Authors: Hilary De Vries
So 5 Minutes Ago
HILARY de VRIES
VILLARD / NEW YORK
Table of Contents
For Ruth, who always wondered what it was like,
and Michael, who knows all too well.
And you may ask yourself . . .
well, how did I get here?
—Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”
It would have made it a lot easier. Knowing what I know now. But as Glinda the Good Witch said to Dorothy, you had to find these things out for yourself. After my first three years as a Hollywood publicist for some of the biggest and not-so-biggest stars, I’ve learned a few handy rules any girl needs to get by. Feel free to take notes. Or just sit back and watch. Like a car crash in slow motion. Or the Wizard frantically pulling the levers behind the curtain.
Get your hair professionally blown out before hitting the red carpet.
Never take any call you can return.
Never say no. Always “Take a pass.”
Never expect stars to be your friends.
Never expect stars to acknowledge you exist.
When in doubt, wear black.
When in doubt, stay in the closet.
No one cares what you think.
Everyone cares what you look like.
Cheekbones are the new tits.
Butts are the new tits.
Lie about your age. Everyone does.
Lie about your prescription drug intake. Everyone does.
Lie about your yoga obsession. Everyone does.
Never let them see you sweat.
Never let them see you smoke.
Never let them see you drink. At least not at lunch.
Never eat if you can avoid it.
Never read anything. Except the weekend grosses and the tabloids.
Hollywood is all about numbers, no matter what you’ve heard.
Hollywood is all about rumors, just like you’ve heard.
Girls never rule.
And they hardly ever win.
1 Down the Rabbit Hole
Before dawn and already I’m off to a bad start. But then I could have guessed as much when I forgot to close the window last night and got jolted awake at 5
by the sprinkler system rattling to life. Sometimes, depending on my mood, if I can be said even to have a mood at 5
, the sound of running water can be reassuring. Like a stream or a bath being drawn. But this morning it sounds like nothing so much as a bursting pipe. A taunt to my inability to bring anything to heel.
Not my job as a senior publicist to some of Hollywood’s lesser celebrities at DWP, a legendary if fading publicity agency. And certainly not Los Angeles, where I—raised in Philadelphia’s custardy Main Line—inexplicably found myself three years ago. My house with its dyspeptic sprinkler system is the least of my worries.
For one thing, it’s Thursday, which means the dual reveille of sprinkler and garbage truck. Just when I’m drifting off again, the city’s sanitation department begins its weekly assault, grinding along the street running below my modest but nonetheless desirable rental in the hills, followed by a second, noisier pass by my front gate.
“Thursday,” I groan, rolling over to peer crankily at the bedroom wall, which looks, in the dim, coffee-colored light, like it could stand a paint job. Thursday. Another weekend fast approaching with no plans unless you count a screening Friday night and a meeting with a stylist on Saturday. Maybe I can fill the hours looking at paint chips or something.
I realize with a thud, the kick of adrenalin as my heart lurches back to its usual wracking pace. This isn’t just any Thursday with its annoying staff meeting, everyone sitting around waiting to carve one another up over nonfat vanilla lattes, but the Thursday of my big client meeting.
With Troy Madden.
Troy Madden. I haven’t even signed him yet and already he’s a problem. Actually, Troy
the problem, which is why he’s in the market for a new publicist. Someone to solve the problem of his just-back-from-court-ordered-rehab career reentry. Someone lower down the food chain. Someone like me. Which is why I’m taking a meeting with him in about—I roll over and attempt to focus on the silver-plated clock on my bedside table—six hours. With a sigh, I kick off the duvet and slide my feet to the sisal carpeting, which I notice, irritably, could stand replacing.
Staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, I mentally clock the distance I have to travel to go from how I look now—an overworked, underachieving single woman in her early thirties who could use a haircut and a boyfriend—to the kind of polished, savvy professional I’m supposed to be a few hours from now. Nobody looks their best at 7
, no matter how many models were photographed in tangled bedsheets and dirty hair during the Slept-in Chic phase, which, if I have the chronology right, followed the Heroin Chic phase. I have Italian sheets, but they do little to erase the fact that 1.) I hate my job even though I’m frighteningly good at it, 2.) I hate my life because everyone thinks I have the most FABULOUS job and no one wants to hear
complaining about mopping up after stars, and 3.) I went to bed too late—which meant I had my requisite two glasses of white wine too late—after a screening, another relentlessly unfunny De Niro comedy that just makes you want to kill yourself.
Now, bleary eyed and grouchy, I have to come up with a game plan before my meeting with Troy this afternoon. Actually I should come up with a plan for the rest of my life. Like, what happened to my goal of becoming a top magazine editor by age thirty-five? Or my marriage? Like, where did that go?
I snap on the shower and pray the steam helps clear my head, if only about Troy. We at DWP specialize in resuscitating down-and-outers. Or at least we do now. At one time, DWP was the Tiffany’s of PR firms. But that was before my time. Now, we’re like Jesus working the crowds at the pool of Bethesda. Careers on the slow fade? A little trouble with the law? Can’t quite claw your way onto the B-list? The aging pretty boys. The actresses who spend more time at the dermatologist than at auditions. You’ve come to the right place. My bosses like them as clients. Their names still sound classy—like Sally Field and Cybill Shepherd, who everybody joked was the Old Maid, the card nobody wanted to hold—their fees are lower, and because they seldom have anything to promote, the workload is nothing. Just some handholding, the publicist’s equivalent of phone sex. Even the company’s acronym, after the partners—Davis, Woolfe, and the long-departed Peterman—is identical to that of the city’s utility company, the Department of Water and Power.
Troy is perfect DWP material. After his little stay in rehab—actually it was three stays, including swanky Promises out in Malibu, but nobody besides the judge was really counting—he needs to get back in the game. Recapture his heat, his wattage. He had plenty at one time, like three years ago, which makes him positively Paleolithic here. In L.A., you age faster than anywhere on the planet. In fact, Hollywood years are almost exactly the length of dog years. With an average life span about that of a dachshund or a Great Dane, you can expect to be professionally dead in fifteen years. Give or take.
Take Troy. At twenty-nine, or so he says, he still has a few miles left on him, even if he has tumbled from his
cover heights of a couple years back, when his dark eyes and cocksure grin had caught the eye of every gay director in town. Before he’d made a single studio picture, Troy had been crowned the new Steve McQueen. But that was before his last movie tanked—
“Blow Your Mind” Games,
a low-budget, pseudodocumentary horror flick about a reality show, a kind of
—and before his run-in with the Portland cops when he was caught with a bong in a suite at the Heathman Hotel. Later there was some DUI incident in the Palisades, actually two of them, which meant Troy spent the better part of a month in the Beverly Hills courthouse. Then came the trio of rehab stays.
Now, nine months later, Troy is back, itching to get back in the game. And I—as the youngest and newest member of the DWP team—am the designated hitter. “You’re the girl to land Troy,” Suzanne Davis, my fifty-something boss (the
and one of the firms two remaining founding partners), had said, pausing for her usual nanosecond in my office before disappearing down the hall, a blur of one of the white Armani suits she always wore. “You’re the one who knows how to recycle the Gen Y crowd.”
Like I’m doing something good for the planet.
I step from the shower, grab a towel, and head into the kitchen. Troy might need a comeback campaign, but I’m in serious need of coffee. He’s already heard Hollywood’s death rattle. A TV producer with a network deal called his agent sniffing around about Troy’s post-rehab availability to shoot a pilot about a divorced dad who becomes a foster parent to a pair of Hispanic twins. “Cute kids, like Elian Gonzales,” the producer said. His agent naturally passed, but when Troy heard about the offer he panicked and fired everyone except his lawyer, an old friend from Iowa State, where the two of them played baseball until Troy started shooting too many beer commercials in Chicago to make it to class, let alone practice. Now, a few months after the sitcom scare, Troy has new representation, a slate of meetings around town. And me.
I’m no closer to figuring out Troy’s life or mine when I arrive at the office.
“Hey, want coffee? I’m going out,” Steven says when I stagger in, snagging my heel on the ratty carpeting.
“Yeah, and find out why we still have these shitty offices when there’s so much money in this town.”
“Speaking of that,” Steven says, rolling his eyes, which is his way of saying,
We have to talk. In your office.
A former top shoe salesman at Barneys (it was actually amazing how much they could earn), now the heir to his former lover’s not-insignificant fortune—well, he was an entertainment lawyer before he died of AIDS—and inexplicably my assistant, Steven has many skills, but reading my moods and watching my back are two of his best. He’s also a dead ringer for Paul Rudd, which makes him very popular around the office.
“No shit, it happened today?” I say, grabbing him by the arm and all but yanking him into my windowless office—cubicle is more like it—with its stained beige carpeting and chipped plywood desk.
Even before he can blurt out the news, I know what’s coming. We are officially BIG-DWPers. Or as Steven puts it, “Big Dwippers.”
“I’m not even going to ask how you know this before I do.”
“That would be like trying to explain matter and antimatter or why I’m still in touch with my old boyfriends—including the one who writes for
The Wall Street Journal
—and you’re not,” Steven says, sinking into my chair and putting his feet on my desk. “Let’s just say Suzanne et al finally got their cherry popped BIG-time.”
“Shit,” I say, sinking into the room’s only other chair, a grotty gray thing with the stuffing poking out the back.
The rumors had been building for weeks. BIG was buying us out. Or maybe it was a merger. Hard to tell with so many agencies mating like rabbits and turning out acronym-crazed mutants ready for listing on the NYSE or NASDAQ. PR agencies used to title themselves like law firms, with a string of pretentious last names. Ego, Superego, and Id. But ever since the almighty PMK had been bought out and/or merged and was now PMK-HBH and owned by some big international ad conglomerate, the “praiseries,” as the trades still called us, had thrown in the towel and were aping the big boys, the
agencies: CAA. ICM. ETC.
“Don’t tell me. D-W-and-P can now retire?”
“Well, P’s dead, as you may recall, but yes, Woolfe is said to be heading for the door even as we speak,” Steven says. “But you lesser mortals get something.”
I know better than to let my expression change.
“BIG new offices. And a new contract agreement. Oh, and punch and cookies will be served in the conference room this afternoon.”
I resist the urge to bury my head in my hands.
“When do we move?”
“Not soon enough, judging by your tone of voice a few minutes ago,” Steven says, heading for the door, having decided he needs coffee even if I don’t. “A month. I think. Look,” he says, staring at me with that look he gets sometimes. Like I’m supposed to throw him a ball or something to fetch. “Think of it as a whole bunch of new people we can make fun of.”
“Thanks,” I say, giving him a feeble wave, aware that my sucky day just got even suckier. “Yes, go to Starbucks. And get me a latte.”
I drop into my chair and try to focus on my call sheet. The usual endless blizzard. Editors. Studio publicists. The New York office. A bunch of squawking baby birds demanding daily feeding. But I’m too distracted to call anyone. The BIG buyout means BIG changes. DWP may have seen better days with its mostly aging client list—okay, we still had a few stars like Carla Selena and the Phoenix, who Suzanne handled, and I had my young up-and-comers—but it was small, owned solely by the partners, and staffed totally by women (except for Stan Woolfe in New York and all the gay assistants), which meant it was slightly less Borgia-like than the rest of Hollywood. But now it was history. Now, I’m a BIG-DWPer.
As far as I can tell, the biggest dwip is one Doug Graydon, exSony marketing head who bought the upstart boutique agency B.I./PR—transforming it into BIG—with his golden parachute and some private financing. Word is he’s looking to build up the agency—acquiring DWP was just another piece of the puzzle—and cash out big-time, selling to some ad agency back East. Word is G had also had a weave, had his eyes done, and had engaged in a little elective surgery on his last name as well. As in no longer née Grossman. Jesus, who didn’t want to be Jewish in Hollywood? Or New York, for that matter? All I know is, the few times G rolled through our offices looking like a real estate agent kicking the tires of a tear-down, he loved the sound of his own voice and had a major thing for hiring all the blond MAW’s—the ubiquitious model-actress-whatevers—to populate BIG’s offices, which are, I realize, about to become my offices.
I reach for the trades in my in-box to check for news of the deal. Nothing—which means it will be tomorrow’s front page. Today’s headlines are not much more cheering.
NETS LEAK AS RATINGS HEMORRHAGE. POLICE DOG WHO DIED AT WTC HONORED. STUDIO CHIEFS BRACE FOR BODY BLOW AT B.O.
I imagine another headline:
PRAISERY AGENT WANTS OUT—NOW! “HOLLYWOOD WORSE THAN I FEARED!”
God knows I hadn’t felt this way when I first stumbled into Hollywood the way Alice fell down the rabbit hole—by accident and a surfeit of curiosity. A friend of my mother’s back in Upper Darby had a son who’d started a production company with a few college buddies—Yo’ Flicks—which needed help around the offices in New York. I’d spent the seven years since graduating from Brown working as an assistant editor at a couple of the lesser women’s mags before quitting to get my master’s in creative writing at NYU. I got my degree, but I’d also gotten married to one of my classmates, Josh Davidson, a former Smith Barney analyst who had a passing fancy of becoming a playwright—a marriage which lasted about as long as my dreams of becoming a writer. Marrying and divorcing Josh was, as my mother said when I called to tell her I was engaged to the son of a doctor from Williamsburg (“Oh, I love Virginia,” she’d said before I pointed out her geographical mistake: Williamsburg as in
), my little moment of “going native.”