a nine-year-old girl growing up in suburban Thousand Oaks, California,
I would regularly accompany my mother to her friends' homes. This
was not a pleasant experience. Not because I would be outside playing
and get hurt. Not because there were other kids around that were
bullies, but usually because at this very impressionable age, when
I went to visit my mother's "friends," I inevitably got
stuck being a second-hand listener to Mom's life story, and continually
heard about the great loss she'd suffered, in more ways than one.
"friends," I should clarify, were actually the new "lady-friend-client-persons"
that had ordered cosmetics from her. My mother, a tall striking
woman with beautiful auburn hair and luminous skin, was an Avon
Lady. And yes, she really did ring doorbells and call out, "Ding-Dong!
my mother sold something, the woman who bought the products would
then become her new best friend for a period of the three weeks
it took from order to delivery. When my mother was invited into
her new lady-friend-client-person's home at delivery time, I was
usually trailing behind her jingling from the jewelry she placed
on me -- her walking model and product presenter -- and sneezing
from the strong stench that emanated from the packages, which contained
orders of "Sweet Honesty," "Rapture," or "Imari"
colognes -- the Eau de la Odor in decorator bottles -- a definite
Avon collector's keepsake.
always wanted the client to see what great jewelry was coming out
in the next Avon campaign so I would enter wearing strands of multi-colored
pearls, a sweet violet convertible pin which, when opened, cleverly
contained blossoming cherry lip balm, and in my pony tail, a matching
cherry blossom hair clip.
Mother and her new lady-friend-client-person would sit on the couch
and talk, I was de-jeweled carefully by my mother so as not to break
any of the pieces I was modeling. She then placed me on the floor
at a nearby coffee table with pens and paper, where I would draw
and write something that I thought was going to be the next great
not sure where I got the idea that Opera was the thing that was
done on Broadway, but the sketched-out scenes and plots I'd make
up were always very elaborate and ornate. On one of these deliveries,
I was particularly proud of a Broadway Opera I'd created. Well,
until the end of a visit on one particularly hot summer's day.
after about twenty minutes of actual Avon chatter, it was inevitable
that each soon-to-be-forgotten lady-friend-client-person would ask
my mother if I was her only child, or if she had any other children
that weren't with her that day. Mom's answer was always the same:
"Ahh ha ha heh he, oh
no, nooo one is QUITE enough."
then would take a deep breath, and almost as though she was whispering
a secret say,
"Well, it had to be enough to tell you the truth. I had my
daughter at forty, and the doctor told me it would be too dangerous
to have any more."
was always the predictable gasp from her listener, and the typical
reply: "Oh my god! Really? You don't look a day over thirty!"
which Mom smoothly replied, "Ohhh thank you
it's the Avon!"
and then follow it with, "I also worked for many years in the
entertainment industry and I learned how to stay young that way
listener, having become thoroughly intrigued, would ask her to elaborate.
My mother MUST share some of her experiences. Had they seen her
in anything? Who did she work with? What was it like being an actress?
And like clockwork, as the queries fell from the freshly-glossed
lips of Mom's latest lady-friend-client-person, my stomach would
get tight and my nose would inevitably start to bleed out of nowhere.
apologizing profusely for her leaky child, was calmed by her hostess
who placed me on a nearby couch with a box of tissues and a wastepaper
basket, then continued to encourage my grateful mother to share
her story. As I held my nose tightly in this stranger's house, I
listened along with Mom's captive audience for the next hour while
she relived her hard-earned glory days as an actress in Hollywood
during the '50s and '60s.
story always started off the same -- how she came to Los Angeles
from Ohio with her mother, father, and brother in 1952 after a raging
flood washed everything away. How she started out as a chorus girl
at various clubs around Los Angeles working with this actor or that
actor before they really hit it big.
the story about having been invited to be one of "Frank's girls"
for one of the many Vegas gigs at the Sands Hotel and Casino where
the Rat Pack was performing. Then the story always included her
huge crush, and three dates with Joey Bishop, and how "It just
wasn't going to work out," as well as her brush with political
pundits, and her closer-than-close call of being signed to a studio
contract in 1959 by Cecil B. De Mille himself. But then how that
had gone south when Cecil did. My mother returned to the stage and
worked at the Moulin Rouge in Los Angeles with Liberace, and then
won the first ever -- and only -- "Miss Los Angeles Fire Department."
At nine years old, I wondered if she had to know how to slide down
the pole to win that title.
she shared about being the LA Fire Queen, Mom continued on to explain
how she then broke into movies and television. She spoke of her
gig as one of the harem girls in Son of Sinbad starring Vincent
Price, and then about how in 1965, she was severely injured in a
film because of the real life astronaut suit the producers made
her wear as a costume. It was for a sci-fi "B" thriller
called The Wizard of Mars. And yes, she played Dorothy. The
film starred Roger Gentry, John Carradine, Vic McGee, and my mother,
Eve Bernhardt. It has since been re-titled Horrors of the Red
Planet, known to many "B" film buffs.
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