Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 216

Watched two Ellen Burstyn films: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and Resurrection. Even though she won the Oscar, for Alice..., I felt more connected to the Flo character played by Diane Ladd. I liked Ellen's work in Resurrection much more. The role was extremely challenging and I thought she did a brilliant job. It is the type of role I look forward to adding to my body of work. Ellen was flawless in my opinion. She is like a beautiful, soft-spoken, seemingly shy 2nd cousin that everybody likes until you really get to know her. The cousin you see at family reunions and gush over but as soon as they walk away the gossip starts. And Lord, when you start peeling back the layers of that onion.... Diane Ladd, on the other hand is like that "tell-it-like-it-is" older sister I never had. Nothing phony about her, she's gonna give it to you straight. She would be a big sister that would teach you the ropes. I'm anxious to see her work in Rambling Rose.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 215

It's been said that one way to become successful at achieving your dreams is to hang around people who are already where you want to be. Sometimes that's not possible because some of the greatest lessons can be learned from people who have passed on. Thank God for books, recordings and movies. I have been asked by my mentor to study actresses that have gone before me who have brought to the table the same qualities I possess. One of these actresses is Melina Mercouri, the Greek actress who gives a brilliant performance in Never On Sunday. She plays a prostitute with such style and grace the men not only respect her, they fall in love with her. The first thing you notice about Melina is her eyes. Very large and dramatic to say the least and she know how to work them.
Her story is a fascinating one. She was married to the director of Never On Sunday, Jules Dassin. He built his career around her. She worked in seven films of his until she retired to go into politics.
Never On Sunday released in 1960, was film noir, in black and white. I also watched A Dream of Passion (1978) where Melina worked with another one of my archetypes, Ellen Burstyn. She too has amazing eyes, but more on her later. Melina has been quoted as saying that she did not enjoy working with Ms. Burstyn and my mentor did mention in class that Ellen Burstyn was not a particularly nice person. Interesting...since I found so many aspects of her life fascinating.
Anyway, back to Melina Mercouri. She was 40 years old when she did Never On Sunday and 58 when she did A Dream of Passion. Greeks like Black people must age very well because she looked the same to me and ...Passion was in color! She's a stong and powerful performer although I enjoyed her more in NOS. Passion was a little over the top for me, but then again it was probably directed that way. Her husband was screenwriter, producer and director on that one.
Melina is also a singer and has a remarkable scene in Never On Sunday where she laments the life she about to give up. This may be the way I return to singing one of the roles I book as an actress as well.
Ilya, Melina's character in Never On Sunday, holds her own, does things her way, empowers others and has fun doing it. She is loved and respected by all. That's what I bring to table.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 214

Two words. Russell Simmons. We grew up in the same neighborhood (Hollis, Queens), went to the same college and rode the same train to CCNY up in Harlem. It was on one of those old rickety E trains that I remember sitting with him and my friend Carmen and he said something I will never forget as long as I live.
Russell has risen above his seemingly dismal circumstances to become one of the richest men in show business. He parties with the rich and famous in the Hamptons, always has a beautiful woman on his arm and gives money away to help others. Yet he still wears a baseball cap. If you saw him in the street and didn't know who he was, you probably wouldn't even look twice.
We hung out big time in Finley Hall on the campus of CCNY, basically just partying. He's always been a nice guy. I've only seen him a couple of times out here on the west coast and never mentioned his comment to me. But I can't let it go. I need to have a meeting with him.
This is what he said to me on that rickety E train back in the day: "Stick with me Carlease, I'll make you a star." Carmen and I looked at each other and chuckled. Damn. What did I learn from that? Words are powerful. So are intentions and when a person believes in themselves they can make anything happen. Russell knew what he wanted and was not afraid to go after his dreams. He fearlessly connected with the people he wanted to emulate and learned from them. And they helped make him a star. He now helps people all over the world with his philanthropy which is one of the things I admire about him the most. That is definitely a goal of mine as well. But first, I need someone to get me Russell Simmons on the line so that I can find out if the statue of limitations is still open on that comment he made to me on that old rickety E train back in the day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 213

Let me introduce you to another actress friend of mine. Do you remember the TV show ROC with Charles Dutton? His wife was played by the fabulous Ella Joyce. I know Ella from New York and when we met, she had an entirely different name. No, you won't get it out of me, I've been sworn to secrecy. Ella Joyce is one fierce sista. There were about four of us NY actresses that all came out to LA around the same time and ironically got married around that same time also. Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Ella and me. Phyllis, Vanessa and I all worked on a play called STRIVER'S ROW at the New Heritage Theater in Harlem. It was there that I saw Ella Joyce in another play and enjoyed her work immensely. We became friends and almost did a play together at Black Spectrum in Queens but I didn't accept the role because I was moving out to L.A. Ella moved out a little bit later but she had lived here before. Out of the four of us, Ella and Vanessa are still married, Phyllis is with husband #2 and I'm working on husband #2.
Ella's husband, the talented and handsome Dan Martin, directed the 20 minute version of my solo show, FIFTY! It Doesn't Look This Good On Everybody. We've all remained friends over the years. They are always on my guest list for parties and shows and have been extremely supportive.
As an actress, Ella is a joy to watch. Her work is impeccable. Every single detail is well thought out, she doesn't miss a thing. She has written a solo show about Rosa Parks called A ROSE AMONG THORNS and it is brilliant. She has created a piece she can perform for the rest of her life. She's always popping up on my TV screen.
The lesson I have learned from her is tenacity, being in this business for the long haul. Always creating and knowing your worth as an artist. She is a strong and powerful sista. Definitely a force to be reckoned with on stage and off!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 212

You know you have made it in Hollywood when people stop you on the street because they recognize your work. This is happening to me more and more lately. So much so, I had to do a bit about it in my comedy act. I talk about the person who came up to me and said, "I know you, you're an actress. I just saw your commercial. Aren't you the Pine Sol Lady?" When the audience stops laughing, I say, "That's right baby. It's the Power of Pine Sol." More laughter. What most people don't know is, the Pine Sol Lady (Diane Amos) is a very good friend of mine. We met at the Phoenix airport about 10 years ago when we were both scheduled to work as comics at a resort in Sonora Bay, Mexico. We hung out together for that whole week and have been buddies ever since. She actually lives in San Francisco, but comes to Los Angeles frequently to do Pine Sol spots and other work. Every time she's in town I feel like I'm on vacation. We do all my favorite things: hang out at hotels, eat, shop, laugh and play cards. She likes this card game called Slick which nobody else I know plays and I've been trying to beat her at it for years now. We always get together with her other girlfriends and we just have the best time. Diane is one of the most grounded and for real sistas I know. With all of her celebrity status she is never phony or pretentious. When we're together we talk about real life stuff: our families, some politics, current events or whatever is going on in the moment. We hardly ever talk about the business, toot our own horns and we definitely don't name drop or gossip. It's so refreshing to have a friend like that in this industry. I always know where I stand with her. This sista does not play.
What I learn from Diane is that you can make it in this industry and live a centered life. She is very sure about who she is: a wife, a mother, an actress, a good friend and so much more.
I am grateful to be a part of her sisterhood. Now that's the Power of Pine Sol baby.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 211

There is one person I know who probably doesn't have the same Whoopi Goldberg stories that I have and that person is my dear friend Sherri Shepherd. She and Whoopi work together on The View. I met Sherri in a stand-up comedy class when she was still working in a law firm a loooooong time ago. I cannot tell you how proud and happy I am for all of her accomplishments. I remember when she didn't know stage left from stage right and now, after many series regular roles, and hours of stand up comedy here she is co-hosting The View. Most actresses would love to have that opportunity and would be very satisfied, but Sherri has more energy than anyone I know. She can simultaneously work on The View, do a play a night or host a Game Show or even tape her own sitcom and hold it down as a mother as well. She is amazing and I admire that fearless quality about her. I was so blessed to get a role in the pilot episode of the Sherri show. It was a very special surreal type moment for both of us especially since the show was about her life. We were not acting in our was the real deal.
Sherri is very unique and deserves all of her success. She has a way of making everyone feel special. She's tough & fearless yet soft & sexy all at the same time. And funny! It seems like nothing ever gets her down. And I know she loves the Lord. When we met, she was a Jehovah's Witness and I think she had her first Thanksgiving dinner with me and some friends.
She has come a long way and I know there's more to come.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 210

There were less than a handful of celebrities that I thought I would love to meet. I've never really been star struck, but there is one star I always wanted to have 10 minutes of quality time with. She is smart, funny, famous and rich. I would simply ask her how she got started and if she had any words of wisdom for an up and coming actress like myself. This person was Whoopi Goldberg. I got way more than 10 minutes of her time when I stood in for her on a season of Hollywood Squares and on at least 2 Academy Award shows. I worked with her for so many days I've lost count and yet I've never had a meaningful conversation with her. She barely acknowledged my presence except for a few rude remarks for no apparent reason.
Here are my highlights of working with Ms. Goldberg:
~ One day while sitting in her center square during rehearsal (which was my job) the host asked me to do my best Whoopi Goldberg impersonation. I just laughed it off. He said, come on...why not? I then heard a voice come from the darkness say, "She's scared." Sh*t. That was Whoopi's voice. No Whoopi, I thought, I'm an actress not an impressionist.
~ At an Academy Award rehearsal during the time she was dating Frank Langella, I had to step off the stage so that Whoopi could rehearse her opening monologue. I was sitting in the front row and Frank was sitting next to me. He was so friendly. We were chatting...about Whoppi mostly and he made me laugh out loud. Whoopi glanced down at us. Sh*t again. That's all I get my butt beat by Whoopi Goldberg thinking I was trying to steal her man.
~ The one and only time Whoopi warmly acknowledged me was at her book signing at Book Soup. (I have the picture and the book to prove it). The next time I saw her at work she was talking to a friend of mine so I approached her to say thank you and she turned to me and said in a very nasty tone, "Can I help you with something?"
You know what Whoopi, maybe you're right. People who are not nice do scare me because I don't trust them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 209

I've been blogging for the past few days about being a stand in on award shows and I suddenly realized that some of you may not know what that is. A stand in is a union actor who is hired to replace the stars of the show in rehearsal for lighting, sound and blocking purposes. This is not be confused with a seat filler. Those people just fill the seats of celebrities during the show so that on camera the viewing audience never sees an empty seat. Seat fillers are used when a celebrity has to present an award, after they accept an award or when they are performing. The problem is, sometimes those seat fillers don't want to give the celebrity their seats back!!
A stand in's job can be very grueling. That's why the celebrities don't do all the rehearsals. Award show rehearsals usually go on for a week before the live taping. Celebrity presenters come in once to read the monitor, learn their entrances & exits and where to stand to deliver their lines. The musical acts usually rehearse all on one day with a couple of other musical acts in the show. The stand ins are utilized all throughout these rehearsals wherever needed or sometimes we are assigned a specific celebrity for that particular show.
I started doing stand in in work because it was fun to be behind the scenes and to meet a bunch of celebrities. Just a couple of negative aspects in my opinion: stand ins are not treated very nicely by the production staff and some of the stand ins actually believed they were the stars they were standing in for. Yikes.
I said I would stop when it ceased to be fun. I can't remember the last time I worked as a stand in.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 208

I heard Dave Ramsey say on his radio program recently, that if you really admire a particular celebrity, you probably shouldn't meet them because you will most likely be disappointed. Enter Luther Vandross. I was working as a stand-in on the Soul Train Awards and Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross and Gladys Knight were the hosts. I was standing in for Patti, so at one point all four of us were backstage in a little tiny curtained off area about the size of a small closet. Gladys and I chatted about how the old school artists where nicer than young newbies on the music scene and I enjoyed the banter between the three of them. Sharing stories, laughing, having a good time. Wow. At one point, Gladys was out on the stage rehearsing and Patti got called to hair and make-up so it was just me and Luther sitting there. With the ladies absent, it got quiet suddenly. But not for long. Anyone that knows me knows that I cannot be in the presence of another human being and not at least attempt to have a conversation with them. I was not in the presence of just any human being, this was Luther Vandross I was sharing an armrest with! So I politely turned to him and said, "You must be lonely now that Patti left." He then turned to me and said in a very condescending manner, "Are you talking to me or are you asking me a question?" all the while staring at me with his lips pursed as if waiting for an answer. I just stood up and walked away. Of course that bothered me for the rest of the day. After all, I had every one of his albums since Never Too Much on vinyl and CD. His newest one was about to drop soon so when I saw him later, I mustered up a smile and told him I was anxiously awaiting the release. He then said, "Good. I can order that new carpet now." Nice try Luther but I can't get that first comment out of my mind. I pictured a very different scenario for our first meeting.
I did buy that next CD but haven't been as much of a fan as I once was. Luther was an amazing talent with a one of a kind voice. I've heard he can be difficult to work with and I've seen him go off on a stage manager a couple of times so I sincerely hope he is resting in peace. He's left quite a legacy. As my tribute to him, I sing a little bit of Dance With My Father in my solo show.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 207

Went to see FELA on Broadway with Patti LaBelle last night. As I watched her in her scene stealing performance, I was reminded of the other time I saw her on Broadway in YOUR ARM'S TOO SHORT TO BOX WITH GOD with Al Green. It was so funny when Al's mic went out and Patti, being the giving performer that she is, grabbed his head and pulled it toward her chest so he could be heard through her mic. What a sight to see Al Green singing the title song into Patti LaBelle's right boob. A bouncing right boob at that since Patti was expressively jumping up and down in the spirit.
Many years later when I was working as a stand-in on awards shows, I had several opportunities to meet and work with her in rehearsals. One of the things that most impressed me is that on the morning before hosting a major award show she would throw down in the kitchen. Patti could cook anywhere. She didn't need to be in her own kitchen. She would cook in the morning and then bring it to the Shrine auditorium and invite us to her dressing room for a taste. Long before she wrote her cookbooks, we would ask her to teach us how to make that famous potato salad. I'm sure one of my friends has the original napkin we wrote the recipe on. I used to ask her how she could cook like that in the morning, rehearse in the afternoon and host the show that night. She told me she just loves to cook and was so proud to say that she gave Luther Vandross his first set of pots. I also asked her how she looked so fabulous all the time. Patti LaBelle is always camera ready. She admitted she loves to dress. She said if I ever saw her in a jogging suit I would know she had snapped.
The last time I worked with her was at Long Beach Pride. She did a Friday night solo concert and I was the emcee. We all know Patti loves to kick off her shoes, so when I went on after her to close the show, there was one of her shoes just laying there in the middle of the stage. I tried to steal it but she busted me so I had to give it back.
Patti LaBelle is an amazing talent, a true DIVA and a really nice lady.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 206

On Saturday night, I went to Black Spectrum to see Melba Moore in concert. It was a very significant evening for me since Black Spectrum Theatre is where I began my acting career. That's right. Right here in St. Albans, Queens on Linden Blvd. I originally went there to take an acting class but immediately started to get cast in productions. One of these shows became a big hit and ran Off Broadway for about nine months. The play was called Deadwood Dick, Legend of the West. It was a delightful musical about actual Black cowboys. Now, about 32 years later, I was so grateful to be able to give something back. Carl Clay, artistic director and founder of the theatre has written a book about its history and I got my autographed copy on Saturday. A little birdie told me that he said some really nice things about me in it.
Melba Moore put on quite a show the other night. It was more than a concert, it was a one woman show with story, music, characters and more. It was so nice to finally get a chance to tell her she is one of the reasons I became a professional actress. After my parents took me to see Purlie on Broadway back in the day, I came home, bought the album and learned every song verbatim so that I could sing along at the top of my lungs over and over and over again. I was Lutiebelle Etta Mae Jenkins until my parents (and the neighbors) just couldn't take it anymore. I later did a scene from Purlie in the only college acting class I ever took and I sang I Got Love in a Valentine's Day cabaret this year. I've been doing that song for auditions for years now. Melba Moore is an amazing talent. It was an honor to see her up close and personal in my theatrical home.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Clear Channel - Day 205

Been so caught up these last couple of days I haven't had a chance to blog and I'm not too happy about that but I'm about to flip the script anyway. The title of this 365 blog experiment is called A Clear Channel, but there's more. I went to a year end career coaching session in December where we created my personal theme called, A Clear Channel To A Household Name. Hope you enjoy the ride.