Here’s an excerpt from my book, Smash, Crash and Burn; Tales From the Edge of Celebrity (there is some salty language). Try not to be jealous of my rarefied experience starring in a movie.
LETA HAS TWO LOVERS: FALL 1989
“I could get you a job here if this acting thing don’t work out,” Bea says.
“Wow, thanks. I’m flattered.”
I’m in the Torture Room at Fran’s Ranch, a whorehouse in Beatty, Nevada. We’re shooting a scene for a non-union movie called, Leta Has Two Lovers and I’m worried the only reason I have a part in the film is because the director, Benjamin, is trying to get in my pants.
Maybe he didn’t mean to slip a hand down the back of my jeans as he greeted me at the audition? Maybe his hand fell?
Bea is one of the “girls” at the ranch. She sits next to me holding a riding crop across her pale, dimpled thighs.
Her corset’s too small and her soft baby-bottom flesh squeezes out through the gaps in the trusses.
“You could really make a lot of money here,” she continues, “But you don’t have much in the boob area.”
“I know, it’s a real problem. Even in the acting profession.”
“But, you have a nice ass.”
“You think so?”
“I mean, you could use some meat on your bones. Men like a little cushion for the pushin.’”
“I can’t gain weight. I think it’s just in my genes, but my doctor says it’s because I’m neurotic.”
“You do seem a little neurotic.”
“I like to think it’s the potential of my artistic genius pressing down on me.”
“Yeah. I see a lot of the artistic types in here. They’re always sad as circus clowns.”
Hookers are so intuitive.
The Torture Room, with its busted wooden Rack-of-Pain and sodden sacrificial altar, isn’t so different from the Simi Valley casting office where I tried to get a Trident gum commercial wearing a tankini and heels.
“Shannon, we gotta get outa here!”
I look up to see Ted the make-up-artist, crafts-services-coordinator, crew driver.
“What’s going on?”
“The sheriff pulled up and we don’t have a shooting permit.”
“But, what about my bondage scene?”
“It’s been cut!”
“But, I only have two scenes in the whole movie and …”
“Shannon, we gotta go, we don’t want a repeat of Mexico!”
I wasn’t in Mexico when Tijuana police descended upon the Leta crew while they were stealing a shot at a taquiera wagon and demanded Benjamin pay a 2,000 peso “mordita” for shooting without a permit.
Benjamin refused on principal –- art should be free — and also because he only had $5.35 in a coin purse shoved in his sock.
Things got very The Good, The Bad and The Ugly fast, so the Leta crew abandoned shooting and fled to the border, but not before Benjamin managed to pick up two Oaxacan tranny prostitutes he hid in the back of the production van with the sound equipment.
Alas, they were discovered by the border patrol.
Benjamin argued vehemently that he thought he was simply giving two San Diegan, Robinsons’ cosmetics counter girls a lift.
He barely escaped the Tijuana pokey because, according to the sound-check, lighting-designer, location scout, Freddie, the border patrol didn’t want Benjamin in their country.
Besides lack of a production budget Leta has another fatal flaw.
Benjamin has hired a French-Canadian actress, Caprice, to play Leta in a movie that’s supposed to be a love letter to illegal immigrants, highlighting the lack of humane work available in Mexico that drives them in desperation over the chain link fence.
“Hey Shannon, you got any cash on you?”
I sit in the cargo hold of the production van with Artie Lieberman, a swarthy Jew charged with playing Leta’s Mexican lover, Jesus.
Artie’s been gambling ever since we hit Nevada; gas station slots, casino dice games, High Rollers, Floating Craps, Chuck-a-luck or restaurant bingo where you can lose all your money over a plate of mucous-y eggs.
He’s already spent all his per diem cash and his future paycheck.
There are side bets among the crew that Artie’s stealing waitress tips after we leave the table at restaurants we’ve dined in.
No one’s caught him red-handed, but when we tried to return to Norm’s Kitchen for a second breakfast we were told they didn’t want “our kind of business.”
“I don’t have any cash,” I tell Artie.
It’s a lie. I have a twenty-dollar bill in my purse that I’m pretty sure he can smell like a bomb-sniffing dog smells nitroglycerin.
“You have a debit card?”
“I’m not giving you my debit card.”
“I’m good for it,” he says, runnels of Liar’s Sweat rolling off his forehead.
“Damn you, Artie.” I dig up my twenty and hand it over.
“I’m tellin’ you, I’m good for it.”
“Sure you are.”
I kiss that twenty goodbye.
Suddenly our vehicle veers onto the bumpy shoulder of the road. Artie and I scream. I look up front just in time to see Benjamin in the passenger seat slapping Ted repeatedly in the face.
“Benjamin,” shrieks Artie, “What the hell are you doing?”
“Waking Ted up! He’s got a mild case of narcolepsy!”
“Why the hell are you letting him drive?”
“My license is suspended in Nevada! Don’t ask!” screams Benjamin.
An hour later we arrive at the Imperial Palace Hotel in Vegas with the carcass of a desert turtle in our grille.
The air is thick with resentment and rebuke as the rest of the crew -– all six of them — arrive and stumble up to the front desk to check in.
Rumor has it that Blake and Caprice –- who play the lead characters — are shacking up, but no one has mentioned it, yet.
“Listen Blake,” says Benjamin, “If you and Caprice are screwing can I just cancel one of your rooms?”
“Oh my God, you are such an asshole, Benjamin!” screams Caprice, storming off in her floral skirt and cowboy boots, her take on Mexican sweatshop attire.
“What’s wrong with her?” asks Benjamin, “I’m just being practical!” Then to Blake, “Is she any good in the sack?”
“If I were sleeping with Caprice, which I’m not, she would be smoking hot in the sack. She could suck a golf ball through a garden hose.”
Midnight. There’s a knock on my hotel room door.
If it’s Benjamin again I’m going to give him a piece of my mind about the casting couch. Also, he’s shorter than me, so I could probably take him in a fight if I had to.
I look through the peephole and see the Dutch boom-operator, mic-wrangler, sound mixer, Sebastian.
The last couple of days he’s been sending me sex signals. Very subtle ones.
Like when we were shooting at the clay ponds on Tuesday he kept pretending to sodomize me with the fuzzy boom.
He also bit into his craft services hot dog at lunch and licked his thick lips sensually while looking me square in the eye.
When I tripped over the lighting cable and fell on my hands and knees he responded by dry humping the air over my prone body.
I’m open to an on-set romance because of a conversation I had with my boyfriend of six months back in Los Angeles right before I left for the Leta shoot.
We were seated at a table at Sunset Sushi in West Hollywood. We’d downed sake bombers, the Rock-N-Roll sushi platter had just arrived and I was taking my first bite when my beau said, apropos of nothing, “I don’t believe in monogamy.”
“You don’t believe in morphology? What’s that?”
“No, monogamy. I mean, you know how I feel about you and I know how you feel about me so what does it matter if we occasionally share our bodies with a stranger? How is that going to damage our relationship?”
I looked down at the food in my hand and realized I would never eat a spicy tuna spider roll again.
Through the peephole, I’m reminded that Sebastian is tall, blonde and handsome. But he’s sure to be uncircumcised, a prospect that worries me.
What’s in those flesh folds? Perhaps the remnants of a blowjob from a Finnish exchange student with Herpes Simplex V-1 circa 1982?
Realizing I’m looking at him through the peephole, Sebastian takes the opportunity to tantalize me with the cunnilingus gesture. I manage to resist.
“Where the fuck is Arich?” screams Benjamin the next morning as we’re just finishing the All-You-Eat breakfast buffet at the Emperor’s Palace.
Arich, the German set-designer, director-of-photography, prop-master is missing.
He’s a brooding Marlon Brado type minus the sex appeal. He’s been in a bit of a funk since he discovered Blake is boffing Caprice.
“Who can go to his room and get him?” asks Benjamin. He looks at Artie who’s in the middle of shoving the waitress’s tip down the front of his pants.
“I’ll do it,” I trill, causing Benjamin to look my way. I’m becoming irreplaceable on set having just taken on the role of script-supervisor, best-boy, first AD since I’ve had no acting scenes yet.
I’m contemplating my future behind the camera -– wondering if I might be the first female film director to ever win an Oscar — when I arrive at Arich’s room to find the door ajar.
I have a morbid premonition I’ll find Arich hanging from a closet bar by his belt, a victim of auto asphyxiation, then realize the maids are probably just cleaning up.
I push the door open further.
“Arich?” I query.
It’s quiet. Too quiet.
No vacuum, no Latina maid-repartee. I step just inside the door.
“Arich?” The consonants scraping my dry mouth like sandpaper on a wooden boat deck. Just as I’m about to flee I hear Arich say, “Shay-non?” which is followed by what sounds like a splash.
“Arich, are you in here?”
“Jah. Comen zee here.”
“To ze bathroom.”
I hear another little splash. Surely he’s not … tentatively I step into the bathroom to find Arich naked in bathwater just below his navel.
“Hello,” he says casually.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” I back quickly away.
“No, no, eet’s okay. Enn Germany ze nakedness is normal. You Americans are so repressed. Could you hand me ze towel?”
“You mean you’re not hitting on me?”
“Uff course not. Get me ze towel over zere.”
I’ve never been to Germany. Because of Hitler and everything it just never seemed too appealing.
As I retrieve a towel for Arich I recall that my paternal grandmother was German and I never saw her naked. I avert my eyes as Arich splashes from the tub.
“I’ll just wait outside,” I say.
“Ach, don’t be reediculous. I am a main vith a body. Under all the main’s clothes zere ees a nekked body.”
Now he is toweling his man garden dry.
“So. Are you facking Sebastian?” he asks.
“No. I’m not facking Sebastian.”
“Zen who are you facking?”
“I fack no one.”
“You are young. You should fack. If you need to be facked just let me know. Could you hend me my undervear please?”
“I need to go,” I say, edging toward the door, “I have a nervous bladder.”
“Zere’s a toilet right zere,” says Arich pointing.
“No, no, I’ll just …”
“Don’t be reediculous!”
I unzip, squat and pee.
“What do you mean we have no lights?” Blake screams at Benjamin.
We’re standing in front of the Mirage volcano at three a.m. trying to steal a shot for my only scene in the movie before we’re arrested and Freddie has gone AWOL.
Apparently he told Raquel, the hair-stylist, set-masseuse and sage burner, that he had to go back to Alabama. Something to do with his ex-wife and a Cajun hit man.
“How’s anyone supposed to see the scene if we don’t have lighting?” yells Blake. “And isn’t Artie supposed to be in this scene?”
“I haven’t seen him since the craps table at the El Cortez on Thursday,” I say.
“Zat bastard took my per diem,” screams Arich.
“This is fucking ridiculous,” shrieks Blake, “I got my theater AA at El Chabon Community College! I’m a trained professional, okay? If that fucking Kevin Dillon wasn’t at all of my auditions I wouldn’t have to do some lame ass non-union bullshit film with no lighting! It’s just me and Kevin, me and Kevin. What do they see in that idiot? It’s because he’s someone’s brother! It’s always me and fucking Kevin suck ass Dillon.”
“I know how you feel,” I tell Blake. “Brooke Shields gets all my parts. We have the same eyebrows.”
“You’re too short to compete with Brooke Shields,” Blake screams.
“You’re just being an ass because Caprice is facking Arich now! And you have no chin. You are one chinless motherfucker!”
“Zee wolcano is about to explode,” yells Arich. “Vee haf to get ze shot now!”
Suddenly I see it. A spotlight shining up a palm tree I’m standing next to. I swivel it toward Blake and me.
We look like zombies during a zombie apocalypse, but it’s working!
“Benjamin,” yells Arich, “vee must get ze shot now! Vat are you doink?”
Benjamin appears to be in negotiations with two prostitutes.
“Screw this shit,” yells Arich, “Action!”
Despite our creative differences, Blake and I launch into our scene –- two old lovers meeting unexpectedly when — the volcano erupts spectacularly behind us, causing all of our audio to be drowned out.
Yet somehow we can still hear Benjamin screaming, “No one calls Action but me. Only the director calls Action and I’m the director. I’m the directoooooorrrrr!”
Midnight. There’s a knock at my door.
I look through the peephole. Sebastian stands there. I let him in.
Ten minutes later we lie naked side-by-side staring up at the ceiling. I’m not sure how I feel about the Revenge Sex until Sebastian goes to the bathroom to pee. When he returns he’s wearing one of his sweat socks on his penis.
“I’m a bunny,” he says and he hop, hop, hops around the room.
Two days later the movie wraps.
We begin our exodus to Los Angeles, leaving behind the two prostitutes Benjamin gave bigger parts in the movie than mine, several angry waitresses and Artie, who won five thousand dollars on the roulette wheel and will not leave until he’s lost it all.
Blake and Benjamin sit in the back of the production van.
Sebastian drives and I ride shotgun. The rest of the crew follows in separate cars. “I think we just made a shitty movie,” says Benjamin.
“I was wondering if I should use a pseudonym for this film, so it doesn’t fuck up my career,” says Blake.
“I just spent my family’s entire fortune. Do you think I should’ve hired a Mexican to play Leta?”
“That fucking Kevin Dillon’s probably getting my next job right now.”
“I think we have a tail,” says Sebastian. We all turn to see a police cruiser pull in behind us.
“We need to get the fuck out of Nevada!” shrieks Benjamin.
I’m half-asleep and lower my head into Sebastian’s lap as he drives. He has an erection that pokes at my cheek through his jeans, but I just push it away and settle in.
I’m going to miss these jackasses.