Almost Famous by (4 Stories)

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I grew up in Hollywood and just knew I’d end up famous. My mom was a top talent agent, my brothers co-starred in a TV series, and we regularly rubbed shoulders with celebrities.

As a budding talent, at 13 I auditioned for Gidget (Sandra Dee got the part) and, at 14, Pollyanna (Hayley Mills got that one). Alas, I was shyer, scrawnier and frizzier than pretty much every girl I competed with, yet compete I did as I was sure the right role would release the extremely cute and bubbly teenager that lived inside me.

I’m 15, perched on a chair in a waiting room filled with girls my age—mostly blondes—and their mothers. When my name is called my mom licks her fingers and tries to smooth down my hair, reminds me to “sparkle,” and I jump up enthusiastically as if I just can’t wait to go in and be judged by the five serious-looking adults sitting at a long table, hands folded in front of them. One smiles and reaches out for my head shot, asks me to “stand over there” in front of the bright lights, pose for a Polaroid, and now tell them a little about myself while a camera rolls.

As a budding talent, at 13 I auditioned for Gidget (Sandra Dee got the part) and, at 14, Pollyanna (Hayley Mills got that one). Alas, I was shyer, scrawnier and frizzier than pretty much every girl I competed with, yet compete I did as I was sure the right role would release the extremely cute and bubbly teenager that lived inside me.

But this time I do book the part. I am ecstatic; I have been chosen! I’m cast in an episode of Playhouse 90 called “In the Presence of Mine Enemies.”  My role is what’s known in the Industry as a walk-on, but it’s more accurately a “recline-on”; I play a gaunt girl who has, blank eyes staring, starved to death in the street during the Holocaust. I don’t blink, don’t move a muscle, and am praised for my fine acting by the esteemed director.

As it turns out, this marks the beginning and the end of my acting career. After about a dozen more auditions that I fail to book, I quietly retire from the profession. Without really thinking about it, I tuck my dreams away and play it safe to avoid drawing attention. In school, seemingly invisible, I skitter along the perimeter, nose against glass. Even in bright sunlight, I barely have a shadow. But, I grow up. And I start dreaming again. I want to make a name for myself. Maybe it’s the Hollywood syndrome, or maybe I have something to prove.

Now it’s the 70s, and I’m in my 20s. My first full-time job is at Universal Studios, because there’s more than one path to a star on Hollywood Blvd., right? What I don’t know then is that young men start out in the mailroom and move up up up to writer, producer, or director. Young women start out in the steno pool and move up to… secretary. I become the resident hippie secretary. My boss is cool…I wear a hooded cape and bring my dog, Bosco, to work, and I supplement my income making pot brownies and cheesecakes (without pot) for several of the guys on the lot. Word spreads, and eventually I’m making almost as much selling baked goods as I am working as a secretary. So with Famous Amos and Mrs. Fields as my role models, I decide to quit my day job and make cheesecakes for a living, which, long story short, proves to be a short-lived living.

Because I meet a man. THE man. We get married. Turns out he wasn’t THE man. We get divorced. Now I’m in my 30s, and a single mother. After three years of arduous training, I’m a certified court reporter and working my ass off. It’s a lot more stressful than I imagined it would be, and I have the migraines and fluttering heartbeat to prove it. And, I still can’t seem to make ends meet. I have an idea! I’ll move to Hawaii…trade in my high heels for flip-flops! And there I open a tiny restaurant, call it Pot Luck, and specialize in—you guessed it—cheesecake. In just four years I sell it, breaking even.

I embark on one idea after another. Before I even have a chance to succeed, I bail and move on to the next. I’ve become a serial…idea maven!

In my 40s, I move back to L.A. and start a greeting card business, and in my 50s move to Vegas because, a near lifelong poker player, I now have an idea for a line of cards for casino gift shops. You know, “As friends go, you’re aces,” and “Wishing you slots of luck on your birthday,” Oh, and this Christmas card I have illustrated by a talented cartoonist showing a casino filled with Santa’s elves and reindeer: “‘Twas the night before Christmas and all thru the casino, Santa’s elves were playing blackjack, roulette, and Keno. There were several at the slot machines, you could spot them by their caps, one or two played stud and another one shot craps.” It goes on, but I’ll stop. Yes, tacky, but also moderately successful.

Then it hits me! Oprah Winfrey! She should have her own line of cards… affirmations with upbeat artwork – “Aim High!” “Passion is Energy!” “Think Like a Queen!” – her audience will gobble them up! So I call Oprah, leave a brief message, don’t hear back. Send an introductory letter and a few sample cards. Don’t hear back. Finally I send her a package via Federal Express. That’ll get her attention! Not long after that, Oprah is in my living room, on my TV. She looks into the camera, right at me: “I just want to take a moment to thank you for taking the time to write,” she says, “and to apologize if you haven’t heard back from me. Folks, I get a LOT of mail.“ And as she’s speaking, staff members are carting out wheelbarrows overflowing with mail. And then she adds, “And I gotta love all y’all who send things by FedEx just to make SURE I open them,” and out come more wheelbarrows filled with packages bearing that familiar purple and orange logo. Never did hear from Oprah.

No, I’m not even almost famous, but I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. Still, the ideas keep coming…Hawaiian cookies in the shapes of the islands! Bite-sized cheesecakes in exotic flavors! A courtesy horn to politely get another driver’s attention…beep-beep-beep!

Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

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Tags: Hollywood, fame, ideas, cheesecake, Oprah
Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. John Zussman says:

    I love these stories and the wry, humorous way you tell them on yourself. It’s been said that life is what happens to us while we’re making other plans. But it occurs to me that, as you’ve followed your prolific ideas and dreams, you (a) always had something you were passionate about, (b) accumulated lots of great stories to tell, and (c) crafted a thoroughly interesting and varied life for yourself. Welcome to Retrospect!

    • Thanks, John! How exciting to see your comment this morning! I actually tried my hand at writing a full-length memoir…turns out I just don’t have the motivation to try to get it published, but I’m so glad I wrote it, because now I have lots of material I can nudge into short stories. As a newbie I’m still learning to navigate and looking forward to TRYING to catch up on the great stories and their authors here on Retrospect. I’m thrilled to have become part of this community!

      (Update: Have just figured out how to properly reply to comments so have reposted this in the right place.)

  2. Suzy says:

    Wow, this is so great! I love the way you write! And what a fascinating life you have had . . . so far, because it is far from over, and I can’t wait to find out what your next idea is!

    So glad you have found us on Retrospect! When you write on your own topic, your story doesn’t show up on the home page except in the randomly generated “Other Recent Stories” category at the bottom of the screen, so we almost didn’t find you. Glad we did! I’m thinking you might have some material on this week’s prompt, An Unforgettable Person, or some of the upcoming prompts. That way everyone would see your story right away. Of course we are delighted to have you write on any topic you like!

    • Hi Suzy, thanks SO much for the warm welcome, and the encouraging words! I must have done something wrong when I first set up my profile because my name appears as a weird version of my email address, and it doesn’t look like I can fix that. Any hints?

  3. Marian says:

    This was an enlightening and inspiring story, and it’s always fun to learn what writers are passionate about and what they have done (or tried). Welcome to Retrospect, glad to have you a part of it.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I love this line: “In school, seemingly invisible, I skitter along the perimeter, nose against glass.” Also, your description of yourself as “a serial…idea maven” — I can relate to that one! Thanks for sharing your story and welcome to Retrospect!

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Barbara, I love this story! It must have been fascinating and frustrating to grow up in Hollywood. Good for you for following your dreams…one after another. I hope you continue to share your stories and welcome to our Retrospect community.

  6. Barbara I’m late to this story but I absolutely love it! Ever onward even if not always upward. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow! Oh, wait, that’s been done.

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