February 01, 2004

dying to succeed

Thereís a long article in todayís LA Times (registration required) about a young woman who was found dead in Laurel Canyon, about two miles from here. She was an aspiring actor. She thought she was going on an audition for a role in a James Bond film. The guy apparently had used this scam before, though itís unclear if he was aiming for rape or murder. Itís so ugly I could scream.

I think what gets me most about it is how vulnerable ambition makes us. Iím sure many, if not most, women would be suspicious of a man approaching in a shopping mall, offering a chance at a movie role. But what if he sounded like he knew what he was talking about? There are all sorts of stories of careers that got started in public places, from the legendary discovery of Lana Turner sitting on a fountain stool at Schwabís on down. And hell, Iíve been approached in a mall. Someone wanted me to bring Damian in to get auditioned at some kiddie casting company. I never followed it up, but I did and do think the woman was for real.

So hereís the question: what if you were young Ė very young Ė and hungry, oh so hungry. Youíd moved to the City of Angels thinking the roads would be paved with gold and your name would be engraved on a star on Hollywood Boulevard by the time you turned thirty, and yet here you were, three or five years later, waitressing at some dive or someoneís gofer or nanny, with maybe a commercial under your belt, maybe some student shorts, but really nothing to say you were the next big thing, and now youíre having trouble paying the rent and youíre looking in the mirror and the face that looks back at you doesnít look so fresh anymore. And then a man comes up to you in a mall. Smart, well dressed. He says you have the right look, itís a small part, mostly eye candy, but it will get you into SAG and Iíll make sure youíll be noticed after that. Please come in and audition for us.

Would you do it?

Someone desperate enough, hungry enough, someone whoís been hoping for her big break but seeing the possibilities slipping away, someone like that might have her doubts about this guy, but might feel like it was worth that risk. One guy, what could he do to her anyway? And what if it was for real? How could she pass up the chance?

The horror of Hollywood is that that brass ring is so close. You brush up against fame practically every day. Itís driving the Ferrari zooming next to you on Olympic Boulevard, itís strolling down Montana Avenue on a mild Saturday afternoon, itís even shopping at Bristol Farms for eggs and oranges in the next aisle. What do they have that you donít? Success, thatís what. Someone gave them that chance or they created it for themselves. And you can taste it too, itís in the air and in the over-chlorinated water that nobody drinks. You can smell it in the perfume of night blooming jasmine on February nights. You pick up the trades, read about the latest hot thing. You overhear conversations at the local Coffee Bean, someoneís casting that role but itís too late by the time you get there, the partís been filled. Fame. Success. Itís so close. So impossibly far. And so you go up Laurel Canyon wearing the stilettos and stockings he gave you. You go up to your death because you wanted fame too much.

Itís an old story. Clichť, even. But damnit all, itís still too horribly true.

Posted by Tamar at February 1, 2004 10:12 PM