Read Part One of How to Succeed in Showbiz Without Really Trying Fast forward. I'd graduated high school and was attending UCLA studying fine art. I went on a blind date, met my husband, dropped out of school for a semester to get married and...but that's another story.
After years abroad directing films for the Air Force, he returned to America and became a television commercial producer for a large advertising agency.
My husband encouraged, nay, insisted I continue my education. When was the last time you heard of a husband putting his wife through college?
One Christmas, we were invited to a holiday party at a major commercial production studio. I was introduced to everyone and chatting away, when a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I'd like to act in commercials. Dumbfounded, I replied, "Sure, why not?" She was the casting director of the studio and I had been discovered!
I had to get a portfolio of photos to show directors and agency people when I went to auditions. There was usually a long lineup of actors all hoping to get cast and trying, oh, so hard, to be nice to one another despite the competition. Although I was nervous, and to be honest, intimidated, I scored at my first audition. I was hired to be one of the joyfully, happy young adults square dancing to the strains of the Hamms Beer jingle, "From the land of sky blue waters..."
Since my husband was one of the more important agency producers in town, I changed my name so that no one would know that I was his wife. I was going to make it or break it on my own.
After that first job, I just kept on being cast in more and more commercials. I had a "lucky" outfit that I wore for casting calls. It was a brown and white gingham shirtdress with a white collar and white buttons down the front. How do I remember? Because I wore it for so many auditions. My long hair was tied at the nape of my neck with a big white ribbon and off I'd go. Trust me, this outfit got me lots of jobs.
Here my co-star was an elephant. This was a spot for Procter and Gamble, but I just can't remember what the product was. Oh, well.
Suddenly, I was the girl next door or the wife next door, appearing in loads of commercials. I was bubbly and enthusiastic (just like I was in my high school musicals). I bubbled and enthused about all sorts of products like Folger's Coffee, Butterball Turkey, Coca-Cola, Kodak Film, Crest Toothpaste, Disneyland, Ford, Pert Shampoo, Canada Dry Ginger Ale, and many others.
Here I am at Disneyland in a Kodak commercial. The actor with me was a fun guy. We were in a few other commercials together. In fact, there was a group of us that always seemed to be cast together. I guess our all-round wholesomeness was what did it for us.
Annette Funicello was also in this commercial. She was the Princess of Disney. I say Princess because everyone knew her and treated her like a princess. Actually, she was a lovely person to work with.
- Annette Funicello in a tea-cup with me at Disneyland
- Now, you'd think this would be a fun shoot. Well, it was to a degree. The good times ended when I discovered we had to go up and down the Matterhorn ride dozens of times until they got the shot of us plunging into the water "just right." That ride scared the living daylights out of me, but there I was laughing with joy because I loved those residual checks.
Now, if you saw the woman above - me - and you were a commercial producer or director, would the first thing you'd want to do is dye my hair blond? Dye it blond for a huge national campaign for a new shampoo? Yep, that's what they wanted. They saw me and said, "Let's make her a blond." I agreed because this spot was for a new product backed with a major national campaign and that could mean a lot of money for me. So, many bleaching processes later, I became a blond. They filmed the commercial and I went home and sobbed. I hated the way I looked. I hid in my house and wouldn't go out or let anyone see me.
And my big payoff? They cancelled the whole campaign. Why? The name of the shampoo was "Pert"and P&G suddenly discovered that Pert meant "fart." in the south. So, I was left with BLOND hair that I hated and no money! I cut my hair very short and dyed it back to my original color as soon as I could.
One of my favorite commercials was for Canada Dry. It was created by the famous author, Gerald A. Browne, when he was a New York advertising creative director. Did you read "11 Harrowhouse?" He wrote that and many other popular books which were made into movies.
His concept was to hire the most gorgeous models, bring them to Hollywood and have little old me be the "gangsters' moll." Do you recognize Maude Adams and Merle Lynn Browne? Guess who's in the blond wig?
Did I want to be an actress? No, but I loved going to the mail box and getting those residual checks!
We saved the money I earned and invested it all to start our own commercial production company. I've always been very proud of the fact that it was "my" money that funded our company!
Later, I became a painter and then a mother. I had a baby daughter and a few years later, a son. I didn't want to go on interviews. I wanted to be with my children and paint. My favorite role of all.
My daughter, Susannah and me
My son, Matt and me