When I was in the seventh grade, Jack asked me if I'd like to audition for a television series. I was beside myself with excitement over the idea; it sounded like so much fun! NBC was doing a half- hour black-and-white television remake of the 1944 family classic movie National Velvet, which had made a huge star out of Elizabeth Taylor, and I was going to audition for the lead part of Velvet. Jack prevailed on Frank, our handy in-house actor, to help prepare me for my scene.
When it came to acting coaches, I couldn't have found one more gentle, encouraging, and patient than Frank. I owe him a debt of gratitude for a good part of what followed. For several days, Frank and I sat in the dining room, rehearsing the long monologue I was going to give. It was a very emotional speech and I'd had no acting experience, but I threw myself into this task with total abandon. More than nine hundred child actors tried out and I was one of four who made it to the screen test. Three other young girls and I were sent to the hair and makeup department, where they tinted our hair so we'd look just like Velvet did in the movie. The jet-black rinse was so cheap that it turned my hair brush gray and left a sooty shadow on my pillow. But I thought I looked sultry; I thought that with my blue eyes and newly darkened hair I looked terribly glamorous.
On the day we all showed up for our screen tests, I guess I did my scene as required but what I remember most was the great fun the four of us girls had as we ran around the NBC studio lot. We were a quartet of nearly identical black-haired girls hyped up on adrenaline and postaudition exhilaration, racing around the cavernous soundstages and shrieking in unison. It was such a thrill to be running around with other kids, being part of a happy girl pack instead of the quiet loner at Le Conte Junior High School.
After several days of anguished waiting, Jack called me into the living room and told me that I didn't get the part. Apparently, they didn't want me to star in their series because I didn't know how to comport myself. I'd played around the studio lot too much. I was unprofessional.
"Oh, all right," I said to Jack as coolly as I possibly could.
Then I went downstairs to my room and collapsed. I sobbed for hours. I was blindsided. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't get it. I'd blown it horribly. Jack said I was "irresponsible" and "unprofessional." I was wracked with humiliation. Rejected at twelve.
Only recently did I find out what might have really happened. The girl who landed the part was named Lori Martin and had been acting professionally since she was six. (Which was six more years of acting experience than I had.) I also read that after dying Lori's hair she was the mirror image of an adolescent Liz Taylor. In other words, the producers didn't necessarily reject me because I'd misbehaved. They probably went with the most seasoned young actress who also happened to be a ringer for a popular movie star.
How like Jack to leave me with the imprint of a self-inflicted loss. I might have fared better if I were a Communist.