Sandra is an up-and-coming actress. You wouldn't know her name but I've changed it anyway. All the other names in this
story are true. In fact, this entire story is true. All but the name Sandra.
One day, Sandra's agent sends her to read for a small part on a TV show. The audition is quick, painless and unlikely to result
in a job.
As she leaves Rehearsal Hall 3, she notices other actresses outside Rehearsal Hall 4, studying sides. ("Sides" are what they call
pages of script. This being show business, they can't just call them "pages.") She asks one of the ladies what's casting within.
"A play," she is told. "It's called Tribute and it's at some theater down in San Clemente." (San Clemente is the
town Nixon used to live in, about two hours south of Los Angeles, roughly two-thirds of the way to San Diego.)
"Another one my agent didn't know about," Sandra thinks. She'd love to do a play but she isn't about to go crashing
auditions. She has seen other actresses do this and it has always struck her as the height of Rude.
Just then, Jack Klugman walks by, heading into the hall.
"Jack Klugman's doing this?" Sandra gasps. "I'd give anything to be in a play with Jack Klugman." She decides that, just
this once, she will scale the heights of Rude and force her way into the audition.
A weary Casting Director is sitting just inside the room with a pile of sides and a list of those who are scheduled to try out.
Sandra rushes up, pours out her sparse credentials as a thespian, and begs to be squeezed-in. "I've never done this before," she says. "I
would never ask except that Jack Klugman is a god to me. At least, please let me read a scene with him." She is so passionate and so
sincere that the Casting Director cannot say her nay.
"Study this scene," she tells Sandra, handing her a packet. "I can't promise anything but if someone's late or if we have time at
the end, I'll try to get you in." Sandra gleefully scurries to a quiet corner of the hallway where she can prepare herself to face her favorite
About an hour later, the Casting Director gives her the signal. "You're up." Sandra makes a mental note that she must not
gush like a giddy teenager over Mr. Klugman. She must behave like a professional and refrain from telling him how she's loved him since she was
a little girl and how she's seen everything she's ever done and how it has always been her dream to appear with him. Then she marches bravely
into the audition hall.
Standing there — wearing an old golf hat in lieu of toupee — is Jack Klugman. "Hi, I'm Jack," he says.
"I know," she says, and then proceeds to tell him she's loved him since she was a little girl and how she's seen everything she's ever
done and how it has always been her dream to appear with him.
Klugman smiles politely and says, "Let's try this thing."
Sandra is sure she's blown it with her schoolgirl raving but she reads the scene. At the end, Klugman tells her she was
great. "That's the best first read we've had all day," he grins.
She's heard that before and not gotten the part. Still, driving home, she is warmed by the thought that Jack "Oscar Madison"
Klugman complimented her on her acting. "That's better than getting most of the roles I've been up for lately," she tells her friends that
But it gets better: The next morning, her agent calls and tells her she's been offered the role. "It's three weeks of rehearsal,
four weeks in San Clemente, and they get an option for eight more weeks if they decide to take it elsewhere. The salary is — "
"I don't care what the salary is," Sandra yells. "Grab it!"
"And you know about the nudity," her agent says.
"Yes, it was explained to all the actresses before they called them in to audition. The character is topless in one scene."
Sandra is befuddled. "Let me get back to you," she says.
She hops in her car and speeds over to the Samuel French bookshop on Sunset, wherein she purchases a copy of Tribute by Bernard
Slade. Sure enough, there's a scene where her character removes her upper garments on stage. Returning home, she calls her agent
back. "I don't know if I can do this. My mother would drop dead. I don't suppose there's any way to talk them into changing
"I think it's take-it-or-leave-it," the agent advises. (He later checks and finds out that, yes, it's take-it-or-leave-it,
shirtless or jobless.)
Sandra spends the next few days wondering if she should do it. She polls her friends and they only confuse the issue...
"You'll get typed as a girl who takes her clothes off. It will only lead to more of the same roles."
"Hey, you're an actress. You do what the part calls for..."
"If you really have talent, you shouldn't have to take off your clothes."
"Sure! By all means, do it. And get me a front row seat." (This last is from her boy friend's best friend, and the
look on his face is a compelling argument against taking the part.)
Her boy friend keeps saying it's up to her, but he makes some good points. This isn't like doing a sleazy movie, after all;
Tribute was a hit Broadway play and movie, both starring Jack Lemmon. Acting opposite Jack Klugman could be educational, along with being a
prestigious credit. Still, there is the matter of Mom...
What to do? She decides to burden someone else with the problem. She calls me.
I know very few actors under the age of fifty who have not, at some point, had to confront the issue of disrobing for the camera.
This includes a number of folks, both male and female, whose physiques would cause a strip joint audience to start chanting, "Put it on!"
Most though are sufficiently attractive that they have received any number of such offers, prompting them to go through much the same
debate, then come to ol' Mark for advice. I've given the following counsel so many times that I've decided to commit it to paper. Next
time, someone asks I can just hand or fax them a copy of this piece.
Why are you in this business?
If it's just to make money or to become famous, then do whatever will make you money or make you famous. Taking off your clothes
is a good way to make a little money and attain a little fame. If you're really good at it, you might make a lot of money and attain a lot of
fame. But the money will only last as long as the body competes favorably with the new, younger models who arrive in Hollywood in a steady
stream. And the fame can be among some folks who you'd just as soon not have your home address.
If you want to act, then act. If the nude scene is eight pages of dialogue opposite James Woods or Robert Duvall, then it's
acting. If it's twenty seconds without dialogue in something with the word "cheerleaders" in the title, it's not acting.
At least not in the sense
that the former is acting.
One can make a decent living and maybe even do something to be proud of in the kind of movie that uses skin as the cheapest possible
special effect. But let's not kid ourselves that Scorcese is going to discover his next leading lady on the Playboy Channel. Yes, a lot
of today's big stars started in films they might rather forget. But you'll have to be twice as good to overcome having Black Kung Fu
Hooker on your résumé. Even if you leave it off your résumé.
You never know who's going to see this stuff or what they're going to do with it. An actress I know tells how when she first
arrived in Hollywood, she was offered a role in a cheapo sex comedy. She rationalized taking it because (a) the nudity would only amount
to a few seconds on-screen and (b) she didn't figure anyone would ever see the thing. Both points made sense at the time but...
(a) We now have cable TV so a movie that might once have left the drive-ins and disappeared forever now turns up for all
eternity on Cinemax. And we have home video, meaning that those few seconds can be replayed over and over, still-framed, enlarged, printed out,
uploaded as JPG files on the Internet, etc. Fans have mailed her frame blow-ups of her rear end to autograph.
She is sometimes dismayed that there's so much room on which to write.
(b) One of the other actresses in the movie later became a major star. That was comforting to my friend because it proved
to her that one's career could surmount that film. But it also caused the movie to get a lot more attention and replay than it deserved.
I won't tell you its title but don't worry. You aren't missing anything. It's a terrible movie...and it isn't even so
terrible it's entertaining. It's just terrible. No one looks good in a terrible movie.
And that's the one thing that's interesting about it: No one's any good in it...not even the lady who later became a Big Star, with
Oscar nominations and everything. She's one of the best actresses in the business but you sure wouldn't know it by this film. Now,
admittedly, this was back when she was just starting out but still — a lady of her talents...you'd think her first screen appearance might have
demonstrated the tiniest inkling of star quality and/or stage presence — but no.
If the script, director and other actors all stink, odds are you will, too. Nor will you learn anything, except maybe that you
don't get a lot out of appearing in terrible movies. Acting is one of those crafts that is learned best — some say, only — by experience and
osmosis. That means inserting yourself amongst talented folks. The problem with being in a crummy movie is that it usually means working
with crummy people. Still, that could be better than not being in a movie
at all or not getting a paycheck that week. And once in a while, some
crummy movies turn out okay.
So — bottom line — it probably won't hurt your career
much but it also may not help it much. Overriding it all is the personal
consideration: How will you feel about it? How will your friends and family feel and how will you feel about how they feel? A lot
of actors do such scenes and never regret them, personally or professionally. But there are a few thespians out there whose marriages or
relationships ended...or who didn't speak with their parents for a long time...after they disrobed on a stage
or in front of a camera.
That last possibility is the one that most frightens Sandra. After our conversation, she gives the matter some long, serious
mulling. What she finally decides is that she's an actress...and this is a good role and a good cast, neither of which she's seen often in her
Most of all, she can't turn down this opportunity to work with Jack Klugman. Besides, Jack's going to remove his hairpiece for
the play, so she figures the least she can do is to remove her blouse.
She steels herself and phones her mother to tell her.
"You got an acting job?" her mother bubbles with excitement.
Sandra takes a deep breath and delivers a speech that is tougher than any she will have in the production: "Mom, I'm doing a play in
San Clemente. It stars Jack Klugman — you know, from The Odd Couple? It's a very good part but you should know that there is
one scene in which I will be appearing nude from the waist up."
There is a gasp and then her mother says, "Oh, Sandra, do you really think that's a good idea?"
"I've thought it over, Mom, and I've decided it will be good for my career."
"I wish you'd reconsider. I think you're making a terrible mistake."
Sandra adopts a firm tone. "You know, Mom, a lot of very important actresses have done nude scenes — "
"Oh, it's not that," Mom says. "It's just...who's going to see you in San Clemente?"