When I was a girl growing up in the fifties and early sixties in a small farm town in Northern California, Hollywood seemed like the most glamorous place in the world. Once in a while, I’d buy a movie magazine, especially if I spotted a favorite television or movie star. I had a crush on Little Joe Cartwright (Michael Landon) when I was twelve. Remember Tab Hunter? Blonde, tan and gorgeous. One of the first records I bought was “Young Love, True Love”, his one and only hit song. And, of course, there were stars like Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Natalie Wood, Bobby Darin, Sandra Dee, and the still idolized Marilyn Monroe. I’d sit with friends on the lawn and we’d dream of what it’d be like to be discovered on Hollywood and Vine and become famous.
I think my mother secretly wished I’d be the next Shirley Temple. When I was in kindergarten, she had my hair in curls. Sadly, mine were thin and tight against my head rather than soft and fluffy framing a pretty face. I was plain, skinnier than a stick and had knobby knees. She put me in dance classes (to develop leg muscles). I remember being terrified of my first teacher. He made sure we kept on tempo by pounding his cane on the floor. I feared one false step and he’d pound me into the floorboards with it. Thankfully, Mom found another teacher closer to home who taught ballet, jazz and tap. Alas, I never was able to do the full splits, even with my teacher’s hands bearing down on my shoulders.
Whenever an opportunity presented itself, Mom or my teacher signed me up to entertain (much to my mortification, and I’m sure the pity of the members of the audience). I tap danced before Santa came on at a home owners association Christmas party. I tapped with a jump rope at the county fair. Mom signed me up for clarinet in the elementary school band. The teacher made me the drum majorette because I was the tallest kid in school. Mom wanted me to have piano lessons. Mrs. Zakutney said I had the hands of a concert pianist, but lacked drive and self-discipline. Practice? Are you kidding me? I’d rather ride a bike or swim at the local pool. I’d rather do homework! I now have a piano in my living room which I only play when no one is around because it’s distracting when family members howl at every wrong note.
I tried out for drama in high school and even had a part in one play. My folks came. On the way home, Dad smiled and said, “Well, honey, we know one thing. You’ll never be an actress.” I couldn’t have agreed more. The experience of being on stage was excruciating.
The nice thing about dreams is they don’t have to come true to be a lot of fun to contemplate. The nice thing about writing is you can play all the roles and have your story take place anywhere it fits. Hollywood seemed to have all the requirements for a girl desperately wanting to be someone, even if it meant losing herself, and needing God to find her again.