"Mom, Iím home," yelled thirteen year old Jesse Raines. As soon as he walked through the door of the small stucco house the coolness from the central air-conditioning enveloped him. It was quite a welcome change from the sticky Florida heat.
"Did you remember to stop at the 7-Eleven when you got off the school bus?" came his motherís anxious voice.
"Yup," Jesse replied as he opened the refrigerator door and retrieved the bottle of ice water.
"Well, bring them here. Iím doiní my hair up."
Jesse downed the glass of water and picked up the two magazines that he had placed on the kitchen counter. He walked down the narrow hallway to his motherís bedroom. She was seated in front of her small kidney shaped vanity table with the pink ruffled skirt that touched the floor.
Jesse leaned against the doorjamb watching his mother frantically tease her black hair. He always marvelled at how quickly she could transform her hair from a tangled mess into such a nice style. She placed the yellow ratstail comb on the vanity table and picked up a can of Aqua Net. Jesse scrunched his nose as the hair spray permeated his nostrils.
Her face broke into a wide grin when she spotted Jesseís reflection in the mirror. "Hello, my baby boy."
"Hereís your movie magazines, Mom." Jesse kissed her upturned cheek.
Every month Rita eagerly awaited each issue of Rona Barrettís "Hollywood" and "Gossip" magazines to hit the stands. She felt that out of all the movie magazines, Ronaís were the only ones that told the complete truth about the stars. "Let me see, let me see," Rita exclaimed, grabbing at them. "Lord, I wish I didnít have to work tonight so I could stay home and devour all the latest news from Hollywood."
Rita was an avid reader of all movie magazines. It was Jesseís job to fetch them after school. She read "Photoplay", "Modern Screen" and "The National Enquirer." Recently she had become a fan of "People" magazine. The only thing that bothered her about "People" was that they interrupted their stories on celebrities with articles on plain old boring, ordinary people. Her favorites remained Rona Barrettís publications.
"Iím dying for news on Elvis," she gushed, thumbing through each magazine, her eyes scanning for any tidbit on her favorite star. Rita looked up and her gaze fell on the 8x10 silver framed photo of Elvis that sat on the vanity table. "Why, Elvis darling, what are you up to these days?"
She frantically turned the pages, her eyes scanning each one like a hawk seeking its prey. Tossing one magazine aside, she focused on the next. Soon, she sighed in frustration. Rita held the magazine close to her face. "Iím very disappointed in you Rona. You didnít put anything about my Elvis in your magazines this month. Damn!" Rita let the magazine drop onto the table.
"Jesse, itís just so frustrating when I donít have any real way of knowing what heís up to," she complained, shaking her head in dismay. "I write to him every week in care of his fan club, but I get no real answers, just more photos." She indicated with her hand all the photographs of Elvis that adorned her bedroom. The walls were plastered with the King from his earliest days to the present. The centerpiece of the room, however, was the poster of Elvis in a white jumpsuit from his Hawaiian television special.
"All month Iíve been waiting and hoping for another story on my Elvis, and now nothing! nothing!" she screamed. "Itís soooo frustrating. I would give anything to know where he is and what heís doing at this very minute."
Jesse picked up one of the magazines and started to search through it.
"Jesse," Rita snapped, "what are you doing?"
"Iím just checking. Maybe you missed something."
She shook her head adamantly. "Jesse, I looked. I didnít miss anything. If there was something in there on him I would have seen it." She pounded her fist on the vanity table, knocking over the can of Aqua Net. "Youíre wasting your time. Now, give them back. You can read them after Iím through, like always."
He shut the magazine and handed it back to her. "Thereís an article on Burt Reynolds. It looks real, um, in depth." Jesse had heard Rona Barrett speak about in depth interviews on television.
Rita sighed deeply and managed a small smile. "I know, dear. Iím saving that for when I get home from work."
Jesse grinned at her. He hated seeing his mother so upset. Only Elvis could make Rita truly angry. Well, only when a long period of time passed without any satisfying news on him. However, when there was some information on him, a magazine article or a television interview or a press conference, it transformed Rita into a giddy schoolgirl.
"Jesse, Iím so sorry I snapped at you. You know what special feelings I have for that man."
Jesse watched her eyes fill with tears. He wished there was something he could say or do to make her feel happier.
She reached for a pink tissue from the box on her vanity table and dabbed at her eyes. "I mean, Iím crazy about Burt Reynolds and Robert Redford, but no one is as special to me as my darling Elvis." Rita stood up and padded slowly to the closet where her black waitress uniform hung. "I took one look at that handsome face and fell desperately in love with him."
Jesse listened solemnly as Rita recounted the story of the moment she had fallen for Elvis. Jesse knew the details of that day as well as he knew his own name, but he loved the delight its retelling brought his mother, so he never tired from hearing it again.
Even though his mother was thirty-five years old, Jesse felt that in many ways she was like a young girl. He understood her love of movie stars. The Hollywood people were special and they most certainly were glamorous. They were magical and made people feel good. Jesse envied the way his mother became so easily attached to them. He saw how caught up she became in their lives and how happy they made her. Jesse wished that there was at least one glamorous Hollywood star out there that he could love. If he ever found one, that star would have his undying loyalty, the way that Elvis had Ritaís. Jesseís father had been jealous of that love and that was why he had run off with another woman when Jesse had been a year old. Jesseís father had wanted Rita to give up "this weird fascination with Elvis," as he called it. At that time, according to Rita, she also had a tremendous crush on Troy Donahue, but that had only lasted about two years. She had informed Jesse that although she found Troy attractive and quite talented, she had realized that there just wasnít enough of that special chemistry between them and she had decided to let go of him.
Jesse sat on the edge of Ritaís bed while she disappeared into the bathroom to change into her uniform His eyes wandered the room, taking in all the photos of stars that adorned the walls and table space. An 8x10 of Burt Reynolds sat atop the dresser in a silver frame, and there were several color photos of Robert Redford and Paul Newman, but Elvis definitely dominated the room. On the floor by Ritaís bed were several back issues of movie magazines, some with photos cut out and placed in a shoe box on her nightstand, to be transferred into her celebrity scrapbook at a later date.
"Honey," Rita called exuberantly as she waltzed into the bedroom a moment later with a happy smile on her face, "I have the greatest, most wonderful idea."
Jesse was pleased to see that his motherís dark mood had vanished. She came over and sat beside him on the bed. Draping her arm across his shoulders, Rita pulled him close. "This summer you and me are goiní up to Memphis."
"Up to Graceland, Elvisí house. Weíll just wait out front every single day and wait and wait for my Elvis to drive through the gates. I donít know why I didnít think of this before. Itís so easy! Iíll make up signs for us to carry. Something simple like ĎWe love you Elvis!í, and when he sees us I know heíll want to stop and talk to us. Heís a very nice man who appreciates his fans."
"Thatís neat, Mom."
"Oh darling, we are going to have a wonderful time. Iíll get us some new clothes, and who knows, maybe Iíll become the new
Mrs. Elvis Presley. Why, I get goose bumps just thinking about it!"
"Mom, maybe Monday when the new National Enquirer comes out there will be a story on Elvis."
Rita leaned forward and kissed Jesse on the top of his head. "Why, honey, I just know youíre right. I have that special feeling."
"If you marry Elvis will we have to move?"
Rita threw her head back and laughed. "Why, of course! Weíd have to divide our time between Memphis and Hollywood, just like Elvis does. If weíre going to be a family Iím sure heíd want us by his side."
"What about your other stars, Mom? I mean, if you marry Elvis, what about Burt Reynolds and Paul Newman?"
"Oh sugar, theyíre just my crushes. Elvis is really the only one that I love. He comes before my other stars. He always has and he always will. Do you understand?"
"I think so, Mom."
He felt himself being shaken.
"Wake up baby."
Slowly he opened his eyes, squinting until they adjusted to the light. Eventually they focused on his mother, dressed in a blue cotton bathrobe with a glass of iced tea clutched in one hand.
"Hi, baby. I thought Iíd come in and read my movie magazines to you."
"What time is it, Mom?"
"Itís 2:30 a.m., but donít forget tomorrowís Saturday. I thought it would be fun. I know you want to hear that story on Burt Reynolds. It says heís doing a movie up in Georgia. Of course, good olí Burt still spends a lot of his time at his ranch here in Florida." Rita dragged the maple chair from Jesseís desk over next to his bed and tilted the lamp for better lighting. "Remember that day last year when I drove you by his place?"
Jesse propped his back against the headboard. "Uh huh."
Jesse listened while Rita animately read about Burt Reynolds. It was not unusual for her to wake him in the middle of the night to recite articles from her movie magazines. She had been doing it since before he could remember. His mother didnít have many friends and Jesse realized she needed someone with whom to share her enthusiasm for movie stars. Not many people her age had as avid an interest in stars as Rita did. In Ritaís mind, people who could not find wonder, joy, and sheer fascination in the lives of Hollywood celebrities were pathetically boring. Jesse could easily share her interest as he had been brought up on it. He enjoyed learning about famous people, mostly because it took him away from the problems of his daily life, such as his hatred of school and his lack of friends. Reading and hearing about movie stars also took him away from the small house in the modest Cresthaven development in Pompano Beach, Florida. It was a medium sized city next to Fort Lauderdale, with a fair amount of retired people. Jesse had lived in the same house all of his life. His parents had purchased it soon after they had married, and when his father had left them, Rita had gone to work and managed to hang onto it. Every house in Cresthaven was exactly alike, two small bedrooms, one bathroom, a minute kitchen, a dining area and a box-like living room. Each home, however, had a generous sized yard and Rita was adamant that the yard and garden be kept up. Raised in a small town in Georgia where appearances were everything, Rita wanted her home to show that although she was husbandless, she had not lost her zest for gracious living.
"Well, Jesse, that Burt Reynolds is really something, isnít he? Such a handsome man, too." Rita covered her mouth with the palm of her hand as she giggled softly. "Why, I remember that centerfold he did in Cosmopolitan magazine a few years back...why, honey, when I saw it....heavens!" She shook her head back and forth and smirked like an embarrassed child. "It made me feel lightheaded! Imagine that, and at my age. Heís such a rascal!"
"Who do you think is more handsome, Elvis or Burt?" Jesse asked, pleased to see his mother in such high spirits.
"Oh, Jesse!" She slapped him playfully on the wrist. "Why do you tease me so? You do love to get your mother going."
"Mom, you sure are lucky to have your idols."
"Idols." Rita turned the word over in her mind. "Thatís such a nice word."
"I donít have any idols yet. This week in history class we learned about Benjamin Franklin. He invented electricity. He was funny, too. I really admire him." Jesse stopped short when he noticed a troubled look cross his motherís face.
"Well now, honey, thatís all well and good. Iím positive that he was a great man, but he wasnít a real star. Why heavens, they didnít even have movie stars back then. When you have a special idol it should be someone in the entertainment field. Theyíre the most romantic people on earth. Do you understand what I mean, dear? Theyíre just bigger than life and they make you feel good. I believe they have some kind of wonderful magical power."
"Well, I donít feel that way about anyone I see on television or in movies."
Rita smiled fondly at her son. "Jesse, dear, youíre still young. When I was your age I didnít have any special celebrity either. Why, I was much older than you when I fell for Elvis. The first time I saw him on television I broke out in a sweat across my brow and my head started spinning and my heartbeat was rapid. Nothing ever affected me that way before. I fell under a magical spell and the love I felt for that man was bigger than life and it still is. In fact, dear, the reason I married your daddy was because he reminded me so much of my Elvis. He had that dark hair and those pouting lips."
Jesse had often looked through the family photo album and had always marvelled at the resemblance between his father and Elvis Presley. Jesse didnít remember his father, but sometimes he wondered about him, where he lived, whether or not he had a new family. Since the day his father had left, Jesse had not heard a word from him.
"Do you think Iíll ever see him again?" Jesse asked.
"No, dear, heís gone for good, and Iím glad of it." Rita slammed her magazine shut. "The man was plain no good. He spent all his time drinking and chasing women." Rita stood up. "Itís time we went to sleep, dear. Iím working the afternoon shift at the country club." Jesse crawled under the covers as his mother leaned over and kissed him. "Sleep tight, baby."
Rita walked across the hall to her own bedroom and flicked on the light switch. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the poster of Elvis hanging on the wall above her bed. Her eyes wandered the room, drinking in the more then three hundred pictures of "The King" that plastered the walls. Rita was proud of her collection of Elvis memorabilia. She had over thirty thousand photos of her idol, mostly packed away in boxes, although many were dispersed throughout the house. Rita loved the fact that no matter what room she entered, her belovedís face was there to greet her. Elvis filled the lonely place in her heart. There could never be any other man for her. Who could compare with Elvis? After Jesseís father had walked out on her she had gone on several dates and sincerely tried to find someone who could make her feel the way that Elvis made her feel. It wasnít long before she realized that no man could ever fill his blue suede shoes. She giggled at her joke. Rita knew in her heart that one day, somehow, someway, she and Elvis would be together. She opened the top drawer of her nightstand, where her special stationery was kept. The yellow paper with her name,"Rita Raines" embossed in black type across the top, also featured a profile of Elvisís face in the upper left hand corner. She selected a sheet of paper and reached for her Cross pen that she kept in the same drawer. She used the pen only when writing to him. Seating herself at the vanity table, Rita began her weekly letter.
My dearest Elvis,
I canít believe another week has gone by since Iíve
written to you. A star as famous as you must have so
much to do. Still, I keep writing to you in care of your
fan club hoping that someday you will read one of
my letters. The people who run your fan club are very nice.
They always send me an autographed photo of you. No
matter how many I receive I still wait with bated breath
for the next.
Today I received both of Rona Barrettís movie
magazines and much to my dismay there was not one tiny
tidbit of news about you in either one. Elvis, whatís going
on with you? Iím dying for news. You need better public
relations people. Your fans need news of you on a regular
basis. I canít stand not knowing where you are and what
youíre doing. I have resigned myself to the fact that you
are no doubt performing in Las Vegas, entertaining at least
some of your legions of fans.
Well, Elvis, I have good news! My son, Jesse, and I are
coming to Memphis next summer. You can just imagine how
excited we are. I hope beyond hope that after all these
years you and I will finally meet. I feel it is our destiny be
Well, my darling Elvis, itís late and Iím working the
afternoon shift at the country club tomorrow. I hope to
hear from you soon.
All my love, as always,
Rita reread the letter and made sure that every "i" over Elvis was dotted with a heart. It was her special touch that she added to each of her letters to him. When she was satisfied, she placed the letter in the matching yellow envelope. She would drop it in the mail on her way to work tomorrow.
She pulled down the bedspread and climbed into bed. The fresh sheets felt cool against her body. Before flicking off the lamp on the nightstand, Rita looked lovingly around the room at all the handsome Elvises smiling down at her. She smiled back. "Goodnight, my love," she whispered, and blew a kiss at his poster.
"Alright,take it from the top one more time," Michael Richards told the young actors on stage.
Amanda Yates sat in the back of the classroom, enthralled in the scene featuring her classmates. She had enrolled in Michael Richardsí acting class two weeks ago, almost immediately after arriving in Hollywood. Her parents had been dead set against her acting ambitions but she had pleaded her case over and over until they had finally relented, making her promise that if she had not obtained work within two years she would come home to Boston and enroll in college.
Amanda was fortunate that her grandmother had left her ten thousand dollars in her will, which enabled her to finance her move to California. Her mother had flown out and together they had found Amanda a reasonably priced studio apartment on Fuller Avenue in West Hollywood and a secondhand Volkswagen bug.
Two weeks later Amandaís mother clung to her as they said goodbye.
"Are you sure you wonít reconsider and come home with me, dear?"
Although it was difficult for her to see her mother leave, Amanda was determined. She shook her head as she embraced her mother one last time. "No, Mom, I have to do this. If I donít at least try, Iíll always regret it."
Jean Yates wiped away the tears, trying not to think of the disasters that could befall a beautiful eighteen year old girl in the big city. "I want you to call me everyday...collect."
"I mean it."
"Alright. Kiss Daddy for me. I love you." Amanda leaned forward and kissed her motherís cheek. She waited until the plane took off before she left the terminal. Alone for the first time in her life, she was both nervous and excited about what awaited her in the coming years.
"Amanda, what did you think of the scene?" Michael Richardsí deep, smooth voice brought Amanda out of her reverie.
"I enjoyed it," she uttered, feeling she sounded like a complete imbecile.
Michael moved to the back of the room and stood over her. God, how she hated being put on the spot like this.
"Did you find the actors convincing?"
She nodded. "Oh, yes, very much so. I thought they did an excellent job."
His face broke into a broad smile. Amanda thought that he could sell boatloads of toothpaste with his perfect, straight, whiter than white teeth. Every time he flashed her one of his engaging grins Amanda felt that her heart might skip a beat. She always found herself at a loss for words when she was around him, he was so devastatingly handsome. Michael possessed that blonde, golden California look that she found so very attractive. His eyes were aqua like the water in a swimming pool. Michael had told her that he was twenty-six years old, only eight years older than herself. She recalled being very impressed that someone so young could know enough about acting that he was able to teach others.
"Amanda, next week I want you to do a scene with...," he glanced around the room. "With Rick."
Amanda looked over and smiled at her new scene partner. Rick Morgan was a mop haired, pleasing looking twenty year old.
"I would like you to do a scene from ĎThe Glass Menagerieí."
"Great," replied Amanda, excited at the prospect of doing her first scene.
Over the next week Rick and Amanda got together nearly every evening to rehearse. They met most often at Amandaís apartment because Rick had three roommates and it would be impossible to read through their scene undisturbed at his place. On two occasions they met at "Ben Franks" coffee shop on Sunset. They would sit in a booth and sip coffee while they talked about the scene and their characters. During the week they also spent a lot of time getting to know each other, sharing their hopes and dreams with one another. In the past, Amanda had often felt embarrassed when she spoke of her acting ambitions with her friends back in Boston, but Rick understood, as he had the same aspirations. He was her first friend in Hollywood. It was wonderful to be able to tell someone that she wanted to do a situation comedy like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" without getting a strange look from the other person. The fact that Rick was also from Boston enhanced their friendship.
One evening, a couple of days before their weekly class met, Amanda entered her apartment and was welcomed by the persistent ringing of the telephone. She dropped the bag of groceries she was carrying onto the white pullout sofa and picked up the phone.
"Amanda," came Rickís voice through the receiver.
"Whatís up, Rick?"
"Do you have any plans for tomorrow?"
"Well, I was going to call Kelly Girls and register for some temp work. I thought I could make some extra money so I donít go through my savings. Why?"
"Listen, Iíve lined up some extra work in a film, if youíre interested."
"Yes, absolutely! I think it would be fun. Iíve never been on _ movie set before."
"Great, Iíll pick you up a seven sharp."
The pleasant residential street in Studio City was blocked off for the filming of "Books Of Blood", a horror movie about a group of high school students being stalked by a mad killer. Amanda sat on the lawn among a group of extras while the scene was being set up. Rick had gone off to the lunch wagon to fetch them both a cup of coffee. The sky was overcast that morning and there was an autumn chill to the air. Amanda was glad that she was wearing her navy blue sweatshirt and blue jeans.
Her eyes fell on the assortment of extras who surrounded her on the front lawn of the house where they were filming. They were all fairly young since they had to pass for high school students. Amanda heard one gawky girl say, "Iíve done about eight movie roles this year. I hope I get discovered soon. I know Iíve got what it takes. If I wasnít any good, they wouldnít use me so much." Amanda stifled a laugh. Didnít the poor girl realize that anyone could get extra work? This morning, on the way over in the car, Rick had informed her that extras were a strange bunch of people. Many of them actually felt that they had real parts in the film. They were what Rick referred to as career extras.
"Are you enjoying yourself, Amanda?" Rick approached her carrying two steaming cups of coffee.
"You were right about extras being weird," she whispered.
"Oh yeah, youíve got that right. In all fairness, though, you occasionally meet some really nice people who are just doing it to pick up extra money or just for fun."
"Have you done much of it?"
"No, just now and again. Itís actually good experience. It gives you a chance to see how it all works." He waved his free hand back and forth, indicating the movie location.
Rick had been in Hollywood for two years and had done a few roles in plays at some of the small local theaters. He also belonged to an improvisational comedy group called "Group Therapy". Of course, there were the straight jobs, the usual stuff struggling actors do to survive. Since arriving in Hollywood, Rick had worked as a waiter at a pizza parlor, parked cars at a Beverly Hills restaurant, and delivered flowers for a local florist. For the past two years he had been studying acting with Michael Richards. Rick felt that Michael was the best acting coach in the city, and even though it was a strain on Rickís meager and sporadic income to continue to pay for his lessons, he just couldnít give them up. Rick often found himself skimping by on only one meal a day and paying his rent late in order to keep up his acting class. In fact, that was the main reason he did extra work.
Rickís lifestyle and ambition for success left him very little time for developing a steady romantic relationship with a girl. He had not missed that part of his life too much. He was only twenty, and he felt that there was no big rush. His eyes wandered over to where Amanda was sitting quietly beside him. Her arms were draped around her knees, with the coffee cup resting on the ground beside her. Amanda was the first girl that Rick had been seriously attracted to in ages. He just couldnít believe how startlingly beautiful she was, with her long, wavy, mahogany colored hair that fell past her shoulders, and her fiery topaz eyes, not to mention her full succulent lips and that honey colored skin. Amandaís looks were totally her own. What Rick found most amazing was the fact that she was such a nice person. He would have expected a girl with her body and looks to be a real bitch. He was completely awestruck by her.
Amanda listened to every word the assistant director was saying.
"We want you to stand alongside the driveway in groups of twos and threes. When the attendants come out with the body on the stretcher, move in closer and keep doing so as the body is put in the back of the ambulance. You can cover your mouths with your hands, or gasp in horror. Weíll need some type of reaction from you. Okay, weíll do a run-through first and see how it works."
Today was Amandaís second day of extra work on Of "Books Blood". Yesterday they had shot a party scene at the house in Studio City. Amanda and Rick had danced together. At the end of the scene, the murdered body of one of the students was found sitting at the dining room table. Today they were filming outside the same house as the body was being taken away.
"Alright! Places everyone!" the assistant director yelled.
Amanda stood next to Rick on the side of the driveway. She watched as the action unfolded before her. When the rehearsal was done they broke for a few minutes before shooting it on film.
Amanda settled on the grass next to Rick. "I had no idea shooting such a small segment of film could take so long," she sighed.
"You get used to it," Rick stated as he lay back on the ground and closed his eyes.
"Excuse me, miss."
Amanda looked up to see the young assistant director, Daniel Holt, standing above her with his hand on her shoulder. "Yes?"
"Mr. Jackson would like to have a word with you."
"Bob Jackson?" she asked.
"Yes, heís right over there."
She followed the direction in which he pointed and spotted the tall, balding director engrossed in conversation with the cinematographer. They were both seated in canvas chairs. She shot Rick a worried look.
"Donít worry, Amanda, itíll be alright." Rick flashed her a brilliant smile which reassured her.
Hoping that she wasnít going to be fired, Amanda reluctantly made her way to where Bob Jackson sat like a king on his throne.
"Hello, Iím Bob Jackson." He held out his hand and Amanda was relieved to see the smile on his lips.
"Itís a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Jackson. Iím Amanda Yates."
He reclined back in his chair and studied her like she was a painting he was considering purchasing. It made her feel like merchandise.
"Tell me about yourself, Amanda."
Amanda obliged by telling him that she had just moved here from Boston with the hope of becoming an actress. He asked her a few questions about herself and when she completed her biography, he smiled warmly.
"Well, my dear, Iíve been watching you these past two days and Iíd like to use you for a small part in this film."
"Are you joking, Mr. Jackson?"
"I never joke. I think youíd be an asset to my film."
"Yes. Youíre an extremely attractive young lady."
"Thank you," she whispered, shyly averting her eyes. Briefly, she stared at her feet.
"Are you a member of the Screen Actors Guild?"
"No, Iím not."
"Well, after doing the part I have in mind for you, youíll be able to join."
The role he created for her called for Amanda to run up to the stretcher as it is being brought out to the ambulance and to pull the sheet off the body. She recognizes the body of her boyfriend and becomes hysterical, screaming and carrying on and yelling threats at anyone who comes near her. Then, as the ambulance pulls away, Amanda turns and faces the crowd of extras and says, "I know one of you is responsible for Billyís death, and I swear to God I will not rest until I know who killed him. When I find out, I promise you that I will kill you myself!"
She was concerned whether her limited acting experience would carry her through the range of emotions that she would have to display. Bob Jackson worked with her. He walked her through the scene several times and gave her numerous tips on film acting, the main one being never to look directly at the camera. The first time that Amanda went through the rehearsal she felt intimidated. It was difficult for her to let go in front of so many people, but she realized that Bob Jackson was giving her the chance of a lifetime. There was no way she could allow herself to screw up. Amanda drew on her inner strengths. She knew herself well enough to know that if she believed strongly in something that she could handle any challenge that came her way.
After four rehearsals Bob Jackson felt that Amanda was ready for the first take. He had a special feeling about this extraordinarily beautiful young woman. He knew that the camera was going to love her. The girl was born to be a star. It was a gut feeling he had the moment that he had laid eyes on her. If she played her cards right, this Amanda Yates could go right to the top of the heap. Amanda had what people in the film industry called "it". No one could actually define what "it" was, but Amanda had "it" in abundance.
She stretched out in the bathtub, the warm water releasing the tension in her weary bones. Amanda was too exhausted to move. Today had been the most thrilling day of her life. She felt like the luckiest person on earth to have been given such a golden opportunity. Bob Jackson had expanded her role and she was to appear in three more scenes. Amanda had to pinch herself to make sure she wasnít dreaming.
Michael watched intently as Rick and Amanda went through their scene on the small stage. The scene, from Tennessee Williamsí
"The Glass Menagerie", was between the shy, delicate Laura, and Jim the gentleman caller. Of the two actors on stage Rick was the more skilled, but Amanda had an unconscious ability to draw people to her, to her side, to watch and listen to her. Although Michael wouldnít deny his attraction to Amanda, he was secure enough in his teaching abilities to know that he could be subjective while watching her work.
As the scene ended with "Laura" placing the broken unicorn into "Jimís" hand, Michael stood up to critique their work. He caught the quick squeeze that Rick gave Amandaís hand and the look of camaraderie that passed between them. Michael shrugged off the irritation he felt at the affection that was obvious between Rick and Amanda.
Michael focused on Rick first, telling him that his concentration and pacing were excellent, then delving into some of the finer points of the role. Rick was obviously pleased with his critique.
Michael turned his attention to Amanda. She was smiling at Rick, genuinely happy for the approval he had received. She turned to Michael, still smiling, but he detected a vulnerability that hadnít been evident a second ago. He had received that look many times before from aspiring young actors who needed his approval. Michael understood that need, for oftentimes his students met with nothing but rejection from agents and casting directors, from parents who thought their children were deluding themselves to think that they could get anywhere in such an exotic business. Michael knew that all that rejection took itís toll within: Am I really good enough? Do I stand even a fraction of a chance? was what Amandaís look really meant. He understood all too well because he had been through and even still experienced the same desire, rejection, and selfdoubt. But in the end, Michael knew that it was his job to be honest. He owed that to his students and to himself.
"Amanda, you started off beautifully, but you lost your concentration," he began. "You got too comfortable. Jim is Lauraís gentleman caller, not her steady boyfriend. As the scene progresses, you should relax a bit, but never entirely. Never forget how fragile Lauraís character is." Michael spent a bit more time helping Amanda understand her character and eventually asked that she and Rick do the scene again.
Michael was impressed. By the third time that they had completed their scene, Amandaís performance was greatly improved. When he told her so, she looked at him and smiled, her topaz eyes still vulnerable, but now radiant. Michaelís heart melted.
Amanda looked around the casually elegant restaurant, thinking what a far cry it was from Pioneer Chicken.
"What are you smiling at?" Michael asked, grinning back at her.
"I was looking at your plate," Amanda replied, indicating the chicken marsala that Michael had ordered for dinner, "and remembering the fast food chicken that I had two nights ago. Itís difficult to envision them as being in the same food group."
"Would you like to try it?"
"No, thank-you, I donít want anything to interfere with this incredible sea bass. I truly believe this is what they must serve in heaven."
When Michael had asked Amanda if he could see her after class four nights ago, Amanda had been nervous. She thought that he was going to tell her to throw in the towel as far as acting was concerned, but hadnít he told her how much sheíd improved on the third run-through?
Amanda remembered how uncomfortable he had looked. "Amanda, Iíd like to ask you to dinner," he had begun before adding quickly, "If you donít want to go, or would feel uncomfortable about it, you know, the student-teacher thing, let me know. It wonít affect the class, and Iíll understand."
Amanda had been a little surprised at Michaelís nervousness. She had only known him on a classroom basis, and it was usually reversed, with her being the one who felt ill at ease, and him full of confidence.
"Iíd love to go to dinner, Michael," she had answered.
"Rick wouldnít mind?"
"Rick and I are just friends. Of course he wouldnít mind," she had replied.
"Great." He smiled boyishly. "Iíve got your address on file. Iíll pick you up Friday at 8:00."
Rick had been curious to know why she had been delayed. When Amanda told him about the dinner date with Michael, he had not said much, but seemed a little irritated. Amanda supposed Rick did not approve of her dating the acting coach. In fact, Amanda had been a little taken aback herself, but Michaelís nervousness made it obvious that he was not accustomed to asking his students for dinner dates.
Michael had called her Thursday to confirm the date and suggest a restaurant. Wanting to look poised and mature for her date with Michael, Amanda chose a simple, cinnamon colored chemise. She knew the dress complimented her coloring and enhanced her figure, and was glad of her choice of attire when she saw the admiring look in Michaelís eyes when he first saw her. Amanda wondered if he noticed the same look of approval in her own eyes. He was dressed in a European cut, midnight blue suit, white shirt, and no tie. "Listen, I hate ties," he had explained. "There arenít many places in Los Angeles that require them, but just in case, I have one in the car."
He had taken her to this restaurant in Marina Del Rey. The soft lights and pink tablecloths gave off a romantic glow, but the restaurant was large enough so that it wasnít too intimate for a first date. They had been seated by the window. Although it was nighttime, the full moon and outdoor lighting provided a nice view of the yachts that rocked back and forth on their moorings. It was the nicest restaurant that Amanda had been to since arriving in California.
"When did you decide you wanted to be an actress?" he inquired.
Amanda took a sip of wine before replying. "It was never a conscious decision. Itís all I ever wanted to do." Amanda paused for a moment before continuing. "When I was five years old my mother took me to a childrenís production of "Snow White". I was completely enthralled. I guess if I had to pinpoint a time in my life when I knew I wanted to act, that would be it." She grinned self-consciously. "That probably sounds silly."
Michael shook his head. "Not at all. I was seven when the acting bug hit me. Our second grade class contribution to the school assembly was "The Four Food Groups And You". I was a head of broccoli."
Later they walked along the marina, admiring the expensive yachts. When Michael drove her home, Amanda wasnít sure whether
to invite him in or not. She had had a wonderful evening with Michael, but now she felt a little shy as he was older and more sophisticated than anyone she had ever dated. Luckily, Michael made it easy for her, as if he sensed her awkwardness.
"Amanda, Iíd like to see you again."
She nodded. "Iíd like that, too."
"Great. Let me walk you to the door and then Iíll get going. A friend of mine is in a play which opens Saturday. We could go to an early dinner, and after the play my friendís throwing a party. Sound okay?"
"It sounds wonderful. Thank you for the nice time tonight, Michael."
Michael bent his head slightly and gave her a light kiss. "See you in class."
"Damn," Amanda muttered to herself as she tripped over her suitcase that stood in the middle of her living room. "Well, once a klutz, always a klutz." Her eyes darted around the small apartment. "Home sweet home, be it ever so humble."
Amanda had mixed feelings about being back in Hollywood after having spent the holidays in Boston. She had relished being surrounded by the security of her family and friends once again. How nice it had been to be back on the familiar streets of the city that the Puritans had begun. It had felt so safe and warm in her parentsí large, comfortable Dutch Colonial house, waking up in her cozy, antique four-poster bed with the down filled pillows, the smell of bacon and eggs and freshly brewed coffee wafting up through the house until it reached her room.
All of her childhood friends had stopped by and brought her up to date on the latest gossip. Of course, they imagined her life to be exciting and exotic compared to the conservative climate of Boston. Her friends had been beside themselves when they learned she had already had a part in a movie. They begged her to recite the lines she had spoken in the film over and over, promising to be the first in the ticket line when "Books Of Blood" made its Boston debut.
Amanda lifted her giant, overstuffed suitcase onto the pullout sofa. She did not look forward to the job of unpacking. Just as she snapped open the locks, the telephone rang.
"Welcome home, honey," came Michaelís cheery voice.
"Oh, Michael, I missed you so much."
"I missed you, too. How was your trip?"
"Wonderful. I had a great time. How was Seattle?"
"Great, thanks. Listen, Amanda, I have some great news. Iíve arranged for you to have an interview with my agent, Sheldon Ross. I told him all about you and he wants to see you the day after tomorrow."
Amanda gripped the receiver tightly. "Michael, do you think Iím ready to get an agent?"
"Absolutely. Listen, honey, Sheldon Ross is a very busy man. If I didnít think you were ready I wouldnít waste his time, nor would I waste yours."
Amanda sighed happily. "Michael, thank-you so much. I donít know what to say."
"Just be there at ten sharp, and knock him dead. That will be thanks enough for me."
After Michael gave her the Century City address of Sheldon Ross, Amanda replaced the receiver, overcome with excitement. Sheldon Ross was a top-notch agent. He handled some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Amandaís joy was overshadowed by a case of the jitters. What would she say to the powerful agent? What would he think of her? Good God, what in the world would she wear?
Amanda waited nervously in Sheldon Rossí outer office. She thumbed through the latest issue of Los Angeles Magazine, hoping that his middle-aged secretary didnít realize what a basket case she was this morning. She did her best to keep a calm facade, still, she felt scared. She desperately wanted to be signed by Sheldon Ross.
After changing clothes several times this morning, Amanda had settled on a simple outfit which consisted of a black and white houndstooth skirt with black stockings and a black cashmere sweater. Her hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail and she wore very little makeup.
"Mr. Ross will see you now." Sheldonís secretary gave Amanda a professional smile.
Amanda nodded thank-you and stepped lightly across the room. When she entered his office he was engrossed in an animated telephone conversation.
"Yes, well, damn it, I think itís a fine script. Of course heíll love it."
Sheldon looked up when Amanda entered and gestured with his free hand for her to sit in one of the two black leather chairs across from his desk. She sank into the soft seat.
"All I can do at this point is tell him about the project. Heís all set to do a series at Universal. Sounds good, Mort. Iíll let you know." He replaced the receiver on the phone cradle and leaned forward across his desk. "Hello Amanda, Iím Sheldon Ross. Iím sorry to have kept you waiting." They shook hands.
"Itís a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Ross." Amanda sat rigidly in the chair facing the powerful agent. He had a pleasant face with thinning silver hair combed back off his tanned face, and sad, puppy dog eyes that seemed to radiate a gentle nature.
"Michael tells me youíre quite a talented actress." A slight smile appeared on his thin lips. "I understand youíve already had a part in a film."
"Yes," Amanda replied. "In ĎBooks of Blood.í"
Amanda laughed and felt some of her tension recede.
"Iíve looked at your photos and resume. Iíd like to send you to another photographer." He paused. "Iím not promising you anything, and I donít want you to get your hopes up. Hollywood is full of actors wanting to act. I donít need to tell you, Iím sure, but the competition is tremendous. If you trust my judgement and youíre dedicated, and if you have very thick skin, we might, and I mean might be able to get you some work."
"Iím a hard worker, Mr. Ross, and Iím very determined. I know itís not going to happen overnight and I know there will be tons of rejection, but I will not give up."
He leaned back in his chair and openly stared at Amanda. "Youíre a very beautiful young women. Have you ever thought of modeling?"
"No, what I want to do is act. But thank-you for the compliment."
"Alright, then." He gave her the photographerís business card. "My secretary will set up an appointment for you." Sheldon stood up to indicate that the short meeting was over.
After Amanda left, Sheldon picked up the 8x10 glossy of Amanda that lay on the desk. "What a knock out." He whistled softly. Her photos hadnít done her justice. It didnít matter if she didnít have an ounce of talent. With her looks and body, and his guidance, sheíd go directly to the top. Funny thing, though, Michael said she was a hell of an actress. Sheldon leaned back in his leather chair. "This girl is going to be a gold mine."
Read Chapters 6-10
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Copyright © 1998 Marden Carroll