I grew up in Hollywood. More specifically, on the set of General Hospital, where my dad was a propman. It was an odd place for a girl to come of age. The days were long, the pace was pokey, and I had to be impossibly quiet all the time, literally skittering up into the rafters whenever the child-loathing executive producer marched into the studio unexpectedly.
But there was a part of it I relished: seeing firsthand how phony everything was. On the TV screen at home, Port Charles looked hyper-real and beautiful. But on set, it was so obviously fake. And creepy.
The plastic food was brushed with water to make it glisten. The hunky stars — Rick Springfield and John Stamos — were spackled with spongy, unskin-like makeup. The fog was dry ice. The wine was grape juice. And the front of each character’s stately home was a flimsy plywood facade that wobbled if you leaned on it.
Throughout several sitter-less summers, I became a connoisseur of these idiot-box illusions. Which makes it all the more embarrassing that I recently got sucked into Tinseltown’s manipulation machine, bamboozled by the promise of prime-time prominence.
A friend in the biz was passing my book around to industry nabobs when a reputable TV producer reportedly fell sick-in-love with my “voice” and asked me to “take a meeting.”
I was suspicious. People cheat and steal to get meetings like this. They don’t just happen; they don’t come to you. But who was I to argue with the man’s money, I mean his creative vision?
“You are terrific,” he told me, waving my book in his hand. “Terrific. I see a sitcom here.”
“You do?” I asked, wondering how anyone could make a sitcom out of a book of columns.
“I’m looking at 8:30 Tuesday nights on CBS,” he said.
“You are?!” I asked.
The conversation was a dream. Until I off-handedly mentioned my kids.
“You got kids?” he said.
How could he not know this? Half the columns in my book are about being a parent. Even if he had never opened the book (dear god, had he never opened the book?), it says “mother of two” on the cover …
But the sweet talk came so fast. The names of it-guy directors and it-gal actresses. The comparisons to Sex and the City. The email crowing, “I’m ordering the EMMY now!” Once, during a phone conference, I tuned out and began fantasizing about what kind of obscure ’80s candy I would insist upon having in my dressing room.
In truth, I tuned out quite often during conversations with the Men Who Would Make Me Famous. Because I never really understood what they were saying. Propmen perpetrate their illusions with double-face tape; television execs do it with doublespeak. My friend Matt Allen, who wrote the Reese Witherspoon movie Four Christmases, tried to explain the lingo to me:
“‘I left word’ really means I didn’t do anything,” he said. “I may or may not have called, probably not. ‘He read it. He liked it’ means he did not like it. ‘He read it. He doesn’t get it’ means your guy didn’t get the reaction he wanted and he’s pissed, if you want to know the truth.”
I did want to know the truth. And eventually I figured it out: They didn’t know how to make a sitcom out of a book of columns. Which is just as well. Even a soundstage baby can be stupefied by TV’s razzle-dazzle lure.
If Hollywood ever wants me again, it knows where to find me. I’ll be hiding in the rafters.