The acting career of a 17-year-old Latina takes off. Then her parents interfere. 2,035 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
The next day, an assistant called me to set up an appointment at the end of the week. On Friday I went to the talent agency in Beverly Hills. When I was shown to Eli’s office, he was on the phone.
“One minute,” he mouthed. He was in his twenties and had a hot nerd vibe going on with hipster eyeglasses. After he hung up, he looked me in the eyes and shook my hand.
“Liz told me great things about you. She said you’ve been in L.A. less than a month and already booked a TV commercial. That’s impressive. Want to know what the batting average for commercial auditions is? One in a hundred. Meaning you’ll land one for every hundred auditions you go on.”
“I guess I didn’t get the memo,” I joked.
“Maybe you should come back after you go on ninety-nine more auditions,” he joked back. “It’ll probably take you longer to land the next one.” He grew serious. “Because I don’t want my team to put time and energy into getting you auditions only to have you bail because it’s not clicking fast enough.”
“I don’t know what Liz told you, but I don’t have a Plan B. This is it.”
A 17-year-old Latina aspiring actress has the best and worst day of her fledgling showbiz career. 2,073 words. Part One. Part Three. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
I drove back down Franklin Avenue until I reached the 101 Coffee Shop. I sat at the counter and tried to come up with a game plan. I pulled up Craigslist on my cell and scoured the rental listings. Everything was too expensive. The cheapest was a share in Koreatown for $500 a month. I called the number.
“I’m calling about your furnished room. Is it still available?”
The woman who answered made an appointment for me to see it in 30 minutes. As I drove, I felt a lump form in my throat like I was going to cry. I pressed the worn out button next to Unit 3 and entered the creaky elevator. Please don’t be a murderer, I whispered to myself. To my relief, the woman was in her twenties with a warm smile.
“Hi. I’m Liz. Let me take you on the grand tour,” she said wryly. The place was tiny. “I’m never around. I work all the time as an assistant in a talent agency. What do you do?”
“I just moved here. I’m a model and an actress,” I told her.
“I figured,” she said looking at me.
To rent the room, I needed to pay one month’s rent in advance. My heart sank.
“I’m filming a Target commercial next week and can give you the money as soon as I get paid.”
Liz’s face had a skeptical look.
A 17-year-old Latina aspiring actress starts a journey through personal and professional pitfalls. 2,373 words. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
May 11th was my last day of high school. It ended in the girls’ locker room where Ava, Tess and Viv finally got the last word after months of threats. Actually few words were exchanged. They beat me up and left me a bloody unconscious mess. When I came to, I was lying face down on the ground alone. I can still smell the ammonia the janitor used to clean the floor earlier that morning.
People talk about life-changing moments. This was mine. As I licked the blood off my lips, a light switch went off inside my brain. I was done. Done with Selma, California. Done with my family. And done with the bitches from school. I went home, packed my bags and tried not to cry as I left a note for José, my 10-year-old brother:
Dear José, This note is to let you know I’m going away. I promise to visit soon. I love you, little man. Natalia
I grabbed my stuff and headed for my car. There was only one place for me to go: Hollywood. Because of a boy, but that wasn’t the entire story. A year earlier, a model scout had approached my Dad at a local mall. She thought I had “potential” and handed him her business card. He never followed up, because he wanted me at home. Ever since Mom died, I had been left with all of her tasks: laundry, shopping, cooking and cleaning. One night when I was looking for a pen in his roll-top desk, I found the scout’s business card with a Los Angeles number. I knew it would be my golden ticket, if I ever needed one. My face would be the parachute out of the hellscape of my life, when it was also the reason for so many of my problems.
A P.I. is asked to investigate the reigning box office champ for an endorsement deal. 2,412 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
McNulty didn’t look anything like what he was. And what he was was one of the best private eyes in Hollywood. Sure, others in the profession preferred confidential investigator, but McNulty liked the slangy old school designation. It had a nice earthy ring to it.
McNulty gave Musso & Frank’s the once over. It was still the same: comfortable, discrete and out-of-the-way. Which is why McNulty always chose it whenever a prospective client wished to retain his services. As always, McNulty arrived thirty minutes early to secure the back corner booth before regulars and tourists streamed in for lunch amid the dark hardwood paneling, white linen tablecloths, worn red leather booths and polished mahogany bar where many of the town’s biggest celebs, current and long gone, were known to knock back a few.
“The usual,” McNulty told the red-jacketed waiter who looked as old as the Hollywood sign.
“Glen Livet, neat,” the waiter said with a slight bow. “Coming right up.”
McNulty leaned back and closed his eyes. For a few moments, he imagined Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, elbows on the bar and shot glasses in their fists, swapping lies about their latest investigations. Funny thing, though: in his mind’s eye, they both looked like Humphrey Bogart because he’d played their characters in classic films.
“Mister McNulty? I’m—“
A film critic picks a fight with his city’s biggest theatre chain. Will his editor support him? 2,596 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Jensen Hirsch had the second most dangerous job on the newspaper. He was the film critic. If he’d held the most dangerous job, war correspondent, he might have at least received some respect. But movie criticism, as The New Yorker editor Harold Ross once told filmmaker Nunnally Johnson, “was for old ladies and fairies.” And Jensen Hirsch was neither.
“Look at it this way,” Hirsch liked to say whenever anyone dismissed his job as cushy. “A film critic is the only person at a newspaper, magazine, television, radio station, or website whose job is to criticize an advertiser. Sports writers, political columnists, and beat reporters can say what they want and nobody ever complains. But God help the journalist who takes on supermarkets, car dealerships, furniture stores, or real estate.”
Hirsch knew that film criticism was almost an S&M relationship between the movie studios who buy advertising and those who draw a salary for saying if the films are worth seeing. Sure, Hirsch would be on the other end of the occasional call or letter from a director or actor objecting to something he’d written about them. But they were always polite, assuming that Hirsch would be reviewing what they did next. The only people who routinely griped were theatre owners whose box office was dented by a negative Hirsch review. But, even then, they were making so much on advertising kickbacks and inflated house costs that they usually held their tongues. Nevertheless, every now and then some angry exhibitors would call the newspaper publisher to complain and threaten to pull their advertising unless Hirsch was fired. Sometimes they did cancel their ad buys, but they would always skulk back a few days later after the studio raised holy hell. In such cases, Hirsch’s editor, Russell Pelota, would summon the critic and warn that the next negative review could be the one that got him fired.
“Do you want me to like everything?” Hirsch always responded. “A critic who likes everything likes nothing.”
CHRISTMAS FICTION: Laurie Blane’s story continues. This holiday season the actress has a lot to be thankful for – especially her agent. 3,410 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Flying across the Atlantic to London at 600 miles an hour the day before Christmas, investment tycoon Russ Kelly’s Gulfstream G650 carried six passengers — Laurie Blane; her publicist Jackie Fisher; her agent Ron Astor; her personal assistant Marty Oliver; and two private security men. Russ was in New York on business; he was to join her at the next stop in Paris on Christmas Day. Everyone anticipated that Europe would be festive. After all, this year Chanukah started on Christmas Eve, a rare occurrence.
Laurie sat in a high-back rich beige leather chair in the middle of the plane, meditating. In a facing chair, Marty sat directly across, reading a book on her iPad. Terri, the sole flight attendant, hovered nearby. The two security men, both good-looking hulks, sat close to the cockpit, their expressions showing they were all business. Ron Astor and Jackie Fisher sat together in the rear of the cabin, the two discussing strategies for the promotional holiday trip to Europe in hushed voices, not wanting to disturb Laurie.
Actually, Ron and Jackie were arguing.