Once Upon a Time, I worked for a large entertainment company that was renowned for its family television shows and lighthearted syrupy fare. But there was a dark, little corner of the company that produced the sleaze lining every video store shelf. B-movie stars in B roles parading their bare B cups. And I, a woman, lorded over this domain as the Director of Development.
Unfortunately, I had a boss, the Executive Producer -- let's call him Mr. R. He was always pissed off because almost every time we shot a film, an actress would balk at baring it all. He screamed about the actress's contractual obligation and how investors would behead him if he didn't get an "R" rating. In the direct-to-video economy, his cry for bottom was the bottom line.
One day Mr. R. and I were on the set of of a $2 million feature which happened to be the feature film debut of a famous and troubled TV star. Nervous about her big nude scene, the difficult TV star demanded a "closed set". This means only the director, make-up artist and a few essential crew members would be allowed to see her bare it all. Knowing my boss's lecherous demands, she refused to perform if he were present and leering. In addition, all monitors and video feeds were to be off. Much to my surprise, Mr. R. agreed.
But Mr. R. had a SECRET monitor, and he phoned the director demanding to see more flesh. Suspicious of the director's increased zest for flesh, the actress flew into a rage, grabbed her robe, and went on the warpath. She found Mr. R. in another room, huddled over his private peepshow. Incensed, she hurled very expensive china at his very expansive head in the very expensive kitchen of the very expensive house we were filming in. Unfortunately, this potentially Oscar-winning scene didn't make it into the final cut.
Sometime after this fiasco, I received a memo informing me that I would be supervising a very special audition. And that Mr. R. and the other senior males of the company, (including the President, Mr. X, and the head of International, Mr. NC-17) had now become casting directors for body doubles, specifically female body doubles. That is, naked female body doubles. Who don't act. Just stand there... naked. How giving of them to take time out of their busy production schedules to judge the "talents" of naked ladies!
I was faced with a dilemma.
I could refuse to take part in a disgusting, sleazy Hollywood casting couch scenario. Or I could quit. What I really wanted to do was tell Mr. R. to get a real head of hair, unlike the unsightly, shiny raccoon that died on his fucking soulless head.
What was my duty as a woman? To protect the innocent from these slobbering beasts? The more I thought about it (and the more I thought about losing my job), the more I realized that maybe this "getting naked" thing was my problem. Sure, I'd feel humiliated standing naked before strangers. But maybe there was something freeing for other women who could take off their clothes without shame or fear.
I discovered peace of mind. A comforting breakthrough. Women own their bodies! These ladies weren't being objectified. They were wrapping these tiny studio executives around their fingers. A vision of sexual power without the victimization.
Okay. I agreed to supervise the casting sessions with the hope that I could learn a bit about fearlessness.
Wielding my clipboard checklist, I was ready to enforce she-power. The suspense of meeting these 21st century women was invigorating. Then they came in-one by one. With raspy voices, smoker's teeth, and the anorexic air of prostitution. Others had no phone number I could contact them at--could they call in? Many exclaimed in squeaky rants, "But I was told I could stay in my swimsuit!"
Each time, the men would repeat the instruction to remove all their clothing. Again and again, they shot me pleading looks. Again and again, I informed them they were free to leave at any time if they felt uncomfortable. But no one ever left. Including me. I stood there as they took off their clothes in the middle of the bare room.
Finally, a sweet-faced young girl with sandy blond hair and rosy cheeks. She was vibrant, pretty, and with a body that I couldn't deny was making my eyeballs pop as much as my slimy bosses. After being told to strip, she looked directly at me with pained hesitation. She removed her clothes. I hoped she was 18. Standing there naked, she told us she was 17. "Thank you," the men said. That would be all for the day.
I asked for her picture and resume on her way out. She didn't have a headshot, but she poured through her wallet and, in total innocence, handed me a picture of herself wearing a corsage and gown standing with an earnest boy several inches shorter than she. The picture had a signed message on back and read: "You're a great friend. Thanks for a wonderful time at the prom." I told her to call me if she felt she wanted some advice on how to get into a legitimate acting career. It was the least I could do.
So much for my feminist rhetoric. Maybe the hard-ass woman I aspire to be isn't going to be found standing naked in the fluorescent glare of a casting room. Oh, she's out there -and naked, but I'm not going to find her in the shadow of Mr. R's Hollywood head pelt.
Ms. Martins has a new job where nobody gets naked.