Gumption and a shoe phone got me my first Hollywood job
by Amy Simon
“Gumption Miss McGill.” One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies. Melanie Griffith was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Tess McGill in Working Girl. Mike Nichols brilliantly directed this movie about a New York City secretary trying to climb the corporate ladder. Released in 1988, the same year I broke out of the secretary/assistant to role and got my first Hollywood Job.
In 1988, I was working at a radio station in San Diego as the assistant to the Program Director. Recently arrived from New York City where for ten years as a struggling actress I did the “administrative support” jobs, with the last two as a secretary for RCA Records in the Promotion Department, and as the assistant to the President of Sire Records. I was immersed in the music scene of the 80s. I worked with all sorts of artists; Dolly Parton, Hall & Oates, John Denver, Rick Springfield, Annie Lennox, Alabama, Depeche Mode, The Pretenders and Madonna, to name a few. Some of the projects I assisted my bosses on included establishing The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and Live Aid. I also attended the first MTV Awards hosted by Eddie Murphy where Madonna rolled all over the stage singing “Like A Virgin.”
I was thirty years old and never thought I would leave my beloved New York City and move to the other side of the country with no job, but the struggling actress thing had taken its toll. I had grown tired of the harsh weather and had outgrown my studio apartment where I fantasized about a bedroom, a suntan and sliding glass doors. Los Angeles beckoned. I really just needed a change. I planned on moving to L.A. where I had a bunch of friends, but ended up in San Diego with my boyfriend, an actor who was also tired of the New York City acting scene and wanted to go home. It was a risky, ballsy, scary and thrilling move.
After a year in San Diego working really icky low-paying administrative temp jobs, and being very homesick, I landed the assistant to the Program Director gig at Q106, a Top 40 radio station. I was settling in, starred in a play, got an agent, was teaching and performing improv and moved into my own place. It was all coming together.
Then out of the blue, came an offer I couldn’t refuse: an interview for the West Coast Promotion Manager at EMI Records based in Los Angeles. Wow! This was an amazing opportunity. EMI was on a roll breaking new artists Richard Marx, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bobby McFerrin – who was up for a Grammy. I would also be working with established artists Robert Palmer, The Pet Shop Boys, Natalie Cole, Harry Belafonte, Thomas Dolby, George Thorogood, the OJays – the list goes on and on. I would have my own office and my own assistant!
Los Angeles is the second largest market in the country with some of the hottest groundbreaking stations. In 1988 Rick Dees was at KIIS-FM, Kevin and Bean were at KROQ, Mark and Brian were kicking ass over at KLOS. My territory extended from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, and included Riverside County, Palm Springs, Phoenix and Tucson and Hawaii. They would pay to relocate me, and I would be living in the same city as some of my best friends!
I was nervous in the interview with my very handsome and charming perspective boss. We were talking about how important phones were (way before cell phones and even car phones), as most of the job was spent on them establishing relationships with Program and Music Directors. My potential boss said something like “I wish I had one of those shoe-phones (from the 70s sitcom Get Smart). I said “oh there’s a cool novelty store in Manhattan that sells them. I can get you one. They don’t actually work but they look just like the one in Get Smart.” He didn’t believe me. I asked him for his shoe size and said “I’ll get it for you.” He said “OK you do that.” The interview ended, I called the store in Manhattan, had one shipped to him and two weeks later, I was hired.
Leaving security, comfort and familiarity for the unknown is terrifying. But being miserable is even scarier. If you don’t like your life, change it! Follow-up is important and gumption got me to California, but it was the shoe-phone that got me my first Hollywood job.Tags: Actress, Amy Simon, EMI Records, Entertainment industry, Hollywood, Live Aid, Music industry, RCA Records, Rick Springfield, Robert Palmer, Shoe phone, Sire Records, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Working Girl