Vel Jerome



Monday, March Twenty-ninth, 1982

Los Angeles, California

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Academy Awards Night


Admirers, worshippers, autograph seekers, idolaters, followers, fans compete for space along the procession route for mere glimpses (nonetheless cherished) at the world's most concentrated cakewalk of glorified 'personalities.' Spotlights! Glamour! Action! Faces, typically larger-than-life, make appearances—loom, emote—and suffer not one jot from shrinkage to less cinematic size. Disgorged from sleek stretch-limos, stars lose nothing in translation; still unreal, abstract, untouchable, their veneers, like polished chrome, ensure the high-gloss preservation of their celebrated images—which adulation buffs to an incandescent sheen. Beneath which they, like the legions who adore them, are just plain folks? As insecure and as vulnerable? Drawn to virtue with no more dedication than they are drawn to vice? Are luminaries exempt from  everyday humanity? Or are they privately identical to those who sing their praise?

On the stage and off, exalted egos vie, I-me-mine versus I-me-mine doing battle on a vaunted Prime Time scale. There exist no minor characters here; all parts cast are leads. Voices chime in the same major key, if few of them in unison; some pontificate, some promote worthy causes, some bang the drum of Self, still others generate subtexts that ramble on unheard... except for one made audible with regard to tacit listeners, those tuned in as consumers, sobriquet 'General Public'; Vel Jerome has faith, it would appear, in the ordinary masses.

At first it's a hoot, right? I mean, think about it. You get this la-de-da invitation to a partya black tie party; lots of pomp and plenty of circumstance. Name-dropping guest list reads for DAYS. A real who's who of Hollywood's greatest: wannabes, will-bes, past and present stars. The ultimate private PUBLIC party. Media everywhere. Televised. Nationally. INTERNATIONALLY; pole to pole; broadcast to millionspossibly a ZILLION. Then it hits you: What, on earth, am I going to wear?

You've got cameras shooting from every angle, nonstop, IN YOUR FACE, and you've got zits the size of golf balls. Two of them. Why, oh why, today? A plastic surgeon couldn't mask these bumps, let alone a POUND of make-up. What to do? Not a thing in your wardrobe is suitably distracting. Beg off? Bail?

Except you can't. You won't. You're a nominee. A NOM-I-NEE! For a goddamn Oscar? You, who've knocked around from pillar to post playing bit parts; whores to servants. Bang. The first decent role you land hits the goddamn jackpot. Riches. Fame. You know the power that little gilded statue wields? It's magic. A goddamn wand. You only have to wave it, 'ever-so humbly'; you're employed. You're a Working Actress. No more kissing ass for dipshit parts, no backstage lays, NO WAITRESSING! Win or lose, your name's on TOP with the absolute best.

"The best performance by an actress in a supporting role this year IS..."

Okay, I'm bragging on myself; I'll stop. My ego may explode. If it gets any more puffed up some critic will burst my bubble pronto. NO  WAY is Vel Jerome going to win over... Nope, I will not name them. Midget-me doesn't stand a chance against Tinsel Town's Titans; not a prayer.

Which means I won't have to test this get-up. Ever climb stairs in a skintight skirt? I had mine fitted day before yesterday—with allowance for a tad less meat; which means, for forty-eight hours or so, I've had to STARVE. Small price to pay. I still look good, zits notwithstanding. Though, of course, I can't half breathe. But check it out; my competition. So I finish runner-up; who cares? I still turned heads out there; what an entrance! Necks were craning like a flock of geese. And not all ganders—pun intended—most were females. Tougher to please. They got their money's worth, I can promise you that.

As for peers? Hell, who can guess? We're so uptight, just now. Oh, Christ! Here comes my cue. My category's next.

They're showing clips. Don't look. There's what's-her-face. No, don't look! My God, she's grand. And what a voice! I'd KILL for an instrument like hers. On vocal chords alone, she'll win. I sound like Daffy Duck, by comparison. Lord, I sure hope I'm not next. Please, God. Please...

No, it's little Miss Ingénue-Eternal. Who's what; forty-five, if she's a day? Why folks can't tell remains a MAJOR unsolved mystery. All you have to do is ADD. She won her first some FIFTEEN years ago. Here she is again, same look. Not bad. These gals are pros; I'm like an amateur. Should've stayed home. I'm doomed.

That dress! You see her costume? God, she's gorgeous! I wear a loincloth and mud, with BARE breasts. Against the likes of HER, in THAT? The party's over. Nighty-night. Bye. I can't BELIEVE they'd make me follow her act in the nude.

Oh no; they have! Of all the halfway decent scenes we did, why this one? God, I'm awful! Look at Graham, though. So unselfish; what a sweetheart. I'm so LAME!

Vel's monologue halts. The film clip freezes. Ms. Jerome now joins her rivals, likewise framed above the podium, mid-expression, on a screen that captures actresses via video, live, in the audience where they sit (on pins and needles in the guise of nonchalance).

"The award goes to..." It's like a knife; that line. They stick it in, then twist it; these presenters. They're aware we're out here suffering. Think it matters? Not to them. They mug and milk their HOURS in the sun for everything they're worth, while we pretend indifference to our dragged-out agony. OPEN IT! READ! They always fumble with the envelope. Christ! It's OUR hands that are shaking. Sweating. Clutching our acceptance speeches. Mine, by now, is mush. I feel the ink and paper turning into pulp this very instant. And, I swear to God, I can't recall one line; my mind's gone blank; my body's numb; I've gone paraplegic, rigid head to foot.

Except I'm smiling. There's this reflex saccharine smirk I've spread across my face. Inside I'm dying. Outside I'm casting good-sport kudos and unaffected well-wishes. Bullshit. BITCH! I acted rings around that harridan. Voice, or no voice, I was better. She just got it out of sympathy for her camped-on-death's-door AGE. It isn't fair; LIFE isn't fair! She's old, I'm young; why gild her coffin?

Hey, be nice. It's only money. And prestige. And recognition by your colleagues. Your CAREER, in other words. Down the tubes. I'LL NEVER WORK AGAIN!

Okay, enough. I've had my shot at immortality. So I missed it. So, the roles for Blacks in feature films are far and few between. I'll get another chance. Next century. When I'm HER age, if I'm lucky. I should live so long. Forget it, Vel. You're washed up. Finished. Through. A leading lady you are not. A second fiddle suits you better. But you lost—which makes your second-fiddle role look second-rate.

As if the measure of your worth was one performance, one award. Get off it, girlfriend. Hold your head up. You've got friends and fans galore. Look where you are. Look where you've been. Give thanks, and "USE IT."

Graham's phrase; "use it." He was wonderful; all through shooting. Well, preoccupied, maybe. Weird. But on the set, while we were working, he was generous to a fault. I mean, he'd LISTEN. When an actor HEARS, as opposed to making speeches, crews and cameras practically vanish; it's just you, the words, and air. And that's when acting REALLY flies. It's like you're soaring. You're the kite, the script's your string—which keeps you anchored—but the freedom of it! Graham could sometimes put you so at ease that you'd forget you KNEW the lines. You'd simply say them. Let them slip, as if they'd dawned on you that instant. What a rush that is. A blessing. Credit Graham for my performance; what you liked of it. I sure did. I mean, I WOULD'VE, had they called MY name, were I up there accepting. Which I'm not, of course. I'm sulkingunderneath this bogus grin.

Ah, well; I'll maybe get the chance before this fancy-face-farce is over. I'm a stand-inyou know, just in case "Best Actor" goes to Graham? You'd think they'd tell me. Not a word of it. Not a clue, no helpful hint. Just would I, if and when God Academy speaks. I swear, this industry takes its own hype MUCH too seriously.

More awards are introduced, bestowed, and gratefully received, the evening's gala plodding forward like some lumbering behemoth. Overblown with self-importance, it is no less well-attended. Overstuffed with airs and attitudes, fans are no less entertained. The evidence? Ratings. All the world pays rapt attention to its favorites, to the heroes, heroines, villains and villainesses on silver screens, imploring: scare us, thrill us, make us laugh and cry, fall in love and wonder. Give us insight, empathy, truth. Expand our minds, inform our views. And, for an hour or two, release us from our captive niche in Time.

Good grief! More speeches. If I have to hear another pompous know-it-all wax poetic on the ins and outs of cinema, I may spit. Or, better yet, SCREAM!

This 'night of nights' is interrupted; Vel Jerome—an "up-and-comer"—bares her soul to Cause Célèbre, a make-em, break-em brand of film rag. Two steps up from shady tabloid, one step down from in-depth journal, Cause Célèbre prints exposés to pay its L.A. rent. It is a coup, of sorts, to undergo this fan-mag's Q & A—if ill-advised to drop one's guard completely; when furthering one's career, it is best to bob-and-weave.



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