I was 23 and this was to be my very first regional spot. I'd get a session fee for the shoot and residuals for the entire summer season. If it tested well, it would run as a national commercial and my agents would renegotiate a bigger payday.
My agents were very happy with me, and I was happy, too—and not just about the money. I was glad I wouldn't have to promote a product I never used or even liked. I hadn't yet told my agents that I wouldn't be the spokesperson for products I wouldn't buy. After all, I was just starting my career and asserting my principles could be problematic.
In this 30-second spot for Schlitz beer, I'd remain silent, playing an old-fashioned girl-next-door type. Perfect. The male voiceover would say: "Barbara was my sweetheart that summer of '62. Well, I lost the girl, but I've still got the beer. Schlitz: the beer that made Milwaukee famous." The storyboards showed a guy and girl, sitting on a beach blanket picnicking near the ocean. On the second page, they clinked beer cans, sipped and then kissed romantically. This nostalgic scenario would be shot as if it were a home movie, with sepia tones and jump cuts.
It hadn't occurred to me that we'd be filming at Jones Beach in bathing suits in early March. We left Manhattan at around 8 in the morning and ponytailed me and the guy playing the guy were bundled up in winter coats over old-fashioned bathing suits: mine, blue gingham with a flouncy little skirt; his, modest plaid trunks. We wore tan body makeup to promote that golden summer feeling.
The guy playing the guy was named Martin and I tried not to notice how cute he was, with soulful brown eyes and a thick mane of black hair. But he was smiling at me all the way out to the beach and it was hard not to smile back. We stayed in the heated car as they rehearsed and lit with stand-ins. We chatted about our careers so far. Then we were called to make the long trek across the sand. Jones Beach was enormous, accommodating millions of sun lovers each summer, but desolately empty now, except for our crew.
They took off our coats and we sat on the beach blanket. Even in the hot lights, the ground felt like a basement floor—icy hard and the wind chill made it worse—but we didn't complain. After the third rehearsal, film rolled, and we clinked, sipped and kissed deeply.
Then it was time to move the enormous camera to different angles, each of which took about a half hour to accomplish. They gave us our coats, but they weren't enough to keep us warm, so they threw some blankets on us, too.
Between his close-ups and my close-ups and shots of the waves crashing as we kissed, I was turning blue, so they put more rouge on me, which made me look purple. Finally, Martin and I cozied up under the blankets together.
I tried not to notice how nicely he was built and how perfectly his chest hair sprouted out of him. He was a good guy and things were now heating up as I could plainly see and feel the bulge in his bathing suit. I'd only recently been deflowered, but knew enough to know when someone was attracted to me. I also knew that I was feeling the same way.
We finally wrapped around 4 o'clock, but Martin and I stayed cozy close in the back seat on the drive home to Manhattan. It turned out he lived near me on the Upper West Side and asked if he might treat me to Kentucky Fried Chicken, extra crispy. He'd done a national commercial for them and wanted to be loyal.
I invited him to share the feast in my apartment. We ate with our hands and finally felt warm. I asked if I might take off my makeup. He offered to help. I meant I wanted to wash my face, but we stood in my tub and scrubbed me and took off my gingham suit, then he asked if I might help him clean up, too. It felt natural as can be. We laughed as our tans washed into puddles in the tub; my skin beneath my suit was winter white with freckles, his ivory clear. We already knew the feel of each others' bodies well, but we were discovering new things now in our nakedness.
I asked if I might let down my ponytail because my scalp hurt, and he said, "Please do."
My hair fell below my shoulders and he touched it gently. "Now, would you mind if I take off my hair?" he asked.
"See, this is a hairpiece, and my head itches from the glue."
In principle, I wanted to shout, "NO," because it felt far too soon for me to see him this way—never might be better. Even though I had already seen him with his clothes off, this was a kind of naked I wasn't prepared for. But I didn't want to hurt this lovely person's feelings.
So, I said, "Sure."
And he slowly detached, not only his thick black hair but the entire top of his well-shaped head. He took it off and put it in the sink, revealing a skull paler than his chest and flatter than a pancake in the back.
I suppressed any horror, which was good practice for my acting, I rationalized. He pulled gobs of glue off his forehead that seemed to run to the nape of his neck. I was momentarily afraid he might also remove his chest hair, but, apparently, that was his.
"Now, may I kiss you?" he asked.
"I know it's different, but I am the same guy," he said gently.
"No, you are not!" I screamed inside, my principle of truth-telling duking it out with my kindness.
This Martin was a far different Martin than the one who'd held me confidently under the blankets and kissed me in front of the cameras. That Martin might've been the one I'd marry. That Martin had been an illusion.
I had gone so far that it felt unethical to stop. His hard-on and my invitation upstairs somehow seemed irrevocable. I couldn't recover from shock sufficiently to say a decisive "No."
So, it seemed common courtesy to close my eyes and have sex with the illusion.