By Mary Rose Betten
We hope for something to happen, dream something might happen, and then finally… something happens. Where is God in our hoping and dreaming? Is He as much there as He is when something finally happens? Is life an audition?
On auditions for a TV commercial you might rate a second callback, and possibly a third callback, referred to as your “final callback.” According to union rules, you must be paid for the third audition; the competition usually comes down to one or two other people. You sign in – turn to take a seat, and there sits one or two competing actresses. Thousands of dollars in residuals are at stake here.
You walk to the water cooler and experience the temptation to offer your one competitor a drink with poison in it, and, with your sign-in pen, to stab the other. You want to cry out, “Holy Spirit, clear my mind!” – but not before you hear the Devil hint at ways to undermine your fellow actresses: “Don’t sit; keep standing and pace. That will make them nervous.” But I couldn’t do it because the Holy Spirit said, Sit down and trust.
The highest paying commercials are laundry and dishwashing soaps. In my day (yes, there was sound in film in the sixties) we had Oxydol, Thrill, Tide… (Please! I didn’t name them; I just auditioned to sell them! I don’t think I want to know what Oxydol means – and how could washing dishes be a Thrill? )
I shot the first commercial of my life for Oxydol. It was winter in New York. I had arrived just months earlier from Southern Illinois and wondered where the commercial would be shot. –On location in Florida? I had nothing to wear in Florida, and we were flying there on Monday! The Salvation Army thrift store was closed on Saturday and Sunday, so I cut the sleeves and turtleneck off my sweater.
The union demands they fly their commercial “stars” first class. My seat-mate on the plane was a Jesuit being flown first class by a company who had scheduled him to give a talk. He made up jokes about a priest and an actress flying first class. He was to become my spiritual director – from him I would learn to build a foundation of faith for my career. I think the Holy Spirit sent him to prevent me from becoming a callback serial killer.
The Oxydol script called for me to purchase the Oxydol, run from the store clutching the enormous box and jump in the passenger seat of a convertible. Before filming the sound man approached me to tape on a microphone. He stood studying my body. I thought he was being fresh. Finally he said, “You gotta clutch that big box next to your chest and jump in that passenger seat. So we should tape this mike where it won’t knock against anything. Would you step over here behind this tree?” Behind a tree? Yes, that’s what he said, right there, in the bright sun, in front of God, the entire crew within hearing distance. He ordered me to lift my skirt. Thank God I wasn’t knock-kneed.
As he finished taping, a tiny green light flashed on from the right (inner side) of my knee cap. My mother was not in show business – so I had never been told about sound men.
After a few hours had passed of me running and jumping, the director called, “Cut! Take ten!” Off I zoomed to the ladies room in my trailer, (yes, on location you get your own trailer). Finishing in the tiny cubicle of a bathroom, I reached for the toilet paper and saw a tiny flashing green light.
My mike was on the entire time. I didn’t want to return to the set. I finally venture out to find the whole crew gathered to clap. My face matched that flashing light – red for green. The commercial’s director whispered, “They didn’t want you to feel bad.”
We didn’t have mobile phones then; we used professional answering services that catered to show business customers. I kept a roll of dimes in my purse (next to a can of pepper spray) to use at pay phones on the street to check messages. If, God forbid, not one person had left a message the Answering Service Lady would never say, “Nobody called. You have nothing – nobody cares!” They would instead announce as though it were miraculous: “You’re all clear.”
Here’s my favorite answering service message; “Your final Thrill is tomorrow at 4 o’clock.”
After a year in New York I had a bank account and moved into a building with elevators (no more walk-ups) and won my first of three Clio awards (the Oscar of commercials). The elevator man knew my face from commercials, and declared, “I’ll bet you get a lot of residue on your work.” He was right. All that “residue” totals the pension I live on today waiting for God to call my life a “wrap,” when I shall arise for my final callback.
I could never have made it through those years without spiritual direction. I had never heard of spiritual direction when I met my Jesuit seat-mate on the plane to Florida for the Oxydol shoot, nor had I ever experienced priests having a sense of humor.
As a struggling actress, I found the Church to be a fortress, a lighthouse, I wondered why I was lucky to get all those commercials, but after each one I found my way to St. Ignatius church on Park Avenue to give thanks. There at St. Ignatius I learned the Ignatian exercises from my seat-mate who always followed his blessing with a joke.
Recently I did some readings on a program with Father Felix Just, SJ, who has a marvelous website devoted to – are you ready? – Jesuit jokes. One of these jokes reminded me of when my “walkup” apartment was robbed or, as the Brits say, “burgled.” The perpetrators actually stole my second hand television set from the eight floor. The people who lived on the first floor had a more expensive TV, so they left mine there and took theirs. I remembered how my seat-mate had advised me on adjusting to the Big Apple: “Don’t worry, you will feel you are just a part of New York. Trust that eventually it will become a part of you.”
And it did become as much a part of me as the green line down the street on St. Patrick’s Day.
Originally published at: http://catholicfiction.net/blog/does-god-give-callbacks-my-adventures-with-spiritual-and-commercial-directors.php#sthash.MhZWKJkx.dRzY2h12.dpuf