored costumes and makeup. “None of you can go home tonight.”
“What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?” we asked each other.
Some of the troupe lived in downtown or in areas outside of the campus and invited the other cast members to stay with them. The owner of the theater took a bunch of us home with him after we finished the performance that night. I remember we stayed up all night, listening to the campus ratio station on a small transistor radio, hungry for the news.
Finally, in the morning, they announced that the National Guard was letting people back into the area who had ID that proved they lived there. I remember the long wait as the long line of cars inched up the road leading to my neighborhood. (Years later, I found out that Tom Selleck had been one of those National Guards-wouldn’t have minded running into him.) 🙂
The school officials took it all very seriously. There were meetings and warnings and endless discussions. I remember cars burning in the streets and being tear-gassed walking home late at night after curfew. Martial Law. The drama department hurriedly scheduled new classes in guerilla theater, and I signed up. We did street theater, political skits, improvisations, comedy; I played and sang protests songs on my guitar, and we stopped traffic on the 101 freeway. It was exhilarating to use our dramatic skills to reflect the will of the people and be a part of a passionate voice for change.
When the National Guard opened fire on the student protest at Kent State, and four students will killed, our anger and tears intensified the anti-war mood of the country. The politicians were on notice to do whatever it took for us to get out of Vietnam. It still took years too long, but this is where it started.
The People are powerful. They will suffer a lot for a long time, but like the millions of Egyptians in Tahrir Square who wanted better lives and an end to an oppressive dictatorship, there comes that tipping point when the groundswell for social change has gathered such momentum, it can’t be stopped. The tsunami sweeps all before it.
Now the Grandchildren of the Flower Children have launched the wave that may loosen the grip that the NRA has on our politicians.