Giving up...But Maybe Not
The drive up north was grueling. By that time, I was driving an old clunker that could barely make it up the I5 freeway. The air conditioner stopped working going up the Grapevine and Maude and Squeeky were suffering terribly. By the time we got to Oregon, Maude was acting strangely; climbing up and down the seats, crying almost croaking sounds. Panicked by her behavior, I held her on my lap as I drove. I was relieved when she quieted down in the motel room, but her breathing became more and more labored, and just over the border into Washington, she died in my arms. I pulled into a rest stop and broke down and cried. My very best friend in the world for sixteen years was gone. I had put her through hell – moving from place to place, forcing her to adjust to new houses and new people while she stayed ever faithful, never complaining, always loving and talking to me to the very end. I held her close all the way to my mother’s house and buried her next to my father’s favorite rose bush. Now the only cat left of my entire brood was Squeeky and I hoped he wouldn’t leave me for a long, long time. He was all I had left.
Adjusting to life in Marysville was like a dead person adjusting to purgatory. I saw myself as a pitiful failure and didn’t much care about anything. I was breathing but my existence bore no resemblance to life. I went through the motions of living: spent time with my sister and family, signed with a temp agency and went to my various jobs and spent my days feeling like a zombie. But, being a good actress, I made sure no one knew how I felt and that no one suspected that I was really no longer alive. At night, I would hold Squeeky and cry and face the horror of possibly having to stay up there for the rest of my life.
Eventually, the acting sickness that had plagued me since I was in the third grade started showing signs of life again. No! No! No! Why can’t I just forget about acting?! Get an agent? Oh, what was the point?! What kind of work could there be in Seattle anyway? I need to forget acting and keep on making that agonizing trip down the freeway toward my office jail, wishing I’d get hit by that proverbial truck that never seemed to find me. My destiny had been to fail no matter how hard I tried, so why even think about acting anymore? Boo hoo, poor me. Wah, wah. I was really wallowing in it. It was over! Over! I contacted SAG Seattle and asked them to send me a list of agents in Seattle.
I interviewed with a few agents and ended up with Topo Swope, one of the best in Seattle. To my complete surprise, I started going out on auditions for independent movies. I also kept track of Equity play auditions and went on “generals,” where you do monologues for theater groups and hope you get called in later for an actual role. There are two kinds of actors: those who go to New York or Los Angeles with stars in their eyes wanting to be rich and famous, and those who seem to be cursed with some sort of disease, that inexplicable need to act and to attend classes and learn to be the best we can be, whether we do it in a multi-million dollar Hollywood production or on a small stage in Nowheresville, USA. Unfortunately, I seemed to find myself in the needy category whether I liked it or not, so here I was yearning yet again to act and bring to life the lines on a printed page, doing my best to make them real.
Nothing was coming my way in Seattle acting-wise and my friend Michael Simms, who had moved to Vancouver from Los Angeles where he hadn’t been getting enough work and now was working practically non-stop in Canada, told me I should get an agent up there and give it a shot. So I sent my pictures and resumes to a few agencies in Vancouver, interviewed with the two best prospects and picked one who seemed the most interested in me. They immediately sent me out on an audition for a role in a television show in which I was cast, and then an old friend from Darryl Hickman’s acting class, Bob Saget, came up to Vancouver to direct a movie and he cast me in a small part as well. Going up and down to B.C. for auditions became a normal part of life and I came to know Vancouver as well as I did Seattle.
I was sitting on my bed in the middle of a familiar daydream imagining myself in the mountains of Norway in my cousin’s cabin hiding out from the world, having mercifully lost every shred of ambition when my agent called and told me I had an audition for a film being shot in Seattle. I made up my face, dressed for the part and got into my ancient clunker for the drive into the city. I passed the University of Washington and crossed the bridge going over Lake Union, looking at the breathtaking views of Seattle and the car started making funny noises. I was almost to the Union Street exit when it died. I steered it over to the tiny triangle that separated the freeway with cars going seventy miles per hour from the cars entering the freeway at sixty miles per hour and stopped. Cars were whizzing by me and no one gave me a second glance, including two highway patrol cars that I tried to wave down. I sat in the car hoping that no one would hit me, even though a few weeks ago, when I was feeling sorry for myself, this would have seemed like a really good opportunity to get smashed up and killed. Now that I was there where it was a distinct possibility, it didn’t seem so appetizing. I hoped and prayed that the car was merely overheated and that after awhile it would cool down and I would make it to the exit and down the hill. I figured I would be so late to the audition they would assume I wasn’t coming and that was the end of that.
I waited until I thought it was safe to start the car again and after a few tries it did. It chugged out of the little triangle, barely made it over to the exit and down the hill where I pulled over to the curb and stopped. It was more obvious than ever that I was never going to make it to the audition. I went inside a store to call Triple A and, after what seemed like an eternity, a truck came, the driver looked under the hood, made some adjustment and told me I better take it to a garage right away to fix whatever it was. I barely heard him because now that my car was good to go, my audition was foremost on my mind. I drove up to Pike’s Market where the audition was to have taken place, parked and walked down to the restaurant they had taken over for the auditions. Ironically, the name of the movie was Nowheresville, just where I had ended up.
To my happy surprise, no one cared that I was late. There were several other actors there and I just signed in and waited my turn. Thank you, God! I was called in, read my lines and left. I was up for the part of an annoying mother to a young man who just wanted her to leave him alone. I could easily identify with that role.
Since there seemed to be a lot of women auditioning, I didn’t hold out much hope for getting the part but I knew one thing for sure, somehow, I had to get myself a better car. My mother was thinking the same thing. She suggested I have my sister’s husband drive my car to an empty lot on a busy street next to their church and put a big for sale sign in the windshield. My sister’s husband said it was a sure-fire way to get it seen and sold, and he was right. I felt sorry for the elderly couple who bought the car, but they said they only needed it for short errands to the store and they didn’t mind an old clunker. So with that money, and with my ever-generous mother chipping in, I bought a not-so-new but good-running white Mercury Cougar and figured if I ever got another audition it would get me there.
My mother wanted to sell her house and move into a smaller house or a condo and I did my “carpenter’s daughter” work to spiffy it up, patching up holes in the wall, spackling, painting walls inside and out, and with the help of my sister, painting the entire fence that ran around the property. My mother had started her own drapery business after she retired and now was ready to give it up. She was as strong and fit as ever, but she deserved to enjoy her retirement. She missed my father terribly but had close friends from Norway and friends from church and, even though she worried about everything constantly, me included, she was always accepting of me and loved me unconditionally. Ever since she had met Lloyd Ogilvie, she had more or less accepted that I was an actress and always would be whether I was working or not. She never pressured me anymore to “become a lawyer.” After all, it now seemed certain I would not end up in the gutter in L.A. since I was safely ensconced in Marysville.
Two times while living in Marysville I had hope of something happening with my scripts. Michelle Lee, who had been on Knots Landing with Kevin Dobson, had read my script, Home Run, and very badly wanted to do it as a movie for television. She tried very hard to get CBS interested, but they didn’t think it was the right vehicle for her. Then someone from the production company that had produced Navy Seals called and said they had read Sub-Level Four, the same script that had interested Bob Barker, and told me they wanted to take it to the next level. I didn’t know what they meant and wished I had an agent to follow up on this lead. I kept calling and they kept saying they were still interested, but it died in the trying.
I had wanted to find a church to attend, but there was nothing like Hollywood Pres in Marysville, so I drove all the way into Seattle to go to a Presbyterian church in the University District. Seattle is a very beautiful city when it isn’t raining and for some reason I found it fascinating driving by my old neighborhood and high school and thinking about Dave and me and how my life had turned out so differently than I thought it would. I had sacrificed and worked so hard to be an actor and here I was, back where I started, with (according to my rigid measurement code of success and failure) little to show for my efforts. But I still had managed to cling to a tiny amount of faith as small as “a mustard seed” – which is what the Bible promised is all I need – and even though I had severe bouts with depression, I was determined to go forward with my life. I constantly repeated another Bible verse that assured me, “Seek and ye shall find, ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” I was determined to keep on seeking, asking and knocking no matter how dismal my present circumstances and how hopeless my future might seem, and just keep playing it one day at a time.
Again, out of the blue, when I wasn’t thinking about it, my agent called and told me I had the role of the annoying mother in Nowheresville. I was going to film a movie in Seattle! Okay, it wasn’t a major feature with big stars, but working as an actress in my hometown was something I hoped would happen but never really expected and here it was – car breaks down, bad – get cast anyway, good.
We shot my scenes in a picturesque little town a little north of Seattle called Edmonds, which I had never seen before. This had been here during my youth? Why didn’t I ever come here? The little village is situated by the water at the bottom of hills where the houses above looked out over a view of the sound and the Olympic Peninsula beyond that. The whole scene was breathtaking. Every few minutes a ferry would dock, disgorge its cars, load up with more cars and head back across the water. We had beautiful weather for our shoot, and on sunny days, the Seattle area makes everybody want to live there. Then it rains for three months straight and visitors say, never mind, and head back to the sun.
I loved my role, and the actor portraying my son played his part of the frustrated, annoyed son to perfection. As always, the job was over much too soon and I went back to temping. I found a Lutheran church near my mother’s house and liked the pastor and his low-key preaching. But still, it didn’t prevent me from almost every day having a moment of panic when I would ask myself, “Is this it for me, then? Is this all there is?” Then I would calm myself down, meditate and pray for several minutes and go on with life. It seemed that nothing could kill my hopes and dreams. I just kept asking, seeking and knocking, knowing that one day, sooner or later, that door would open. I didn’t know how I was going to find my way back to the anti-vivisection movement. In Seattle, there were several animal groups all espousing the cruelty argument and feeling comfortable with that. I attended protests for the Sea Shepherd and anti-fur demos but there was no organization that was making any attempt to spread the truth about animal experimentation and that is what I was looking for.
While I was up in Marysville, changes were taking place in the anti-vivisection movement in Los Angeles. Chris De Rose had decided to focus less on anti-vivisection and more on shutting down puppy mills. Another group with much more money than PRISM was now espousing the same philosophy as us – the connection between vivisection, human health and the environment – and had members from all over the country. They seemed on their way to growing exponentially and accomplishing everything that we had wanted to accomplish. Debbie moved to Florida to open up a chiropractic office, and Sandra was working on her own, while other members disseminated PRISM literature and spread the message of the scientific fraud of vivisection. I was disappointed that PRISM wasn’t more active, but I understood that having two groups exactly the same operating in the same city, with one able to do much more than the other, it made sense for one group to take the lead. I ordered their excellent material and sent it out when I wrote to newspapers, magazines, politicians and celebrities. My leaders in the anti-vivisection movement had essentially abandoned me, but at least Paul Watson was still at the helm of the Sea Shepherd Society and was fighting the good fight for whales and seals. At one point, someone called from the Sea Shepherd office and asked me to drive up to Vancouver to do a presentation for the Sea Shepherd for a high school class. The presentation went well, the students were amazingly receptive and I told the lady at the Sea Shepherd office I was eager and available to do more presentations.
I was faithful in going to general auditions for theater groups and, even though Seattle is a theater town, there was, at that time, a core group of working Equity actors which was very exclusive and cliquey and incredibly difficult to join. After one of these cattle calls, I was called in to the Bathhouse Theater to audition for the lead in a play called Someone’s Knocking. The title sounded like it was written for me and the role fit me well: an agoraphobic housewife is completely under the thumb of her husband, who completely controls her, and she willingly submits to his every whim and is terrified of even going out of the house. It was a comedy with a little slapstick thrown in, and comedy is my forte.
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