It’s time yet again for me to be your companion on your journey through this industry’s pitfalls!
Hollywood can be one of the most joyous and exciting places to be, but can also be a breeding ground of deceit, full of pernicious folks who prey on your dreams.
This month, I’m going to address an issue facing actors everywhere. You might not ever encounter it, but if you do, I hope my suggestions can help you!
Without further ado, let’s dig in!
Dear Donna Marie-
I have been reading your column and I like the advice you have been giving out.
I am writing on behalf of my daughter, who is relatively new to acting, but has wanted to do it her whole life. We gave her our blessing, and she has been enjoying her time in Los Angeles while she tries her hand.
I still live back home, so she is out there all by herself. She is only 22.
The other day she mentioned she had an audition in a hotel room. This bothered me and I told her so. I have never heard of such a thing. She said this wasn’t the first time she had done that, and that she is very good at taking care of herself.
I know there are people out there who will take advantage of young girls. I don’t want my daughter to have this happen to her.
Donna, I am so worried about her now.
What can I tell her to make her understand that she needs to be more careful?
Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated!
Before I begin, I must tell you that I am so pleased and proud that you wrote me. I know that it must have been very difficult to do. I often get letters from parents who are trying to find ways to help their children get more work, but I rarely get letters expressing concern about the business.
The issue you raise is of great concern to many parents whose children head off to the big city to take their shot at fame.
My mother basically had a heart attack the day I told her I was getting on a bus and heading for Hollywood. She was a fretter. I still remember her standing there in the kitchen, wringing her dishtowel around in her hands. I swear, if it hadn’t been made from the strongest cotton imaginable, she would have ripped that thing in half.
She was convinced that I would step off that bus and immediately be plunged into a pool of sin.
She wasn’t too far off the mark.
I remember one of my first auditions. I’d heard about a new live television program that was going to be starting here in town. It was a new game show, called “Uh Oh!”
“Uh Oh!” was right!
I was called to the audition, which was to take place at an address on Larchmont. Being relatively new to town and not really sure how to navigate, I took a cab. The cab took me through a nice neighborhood with tree-lined streets and well-manicured lawns. We were heading away from any sort of business center and after a while, I started to get confused.
Did the driver know where he was taking me?
The cab slowed down and deposited me in front of someone’s house. I asked the driver if this was the correct address, and he stated it was. I stepped out of the car and paid him. I was about to ask him if he could wait a moment, but he took off!
So here I was, standing on the sidewalk of some neighborhood with no sense of how to get out of there and head towards home.
Well, I walked up to the front door, and sure enough, taped to the front door was a piece of paper with the following written on it in ball-point pen ink:
I knocked, and from the inside I heard the barking of a small dog. It wasn’t long before the door was opened by an oily-looking man wearing a smoking jacket, a Tiparillo cigar hanging out the side of his mouth.
“Come in! Come in! I’m Oliver Scroop, producer of ‘Uh Oh!’”
I introduced myself and he ushered me in. I took a long look at the street as the front door shut behind me.
All of a sudden, my ankles were attacked by a ferocious-sounding small chihuahua!
“EVELYN, HUSH!!!” Scroop angrily yelled at his dog, almost kicking her out of the way.
He turned back to me all smiles. “You’ll have to excuse Evelyn. She’s very jealous.”
He turned back to the dog. “Aren’t you my wittle Evewyn? Yesh! Yesh you are!!! You are just a vewy jealous girl!”
Evelyn just growled, showing her teeth in a snarl.
Somehow I regained the power of speech.
“Excuse me, Mr. Scroop. Can you tell me a little bit about the show?”
“Well, ‘Uh Oh’ is about winning dough, and lot’s of it, see? The contestants will be sitting in chairs opposite each other while the host asks them questions. The contestants are gonna be wired up to this electric generator, see? When one of them gets a wrong answer, the spokesmodel comes out with a bucket of water and she dumps it on them while the audience yells, ‘UH OH!’”
My face must have turned white as a sheet, because he immediately added, “No one’s gonna get hurt, sweetie. It’s all in fun! After the ‘lightning round’ (get it? Lighting round??? I slay myself!), you’ll come out and hand the winner a check for $5,000 and the loser a box of Pampers. Trust me, after getting zapped by a few thousand volts, they’ll need ‘em!”
With this, he let loose a peal of laughter so loud that poor little Evelyn ran under the couch.
“Now take off your clothes,” he said.
The room got very, very quiet. Even Evelyn stopped her growling.
“Excuse me?” I asked. “I don’t understand how that can be useful in determining whether I should get the job as the spokesmodel or not.”
“Believe me, sister, it’s very useful. To ME! Don’t you get it? If you are gonna want to make it in this town, you better start learning the ropes. And I think Oliver Scroop is just the man to teach you!”
He lunged towards me with a leer in his eye! I tried to hit him with my purse, but I missed and slipped on the carpet! I landed on my back, the wind knocked out of me.
I gained my breath back just in time to see Scroop standing over me.
All of a sudden, from underneath the couch, Evelyn jumped on Scroop! Her teeth bared and snarling, she was like a tiger after prey! Scroop screamed and tried to get her off of him, but she wasn’t having it! She hung on for dear life!
During the struggle, I was able to get to my feet, grab my purse and run to the front door. I heaved it open and ran onto the porch, screaming, “OLIVER SCROOP!! YOU ARE A POOR EXCUSE FOR A HUMAN BEING AND I’M GOING TO TELL THE WORLD ABOUT WHAT A HORRIBLE TOAD YOU ARE!!!”
I could hear Scroop’s screams getting softer and weaker as Evelyn overpowered him.
I made my way to the curb in front of the house when I heard a small bark behind me. I turned and Evelyn came running, jumping into my arms and licking my face.
In an instant, we bonded!
We walked to the corner and finally found a bus that would take us home!
Now, Dolores, I understand this story might frighten you, and I hope it does, because even though this happened many years ago, and no matter how much we’d like to think those days are past us, the casting couch still exists. In fact, it’s grown more sophisticated and your daughter should be aware of the risks!
The most important thing is that your daughter must learn to have a good head on her shoulders and to develop her intuition so that she knows when she is about to walk into a potentially risky situation.
Yes, auditions DO occasionally occur in hotel rooms, or hotel conference rooms. If a producer is from out of town and doesn’t want to spring for casting studios, they will work this way. I don’t really agree with it, but it happens.
Also, if your daughter is auditioning for a student or independent film, the budget constraints they work under may require them to hold auditions at a private home. I would make sure your daughter has extensive questions for the casting director or producer in regards to the project before agreeing to attend an audition in a private home. Have her ask about the project, the role she’ll be reading for and what she will need to do at the audition. She should also ask about when the project will be shooting, etc. This will give her an idea of the professionalism of the project.
If that producer mentions anything about the role requiring nudity, that she should wear a bathing suit, or any other kind of “red flags,” she should NOT attend that audition.
Look, not all hotel or home castings are used to lure unsuspecting young people into them. 99.9% of the time, you will find them to be very legitimate.
As your daughter finds her way through the industry, she’ll quickly be able to determine within seconds whether an audition is going to be legitimate or not.
However, I would strongly suggest that your daughter take a friend along with her to those auditions that are going to be taking place outside of a traditional casting studio. Strength in numbers really does apply here, and a slimy producer or director will quickly back away when he realizes that he’s outnumbered.
Additionally, she should also go prepared with her pepper spray, etc. in her purse, JUST IN CASE! She can never be too careful.
Not everyone will have a little hero like Evelyn to help them out of a sticky situation!
It feels as if you and your daughter have a very open line of communication and I hope that you pass along these few tips to her.
She’ll be thankful to you and you’ll be able to sleep better at night, knowing she’s being smart about her career.
Now, back to Oliver Scroop.
I held true to my word. I scraped together every dime and dollar I could to purchase an ad in Daily Variety, telling the world about his unscrupulous tactics! He didn’t last another month in this town.
The last I heard, he had been sent to San Quentin for stealing senior citizens' social security checks from their mailboxes! Can you imagine???
As for Evelyn, she became my constant companion and my fearless protector for the rest of her days. I miss that little one now and then, but she taught me a lot about putting up a good fight!
Best of luck to you and your daughter!
Well, that was quite a humdinger of a story. I’d love to hear about any suggestions YOU’VE got about how to navigate some of the more “unseemly” aspects of this business.
Send any ideas or questions you’ve got to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I can’t wait to hear from you!
Until next month, my dears –
Donna Marie Watkins