by Gail Monroe
Never again would they dare call me insane.
|I stepped out of the limo with care amid blinding flashes of light as the photographers closest to the street jockeyed for position. Well aware of recent tabloid pictures of other personalities who had splattered themselves on the blacktop getting out of the car or found their short dress wasn’t enough to keep probing camera lenses from seeing all, I pressed the lower part of my gown close to me, careful to step onto the pavement in my six inch Jimmy Choo shoes.
Sami, my stylist and best friend, vacated the limo first to help me through the awkward positioning necessary to alight from the depth of the limo with my modesty intact. Her assistance allowed me to exit as gracefully as possible under the circumstances, quite a challenge considering the myriad minions milling about waiting to greet the new arrivals. Three lanes of limousines lined the boulevard as far back as the eye could see, motors idling, passengers preparing to disembark.
Now that I was standing upright, Sami deftly and discretely adjusted my gown, jewels, and hair for the long walk down the red carpet. We were aware our arrival was instantly broadcasting around the world to hundreds of millions of movie lovers glued to their television sets to see who would win the movie industry’s highest honors.
In this town, appearance was everything. Gary Matthews, my agent, was my date for this most prestigious of events. Gary was also my longtime friend and quite possibly my next husband. He had been my rock in this crazy town and I was comforted and proud to have him by my side.
As I had already won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for this picture, an Oscar was almost assured. I say almost, because my portrayal of a young woman who rebelled from her boring small town life, domineering and abusive husband, and conservative Christian parents, to seek fame and fortune in the big city was also a hard hitting, and at times violent, movie reminiscent of Halle Berry’s portrayal in Monster’s Ball.
Not every critic had been as supportive as my camp would have liked. One never knew which way the votes would go. All voting was conducted by secret ballot among members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, peers who were at the top of their craft.
Because I had already won the other two major awards for this picture, expectations were running high that I would also garner the big one, the Oscar, for best actress. We were well aware of the upsets of the recent past, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up only to have them publicly dashed.
Several actresses had shied away from trying out for the role because of the heavy demands of the part. The director required I gain fifty pounds, wear no makeup, and act like the town drunk. Personally, the movie was emotionally challenging because it hit a little too close to home. By the end of the shoot, I was exhausted from the effort to dig deep into my soul to bring realism and depth to the part.
Once the movie wrapped, Gary and I took an extended vacation to the Virgin Islands. The natural beauty and stunning beaches of St. John restored my soul like no place I had ever been.
As we continued to wait our turn on the red carpet, I reflected how most people would not realize how personal the part had been for me. The years of rebellion and separation from my family were still painful memories. I thanked God everyday for the restoration brought about the last few years.
Sami finished tweaking my gown and deemed me prepared to begin my walk of fame. I could hear the murmurs of those closest to us. Not only had I lost the excess weight gained for the part, but daily workouts at the fitness club, and Pilate’s classes, sculpted my body in ways the ice blue ankle-length strapless Armani gown highlighted to great advantage.
My long silky blond hair fell in soft waves over my shoulders and the million dollar earrings, bracelet, and ring I wore were in stark contrast to the dark tragic figure I played in “One Last Time”. The movie and director also won kudos during this award season. The picture was nominated for eight Academy Awards.
By all accounts it looked to be a wonderful evening. Sami had arranged for me to change into another dress for the after parties that would carry us on through this exciting night. Gary and I were ready to party until dawn if our hope for an Oscar was fulfilled. Otherwise, it would be a short evening with a quiet nightcap at home for the two of us.
As we began to make our way along a sea of faces, industry types swirled around us talking into their requisite headsets, speaking to who knows whom, guiding us to the television and radio interviewers and on toward the all important photo shoot. I stood straight and tall, the matching ice blue heels placing me well over six feet, almost able to look Gary directly in the eye. With his thick dark hair and smoldering brown eyes, Gary had the rugged good looks of a matinee idol and was a well respected presence in a tough business. According to articles in the tabloids we made a striking couple, unfortunately causing the ever present paparazzi to surround us wherever we went.
When I left Collinsville with not much more than a suitcase, a black eye, and swollen lips, I was called every name imaginable. “She’s nuts! She’s crazy! She’s insane!” were the more kindly epitaphs coming my way as I headed north. As word of my escape spread throughout the small conservative town I had lived in all my life, my family was stunned that I would leave my husband of five years to head to New York City. They knew our relationship was shaky, but I never told them the extent of the abuse or how hard I had tried to save the marriage.
I had secretly saved enough money over the years to get myself to the big city I had never visited. No one will ever know what it took to get settled, to pay for acting classes, to pound the pavements of that great and vibrant city for bit parts in back alley theaters. No, no one would ever know.
The atmosphere was electric. The buzz of the crowd enveloped me as cheers resounded behind us welcoming the new arrivals as they stepped from their limos. The glitz and glamour of the night was far removed from our normal daily lives. Gary and Sami continued to guide me as the relentless flash bulbs nearly blinded us. We stopped often for hugs and kind words from fellow actors. What a thrill to be accepted by the very people I used to admire from afar, never dreaming I would one day be considered their peer. We slowly made our way toward the entrance of the Kodak Theater.
My cheeks were beginning to ache from the constant smile plastered on my face; difficult to maintain during the ridiculous interviews. Where did they find those questions? The smile continued to hold during the numerous photos taken along the way. As I waved to my adoring fans, their responding cheers sent a thrill through my soul. They were yelling out the names of those they wanted to draw nearer their position behind the roped barriers. I responded by momentarily stepping over to them, signing autographs and posing for several personal pictures, before moving on. Far removed from the cat-calls I received when I first arrived in New York.
As we entered the theater and were escorted to our front row seats, I looked around the huge auditorium. What a contrast to the small town theater my friends and I used to sneak into during my childhood, watching in fascination the movies my parents would not allow me to see, dreaming impossible dreams of riches and fame. Now I was shown on that same big screen, as other young, impressionable girls watched, envied, and hoped.
My publicist and friend, Sandra Culver, gave me a hug as she settled nearby. Gerry Gerard, our director for this movie, was in the row behind us. With a smile and a wink, he let me know he was rooting for me. I sat amidst the increasing bustle of the renowned theater and thanked God once again that I had been noticed years ago in New York City by the powers that be in the entertainment business. Plucked from obscurity while playing a minor role, I was given my first lead in a play.
Then on to Hollywood in the part of a lifetime no sane actress would accept. Wearing no makeup, adding the necessary extra pounds, thrashing around in mud, sleet and snow for weeks at a remote location, I managed to bring home a powerful emotionally-charged performance. That role led to rave reviews and, ultimately, awards. I became the go to actress willing to do whatever it took to make the role believable. In other words, I was a director’s dream.
The films kept coming and the accompanying perks of stardom provided for my current lifestyle. A lifestyle that not only included my new Cadillac SUV, which just joined the silver BMW convertible in my five car garage, but also the mansion of my dreams located high in the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The trophy room alone was bigger than my last home in Collinsville. The mansion was recently redecorated by a world famous designer. I quickly grew accustomed to the designer clothes and the best seats at premier restaurants in Hollywood and New York City.
As the evening’s hostess, the hottest comedian in town, opened the festivities, I thought again of those in my family who had called me insane for giving up a mundane life in a small backwater town, fleeing an abusive marriage to seek fame and fortune in the big city, knowing they would never call me insane again. Why? Because they liked the cars and houses I have been able to provide them. Do I sound cynical? I hope not. I have forgiven them for their harsh words and earlier lack of support, as they have forgiven me my indiscretions.
Gary took hold of my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze as the evening continued in a blur of presenters, winners, and musical numbers. As I listened to the litany of names listed during long acceptance speeches, I realized I no longer resented the people in my past. How could I? I was living life to the fullest. I was living my dream.
Gary had recently moved into the mansion; his two children now frequent visitors. Watching his young daughters splash in the pool earlier today had awakened unexpected maternal desires. I squeezed Gary's hand in return and was awarded a warm wonderful smile conveying a depth of feeling no camera could catch. After the conclusion of tonight’s ceremony, I might consider entering into a new phase of my life – as a wife and mother.
Suddenly, I heard my name called. I rose to walk toward the steps that would take me onto the stage to accept my first Oscar for best actress. Along the way, well wishers reached out to touch me as I passed. The cheers of my adoring fans and peers resonated throughout the theater. The standing ovation unexpected, it took me a few moments to fight back tears and begin my well rehearsed acceptance speech. Holding the heavy golden statuette, the highest honor in the film industry, made the evening all the more surreal.
The next time you see me on the red carpet or promoting my latest film, know that dreams can come true. You may never dress in the best designer fashions, bejeweled and styled to the hilt, but you can live out your dreams if you dare to believe and follow your heart.
The lessons I learned along the way have not been lost upon me. We may have our insane moments, but when we are rooted and grounded in love, we eventually find our way back to what is important to us. No matter what we attain in life, our basic values are what keep us sane, or bring us back from the brink of insanity. Just ask my family.