I am standing by Camera One on the set of L.A. in the Morning. Stephanie Edwards and Jon Bauman, otherwise known as Bowser from ShaNaNa, are on the set. It is the first time I have been in the middle of the action at the television station where I am a meager long-term temp.
I started working here a few months ago when a friend of a friend asked said friend if he knew anyone who might fill in for the personnel department at KHJ-TV while the HR assistant was on maternity leave. Why yes he did. He knew me. I’d been unsuccessfully helping him unsuccessfully learn how to use his Macintosh SE so he could launch his nebulous idea for a production company. It was my first job in Hollywood. I proudly called home to share that I had a real job working for a producer. I mean, the guy had a business card. Clearly he was the real deal!
“Technology is changing the face of the business,” said my new boss, “If you want to be successful in Hollywood, you need a computer.” But neither of us had ever used one. It was a disaster. I spent hours pouring through the Macintosh manual in his home office while he smoked pot on the porch, occasionally calling out brilliant ideas for shows through plumes of smoke.
Fortunately, the personnel department at the TV station was not computerized. Every employee had a file folder in a metal drawer with an alphabetized label. I was determined that one day there would be a file with my name on it in the H-M cabinet. This was my shot. No longer working for a wannabe producer, I called home to say I was now employed at a TV station. I knew in my heart that it would be more than temporary.
But I had no personnel experience and knew nothing of the television business. I mean, when I heard that there was a traffic department on the second floor, I imagined staff parking was up there. It was weeks before I discovered that television traffic has nothing to do with parking or rush hour helicopter reports, but rather with advertiser scheduling and program continuity. So there I was with zero experience reviewing resumes and forwarding what I deemed the strongest ones on to my supervisor. At 22, I was the gatekeeper and most of the applicant’s dreams ended up in the “round file” by my desk.
When the HR assistant returned to work, I was sent to programming to fill in for another secretary on maternity leave. During my second week there, the program director passed by my desk and said, “Want to watch a taping of L.A. In the Morning?” Heck yeah! I’d never been on a sound stage before. This was exciting! I trotted along beside him in my Joan Collins-inspired herringbone business suit with huge shoulder pads and faux leather lapels, purchased at a cheap shop on Hollywood Blvd with my first paycheck because I knew that professional women needed to look the part.
So there I am, next to Cliff the Cameraman as the director calls out “We’re LIVE in 3-2-1” and there is Stephanie Edwards merely feet away, talking about the premiere of Dead Poet’s Society. I can’t wait to tell my parents how close I am to “making it” when Bowser says, “And now we’d like to welcome KHJ’s Program Director with an important announcement” and my temporary boss walks onto the set.
And as I stand there in my uncomfortable cheap black patent fake leather stilettos, surprised by the sudden celebrity of my temporary boss, I hear him say something about a telethon and how any one in Los Angeles who has a talent and would like to be on television can call his assistant Suzanne and set up a time to audition.
What? Anyone in Los Angeles with a talent and a desire to be on TV? That is only half the population! And they are calling ME?
I hustle back to my office on wobbling ankles through the lobby where the frazzled receptionist yells, “Get to your desk STAT! The phones are ringing off the hook!”
All the lines are flashing on my phone but I haven’t been given a date, times or location for these auditions. I take names and numbers and the next day I confirm nearly 200 auditions in a three-day period. It is like “America’s Got Talent” before there was such a show, and the talent is pretty much as varied. Hair bands playing covers of songs by L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat, comedians who’d not yet found their funny, and several obvious Venice Beach sideshow acts showing their best stuff on the morning show set, all vying for spots in the LA County Sheriff Departments’ SANE Kids Say No Telethon.
This all felt a bit INSANE to a girl who’d recently moved to Los Angeles. Up to this point, my only brush with fame was at Gelsen’s, when I stood in line behind Booger from Revenge of the Nerds. But in July of 1989, I find myself sitting in a folding chair with a clipboard at the entrance to the Spruce Goose Hanger in Long Beach. I am assigned the job of checking in celebrities and directing them to the green room.
I meet Danny Glover, Red Buttons, Cesar Romero and Buddy Hackett. We’re on the air from 5pm to 1am, filling time with the 30 acts that made the audition cut, pitches from celebrities urging viewers to support the cause, and shots of famous people and volunteers working their magic in the phone bank under the giant plane’s giant wings. The electricity of the live show is magical. Hot off Wall Street but a decade before becoming President in the West Wing, Martin Sheen is in earshot telling the director that he’d really like his son Charlie to come down and say a few words about his challenges with substance abuse and what it means to him to be clean. “I think we can find a space for him,” responds the director.
I can’t wait to tell my father that I was just a clipboard way from the star of Platoon.
Charlie shows up several hours later slurring his words, and moves toward his seat next to Sheriff Sherman Block on the set. Martin is fuming behind the scenes. As they cut to the phone banks, I overhear him tell a producer that he hopes this incident will be the final straw that helps his son turn his life around.
Meanwhile, I am plotting how I can turn my life around too. How can I parlay this day into something bigger than a temp job and get my name on a file in that H-M cabinet? It will take more temporary assignments in engineering, then accounting, then a few months covering the desk of the General Manager before I land a full time job in Public Relations. I write bios for on-air talent and help tell other people’s stories, and slowly, but surely, I carve out my own.
As told at Story Salon May 3, 2023.