Take Annabelle Gartwick to Block
By Annabelle Gurwitch
I tell my son that television used to be black and white, had only
four channels, and no V.C.R., he looks at me as though I had just
said you could pee out of your ear, sprout wings and take flight,
or grow a second head. But I am old enough to remember those things,
and embedded in my D.N.A. is the distant memory of the shows I watched
in my childhood: I Dream of Jeannie, Petticoat Junction,
and, of course, Hollywood Squares. So I admit I was intrigued
when I received a call from the producers of "the new Squares"
offering me a chance to become a staple of the show. It would be
good exposure for me, I was told, and could prove extremely lucrative.
I was invited to shoot a week's worth of shows on an upcoming Saturday,
and if it worked as well as they expected, I would eventually bank
five shows a week on two Saturdays a month, whenever I wanted, at
a negotiable rate, and all I would have to do is be quick-witted,
charming, make all of America love me and want to play my square.
Now, I've done some surreal things in my career, like the TV movie
I did opposite Barbara Eden, directed by Anson Williams: Potsie-Jeannie-Potsie-Jeannie
-- that was surreal. Or the time Don Johnson called me into his
trailer when he was directing me in Miami Vice and he actually
thought I was not only playing a prostitute but actually was a prostitute
who had come to service him -- that was surreal . . . but Hollywood
Squares, wow, that's been on since 1966! That was before I was
born depending on what age I happen to be saying I am. Plus, the
show was so, so, so Hollywoody! It always had a ribald, decadent
air -- like a poker game in a Hollywood nightclub back room. They
used to smoke cigarettes in their squares, and maybe my imagination
fails me, but I think they used to drink in those squares. I remember
them with like highballs and shit. Paul Lynde, Buddy Hackett, Rose
Marie, people who seemed like the life of the party. Now, I've never
been a life of the party gal, but at one time I might have been
the lay of the party, and wouldn't that make all of America love
me and want to play my square?
The day of the taping, I readied myself to step into TV history.
As it turned out, what I was stepping into was literally a piece
of junk! It was kind of like meeting Dick Clark or climbing up to
the Hollywood sign itself: up close and personal they're much smaller
than you thought, appear to have had a lot of work done, and are
whiter than one might have reasonably expected. A squat, rickety,
metal contraption, which looked like it was adorned with makeup
light bulbs -- I couldn't believe all of us b- to c-level celebrities,
or celebre-lites, were willingly climbing into this piece of crap
in California, the earthquake state, no less. This thing can't be
code, I thought! I believe I saw a Band-Aid wrapped around the scaffolding
as I ascended the flimsy spiral staircase to my square.
The show started. With the music blaring and lights flashing it
seemed more like the Squares I remembered, but then I started to
get nervous. Being introduced on Hollywood Squares really
brought home how far I had come from my original dream of taking
off my clothes in provocative, financially strapped adaptations
of German expressionist dramas in unheated black box theatres in
Off-Off, nowhere-near Broadway productions where one could reasonably
hope to have sex with the majority of the cast. Yes, I had loved
those avant-garde theatre company days, and as I looked at my fellow
squares -- Bruce Vilanch, Gilbert Gottfried, and Whoopi Goldberg
-- it was clear . . . I wouldn't be having sex with any of them.
The show started and I knew I was fucked. The other celebre-lites
had jokes, zingy one-line jokes, which sent the audience into fits
of laugher while I had planned to take a different tack. I was going
to wing it using my charming off-the-cuff delivery and kooky personality.
So when I was asked my first question -- something about Australia
-- owing to my complete ineptitude at following the order of the
questions and my inane need to be funny on my own terms, damn it,
instead of referring to the card of one-line jokes I was provided,
I saw it as an opportunity for a two minute dissertation about the
hilarious similarity of kiwi fruit to the testicle -- which went
over like a lead balloon. That was when Super Dave Osbourne started
chanting,"You suck Gurwitch" in the direction of my square.
I was instantly transported back to my freshman year of college
where my dorm roommate Mindy Mascony from Teaneck, New Jersey, was
cranked up on coke playing David Bowie's "Young Americans"
over and over, while I was stoned and listening to James Taylor.
Clearly we were just on two different wavelengths. And now, once
again I had smoked when I should have snorted.
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