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.
that's how it went for the whole show - "I'll take Annabelle Gartwack
to block." "Annabelle Ginich," "Annabeth Greenwich"
-- famous enough to be invited on Hollywood Squares but not enough
of a celebrity to have my name pronounced right.
Thankfully no one called me in the game before lunch. I ate as much red
meat as I could to ground myself, and then had several cups of espresso
to get myself as "up" as possible because we still had three
more shows to go!
To warm up the after-lunch audience, Whoopi came out and was so generous
and gracious you would think she would do the same thing even if she weren't
being paid a million dollars a day. The audience couldn't have been happier;
they ate it up!
The crowd scared me. It was alive with two irresistible teases: proximity
to celebre-lites and the highly intoxicating prospect of winning money!
They danced on the stage and participated in a little talent contest to
win t-shirts and mugs. People wearing cheap, cotton t-shirts will do anything
to get more cheap, cotton t-shirts. Why, why do people get up in front
of others in sweat pants and flip-flops? You're coming to a TV studio
not a locker room. The wearing of the jogging suit by the non-jogging
public, I contend, is the heralding of the downfall of American society.
It starts with not getting dressed up properly to be seen in public, the
next thing you know you're singing an a cappella version of "I Will
Survive" to Whoopi Goldberg to win a "My grandma went to Hollywood
Squares and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" t-shirt! Ok, that's
not a nice thing to say. I'm not a nice person. I'm a good person but
not a nice person. For instance, this summer I helped a bleeding man across
the street in New York. I called the police, spoke with the man's wife
on the phone, calmed him down, and stayed with him until help arrived.
One of the officers noticed that I really didn't want to shake the guy's
blood-covered hand when they took him away, and he said with compassion,
"You know you really can't get AIDS that way." "Oh, no,"
I replied. "No, it's just that I'm wearing a Marc Jacobs dress and
its very expensive." A good person, not a nice person. And game shows
are a chance for every celebre-lite to be nice, and here I was being judgmental.
"What is wrong with me?" I thought. Why couldn't I help these
sweat-panted Americans win a little extra cash so they can buy more extra
large t-shirts to bring home?!
I resolved right then and there to turn the second half of the day around
and tell some jokes. So when asked what was the largest indoor entertainment
arena in New York, I answered the short phrase penned especially for me
by Bruce Vilanch -- my breasts! It killed. And so every answer for the
rest of the day I answered -- my breasts!!
You know you're bombing when you see your spouse in the back of a theatre
mouthing the words "I love you" over and over. Yes, my breasts
may have been funny the first three times, but I think people felt so
sorry for me -- even Super Dave stopped chanting "You suck."
At least he had pronounced my name right. Eventually people just stopped
calling on me, they'd work any combination to avoid my square. They hated
me, and I hated them, and I hated me for hating them, and I hated them
for making me hate me.
Somehow, and not surprisingly, no one was around after the taping to discuss
my next appearance and the buckets full of cash I was going to receive,
but my husband still loved me and wanted to play my square, and you just
never know what will happen in the future. True, I probably won't sprout
wings and take flight, but I did have a pimple once so big it really did
look like I had grown a second head. And Hollywood Squares is still
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