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By Karen Bergreen
Average 4.9 STARS
Would you call Alice Teakle a stalker? Or just someone with an, um, healthy obsession with golden girl Polly Linley Dawson? No one much notices Alice: not her boss, not the neighbors, not even her Mother. Besides, everyone follows Polly: her business selling high-end lingerie you can imagine only her elegant self wearing, her all-over-the-social-pages marriage to movie director Humphrey Dawson, her chic looks, her wardrobe. Alice just follows her a little more….closely.
And when she loses her job and starts to follow Polly Dawson one Manhattan autumn afternoon, Alice stumbles on the object of her attention sprawled dead on the floor of a boutique. Alice is forced to become truly beneath anyone’s notice. Invisible, in fact. Because she’s accused of murder. But can another obsession help save Alice with the fallout? Charlie is Alice’s longtime unattainable crush. He might be able to help her out of the mess she’s in…in return for a favor or two, that is. And how will Alice find out if Charlie is really the man Alice thinks he is?
I started following Polly Dawson two hours after I was fired from Mona Hawkins Casting, Inc. I know that this isn’t a good thing to do. Phrases like “compulsive voyeur” and “invasion of privacy” come to mind. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, but it is the first time in almost twenty years, and I wasn’t proud of it then.
The fact that I don’t want to stop seems to be yet another signal that I should.
But, I can’t. Besides, Polly Dawson is a loathsome human being.
Why did Mona fire me? It wasn’t incompetence. Even she admitted that I showed incredible promise in casting. Though even my growth called for fear tactics. “Don’t even think of going to work for Farron Moore,” her only real competition in the New York City casting world. “I’ll ruin you.”
While I didn’t dump Mona for one of her competitors, I was—in Mona’s eyes--disloyal. She has been casting Only at Sunrise, next year’s sure-to-be mega blockbuster. The director extraordinaire, Humphrey Dawson, had been on her to cast the sultry Jenna McNair as Kate, the leading lady. But Jenna didn’t do movies; only films. Her agent insisted that she was allergic to blockbusters—even if they were directed by Humphrey Dawson. Humphrey offered her really big money.
“Not gonna work, Humpy.” Mona had a nickname for all of the men in her life. “Jenna McNair isn’t about money. Let me handle this one.”
So, Mona held general “auditions” for the female lead at our hip townhouse offices on 21st and 6th. We had four or five rounds of callbacks, narrowing the list for female lead each time. Mona was very hard on each of the actresses. As usual, she disregarded Screen Actors Guild rules restricting waiting time and made them sit in the cramped, airless ante-room for hours. No one dared report her.
“You do know that the role of Kate is meant to be played by a pretty, THIN actress?” she asked several insecure auditioners.
They all read extremely well under the circumstances, though most left in tears. After six read-throughs and a staged screen test, Mona finally told the waify, lavender-clad, Lissa Purcell that she would be calling her agent at LTA to offer her the part.
But Mona didn’t call anybody at LTA. She never intended to. She’d been reporting to the press about the emergence of an “unknown,” knowing that the faux casting of Lissa would be the perfect remedy for Jenna McNair’s reluctance. Jenna, her agent, Humphrey and Mona had an eighteen-minute conference call. They sealed the deal. Jenna would be playing Kate.
No one called Lissa. She found out that the part was no longer hers from an item in Tell Me magazine. Furious and hurt, she showed up at Mona’s townhouse and asked what had happened.
“I just don’t get it.” She sobbed. Her butterfly choker was bobbing up and down. It looked as if it were flying.
“You were really close,” I reminded Lissa.
“I don’t have the stomach for this. I thought they liked me.” She cried even harder, her lips pursing in a way that would have done the role of Kate proud.
In retrospect, I should have given her a hug. Instead, it all came pouring out so fast I can’t even remember exactly what I said. I might have disclosed that she was used, manipulated, taken advantage of, and that her being offered the role and then Jenna;s being offered the role was premeditated and no reflection on her acting ability.
“Keep going.” I advised her. “It’ll happen for you.”
Lissa was heartened by our little discussion.
Mona wasn’t. She had hung on my every word as she listened with her ear pressed against the wall. She stormed out of her office. Lissa saw Mona and ran away. I was terminated immediately.
I loved my job and I didn’t want to leave. At least not yet. I was content moving up Mona’s casting ladder. When I started there, my responsibilities were limited to ordering lunch. Three years later, I was placing all of the day players in NBC’s hottest sitcom Slip n’ Fall, the professional and romantic hijinks of an accessibly handsome personal injury lawyer.
But no more. Tears welled in my eyes, but I willed them to stay there as I held onto a semblance of dignity. I wish I could say the same for my ex-boss. As Mona was criticizing my ethics, fashion sense and desk design, she kicked a garbage can and stubbed her toe. She blamed me for that too.
Now I’m left with a lot of time. On the one hand, this holds a certain appeal. I can pursue all of those things I’ve really wanted to do all of these years.
On the other hand, there isn’t anything I’ve really wanted to do. I’ve never even had a real hobby, unless you count watching television. I love, love, love television. My best friend Jean, a partner with Lowry, White & Marcus, says I watch it to escape. Maybe she’s right. But what’s wrong with that? A well-scripted drama-filled life is much more fun and fascinating than my own real one.
Jean is always amazed at how accurately I can predict the plot of any TV show. The truth is, I have a weird memory. Once I see something, it never leaves. Show me the first two minutes of any episode of Law & Order, and I can spout off the identity of the killer. Jean always tells me I’d be a good detective if the casting thing doesn’t work out. I think I could have been the internet, if only someone hadn’t invented the computer.
Right after Mona fired me, I ran out of her plush Chelsea office townhouse for the last time. I felt empty. I had no love life. And now I had no career. Mona, the most powerful name in East Coast casting, would make certain that no one will hire me.
I really would have to find something to do. I took a few deep breaths –something I learned from the entire Women-Changing-The-Course-Of-Their-Lives Lifetime movie genre, and decided I would change the course of mine.
I went to Mother’s.
I don’t know if going to Mother’s was the perfect response to my crisis. She was so relieved that I was in a job that I finally liked.
Mother’s an actress, not a big star or anything, but someone you might recognize if you see her. She works mostly in the theatre but has also been on a lot of the soap operas and every other show that films in New York. She usually plays the vulnerable but stalwart matriarch who is faced with overcoming tragedy.
She had been so pleased with my progress at Mona’s. She had gotten me the job. Before that, I had worked as a paralegal and at a non-profit. I was disgruntled as a paralegal and my non-profit was non-fun.
I get off the elevator at the sixth floor of their sumptuous Fifth Avenue apartment building and let myself in.
“Hello Alice.” Barnes, as usual, is there, his moccasined feet resting on the claw foot of his precious roll top desk. “Your mother is rehearsing in the next room.”
“Hi there Barnes.” I give him a perfunctory kiss on his alarmingly smooth cheek. I could tell he was pleased to inform me that Mother wasn’t available. He delights in limiting my access to her.
Barnes is my stepfather.
“I’ll wait.” I told him.
I took off my coat and plunked myself on Mother’s bumpy old crimson and gold silk sofa in their study. Mother is in an off-Broadway play, written, directed, and produced by a playwright friend of hers. They are using Mother’s spacious velvet dining room for rehearsal space. Barnes was reviewing The Wine Enthusiast at the desk and was happy to continue with his reading while I stared up at myself in their mirrored scalloped ceiling medallion.
After forty minutes, Mother finally walks in. Her blond hair, in a ponytail, looks as if she had it in rollers all morning. She is wearing drawstring ivory pants and a brown cashmere cardigan. She has no make-up on, and her face is glowing. She looks fourteen.
“Mona fired me.” I forgot to plan a speech.
“What did you do?” Barnes asked, demonstrating his confidence in me.
“What will you do?” Mother came in quickly.
“I don’t know. I never really thought about this possibility,” I said to her truthfully. “On the bright side, I’ve saved some money so I can support myself financially for at least six months or so. But I just don’t understand. I was doing so well.”
“Obviously, not that well,” Barnes interjects.
I looked at Mother, hoping she, for once, would chastise her husband, but she ignored his comment and looked at me.
“Do you have a plan?” Barnes looked at me, as if he were waiting for the power point presentation detailing my five-year career forecast.
“I thought I’d lie in bed with my television remote in one hand and a box of chocolates in the other.”
Barnes’s eyebrows were moving at warp speed, so desperate was he to add his two cents.
Finally, he asked, “how do you see yourself at thirty-three?”
“A year older than I am now,” I answered.
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