She sat down next to me on the back steps of a vintage coquina stone mansion located in wealthy Coconut Grove and bounced the question at me as though we had been friends for years.
We were on location there shooting the insane asylum scenes for a picture called Nobody’s Perfekt starring Gabe Kaplan, Robert Klein, Alex Karras and his wife Susan Clark. The Director was Peter Bonerz.
I was one of three Production Assistants on the set.
I thought she was an extra.
Her hair was pulled back with a headband accentuating her cat-like eyes. They turned up at the sides like she was always slightly bemused and she squinted when she concentrated. She was my age, early 20’s, so I guess that’s why she asked me the question.
I can only suppose that she needed perspective from someone who wasn’t middle-aged, predatory and male; the basic profile of those who were making movies in Florida at that time.
Hollywood East, we liked to call it. That’s what we hoped for.
It was lunchtime. I remember this specifically because, as a Production Assistant, it was the only time I could sit down with my radio (walkie-talkie) off and not get verbally lashed for it. The first rule of motion picture Production Assistants was never to be caught sitting down, leaning against something or even squatting on a movie set. If caught, you’d best be puking or swelling up from some kind of sprain or insect bite because otherwise no one hesitated to call you out for slacking.
My role was to always be at the elbow of the First Assistant Director ready to spring into action at his every utterance. Once tasked, I was required to chirp out an audible “Copy that!” before scampering away to fulfill the request.
It was my job to police the lunch line making sure everyone ate according to rank on the set; the star actors first, then the producers and directors followed by the union technical crew, the Teamsters, the day players, the extras and then, after repelling the homeless guys who always snuck in, me, dead last and starving.
I was trying to wolf down something to fuel the rest of my 12-plus hour day. The second rule for P.A.’s was to be first to set with donuts before dawn and last to leave after posting the Production Report at night.
Her question caught me off guard.
“I’ve been asked to be shot nude and I turned it down.”
“But what if it was your ticket? The break that would make your career? Would you do it then?"
“I sort of turned down Playboy, so...”
“What? WHAT?! You’ve got to be kidding me?”
“When I was in college, a guy named Dwight Hooker came through town on assignment to find college women for a special feature in Playboy. I was modeling for a local Lerner’s store and my photographer set me up for an interview.”
“Did you have to be nude at the interview?”
“No. Wore a nice flattering Lerner’s swim suit and borrowed heels. Hooker took some Poloroids then. I thought it was a long shot but surprise! I got a call back for a test photo shoot at some estate with a pool outside of town. That’s where I would be required to show that I could, well, do it.”
“So why didn’t you? God, you probably blew a big opportunity…”
“I called my dad. We talked about it for a long time; about how it could mean making connections that would lead to a big time career; about how I felt about being seen that way by anyone passing by a news stand all over the world; about fame and money and its advantages and downfalls; about the character of the people who promote celebrity…All of which I told him I thought I was strong and smart enough to deal with. I was actually kind of leaning toward doing it…”
“Yeah? SO? Those are good arguments..."
“It was the last thing he said. He has lunch with his friends every day. Lawyers, judges, businessmen and doctors. All close friends. One of them is my godfather. Dad just let me know that it would be a very bad day for him should one of them pick up that particular magazine and see his daughter, me, in it. That was all I needed to hear.”
Her eyes widened a little and then she squinted, folded her hands under her chin and rested her elbows on her knees while looking out toward the gardens at that mansion. It was a beautiful dignified estate with great bones and history, cast for the day as an insane asylum.
The Assistant Director yelled, glaring at me, “We’re back in. New set up, let’s go!”
“Thanks for that. I guess that’ll help me give an answer to the guys shooting Porky’s. They offered me a big part.”
“Oh, yeah. I heard that was coming up. Wow. Well good luck, um, never caught your name? I’m Linda…”“It’s Kim. See ya!”