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Cameo Kids
By Jen Kirkman

As I put my hair to the test with my curling iron ritual the next week, my mom advised, "You know if you spent less time on your hair and more time smiling at Estelle and making friends in class, I think you'd have a good chance at getting something out of this." I picked up on my mom's subtext, "Don't forget why you made me spend all of this money. You want to be an actress." I decided that I was going to actually pay attention that week, forget Jeff and start fresh.

We arrived to find the classroom stripped bare and a local improvisational comedian bouncing around the room. "Okay guys! Let's start playing! Because that's what acting is, play!" He picked me to improvise entering a haunted house. I took to the makeshift stage and mimed pushing open a heavy door, swiftly moving cobwebs out of my way. Improv Guy shouted, "Okay Jen I'm going to throw you a curveball in this scene. I'm going to send a ghost into the abandoned house with you. But keep going." He tapped Jeff Friedman. Jeff stood quietly next to me on stage, pretending to be a shadowy figure. I jumped into Jeff's arms and buried my face in his neck. "Oh thank God you're here! Hold me." The Improv Guy jumped up. "Stop! Why would you run into the ghost's arms? You didn't even let Jeff establish the scene or his presence as a ghost. You're railroading Jeff." I turned red. Jeff turned away.

After class my mom and I rode the rickety elevator downstairs to Brigham's for an ice cream sundae. I spotted Jeff and Megan Ames in a booth together. Talk about Shiksas. Megan was a pale, blonde, freckled little priss. I knew that I hated her the minute I walked into class that first day. She wore the Kangaroo sneakers that I coveted but couldn't have because my mom had already spent too much money on Cameo Kids. Jeff's mom sat at a counter reading a book, out of their earshot. I was witnessing the leading man/leading actress romance that I was so sure would be mine. I skipped my ice cream sundae and dragged my mom out of there. I rode the train home silently fuming, each click of the wheel against the track reminding me of that horrible term "railroading."

On the last day class, all of us, Cameo Kids were going to read commercials on videotape. There was no guarantee that any of us would land a real commercial after our test shoot, but I kept thinking about that headshot hanging in the lobby. Surely, Michelle Pfeiffer had nailed her commercial test, which skyrocketed her to fame. I had a hunch that I'd follow that same path. Local celebrity Rex Trailer was our guest teacher for the day. My classmates were humbled by Rex's presence. I was devastated. I thought a celebrity was going to teach the class. Someone who could possibly swoop me up and take me back to Hollywood with them. Rex was the star of local, low-budget ads for The Crimson Travel Company. In his commercials, Rex appeared in a cowboy outfit, and fake tumbleweeds blew by as he announced great deals for senior citizens traveling from Boston to Fort Lauderdale. Rex was so un-famous that he even accompanied the seniors on the bus trip.

Since Rex didn't know us, he couldn't assign us ads based on our personalities. So we picked commercial copy out of a hat. A cowboy hat. I picked a dreadfully boring cereal ad where I had to go on and on about vitamins and iron. I envied the girls who picked Toys R Us and Hershey's Syrup ads.

I was happy to see that Megan Ames kept tripping over the words on her Arnold Brick Oven White Bread commercial copy. But she just kept giggling and tossing her pigtails back. Rex was laughing too and saying, "It's okay honey. You're doing great!"

Class ended when the last kid was videotaped. There was no fanfare or party and no sign of Estelle. Was I going to get famous there or was there going to be some kind of follow-up call? Or was this all there was?

Weeks later my evaluation arrived in the mail, along with a tape of my practice Corn Flakes commercial.

As I watched it, all I could see was a girl with dashed dreams caught on tape. I wasn't smiling, even though in memory I'd felt like I'd really hammed it up. The answer to "When will I be famous?" was addressed in my evaluation. Well, there was no formal evaluation, just a coupon for Cameo Kids II. Instantly rejuvenated I held the coupon up to my mom. Moments later, my mom and I were having "the talk." You know, the talk where moms tell their 13-year-old daughters that they're not that talented and some bad people just want their money. A separate note fell out of the envelope. It was a handwritten card. "Dear Jennifer, Performing and making commercials is fun. It's supposed to look like you enjoy it. Sincerely, Rex."

I still think of the note to this day whenever I catch myself trying to deliver my stand-up act with any kind of intensity. I am closer to realizing my Hollywood dreams than I was at age 11, but only on the technicality that I literally live in Hollywood. Something still tells me not to worry and it's not just my ego. It's because I have a Plan B. Right now the future Jeff Friedmans and Jen Kirkmans are being born. And I can always take up smoking again, get a little dog and teach.


I looked up Jeff Friedman on IMDB. There are so many Jeff Friedmans in Hollywood, I've given up trying to figure out which one he is.

Rex Trailer later went on to play a gynecologist in the Cher movie, Mermaids.

Megan Ames landed an actual Arnold Brick Oven Bread commercial. As far as I know that may be the only thing she's ever done. I think it only ran locally in Boston and I have a feeling that it may have been yanked pretty quickly. The ad had the most subversive copy ever spoken. Megan, in her pale pallor, tapped her loaf of bread and said, "Arnold White Bread. My kind of people, my kind of bread."

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