/* Names included in this 20th Century Fox post have been changed to protect the fact that I don’t remember them all. 😉 */
I spent the first two years after graduation college waiting tables, working temp jobs and interning at a radio station. Eventually the time came for me to put my degree to use and get some kind of full time job. All I knew was, it had to be creative. I set my sights on promotions and publicity. Living in Los Angeles, I was also bit by the Hollywood bug so I started targeting the studios. In 1996, if you called a human resources department of a large corporation, you could still actually get a human on the phone. As it was becoming extremely popular for companies in LA to hire temps and make them permanent should they decide they liked them (or switch them out if they didn’t), I figured I would try my luck with the temp route. I began calling the various studios’ human resource departments and asking what temp agency they used.
The woman I spoke with at Fox was actually very helpful. She not only told me the name of the temp agency but who their main contact was there.
“Call Lori at All Star Temp Agency.” She said.
“Thanks, uh, what was your name again?” I asked.
“Thanks, Mary.” I dialed Lori.
“Hi Lori, I just got off the phone with Mary at 20th Century Fox who suggested I give you a call about working for them.”
The very next day I had an appointment to meet Lori. Lori was a heavyset black woman somewhere in her 30’s. She had a no-bullshit attitude that gave away her east-coast origins. She eyeballed me in my best ‘Melrose Place’ mini-skirt suit that my mother had bought me before I left town. I could see decisions, whatever they were, being made in her eyes. My interview with her seemed to go reasonably well but then the time came for the typing test.
To this day, I don’t know of any temp in the history of LA, or anywhere for that matter, who was actually expected to type 85 words per minute on the job but the test was given anyway. Perhaps it was just their way of weeding out talent. Next thing I knew, I was in a little room with a row of desks and typewriters. I wasn’t able to type 85 words per minute that day, not even close. When my time was up, I asked Lori if I could go home, practice and come back again. She agreed to give me one week. I went home and borrowed my cousin’s new computer that she had just bought on credit and typed away. When I returned, I did better than the week before but still not 85 words per minute. I finished the test and waited to be led by an assistant back into Lori’s office.
“Well, you’re still not at 85 words per minute…” Lori somewhat boomed from behind her desk, a fortress of files, papers and the largest telephone I had ever seen. I felt tiny sitting on the other side of it all.
“I know…” I said. Lori looked at my file and looked back at me in my second best interview suit (also bought by my mother.) I could tell that she was at the very least impressed that I had put so much effort into coming back the second time.
“We’ll give you a call if we get something.” Lori said and that was that.
“Ok, thanks.” I squeaked out. I almost curtseyed as I got up and made my way to the door.
About a week later, I got a call from Lori’s office. “We have a position as a receptionist at 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. You won’t have to do much if any typing, just answer phones and greet anyone who comes into the lobby.”
For the next six months, I did no typing at all but instead sat at a desk all day long greeting the few guests that came in and answering the occasional phone call. I was bored out of my mind but I was working for a studio in Hollywood! My job was in what they call The Die Hard Building because it was the building that they blew up in the Bruce Willis movie, Die Hard. Eventually I worked my way to a junior assistant level in that department working for Anne-Marie Hendrickson.
Anne-Marie Hendrickson, was a brilliant woman, no one could deny her intelligence. She was also menopausal and put the air-condition on so cold that on my way home from work I had to blast the heater in my car to thaw out, even in the summer time. Anne-Marie was quite tall and on the verge of being heavy, certainly by LA standards. She did so much shopping she gave my mother a run for her money. She was a mean, unhappy woman and while the entire department feared her, no one actually liked her. She had never been married and I didn’t know of any friends she had outside of work. Boxes would arrive daily with items such as shoes from Stuart Weizman back in New York or pillows for the couch in her office via the Nordstrom home department. Frequently, these expensive packages would land on my desk with their respective receipts and orders to exchange them for a different size or color. Sometimes a credit card number would be provided. Oddly, the credit card number occasionally looked like the same one the office used for supplies and business lunches. Despite the dubious transactions, I heard that when they let Anne-Marie go, her severance package was so large she never had to work again. Sometimes I imagine her in a summer home somewhere having tea and shoe-shopping online in the company of no one but a live-in housekeeper.
In the late 80’s, 20th Century Fox launched a television channel which would soon begin to air shows such as The Simpsons, Beverly Hills 90210 and Ally McBeal. As FOX evolved as a station, I evolved within the company. I got a transfer into the PR department of the fledgling network and shortly after that into the Special Events Department. We handled all of the press events, premiere parties, corporate events and annual live presentations. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity – “the holy grail of jobs” as a friend of mine called it – that I had strategically wormed my way into achieving. Actually, it may have been 10% worming and 90% long hours and very hard work.
My boss and I started in the department in the same month. She was young, perhaps a tad bit green for the role and therefore a little bit unsure of herself but what she was lacking in experience, she made up for in genuine, honest-to-goodness hard work and a willingness to learn and do right by everyone. She was positive and inspiring and quickly won the respect of the entire company. I looked up to her as a mentor, learned from her and dedicated all my time and energy to the job that I loved. In return, I was given a lot of additional responsibility and even able to travel with the company to their out-of-town events.
One such event was the Primetime Upfronts in New York City. The Upfronts were held every May and all of the television stations would have a day to present their new season’s primetime television line-up to the large advertising houses who would then decide where they wanted to spend their client’s money. A presenter would walk the audience through each nights’ programs and, in turn, the cast of Ally McBeal, Melrose Place, That 70’s Show and so on would take the stage to say hello or do a small performance. Our job was to hire the vendors and handle the logistics for the presentation and parties as well as the travel and hospitality for the FOX execs, actors, producers, etc.
The FOX presentation was always held at the Beacon Theater and the basement bar directly across the alley was used to make an appropriate Green Room for so many celebrities. This is where I accidentally picked the nose of Steven Webber. Steven Webber of Wings fame and various other television shows and films was starring in a show that fall and had the misfortune of walking up the stairs from the green room bar as I walked down, arms and hands apparently flailing in the air. My index finger somehow made it part way up his nose and I was mortified. Even though he laughed it off and made a joke, I was terrified that he would turn around and report me. Much to his credit he didn’t say anything because I never heard anything about it. He has no idea but I’ve been a huge fan ever since.
After the presentation came the elaborate after-party for a few hundred of FOX’s closest friends and stars at Tavern on the Green. It came complete with a red carpet step-and-repeat out front for paparazzi, a trendy band, an open bar and all the food stations you could imagine (which ended up feeding the staff like me as actresses do not eat.) Once the party was up and running, our main job was to make sure things ran smoothly from behind the scenes. The PR department would step in at this point to wrangle talent and talk to reporters. Once they swooped in, we were free to grab one drink at the open bar…and by one drink, I mean two…or six. One year we ended up playing with the band’s equipment on stage before heading out to the after-after party where I fell off a stage dancing next to Lucy Liu in my thick platform sandals.
Our department also handled all of the premiere parties for the network including the annual season launch party of FOX’s flagship show, The Simpsons. On one occasion, I was asked to escort Simpsons creator, Matt Groening, to the back room for interviews. I was politely waiting for him to finish his conversation with someone before asking him to come with me when he took my press pass from around my neck, drew Bart Simpson on it and signed his name. I had to have the awkward moment where I thanked him for his autograph and told him he had to come with me.
As far as I was concerned, Heather Locklear was the most impressive star on our network. In addition to being beautiful with flawless skin, perfect hair and a cute figure, she was down to earth and extremely nice to everyone. She always stopped to sign autographs for fans. In fact, there were times when the PR teams had to pull her away from signing so she wouldn’t be late for her appearances. Where the rest of her colleagues on ‘Melrose Place’ would be dropped off at an event by a hired car or limo, Heather would be riding in the passenger seat of her own car driven by her husband, Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi fame. They would leave their car with the valet attendant and walk into the party with as little fanfare as possible. Inside the room you could just feel the positive energy coming from their direction. They were just a regular couple, happy and in love, hanging out in the middle of a major Hollywood scene.
The premiere party for ‘Family Guy’ was held in the bar/restaurant of a fancy hotel in Hollywood. I met creator, Seth MacFarlane, and his parents. They were a pleasant enough family and appreciative of everything. I spoke for awhile with his mother who told me that she and her husband had decided to retire as school teachers and move out to LA to be closer to their sons. She seemed like a sweet lady. I wondered what she was like behind closed doors. I wondered if she was anything like my mother. Was there any chance that, early on in his career, Seth had to hear his mother’s disapproval over something he was doing through the phone like I did when I called home?
“Mom, I’m going to pitch a cartoon I drew to the Fox network.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Mom, I can HEAR you disapproving through the phone!”
“Well, Seth, you can’t do those little doodles forever. When you graduate college you have to think of your future. Your father and I are not going to be around forever. You have to be able to take care of yourself after we are gone. You have to get a real job.”
I’d say Seth has sufficiently reassured his parents that they will never have to worry about him living on the streets once they are gone.
If only I had been so lucky. Conversations with my parents continued the way they always had.
“Jennifer, when are you going to get a job?”
“I have a job.”
“Yes but that is not a real job. When are you going to get a real job?”
If it wasn’t for the lack of emotional support from my parents I might still be at that job today. When the going got tough there, I didn’t have anyone to encourage me to get through it. I only had parents telling me I didn’t have a real job and that I should leave Los Angeles and move back to Florida thus giving up everything I had all but sold my soul to achieve.
Three things were going wrong for me when I made what I consider to this day to be the biggest mistake of my entire life. The first was that I had started to burn out from working up to 18 hour days. I was young and not used to working the hours. Although most of the time I didn’t mind because I was living the dream, it did take a toll on my body and mind at times. Then, when my boss wanted to hire someone at the level between hers and mine, I chickened out of stepping into the role myself. I had already been doing the work at that level for over a year and probably would have been fine. Again, had I had more emotional support, someone telling me I could do it, I might have gone for it. Unfortunately I didn’t and my boss had to hire someone else. Like so many people in Hollywood, the person we hired was extremely insecure. She was especially insecure about where she stood in our department. She began fighting me for work and making me feel stupid because I didn’t do things the way she did them. She also lied to my boss and others about me causing a big riff between myself and those that I had worked so harmoniously with before this woman’s arrival. She blamed mistakes that she had made on me to make me look bad. Her insecurity made her rotten and made my work difficult. Add to that the fact that my live-in boyfriend at the time was going through a major depression. A recent law school graduate, he was having a difficult time passing the California BAR exam. He had studied for months and failed it twice. This meant that when I came home from work, it was usually to a dark apartment with the sounds of Frank Sinatra and a boyfriend on the couch having downed a bottle of wine and two or three beers by himself.
In the end, I agreed to leave my job and move to Orlando, Florida. My boyfriend passed the Florida BAR on his first try and I, not able to find another job even close to the one I had just given up, was bored out of my mind. Like I said, to this day the biggest mistake I have ever made.
Two months later, I was driving my car once again along the 10 Freeway from Florida to California. When I saw the skyline of Downtown LA come into view an electric feeling ran through my body and my heart began to race. I knew I couldn’t have my job back because I had helped them find my replacement and there was no way that person would be as stupid as I was and give up that spot. Even so, I knew something else awaited me in this great city, this entertainment capital of the world.