Friday, June 12, 2009

Driving Phyllis Diller

I landed my first job in Los Angeles through a friend working on a movie set. It was an unheard of independant movie that went nowhere, but it was filming on the Universal lot, which was a big thrill for me. This was before I worked for the company for four years, so the excitement of living and working in Hollywood was still very much a factor.

I was able to drive on to the lot and park behind the house from Psycho. I waved to passing studio tours because for all they knew, I was somebody. The location had all the glamour of Hollywood, but the job itself saw me locked up in a stuffy old trailer making photocopies. The first day I worked nearly fifteen hours for an hourly wage that was not near worth the amount of work I was doing. At this time I was living my terrible USC subletted apartment, so at the end of each day I had to drive all the way back there.

The job was wearing me down after only a few days. I think it was obvious, because one of the slightly higher ups offered me a chance to do something different: go pick up one of the stars and drive them back to the set. Higher budget movies would probably use a town car service, but this one was going to wow the talent with my 1995 Toyota Camry.

With my yahoo map print out in hand, I headed towards the familiar address. I later learned that it was familiar because it was the same street as the OJ Simpson murders. I pulled into the driveway and pressed the button on the intercom, informing her that I was here to take her to the set. The gates slowly swung open and I pulled into the turnaround. I got out of the car and put on the biggest smile I could. Out came Phyllis Diller and her daughter (and/or manager). As I started to head back to the drivers side, I realized she stopped at the passenger side and I needed to open the door for her. It felt like a monumental mistake, but this was my first time, so I tried to shake it off.

As she got into my car, she did not scoot in far enough, leaving just enough of her backside in the way of the door closing. I attempted to close it as gently as I could, thinking it was set. When I sat down and began driving, everything seemed cool, until I noticed the door ajar light was on. I couldn't bare to pull over and say "I'm sorry I forgot to close the door." I had too much pride and did not want to lose my job. Plus, she would think I was a moron, which, as it turns out, I was.

I continued to go as if my Grandmother was riding in the car with me. She can't tolerate any speeds above 30 or even the slightest bumps. The ride took us over the Sepulveda pass on the 405 and on to the 101 back to Universal. A ride that normally took 15 minutes at mid-day ended up taking nearly twice that. Neither of them noticed anything, spending the entire ride trying to figure out how to program Phyllis' new cell phone.

During the entire drive my head was swimming with thoughts of her falling out of the car on to the highway. It would be a very detrimental black mark on my resume if during my first job I ended up killing a comedy living legend.

We made it to the lot and through the security check point. I jumped out and sped around the car to open the door for her. I was trying to make up for not opening the door for her in the first place and I also didn't want her leaning on it to find out it was open. As it turns out, the door had latched just not fully shut, so it wouldn't have opened all the way.

Later that week I declined an offer to pick up Henry Winkler, fearing that something terrible might happen to one of my alma mater's favorite alumni. I left the job a few days before production ended in order to start working at Universal full time in the theme park.

Post Script:
Okay, as I was looking into the movie for this blog entry, I found out that not only did it finally get distribution and a release date, the release date is today, June 12, 2009. It seems purely coincidental that the movie is hitting theaters nearly five years to the date that I actually worked on the set. I would have never even known about it if not for a random googling to check some of the movie details.

See for yourself:

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