HOW TO GET PARTS IN TV & FILMS IN HOLLYWOOD What I did wrong that I can make you do right! Fame was just an inch away!
I LIVED IN BEVERLY HILLS RIGHT IN THE CENTER OF IT ALL!
MEL BROOKS SHOT THIS ON THE SET OF ROBIN HOOD MEN IN TIGHTS!
LIFE CHANGED FOR SIEGEL WHEN SHE WENT TO THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER!
IRVING GORDON, 80 YEAR OLD SONGWRITER & LESLIE SIEGEL, 30, WERE TOGETHER 5 YEARS!
FROM TV TO FILMS CLIMB THE LADDER AND LEARN THE RIGHT STUFF!
Sounds easy enough, right? Sell all you have in middle America, or East Coast, or a small town, and get going before sundown, heading out to Hollywood or BUST! The first thing you must do is to have a "can-do" attitude which is not easy to achieve as you come down to the reality that about a thousand and more have the same idea as you may have, holding steadfast to the same rules in their own minds about how to make it in Hollywood.
Listen up to the following golden rules put down by a now seasoned Hollywood whatever it was I was supposed to be! Rules, that's right. The first thing is that you must write your own rules and goals. When I first came out to California I had contacts, pals of my mother's who were more than eager to help me, but I was so "green", had no experience and was hyper and childishly out of control, not what the real casting directors want to see.
But still, I had the red carpet rolled out, made up an acting resume and started to hang with a guy, a childhood friend, a dreamer who seemed at the time to be my ticket to the stars. I could act, I had energy, I had a boyish beauty, I could play guitar and sing original music as well as had the background, the people who could get me from point A to point B, a direct path to success built, at the time, quite easy. My family tree reads like a who's who in acting and theater. So what happened? What did I do wrong that I can make you do right?
First of all you must not fall into the first crowd you meet, which for me was my biggest mistake. The guy helping me achieve my dreams, this childhood pal of mine from NYC had been living with another very odd couple that I didn't know very well. This couple, Ben & Tiffany, were also attached to a movie producer who had a track record at that time of some small time hits. One morning, controlling Ben asked me to be Tiffany's driver to the set where his uncle was putting the finishing touches on a "C" movie starring Linda Blair & John Vernon.
At first I didn't want to drive Tiffany, a not so pretty rich kid from Lake Shore, to the set where they were filming the classroom scene. But in the end, I did. And I'm glad I had driven her. When they began filming, Tiffany kept looking into the camera. She was sitting behind Linda Blair.
They kept asking her to stop, but she wouldn't, so the director quickly looked around the classroom and spotted me off to the side. "You are gone," he pointed to Tiffany. He stared me up and down and said, "You're in!". I sat down at the classroom desk and they finished the scene by late afternoon.
At lunch Tiffany was crying on the telephone to Ben who was angry as a bear at me for accepting the small extra role. He could not stand the fact that I had beaten out his girlfriend, who he promised would have a movie career! "You know you could have turned it down, you're mean to Tiffany, and are no longer her driver," he screamed like an angry bee.
When we returned back to the Beverly Hills house in the hills, lights were twinkling and the City of L.A. sparkled like jewels in the night. Ben was sitting outside on the balcony strumming his two necked electric guitar softly.
It was warm and breezy. I thought, "nothing, not even Ben's mean attitude nor Tiffany's fake indifference is going to rob me of my first time on film." She spent the rest of the evening in the bathroom softly crying with the door locked. Ben suddenly pulled out a thick piece of paper. On it he scrawled some type of acting contract. It was for 5 years. "Sign," he said harshly with his usual controlling deep voice. I signed, wondering what it all meant.
I did a few more stints on the Savage Streets set minus Tiffany, almost landing a plum job as Linda Blair's stand-in if not for our height differences. As I stood in the set bathroom looking in the mirror, dressed to the nines in cheerleader regalia, pom-poms and all, Linda walked in wearing her aerobics outfit for a scene in the gym confronting the men who defiled her sister.
We were both in costume, me to be playing Becca the Cheerleader as her sister is raped by a gang, cameras switch back from the squad and the rape. Blair looked at me curiously and put her arm around me. "My hips are bigger than yours," she stated, then laughed. I laughed along with her.
She was right, but I didn't say anything. They were bigger, and she was 2 inches shorter than me. Too bad, it would have paid me $200 per day and they had 2 more months of filming. Then I thought of the contract I signed with Ben, and was glad I didn't get it, I would have had to give him 30%, unheard of agent fees. What a joke he was.
Meanwhile, back at the house in the hills, Ben & Tiffany immediately became jealous of me and we were all three vying for attention, which was given sparingly and doled out like prisoners in a P.O.W. camp by their Uncle Billy. We'd wile away the days making up all these shows to submit to him, plus a variety show called Synergy starring Ann Margaret as a host (never to be). We'd pitch anyone we could glean from the producer contacts in our parent's phone books.
Ben would walk back and forth talking crazily about his many other projects that I typed up on a crappy typewriter. It most probably went straight into the garbage at Uncle Bill's offices or any production office back then we may have sent it too. So my first mistake was getting with roommates or old childhood friends whom I thought could help me but just ended up bullying and abandoning me.
We were living at this cool stilt house in one of the canyons of Beverly Hills CA, rented out by 1 of Elizabeth Taylor's boyfriends. But, in the end, they left me; Ben and Tiffany going to the Uncle's pad in Mt. Olympus and the childhood friend now a tarnished knight in shining armor disappearing in the middle of the night. When the $1200 dollar rent became due I tried to handle it myself without calling my mother and her new husband, who were visiting with the prime minister of Israel! Then one day, by chance I met some musicians on Venice Beach where I was going on weekends to sing with my guitar for some small change.
I met these musicians as I was leaving the beach at the end of one of my days there; sun burnt and thinking I was getting a bit more wiser. They asked me to play the guitar and sing, which I did with vigor. But these people seemed to like it and immediately wanted to put me in a real recording studio, and it didn't take long for me to become their new muse, especially the oldest of the 4 men, a tall, smiling guy named Perry.
There was also a guitar player named Justin Tyme and a few other musicians getting involved in the new project starring me. The problem was that these musicians were eager to spend their own money and put me in the studio to make a demo of my original songs, but they were black, all of them! Not the typical stereotyped bad types, nor were they into into rap music or gang banging. Just a bunch of happy, hippy black musicans that wanted to help and get excited about some new project, pulled from a bunch of other projects they had on their dusty plates.
Through them I met Lawrence Hilton Jacobs (Joe Jackson on TV Michael Jackson movie). He invited us to a speak easy and there was the actor that played Juan Epstein from "Welcome Back Kotter". Suddenly, Robert Heyes grabbed me and danced around the club. At that moment I felt like John Travolta's dance partner in Saturday Night Fever minus John Travolta (he never showed up).
I also met through the black guys Little Richard (who doesn't know who he is?), who loved my demo they'd made for me. Even little Gary Coleman was interested in meeting with our "company" we set up out of the house in Beverly Hills when he wanted to start a recording studio of his own.
I still remember all of us chasing after him one evening at Larry Parker's Diner right smack dab in the middle of Beverly Hills, CA, where we all lived. It was hard to believe, thinking back to then now, that we actually all lived together in that house over looking both sides of the Valley and Los Angeles.
After meeting a few more obscure actors and musicians (Chaka-Khan, Ike Turner) I started to believe we could pull this off. I mean, people's views were changing, but I must have been totally ahead of my time, or simply blind, because it had a negative opposite effect in more ways as we progressed.
The black guys moved into the Beverly Hills house. We all knew Ben kept returning, coming right in the front door! Ben had the ONLY key to the place. The rest of the time (usually me) we'd crawl in through an open window. Everyone realized that Ben was coming back when we were out and actually pissing and pooping in the bathrooms, leaving his mark like a dog on the toilet seat. Then, just as quick, he was gone! I never saw him or Tiffany again and still wonder what happened to them.
Without getting into the horrid details of having 6 black people from South Central L.A. living in my rented house next door the the costume designer from some great epic movies, and Bette Midler down the street, I'd had it with the group when the police arrested 4 of the black guys in the middle of the night as they sat in front of the now deceased actor Rock Hudson's front gate getting drunk on cheap Ripple Port!
When Beverly Hills Police found them back then, they'd given our telephone number to Rock Hudson's gardener who called me and then the cops came on the line asking if these were indeed my roommates. "This is Officer Westfall, Beverly Hills Police, do you know Perry, Stefan, Rodney and Kim?" "Yes, officer, they are my roommates." He let them go. When they got home, they were acting like guilty kids, very immature and guilt ridden.
By that time, it had been about 2 months since the black people moved in. My mother and her friends, which included Gilligan Island's Ginger (Movie Star) Tina Louise, a millionaire novelist and even famed first black Catwoman Eartha Kitt were calling and begging me not to hurt my mother by hanging around a bunch of people who had no money or credibility, whatever their color.
Actually, Tina Louise seemed the most concerned, and she had the most open mind of the celebrities who knew my situation. It seemed at the time I had little choice, and it only served to steam up my mother so badly that she hasn't really forgiven me. She practically disowned me, another abandonment I would never recover from to this day, and that was 28 years ago!
Mother, who was weaned on Broadway, Opera and entertaining was a gorgeous, well educated, wealthy woman back then, and even wrote me a letter imploring me to get away from the black people. I did finally get away, but it was with one of them, a black guitarist named Justin Tyme, a marvelous musician who resembled Sly from Sly & the Family Stone or Bootsie Collins, the bass player, he really was interesting and spoke like an Englishman. But as my mother said, "Oh my God, he's blacker than the Ace of Spades, how could you?"
We shed that empty stilt house and the other roommates like the plague, running from there to his mom and dad's 2 bedroom home in South Central Los Angeles, between Main Street and Normandie, blocks from the Rodney King Riot flashpoint. We lived in a small cottage in back of the house that I fixed up feeling safe and cozy.
After I settled into Justin's parent's cottage on the edge of Watts, I began to relax, not being constantly controlled and harassed by Ben, who had become through the months a total bully. We made sure to rip up his stupid contract and laugh at his stupid ego. That's when I started to get smart and began joining all of the extra agencies and non-union film companies to get work starting at the bottom and working my way up in motion pictures and television.
That was the most positive thing I could have done then, because I started to get small roles as a featured extra, due to my extra skills of contorting my flexible Yoga body into a ball, or being Janis Joplin the Hippie Sixties singer. I could do just about anything within reason, even auditioning for the legs of Josie Cotton, an obscure folk singer (I didn't get the part), and was semi naked in one of Michael J. Fox's first "C" movies "Fast Moves".
I even played one of the cloaked nuns in Billy Idol's "Say Your Prayers" video for MTV, then an AFI film "Focus" made by Eric Red, who wrote The Hitcher. It should be noted that Eric Red ran his jeep into a plate glass window of a restaurant injuring himself and others, then tried to cut his throat with the broken glass, all due to drug use, which I never grappled with. I had a natural high attitude and didn't need drugs or alcohol. I think that is why I remember everything so clearly from beginning to the end of this article.
I did the 2 films for AFI, the same crew with Eric Red and another man named Niels Nielsen directing. Suddenly I found myself laughing and carrying on with with a comedy actor named Michael Pitaki (was a bad guy on Happy Days, recurring role) who took me to his home in Studio City, trying to fill my nose with Cocaine and have sex with me! Bad move again, I ran from there so fast, then back at the house I thought, "Gee, maybe I should have stayed.'
Then my mother came to The Beverly Hills Hotel with her then 3rd hubby Sol Steinberg, who was about 35 years older than my mom at that time. I called a guy I met on the set of a movie, inviting him to the famed Polo Lounge. Mark was known at that time as the "Extra King", a good contact to have! He sometimes invited me to accompany him to a film set and get me on the "spec" list. This guy actually made a decent living at it.
That evening he met met me in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel where my mom and her husband were staying. We got stoned in the men's room of the famed hotel, and floated around drunk and high. An ambulance pulled up, a crowd gathered around it, and they were putting a blond woman in it. Mark wanted to check it out, but not me, I wanted to go in the opposite direction.
We walked to the pool and sat there stoned and drunk as Sven the manager served us shots of great Tequila with the worm at the bottom. We shared the worm and at that moment time seemed to turn surreal and pause until we heard more fire engines. We walked back to the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel and said our good nights as the last fire truck left, sirens blazing in the warm night air. "I wonder what that was all about," asked Mark, as the valet brought his car around. "Some lady who freaked out on her husband," said a snide looking valet as Mark gave him a nice tip.
I sat in the lobby for 2 hours trying to dry out and feel normal before I went to where my mom and her "old man" were renting Bungalow #3, a huge suite costing $3,000 dollars a night, a drop in the bucket for my 82 year old stepfather. As I made my way to the elevators, I spotted mother and her man coming in the front doors, but she was walking way ahead of him with her arms crossed, looking pissed, and sad, a mean look marring her beautiful features.
Mom almost didn't see me, so engrossed she was in her own thoughts. They had a big fight at the restaurant when Sol's grown children refused to show up, and didn't particularly like my mother, seeing her as a gold digger. At that moment with her hair a bit messed, makeup slightly smeared, eye liner dripping, and cherry lipstick staining her white teeth, she actually looked like one!
This time, she had gone too far and faked a suicide attempt just to scare Sol! It was then, as I walked with the couple down the garden path to the Bungalow, my mother could barely look at me, as she reluctantly told me that she was the blond woman they took away in the ambulance. I was shocked. "You?"
She bowed her head and smiled for a moment, "Yes, me!" At that moment she looked like she was going to cry, which she had been doing, her pretty hazel eyes darting back to where Sol walked looking down at the floor and fiddling with his expensive leather coat.
My God, they were breaking apart fast because he wasn't what my mother thought he was, and she started to consider him weak (as she did to my real father when his company failed in the late 1970's). She told me this later on in the early morning hours. In hushed tones, so not to wake Sol, she explained everything, and told me excitedly that Sol wanted to sell his un-used condo penthouse right on the Ocean in Santa Monica, where I achieved one of my biggest dreams back then, conducting a cool interview with David Carradine (actor now deceased), his mother and then-wife Gail Jensen. That was back in early January before they had come to California.
The next morning we drove from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the condo. It was so new that the wrapping was still on the telephones. Nothing had been touched, just put up like a residence, even famous paintings on the walls and tons of wrapped silver dishes and cups. It had 2 bedrooms, kitchen, living room and 2 baths, all windows facing the vast Pacific! Just beautiful. But now Sol was selling it due to their fight. Mother claimed it reminded her of his late wife Betty who decorated it.
Earlier that week, when they had first arrived at the condo in Santa Monica, I had brought my childhood friend over to meet Sol. We had put lots of the guy's scripts and movie poster around the condo as if we were working on this huge project. Sol took one look at us both, and the posters on the wall and went totally balistic. "Who do you think I am?" He asked us. "I'm not giving you ANY money for these screwy projects, and frankly I don't like the implication of this!" And that was that. A few weeks later the condo with all of its contents was sold.
Okay, so what did I do wrong when rich stepfather and mother came to L.A.? I should not have let my childhood roommate lay his screwball scripts, show ideas and synopsis' all over the condo, because Sol was no dummy, he knew what we were trying to do, and what my friend was implying. If anything, we were the gold diggers, not my mother! Sol was very upset with me, but that didn't lead to the downfall of my mother's 3rd marriage! She ruined that by her own self destruct mechanisms and my antics weren't helping either. How could I have known then?
Next time, if I ever had a second chance to do it over, up to the point that I'm writing now, I would have simply sent a telegram to my mom when she was on her high horse trotting around Israel, being treated like a princess, to wire me money (which at that time she could have done easily, being married to a rich man), but I didn't. I tried to take it into my own hands, and those hands made the wrong decision to work for my stepfather after the condo incident, for a paltry $150 dollars a week, barely enough to pay rent, never mind food and maintain a life in Beverly Hills. It just wasn't done!
I should not have let the black musicians get too close except for in the studio, and when my first set of roommates left, I should have contacted my mom's pals I mentioned, who at that time, before the damage was done, reps ruined, including my own, could have helped me. But I was so green and had never had to deal with things quite like this. I got through it, but my dreams were not even half made.
Even got meetings with casting people like Marvin Paige of General Hospital and a guy over at the old Crown International Film Company who took my photo and resume and put it in a drawer. I also, even further down the road had a few meetings (thanks to my sewing machine ad, that's another story) with the big agent everyone thanked at the 2009 Academy Awards ceremony! "Thank you to my agent RICK KURTZMAN!" As I sat there in watching the big show, and I heard his name, I knew I blew it with that guy by being too nervous; wanting to do this and that and this and that, and in the end, he said, "good luck, we'll be in touch!"
Next time, remember to come out to L.A. and not live with childhood pals, try and find your own room or rental. There's lots out there. I was bamboozled, but fell into the rich person's syndrome where I thought my childhood pal would help me. He was my ticket to NOWHERE! He abandoned me in the night leaving me with the horrible roommates he was with for a few years before me, a white couple from Chicago with scary attitudes!
Ben and Tiffany, where ever they are, they better not call me! They are still out there somewhere, so is the childhood friend who became a semi famous reality star until he slapped and pushed his pretty blond wife a few times in Germany when she slowed him down on some reality show.
One little golden nugget: I got smarter after meeting Mark, the extra guy with me when they carted my mom off to UCLA Nut Ward that bleary night! Yes, it was her causing all the hoopla of the sirens at the Beverly Hills Hotel that evening. I told Mark the next day and he freaked out.
Afterwards, he called me at Justin's parent's house and started introducing me to casting people. He even secured me a few extra jobs that I see on the Internet and HBO quite frequently. It was weird to see me walk across the screen on movies such as "The Night Of The Comet" "North", "Robin Hood, Men in Tights!", "The New Perry Mason" starring Dyan Cannon & Hal Holbrook and a few other notable film projects.
I even started taking acting classes. That is a MUST if you want to make contacts and be seen, so it's not all up to luck and who you know. If my acting teacher had taken a liking to me, I would have continued, but she was wrong for me, and I just kept coming back and being ignored and cued out! But she meant well, although the woman had her favorites. So think of it as being the pupil in school, the good kid that brings the teacher apples and presents. You have to re-plug yourself in time and time again as I have tried.
Then an idea struck me. I began asking people I knew if they wanted to be an extra in films and I would direct them to the casting agencies Mark told me about. I would charge each person just $1.00 to give them the lead.
This started happening about 2 months into when Justin and I had finally secured a single apartment in Hollywood and had left his parents house. They had been so kind to me. But now here I was knocking on doors and collecting almost 30 dollars. You can actually see us all in the film "Heart Breakers" with Peter Coyote about artists living in the Downtown L.A. converted warehouses along Spring Street. Justin was with me as well as the band Poison (Bret Michaels) and their roadies, unknowns at that time. A few other bands in our building were there too. They had each paid me $1 buck, but ended up making 75 dollars a piece for the day!
But then I began meeting casting folks on the set who usually loved my energy. At one time I was on the set of "Exit To Eden," a film starring (a slim) Dan Aykroid and (a skinny) Rosie O'Donnell playing undercover cops trying to infiltrate a sex fantasy island to investigate a murder. As the dancers come on the island you see me for about 15 to 20 seconds screaming "Take it off baby," although it is me screaming, it's not my voice.
Garry Marshall had picked me out of a crowd of hundreds because of my high natural energy. I get calls whenever it runs! Same goes for "Robin Hood, Men in Tights". Mel Brooks enjoyed directing me! "Thanks for under the stairs," he hooted, sounding a bit sexual.
Mel ended up inviting me to hang with his entourage, even stand by him during interviews. Let's face it, the man liked my boobs, so he shot a candid scene of me under the stairs and made a big deal out of it, as did I. Thank God I didn't end up on the editing room floor either, but I was missing a credit in the film because of the underlying jealousy of his crew over.
Mel Brooks, I would learn, liked me because of my honest energy, not just my boobs. I'm sure of it. It was okay to act strange and eccentric, work up a nervous sweat because of the nature of that particular film he was shooting. Brooks even did something unheard of in the industry, he invited only me, an extra, to the 'Dallies' to watch the different scenes. We laughed together in the darkness of the little reviewing room on the Warner Bros lot. Although everyone on the set was envious, Mel seemed not to notice. I didn't notice until I showed up at the party and Mel Brooks came up and hugged me as his crew watched.
Come to think of it, my audition was memorable as I finally got my turn out of 400 other girls vying for the same featured extra role. I sat on the floor, laid on my back, wrapped my legs around my neck, played my acoustic guitar and sang an original song. Some casting folks took photos, and when I sprang back up, unfolding myself like a pretty lawn chair, everyone, including the other auditioning actresses slapped me on the back and said, "Girl, you got the part!" Oh Yes, I got the part. The End? No, not yet.
At that time, I had met an old songwriter who wrote Unforgettable (Irving Gordon) and dropped acting all together, traveled all over the world for 3 years, came back, called Rick Kurtzman, who had absolutely NO INTEREST in me by that time. So I gave it up and got another job, a real good job, but not in entertainment.
Direct Advice: Drop certain people from your life eventually or you might miss the boat, and I missed it so many times that my skin was getting as wavy as my naturally curly hair. So many mistakes I would have never made now that I know! I had a so many chances and many opportunities. I took some, I threw many of them away. I should have thrown Ben & Tiffany away, or sneaked away as my childhood pal Jonathan did.
So now we come to this: First you must make a goal list! Once you have a plan, than follow it. I had it in my mind and assumed I'd made it, when in reality I did not. You'll begin to notice this as you progress. And by ALL MEANS "THINK" before you talk or act! It was easy for me to make enemies, isolate myself with each rash, unthinking comment that escaped my lips whether on a set or at some job, even a new casting audition.
I screwed up again when I had a chance to work at a big trade paper called The Hollywood Reporter for a six month assignment. I dropped out of a series with Hal Holbrook and Dyan Canon in the New Perry Mason show. I even had 2 "under five" lines. But I blew it by deciding to lie to the casting company and say I was sick, which ruined the continuity of the shot and they had to cut some of it out and use my voice-over, rather than see and hear me ask the question.
It wasn't long into the 6 months, that stretched out of almost 3 years, that because of my big mouth and ego I started to ruin myself at The Hollywood Reporter. My mouth got me in trouble. Rule 1,000,000,000 SHUT YOUR MOUTH ALWAYS! Even on the lowest thing on the totem pole GAME SHOW AUDIENCE, I messed up by bragging about my Internet Blogging skills loudly so the whole row could hear.
So there is so much more, and if you have any questions, feel free to leave them on my message machine and I will answer them, and I will answer anything you need to hear on how to make it in Film and TV here in Hollywood CA, promise: 206-222-0786. I hope this helps. It helped me see more mistakes.
I'm sure you get the drift by now. Back then I was young. I have no one to blame but me. I've accepted my fate. Thank God my husband, a director, married me after all that! Now I sit in our condo in a quiet neighborhood meant for high end Jewish families, and it is so quiet and serene, no one bothers me, no one calls much and most of the people, casting folks, extras, producers, etc. I knew in my day, are gone, dead or old time, dated and forgotten, most of them.
We have to keep remembering that the film industry is a total melting pot of acting, productions, movie making, films, bands, extras and game show enthusiasts until one day, I started to see a pattern. It's not what you know; It's not who you know! It's who knows who you know!
Acting can be broken down into a tongue twister that actor David Carradine once told me! "Acting is 'Pretending you are pretending that you are NOT Pretending! It's like a double twist." At least that is what he said to me when I interviewed him years ago at my stepfather's penthouse back in 1983 when my own dreams were fresh and seemed a stone's throw from where I was then.
I met the wrong people and the right people, just not enough of the right people. Don't make the same mistakes I made, learn from this article. Never give up your dream. I'll keep writing articles on my mistakes to try and help anyone reading this. It's all real and I will not lie. The Net for some is a mask, but for Blogger Queen Leslie Siegel it is a big open book, a cheap dime novel I call MY LIFE!
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