Okay, it might be a bit embarrassing to admit this, but I was one of those beach babes on BAYWATCH.
It was the summer after my father died. It was a heavy, dark time for me. I was close to my father. I wondered how I would go on without him and wondered at times whether or not I wanted to…
My short, but sweet BAYWATCH career all started strangely enough at my father’s funeral…
Three days before my father’s funeral, I had received a call, a call I will never forget, a call I knew was coming… A call that was a long time coming…
It was my mother on the phone and she was crying. My mother had only cried twice in her life (that I saw). Once when she divorced my dad and once ten years later I caught her crying alone in her room with a box of old photos. When I asked her why she was crying, she said she had finally “gotten over” my father… So when I heard her crying on the phone, after my father had disappeared again, she did not have to tell me why she was calling. I said, “It’s Dad, isn’t it?”
She said, “Yes,” and broke down crying.
I said. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
It wasn’t really a question, I knew the answer. I had felt it earlier that day somehow…
But she sobbed, “Yes.”
I broke down crying in a way only someone who has lost who they loved most in the world can know. It was like a howling, an animal sound that wrenched my guts until I collapsed unable to do anything but sob. I sobbed until my guts felt like they were giant, twisted, bleeding bruises and my head felt like a rock of stiff pain, every nerve ached, every cell collapsing in devastation. It hurt. It hurt so bad, I felt old and broken. It was unnatural to know such pain so young.
I can remember crossing the crosswalk, seeing the dark, long car pull up in front of the church. I almost fainted when I saw my father’s coffin being pulled out. My knees gave out and my Aunt Marsha said firmly, catching my arm, “Get a hold of yourself!”
I had only been to one funeral, that of my “Uncle” Alfredo De La Vega (my father’s godfather), so it was fitting, in a way, that as I walked towards the steps of the church, my “Aunt” Bobby Kester (who was my father’s godmother) and I fell into each others arms and cried and cried. It felt good to cry with someone who loved my dad as I did, who was not afraid to cry over a great loss, who was glad to cry with me, who had longed for it even. To everyone else I felt a bit like a leper. None of my friends could relate and my dad died in the middle of finals week…
I have to say, as morbid as it sounds, that as I clutched Bobby’s hand and looked at the closed casket of my father, I was glad I had seen his dead body the night before…
Otherwise I never ever could have believed my dad was dead. I would have lived my life wondering if he would pop up around a corner down on Seashore as he had done before many times after one of his disappearances, expecting him to climb the stairs with hundred dollar bills falling out of his pockets and blood dripping from his hands… I would have expected him to return from the abyss he disappeared to as he had done before, sometimes gone for hours, sometimes days… My father would, like my grandmother had done down in Laguna Beach decades before, check into hotel rooms under assumed names and drink himself into oblivion, some times near death– As if to carry on the family tradition, or to leave some clue as to where his pain came from, he had used my grandfather’s stage name “Brooks,” once when I found him after the fifth or sixth hotel we had searched. After I found him that last time, I did not want to find him again. I could not bring myself to look again for him after that night.
He was in such a shocking state, I could feel my soul splintering… I was who he loved most and yet he looked though me as though I were not there… I was with his AA sponser, who was asking all of the standard questions. The room was filled with an unfathomable amount of large bottles of vodka, a drink I never even knew my dad drank– He was a beer drinker– Coors Light–and sometimes had a Jack Daniels. He was naked and kept sitting up and down in bed like some robot who had a glitch. He kept taking the sheet on and off, getting up then sitting back down. He answered questions in a robotic fashion, too.
Who was this ghost? Who was this trapped animal in the same room as me yet completely gone? He was taken to a hospital. He escaped the hospital that night and was found by the police drunk, playing in the mud on the side of Pacific Coast Highway in his hospital gown.
Months after that night, I received a call in the middle of the night from Hoag’s Hospital. I had been told my dad had had a heart attack and would possibly die. I rushed to his side. He looked at me and reached for my hand and held it tenderly. I was told at the hospital he had actually had an aneurism. That he had been riding his bike on the boardwalk and collapsed.
There were many days and nights of extreme torture with my father. Watching him slowly kill himself, there seemed to be no low for this once great man, there seemed to be no cure for him, but one. To see such a beautiful soul dying and to be helpless to do anything about it… If you ever saw “Leaving Las Vegas” with Nick Cage and Elizabeth Shue– that was my dad. In fact, I remember reading a criticism of Nick Cage’s performance, that he looked too good to be dying. I’m telling you Nick Cage WAS my father! He was him, my dad was a looker until his last breath. My mother and I, though I was in New York and she was in Orange County saw the film at the EXACT same time. Both of us were so completely devastated by the film that we have not been able to watch it ever again. We both cried through the entire film and called each other afterwards, amazed that we had seen it at the exact same time and had had the exact same reactions. It was my dad.
My dad’s last breath was not in Las Vegas though, it was in Costa Mesa. He had been discovered by the housekeeper, hours before his death. She said the room was covered in vomit, feces and urine and asked him if he wanted a doctor. He refused, but called the front desk and hour later asking for an ambulance. He was dead on arrival.
At least we had had one weekend together at “The Ranch” just before he died. My grandfather had (actually his estate still owns it and had been trying to sell it for years– 16000 Calle Real if anyone is interested in buying it) a ranch in Santa Barbara on the coast next to Bruce Brown’s ranch. I’m grateful we had those days together. It was closure in a way, though I did not know it at the time. I remember hiking up and down the stream while my dad talked of things being like the “old days” (before his addiction had ruined him.)
My father’s funeral was surreal, my grandfather oddly answered the priest very cheerfully when he called, saying everyone was “just great,” my Uncle Chris was doped up and kept saying he felt like he was living in “The Stranger” by Camus. My Uncle Chris would die a few years later. He was always fond of saying “Only the good die young.” He looked like River Pheonix and everyone was in love with him, including me. Chris was like his character in “My Own Private Idaho” only instead of narcolepsy he had a heroine problem. I was so naive, I had no idea what-so-ever he did drugs until my one of my good friends from UCLA pointed it out to me. How did I miss that after my father? It just doesn’t occur to me… (Doesn’t anyone watch those anti-drug films in school?! That was enough for me. I mean a little fun here and there, okay, but I guess some people can’t keep it there.) Chris died of an overdose of heroine in his early thirties. Such a shame, when he was so close to the artistic success he wanted and feared, starting Jane’s Addiction. He was a true talent, a genius. (I never knew until recently that he was good friends with Beck. Beck had heard of my singing and inquired where “all of that talent came from,” my friend Paige mentioned my grandmother, Jeanne Crain, and he about fell on the floor. It was from Beck that I learned that the Jane’s Addiction rumor was true. I had been told years ago by someone that my uncle had made it up… So I never mentioned it again. There was so much mystery in our family… more gossip than a rag sheet and most of it true, too! Apparently Jane’s Addiction even dedicated one of their albums to my Uncle Chris, I was happy to know.)
Before, during and after the funeral, my family was worried about me. I heard my cousin whisper, “She’s not going to make it.”
Maybe that’s why my Uncle Tim thought to drag me to the set he was working on. A movie with Madonna. I agreed to do it. It wasn’t a great movie, I was in the courtroom scenes, but it felt good to be on a set, it took my mind off of death… some of the time.
One thing led to another and I found myself working all summer on BAYWATCH. It was such a contrast to what was going on in my life at the time that, in a way, I think it saved me– all that “sun, fun and silicone,” as I remember David Hasselhoff joking, got my spirits up. It was like that moment when Goldie Hawn says in “Private Benjamin” that she joined the army because her entire life had fallen apart– her husband had died making love to her…
Well, instead of joining the army, I did BAYWATCH.
I was a glorified, featured extra on BAYWATCH, all summer long. It was like one of those yellow lifesavers had been thrown to me.
Being a shy, depressed bookworm, at the time, I felt strange prancing around in next to nothing (though people who know me now would have a hard time believing that I was ever shy!)
My confidence was lifted when Greg Bonan, the producer, said that I had the best body on the beach. I looked at Pam Anderson and thought, “I don’t know about that! But… maybe I have the best… real body on the beach. I don’t know,” but I figured if he wasn’t the expert, who was?!!! Anyway, walking around in a bikini on the best beaches in Southern California sure beat sitting around crying and lighting candles or working at the UCLA Bookstore. I made $100 a day. It was good money for me then. So there I was, whenever they needed a girl with a “great ass,” there I was! Was I treated like meat at times? It was BAYWATCH! Having a grip turn me so that my ass was facing the camera… Every day procedure on BAYWATCH.
They even had me try out to be a life guard. I’d like to think I didn’t get hired because I read too well. (I’m sure you’ve seen the show!) Or maybe because I could read at all! I’m not sure, but I do know I would have taken the opportunity if I would have had it offered to me. Why not? The cuts on those red suits were HOT!!!
I literally got my SAG card handing a trophy to Kelly Slater (who I’d met growing up in Newport Beach) in a surf contest in Huntington Beach wearing a bikini. Who could beat that! It was especially meaningful to me that my dad had died with enough money in his wallet (split between me and my brother) to pay for my SAG card. Perfect. Poetic even.
Things were different back then, the Hoff was THE HOFF, Pam had not met Tommy Lee, Slater had hair and hadn’t won 11 world championships yet. So much has happened since then…
I was at the party where the little boy drowned in Tommy Lee’s pool, for instance… Sad day… Where were the lifeguards from Baywatch that day?
I’ve been married, had three kids and divorced. It’s been a while since my days in the sun with my friends on BAYWATCH. They were fun, fun days. Everyone was happy on set, who can beat making millions playing in the sun?
It doesn’t seem so long ago, but, in fact, when someone recently inquired what work I’ve done, I mentioned Baywatch and I was told that I was really dating myself. Even if it was a rude awakening, I had to laugh. Time flies when you are having fun… and even when you’re not!
It is small world though… I saw Hasselhoff at the Montage in Laguna Beach a few years ago, since moving back to Malibu, I see Pam often, we even dated the same guy, only thankfully I didn’t marry him and my son, Romeo, played soccer against David Charvet’s son’s team last season… and won. I see Slater on the beach occasionally or out riding the waves at Little Dume. Some days, living the life out in Malibu, it feels like I never left the set of BAYWATCH…
When I came across this clip of the Season 3 promo for Baywatch, all of these memories came flooding back.
Thanks for the memories.
I cheated on BAYWATCH with a little “Indecent Proposal.” I was spotted at put in front of Woody Harrelson’s class. It was the first time I felt the weight and intensity of having a huge movie camera intensely focused on my face. It was as if the camera was alive! Or at least a magnetic force of nature. I was held after the days shoot was over and hung out with Woody an Adrienne Lyne for a bit. It was fun except when Woody wanted me to help him play pranks on Adrienne Lyne. Woody was irritated that I wouldn’t play along and stood on my foot and would not get off for several minutes and then Adrienne got “mad” at me for playing along with Woody. Oh well, there went my Hollywood career, right!
But the season changed and it was time for me to hang up the swim suit, go back to school, read some books again and do some horribly bad student films at UCLA.
Dealing with my dad’s death did not end with the summer…
The fact that if I live another year, I will have outlived him is rather… sobering. I’ve cried even now, writing some of this little bit, but…
I am grateful for fate throwing me that lifesaver! I am super grateful for the best summer job ever! It was so much better than selling cars in Huntington Beach! (One of the worst jobs ever btw, especially since I never sold ONE car! Never did like Fords– who ever can sell one has my… not respect exactly.)