Julie Newmar: Real-Life Super Hero

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So as the story goes, I was in LA visiting friends in 2006 over Labor Day. I decided to treat myself as well as indulge in a little bittersweet remembrance of times past when I had a per diem and wined and dined on JC Penney’s dime during shoots in the 90s.

I booked a room at the very green and white, posh hotel, the Viceroy, with interiors by Kelly Wearstler, international style icon with dreamy, fresh colors that pop admist neutrals. Very yummy.

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However, the only wrinkle is, well, wrinkles.

Mine.

Those facial lines and crow’s feet that I could not escape seeing when I was there, as on every bedroom wall there was a collage of MIRRORS. Big mirrors inches apart. So everywhere I turned, I was faced with myself. The good, the bad and the ugly. I decided to not make eye contact with myself, but look down at the carpet when walking about the room. I got dizzy doing this. I just gave up after a while. What I saw was what I got.

One night, when I returned from dinner, I walked up and there was a long snaky line out front that was topped off with a doorman and a dreaded velveteen rope. I say “dreaded” because in New York when club hopping, especially during winter, unless you were a super model (not me), a movie star (not me) or on the list (not me), you shivered out in the cold in blustery winds until you either miraculously got picked, tailed in after someone, or gave up and decided to go to an old, broken down, has-been club like Danceteria got to be in the 80s, ashamed and defeated, and sipped on watered down Manhattans.

So I had a visceral reaction when I saw this, a bad flashback flinch in my gut. Luckily, I was a guest! I was not only on the list, I was sleeping there. So I walked right up in front of everyone, flashed my room key and waltzed right in. Liberation, at last.

The party was at the pool, a pool area that glistened in style and populace. The hotties were out tonight! The area was swimming in tanned legs in spindly tall heels upon which gazelles teetered when they hobbled past. I saw guys with hipster stubble and matching baldish, fuzzy heads with sunglasses on at night. Some wore hats, porkpie hats a la John Lurie in “Stranger Than Paradise.”

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Note: I don’t do hats. I can’t. I look like an egg head and I feel like Marty Feldman – my eyes always wide with fear and awkwardness about the said hat I am trying to pull off. MV5BMTIwMjA5ODc4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDEwOTg2._V1_SX640_SY720_

This night, I wore no hat or any Daisy Dukes or anything remotely revealing. In fact, I wore jean shorts to my knees – JORTS. And mules. I baby-stepped my way down to the pool – I don’t walk too well in backless shoes. Been known to topple over and sprain my ankle on occasion so I wasn’t taking any chances.

I took a seat alone on a little tree stump. It probably wasn’t a stump, but it felt like one it was so uncomfortable.

I was about knee/butt height to all who passed me so it was an odd vantage point. But I liked it. I felt safe. I could sit here, inhale the electricity and dynamic of the night while gazing at the soft, blue waters of the pool. The palm trees were as tall as skyscrapers and added a nice ceiling to the evening.

Then he appeared. A man. Dressed in white linen from head to toe. He was tanned, too. But thankfully, not like George Hamilton.

New York Premiere of "Hollywood Ending"

He asked if he could join me. I smiled and said, “Of course.” As soon as he sat down, he started talking. We exchanged the usual pleasantries like name, where from, what doing here, etc. Turns out this man was a lawyer. On and on we chatted about everything and nothing.

Then somehow, some way, he asked me if wanted to go work out with him tomorrow…at Ryan O’Neal’s gym.

What was I hearing? Seriously? As if I would be seen in a leotard exposing my extra 30-pounds-since- college body to the starry, Ken doll beau of “Love Story?” Getting into certain undignified and highly awkward work out poses, some spread eagle? In my mind, I screamed, “NO WAY!”

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But, as if by it’s own will, out of my mouth came, “Why YES, I’d love to!”

I winded down in my responses, yawned, then excused myself. Told him I needed to get some rest for tomorrow morning. We exchanged vital contact info and off I went.

As I was walking away, I was still reeling from my decision – what my renegade mouth had said. That night, I didn’t sleep very well, obsessing about the morning. But I made one big decision: I would wear a butt wrap with my leotard. You know, a SOFA – Sweater Over Fat Ass. An appropriate camouflage. Oh and I wouldn’t get into any machine that required me to spread my legs like at the gyno (inner thigh machine). Not pretty.

What would I say if I was introduced to him? And what about makeup? Without it, I have no eyebrows. I look very Elizabethan.

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So I decided I’d wear brown eyebrow pencil. I had to.

My mind, on a loop, didn’t calm down until around 2 a.m.

I awoke with a start and popped out of bed waiting for my friend to call. I ordered breakfast. Then I looked out, well, no, I craned my neck to see the ocean view I had been promised. There was big busy street between the hotel and the Pacific…then there was a good chunk of buildings, THEN the ocean. If I looked carefully, I could see a bit of it, but a bit was better than none – coming from landlocked, concrete Dallas. (See my view below.)

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I dawdled around a bit more. Still no call. So I called him. Turns out he had stayed up a bit late, or that is what I heard in his gravelly voice. He asked if we could go to Ryan’s gym the NEXT day.

WHAT? I had wrung my hands and thoughts for no good reason? Lost sleep?

I was not happy. But I agreed to his offer to get a burger at a diner. With all the outdoor places to sit in the sun, I was not crazy about doing this, but I decided to just go with it.

The diner was in Brentwood. It felt kind of like an old Hollywood place that Lucy and Ricky might have frequented. He had his burger. I had my soggy, sad iceberg lettuce Chef salad.

He then said, “You know, there is someone I’d like to introduce you to, a friend of mine.”

“Who would that be?” I said.

“Julie Newmar,” he said.

I had heard the name, but couldn’t immediately place her.

“Catwoman, the original Catwoman. I have done some work for her and she’s really a great person,” he said.

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This was finally getting interesting – an Old School super hero! I was psyched.

“Let’s go!” I said.

Julie’s house was very near the diner. So off we sped through the winding streets of Brentwood.

When we arrived he drove up the driveway all the way to the back. The house was California chic and as those houses go, smallish and deceptively expensive.

We walked in through sliding glass doors. There she was. Julie Newmar.

She was standing and feeding a young adult man who was seated at the table. He has some sort of disability – I believe he was Down Syndrome.

She was glowing. Her face, her hair, her smile. All glowing. She was very, very thin – a former dancer.

We said “hello,” and introduced ourselves. She introduced me to her son who she said was deaf. At that moment, I was obviously struck deaf because I said to her son, “Hi John,” at which point, both my friend and Julie in unison said, “HE’S DEAF.”

I shrunk a foot. My mouth had a mind of it’s own yet again.

My friend told me that Julie had John when she was around 50. Since then, he said she has been a selfless, dedicated mother to her boy.

As she stood and talked, she delicately, lovingly lifted spoonful after spoonful of food into her sweet son’s mouth. He had rich, dark hair. Doleful big eyes. I was touched by her composure and unflinching grace. She kind of purred.

She then gave us a tour around her house. It was marvelous. Tasteful design and decoration. She even took us around the outside of the house and told of a feud she had with her neighbor, Jim Belushi, concerning a fence. I am not sure of the details but it was pretty brutal. She talked about it with passion and fervor. I could see a bit of her claws coming out, but they quickly retracted.

She was alive and moving fast – it was hard keeping up with her as she scampered around her property.

I believe at the time she was near 80.

When I got close to her face, it was shining and flawless. My friend said she had not had any work done. No cosmetic surgery. Nothing. I believed him.

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In her heyday, she was an exotically gorgeous dancer, singer and actress – the daughter of a Ziegfield Follies performer. Her career had been magical, kissed by fate at every turn. (There was even the movie “Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar,” that she did later, but one I never saw nor had any desire to. Really bad title.)

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“Well, now, I don’t ever have to see that film because I have met the real thing!” I thought to myself.

Julie Newmar was as beautiful then when I met her as she was as Catwoman.

But she was leagues more beautiful to me now. Her adoration and care for her son shone brighter than her outer physical God-given features. To me, now she really was a super hero. A woman, a mother, who loved her son unabashedly, a mother who would undoubtedly take a bullet for her son.

The juxtaposition between Julie’s physical perfection and her son’s handicap ripped my heart right out of my chest. Her son’s seemingly compromised life seemed so unfair. But life as we well know is decidedly and often, not fair.

Once she was leaping tall buildings in a single bound. When I met her, she was gently depositing food into her deaf son’s mouth, nourishing, I’m sure, his soul as much as his body.

I am so blessed to have met you, Julie Newmar, especially, now that you are in your role of a lifetime.

You are, indeed, a real live super hero.

 

 

Malkovich Mash Up

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The year was 1987. I was on a flight to New York’s JFK from Chicago.

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I don’t remember why I was in Chicago, but I suspect it was for work. It was probably a Focus Group for potty training baby diapers, Pull-Ups. I believe I had connected in Chicago to go to Neenah, Wisconsin, to meet with the client, where we’d go to the groups together.

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I had worked on this product for an entire year at Ogilvy & Mather, and during it, had the distinct pleasure of rewriting the jingle that went, “I’m a big kid look what I can do. I can wear big kid pants too… and I can take them up and down…”

Jaunty musical interlude: Ba da da da dah.

“I’m a big kid NOW.”

End of :30 award-winning commercial.

There was much concern from the client if, when we were saying “up and down”, we were encouraging children to take their training pants OFF… to become little exhibitionists, rip off their Pull-Ups and run around the freezer section of Piggly Wiggly nude. (See creepy demonstrative doll below.)

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So we tested “up and ON” and “up and OFF” to assuage the unhappy mommies that had written in…and the winner was the former – “up and ON.” Whew, what a relief. Now perhaps the nastygrams the client was receiving would cease.

Dizzying amounts of money was spent researching this nugget, this insight.

Nevertheless, I was returning from this trip, sitting in Coach (of course) when I learned somehow from some flight attendant murmurings that we had a celebrity on board in First Class…Mr.John Malkovich.

Immediately, I was titillated. I loved John Malkovich.

I fantasized that he was returning from a play rehearsal at the famed Steppenwolf Theater. Was he Hamlet? Romeo? Just who WAS he? What was he doing there?

To calm my racing thoughts, I summoned the flight attendant and ordered a little mini bottle of chardonnay. How fitting, I thought, in light of the film, “Being John Malkovich”, during which there was one (or many, can’t remember) of ceilings being low and therefore, everything small, miniature. Perhaps that would be my entre when I met him – I’d offer some remark about the irony of this. Better yet, I would send him a note that summarized my observation attached to my mini bottle of chardonnay in First Class.

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Nah. Strike that. Too corny. I’ll just continue to think of my plan of approach.

I sipped my mini chardy all the way back to JFK. I could not come up with anything that I felt comfortable saying to him. Plus, I was kind of scared. I didn’t want to ask for his autograph. Too normal.

I had seen him in “Burn This” on Broadway. As we know, he’s bald, or near bald with a little top fuzz.

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But in the show he wore a wig, kind of a page boy that was brunette but didn’t have bangs. He whooshed his locks around with great abandon – like a wild stallion galloping around the stage. Plus, he had a sexy ciggie in hand.

I was spellbound by his performance. He was seductive. Handsome. And oh-so-witty, thanks to the brilliant playwright, Lanford Wilson. Thus, my faraway crush.

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After we landed and we were de-planeing, I figured I would just see him at the baggage claim and admire him from afar.

As I stood at the baggage claim carousel, there was no sight of him. Perhaps the John Malkovich Squad had grabbed him, put a brown paper bag over his head to quell/avert the excitement and tucked him into a limo.

I was kind of sad that I didn’t have a celebrity sighting. But figured, hey, no biggie. Life goes on.

I saw my standard over-packed giant suitcase on the carousel creeping towards me. It was a massive black heap with strange bulges all over it. I could have been smuggling in a small Pull-UPS wearing child.

I was on the front row so I could grab it, heave it up and then head towards the cab stand.

So there it was, my big-lug-of-a-bag. I grabbed it, and gave a heave-ho. But in fear of not being able to lift it combined with a sudden adrenaline rush, it came flying off in warp speed, and as I whirled it around, there he was.

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John Malkovich.

You see, I just didn’t whirl it around. My bag (the size of a cruise trunk) came whipping around violently, with a purpose and…within an inch of clipping him at the knees.

I could imagine him being hit, breaking his knee caps, the EMT people rushing in, the sirens, the flashing lights… it wasn’t pretty.

He then looked at me and smiled.

“Can I help you with your bag?” he said to me. His hand reached out and neared mine on the handle – I had a death grip on it. Then…his hand graced the top of my hand. It softly tickled the top of my knuckles.

Faint. Swoon. Chills. Tingles. An explosion of sensations like fireworks on the fourth of July.

(I think I even peed my pants a wee bit. Where were MY Pull-Ups?)

“Oh,” I said,”No thanks. I’ve got it.” (What was I thinking?)

“I am okay, just a crazy Texas girl who overpacked.”

(Again, what WAS I saying?)

Then I went into a torrent, a verbal vomit – BIG diarrhea of the mouth.

“I saw you read at St. Bart’s the day that the Challenger went down. You read from ‘Franny and Zooey’, by Salinger. I use a quote from his book in the play I am writing, and I quote – from the book, not my play, I want to be clear – so here’s the quote, ‘I wish I had the courage to be a nobody.” Franny says this to Zooey when she is struggling with being rejected from her auditions, she wants to be an actress, you know, have you read the book in it’s entirety? I just love it… she’s so existential, wild and SO ME….oh and then you read from ‘Endless Love’, by Scott Spencer, and it was so wonderful, much MUCH better than the film, did you see the film, ‘Endless Love’?”

After this stream of my nervosa descended upon him, there was a pause, the kind that is seconds but feels like hours. 

Darn it if he didn’t smile again. His sleepy, sexy eyes kind of smiled, too.

“That is so nice of you to remember. That was quite a day with the Challenger going down.”

John Malkovich said Going Down. To me. He said these actual words. Hallelujah – what a vision sprang to mind!

My mind raced with his face planted amidst and among my Lady Parts. I could not look at his face, as all I saw were my legs wrapped around his near-bald head.

The entire time we spoke, I just kept moving and hauling my suitcase. He didn’t offer again to carry it, as I did my best to look un-needy, un-weak, you know, girly.

He then said, “Would you…” at which point I was so nervous, I just interrupted him and said, “Okay, so nice meeting you… buh bye!!”

And off I limped towards the lonely cab stand… to my lonely life in Manhattan.

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In retrospect, I imagined that he was going to ask me to share a cab into the city, which would of course lead to an affair (wasn’t sure if he was married or in between liaisons or he, himself having an illicit affair with some other star.)

The thought was intoxicating. I love me some Naughty.

But the affair would end with my getting ditched, crushed in his palm like a used coffee cup, and thrown in the trash with all the others who dared to canoodle with Mr. Malkovich.

What’s a girl to do?

Well, this girl had a follow up plan.

A few weeks later, he opened in a new play on Broadway. I wrote him a letter (phone number included) reminding him of what happened, when and where, and… could I buy him a drink?

I took it to the stage door and handed it to some unknown stage worker.

For days, and weeks, I jumped every time my phone rang. Every time I got home and my message machine light was blinking, I knew it was him.

Remember, this was back in the olden days before anything cell phone, laptop, social media. No Facebook or Skype. No Instagram. Nada. My only source of contact was my home phone and answering machine.

He never called.

But of course he wouldn’t.

I had run away from him.

Or…. this is what I like to think, humoring myself.

Now when I see him in films, I remember that day, his smile and his hand gracing mine.

For a moment… there was magic, the kind of stuff that some days, makes me feel all warm and mushy inside… bittersweet and when I am sad or depressed, somehow, electrically alive.

And then I think of peeing in my Pull-Ups…and I am complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olivia Newton-Johnson

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During high school, the church was my second home. I lived, breathed and ate church. I was in the youth group and I also sang in the youth choir called The Variations, a clever name derived from the wide variety of musical numbers we would perform each year as well as a neat little pun out of the music lexicon. I like neat, precise puns. They make this old gal happy.

The Variations toured every summer. We went to exotic places like Texarkana, Baton Rouge, and one fated summer, San Antonio, where I would be the center of a prank instigated by one of the church’s senior clergy.

As a Variations member, I got to wear a cherry-red polyester leisure suit that had a matching polyester shirt, replete with ginormous lapels. The shirt was white and on it was a scattering of little red and blue shapes akin to Pac Men. Kind of early emoticons. untitled (4) We sang at churches, old folks’ homes, burn centers, and orphanages. Our repertoire ranged from selections from Christian youth musicals like “Celebrate Life”, “Tell it Like it Is” and “Lightshine,” each with distinct, jazz-hand centric choreography, square dancing moves, kick lines, as well as snappy contagions. 1242 One time we performed a three-part round that kicked off one of the musicals. It consisted of our running down the aisles in succession in three groups, our hands flailing about our heads as if the church was on fire, hollering at the top of our lungs: HE is alive, he IS alive, he is ALIVE.

You can imagine the effect. I’m sure the entire congregation was terrified.

So this one summer evening in San Antonio we had performed at a orphanage. The very same night Olivia Newton-John was in town for a concert.

After our dinner, the group decided we would take a boat ride down the river, one that cut through the shopping and dining area called The Riverwalk. imagesH1BUPZB8 Since the boats were not that big and couldn’t carry all of us, we broke up into groups. I got on the boat with my buddies, as well as the senior pastor, Dr. Ben Oliphint.

About midway through the boat ride, Dr. Oliphint let out one of his signature siren sounds. Yes, he would howl out from the depth of his lungs this noise that sounded EXACTLY like a fire engine coming down the road. He could have made a lot of money in Hollywood being a Foley Artist!

So as he was letting out this deafening siren blast, he then yells out, “Olivia Newton-John…Olivia Newton-JOHN, everybody…RIGHT HERE!”, at which point he said, “Stand up Lisa and start waving.”

Now in addition to the enormous lapels on my shirt that flapped in the breeze, I also had a big, frosted blonde Farrah Fawcett hairdo with Texas-size wings that flapped in the wind right along with them. At that time, Olivia and I had the very same hair.

From a distance, I looked the part. I was her body double, doppelganger – this was my chance to put my youth choir performing chops to the test!

So up I stood and I started waving. Suddenly, people started waving back, and some started running down the Riverwalk with cameras snapping photos.

The lights flashed, one after the other. Click, click, click! It was paparazzi fest!  The farther we sailed, the bigger the crowds got. Large groups of my “fans” started running down along each side of the riverbank, snapping more photos and shouting “Olivia! Olivia!”. LisaRush The more adulation I got, the more I waved!

I then broke into a rendition of “Have You Never Been Mellow?”, which was not half bad. I was rockin’!

We sailed on a bit more and I sat down. The ruse had run its course. Everyone on our boat had a good laugh.

As we docked, I was praying that no one would come up to me and give me a frowny face for not being Olivia.

But then…just after I had gotten off the boat and walked into a restaurant, a little girl comes up to me. With her big, brown puppy dog eyes, she takes my hand, looks up to me and says, “Are you really Olivia Newton-John?”

My heart just broke…and sank…I just couldn’t continue the joke…so I said, “No, I’m not.” Her face dropped right to the ground and I could feel her disappointment in my bones…UGH.

Her mother came up to fetch her. We both smiled and she grabbed her hand, gave me a look of disappointment and lead her away.

So what is the morale of this story? First, this story is a testament to the fact that the cult of celebrity does seem to get a crowd all stirred up. Why? Because it’s as if when we get to touch the hem of their garment, we’ll be healed, or blessed – God-like.

Case in point: I was on a shoot in the 90s in LA and Michael Jackson was shooting a music video right next door to us. michael-jackson We all had our eagle eyes out to catch a glimpse of him. One time during a break, we saw Michael Jackson emerge from his trailer, but it was from a distance. He was wearing his signature surgical mask. (He was a germaphob – a known OCD sufferer so no surprise.)

We were all atwitter, all abuzz. We had seen him! Michael Jackson! We had chills – a big adrenaline rush! We all just walked a little taller back onto the set, bragging to the crew about our siting.

Sadly, we later found it that it was his body double. I think knew, perhaps, how that little girl felt. It was a buzzkill, a letdown, for sure. That feel-good extra specialness, that just a little bit better than feeling escaped like a just-popped helium balloon.

But such is life. Many of us live ordinary lives sans celebrity – our “quiet lives of desperation,” to quote Thoreau. 3264616-henry-david-thoreau_custom-9ae367cce97607ec7c89076878a316c8b4c48b7c-s6-c30 My dad used that quote from time to time. I think he felt that way, desperation because he felt he hadn’t lived up to his potential by only owning a small business and never lived his dream of going to law school.

He died in 2003 and to this day, he is still my hero. That’s why in his honor, I try to live every day as if it were my last. It squashes the desperation right out of my soul.

This is the star-turn I live for.

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Afterword

Many years after the whole Riverwalk event, from time to time, I’d think about that little girl. Should I have lied to her? Would that have been better than disappointing her? I honestly don’t know. I think what tipped me towards telling the truth was, well, TRUTH. No matter how painful, truth is always better. At least, this is what I learned from church…the First United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas…where I was, for one brief shining moment on a river boat in San Antonio, Olivia Newton-Johnson.

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