The Road Less Travelled Part 3: LA LA Land
I arrived in LA LA land and took a taxi straight from LAX to Jenny's home, a duplex on Doheny Drive. I drove along Sunset Boulevard and couldn't believe I was actually in Beverly Hills 90210.
Jenny had a daughter, Nicole, who was a few years younger and rather introverted, she didn't fancy the idea of going out on the town with me. I was a stones throw away from Sunset Boulevard and I had such FOMO sitting at home every night that I decided my first weekend there that the only way I was going to meet people was to get out and socialise.
Now LA isn't quite like NYC, if I had to compare it to South Africa, LA people are like Capetonians and New Yorkers are like Joburgers much more warm and friendly.
It was the end of 2005 and there wasn't any social media, I mean I wasn't even on Facebook yet, there was no Instagram or Tinder only Myspace, remember that? So I had to brave it alone, I got all dressed up one night in a white number and went to The Standard Hotel on Sunset Boulevard which was one of the trendiest hotels on the strip. It boasted a very modern minimalistic interior with floating perspex bubbles hanging from the ceiling as chairs and as you walked in your eyes were captivated by a glass box behind the reception desk where real models were displayed to make a statement be it of political or one of pop culture.
It was a Saturday night and I waited in the lobby for what felt like an eternity, occasionally checking my little Samsung flip phone.
I was hoping that eventually someone would talk to me and my story would be "I am waiting for friends but they "flaked" on me and I'm new in town and not sure where to go from here."
( "flaking" is very common in LA, in fact so common you are lucky if you make a plan with someone and they actually stick to it and show up)
There I stood naively in my little white dress and ankle boots,
looking back I'm lucky I didn't get arrested as I most definitely looked like a common hooker loitering in the lobby.
Finally, this guy came over with a group of his friends to talk to me. I relayed my sob story and they invited me to join them to a party they were invited to. I was so excited and just like that, I had a social life.
I joined them the next day back at the Standard Hotel pool. I was quite fascinated that no one was smiling or looking like they were enjoying themselves, it was almost as though they were posing like mannequins in a shop window, void of any expression whatsoever. After 2 raspberry mojitos, I decided I wasn't going to follow suit. I put on my biggest smile and started chatting to the young couple next to me and they became my new friends. The Standard pool was great, there were mainly guests of the hotel but a handful of locals too. This was my new spot, I went to the pool so often it felt like my second home. I loved meeting people from all over.
The nightlife in LA was spectacular! Let me paint the picture for you, you happen to be in Los Angeles at a very specific intersection on Las Palmas Avenue, just south of Hollywood Boulevard and you were suddenly at the epicentre of the young celebrity culture.
The action (almost) always went down on weeknights which were considered "Celebrity Nights" at the hottest locations. That's because, to put it bluntly, stars (or aspiring stars) are the only ones who can manage to go out drinking and dancing until 4 a.m. on what would normally be a work night.
It also allowed the young, rich and famous set to avoid the relative nobodies who frequented Hollywood nightlife on the weekends.
There was a group of major players who were guaranteed to be out.
You're standing outside Les Deux, the hottest place to be, praying to be acknowledged by the doorman, just steps away from where the A-list set of actors, models and whatever else they're identifying as currently (DJs? Reality stars?) are partying their youthful, beautiful, tanned lives away.
I managed to use my surname to get acquainted with Sylvain Bitton, the owner of The Dolce Group and this Elite club.
I was lucky enough to have my 22nd Birthday party there, rubbing shoulders with the A-C List of celebrities.
A couple of miles west, on the heart of Sunset Boulevard was Hyde nightclub. You may not be able to see inside, past the velvet ropes, but the best of the gossip would be splashed across the internet the next morning anyway. Even a young Kim Kardashian and Tara Reid were once turned away at the door.
During that golden era it was the Lindsay Lohans and the Paris Hiltons that ruled but also the Nicole Richies, the Mischa Bartons, the Orlando Blooms and Hilary Duffs.
I even bumped into Salma Hayek and Melanie Griffith once in a club bathroom and had the privilege of talking to the legend herself, Diana Ross at a Ralphs supermarket.
Celebrities quickly learned that to up their profile all they needed to do was be caught by the paparazzi and the easiest place to do that was on Hollywood Boulevard (or Sunset, or Las Palmas).
Little by little that heyday of the mid-2000s began to erode and the hotspots began to close up shop when social media took over.
One of my new acquaintances told me to get in touch with her friend who owned a record label. I called them to set up a meeting and drove to their offices on Sunset Boulevard.
I went in there nervously with my demo in my hand, they looked me up and down and said
"You've got a good look and sound, we can get you on the billboard top 100 at number 2 under Madonna for $100 000" "I don't have that kind of money," I said.
"Well this is LA and you're a pretty girl, so go out and get it"
I was shocked, is this what it took to make it, to whore myself out?
That was not the road I was taking, I would carry on the high road even if it meant it would take a little longer to reach my dreams.
Nicole told me about Guy's Live Music Club, a loud themed-up evening complete with live Jazz music and a notoriously strict door/dress code for an exclusive NYC-in-the-'20s Jazz vibe.
In LA different promoters ran their night at a venue so if it was a good promoter the place would be packed with A-listers on a Tuesday but on a Saturday night the same venue would be filled with the "bottom feeders" those who didn't quite make the cut, so you had to know which nights were the nights to be at certain venues.
Tuesday at Guy's was run by Danny Masterson, the generously afro-ed sidekick from That '70s Show who somehow went on to become a well-respected nightlife kingpin. I got there a little early and told the doorman I was with the band, I introduced myself to these cool African American cats and sheepishly asked them if I could jam with them that evening. The band leader said, "Well girl lets see if you can sing". I had a little impromptu audition and we agreed I would sing Summertime. I had no idea how cool this spot really was, it was the hottest club for famous musicians to socialise and jam.
There was a really good guitarist called John Mayer (I had no idea who he was at the time) who went up on stage to play and I was signalled by the bandleader to join him for my debut song, I was so nervous. I still can't believe that a few weeks after arriving in LA I got to sing alongside John Mayer.
The band leader whispered to me that Macy Gray was coming up to sing the next song and I knew that was my cue to bugger off. Adam Levine from Maroon 5 was also waiting for his turn to get up and show off his pipes. I mean was I dreaming? It was so surreal to be in such a star-studded room.
I felt high off the excitement for the next week and knew I had to stay in LA LA Land.
I had 3 months to figure out how I was going to stay there before my tourist visa ran out.
My first mission was to find a car, I had just got my license back home and was a little scared to drive on the other side of the road but I had to make a plan because not having wheels in LA is like not having legs. No one walks, public transport is not a thing there and no one takes the bus except weirdo dead beats.
One of my favourite Jewish New Yorker comedians, Jackie Mason, talks about the lack of people on the streets in LA, take a listen for a good laugh!
I finally found a car, an automatic white Ford Focus. I felt so independent and excited for my shiny new future here in Hollywood.
I went to an immigration lawyer who spoke to me about H1 and O1 visas which is an artist visa for extraordinary abilities but at the time they were really difficult to get. They would also cost a couple of thousand dollars to renew every time. He said, " Honestly the best option for you would be to find an American husband.
My mother was in town around that point and we drove around looking at the only people on the streets, mostly low-income Mexican workers and wondered if they were legal and would marry me? (just kidding)
I joined the 24 hr fitness gym on Sunset Boulevard and became friendly with one of the personal trainers who I confided in about my predicament
He told me about a friend of his who married an Israeli girl for a nice payout. He also told me that this guy may have a friend who would do it for me. I did some more research and asked his friend what the going rate was and he said it was around $5000 but some people pay up to $50 000 so to me it seemed like a reasonable deal. We would have to be married for 3 years but after the first 3 to 4 months you get a social security number and a temporary green card which would enable me to work. 2 years later after submitting the relevant documents and proof of marriage I would be granted or denied a green card. The catch was if I was caught out "marrying for papers" I would get deported and unable to return to the US for 10 years and my future American husband would get a $250 000 fine and his passport revoked.
I thought about the movie "Green Card" and asked him if it was like that? He told me that we would really have to get to know each other well, like what colour our toothbrushes were and if and where our birthmarks were, as there was a chance they could split us up to question us in the immigration interview. We would also need to have a joint bank account and file taxes together. Living together would be ideal as they could do home visits but if not we had to be invited to social gatherings for photo opportunities as proof of a relationship needed to be submitted.
It all seemed like a hell of a lot to take in and I considered it intensely for a week. I thought what if I meet the love of my life and then I'm already married to this man? It was very risky and I needed to find another way.
I had to hustle and work under the table as I didn't have work papers yet and the question of whether to marry or not to marry was still looming over me.
I signed on to Craigslist (similar to Gumtree) of everything, even hookups (pre Tinder days, remember?) and would scour through the actors and singers auditions. I found an ad for a music video and sent in a submission. It wasn't much money but it was something. I arrived at a building in a grimy area of Hollywood and I was one of the only caucasian girls there besides for Ashley, a beautiful, vivacious blonde from Chicago, fresh off the boat and pursuing her dreams of becoming an actress and dancer. Here we were smack bang in the middle of a legit hip hop video, so legit that we were asked to wrap bandanas around our faces like hoodlums (pretty standard now in Covid19 times.) Ash and I couldn't believe this was our first gig in LA, it was ridiculous to say the least and we couldn't stop laughing at each other on set. The silver lining to that awful day was that I made a really good friend.
The hustle for work under the table continued and I happened to meet a guy from SA who was a friend of a friend and he managed to get me my first job cold calling for a nightlife brand. I hated it but was desperate for any work.
Shortly after that I worked in Jenny's sister-in-law's eyewear shop in Brentwood, I told her my predicament and she agreed to sponsor me. I was so excited I finally found a way to stay in LA LA Land!!! 4 months later I received my green card on the 17 April 2006!
I had been staying at Jenny for about a month and a half and Nicole had a friend who was a photographer called Dean, he invited us to this mansion in Beverly Park one sunny day. Beverly Park, divided into North Beverly Park and South Beverly Park, it's'a gated community in Los Angeles with homes that average 20,000 square feet, a vacant lot asking $30 million-plus and enough resident movie stars and film execs to fill a red carpet. The gated community of Beverly Park is one of the most exclusive, expensive places in Los Angeles. Celebrity residents include Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, media mogul Sumner Redstone, Reba Mcentire and Sylvester Stallone also live in the enclave.
We drove through the giant double story guarded gates with a sign that read "No Photography", I had hoped to see some celebs out on their lawns but being LA all you could see were gardeners and hear the sound of lawnmowers.
We pulled up to this amazing 21 million dollar mansion, the marble floors glistened as I walked in and I was mesmerised by the perfectly symmetrical twirling staircases that led up to the second floor. At the base of each staircase were 2 bathrooms "His" and "Hers" A crystal chandelier held centre stage above a wooden round table with an elaborate bouquet.
We walked out onto the perfectly manicured lawns towards the oval pool, Nicole went to talk to Dean and I wandered off towards a cabana on the left side of the pool where a beautiful blonde was perched with a tropical elixir in hand. She had a designer body like Jessica Rabbit, a tiny physique with the smallest waistline you have ever seen and large surgically enhanced breasts, she could have easily been one of Hugh Heffner's bunnies. I had never met anyone who looked quite like her, I was fascinated.
We started chatting and she introduced herself as Jade and was surprisingly very friendly. We were both 21 and FOB (fresh of the boat) in this crazy city. I was thinking "Damn this girl landed her arse in the butter" and I asked her how she ended up staying here.
The owner of the house Michael Scott was her boyfriend, they had met at a party in Florida, her hometown and invited her to come to live with him in LA. I told her I was a singer and she asked me if I would give her some vocal lessons. Within 15 minutes of meeting her I was given the grand tour of the mansion and she showed me her bedroom with a bed bigger than a king-size almost from wall to wall with a marble bathroom fit for a queen.
I gave her a little impromptu vocal lesson in her marble bathroom as the acoustics were just fabulous, as a singer you discover the best places to sing with perfect acoustics and reverb are bathrooms, parking lots and stairwells. She was delighted to meet me as she confided it was hard for her to meet down to earth girlfriends in LA, we swapped numbers and began hanging out.
Jade would pick me up in all kinds of luxury sports cars, one day it would be the silver Porsche the next the red Ferrari, the list went on.
I would walk along Sunset with her where she was treated like royalty when she walked into the boutiques as she would drop $500 - 1000 on a dress.
I remember we were on Rodeo Drive once and she walked into Louis Vuitton and bought a bag for $1000, I think my jaw nearly dropped to the floor, I had never seen this amount of wealth before.
She took me to her favourite boutique and told me she wanted to buy me a dress, it cost $750 dollars, I simply couldn't allow her to spend that much money on me but she insisted and said "consider it a gift from Michael".
I was very lucky to have a friend that spoiled me so much.
We would dine at Le Petite Fours, a trendy French bistro on the Sunset Strip.
We also frequented The Ivy, a local celebrity hangout but let me tell you the food was so average that the best part of the meal was the complimentary fresh-baked bread.
I was seeing life in LA through the eyes of the rich and famous and it was fabulous!
I felt like I was overstaying my welcome at Jenny and I told Jade I was thinking of moving out. She loved my company so much that she said she was going to ask Michael if I could come and stay at the Mansion.
I got a call the next day to tell me I was moving to Beverly Park!
She was so thrilled to have her new bestie at the house as she was often lonely there and I couldn't believe my luck, it felt like I was starring in my own movie.
Michael H. Scott, mobile home tycoon and managing partner of Kort & Scott Financial Group owned this Beverly Park estate. He purchased this home for $10.1M in 2002 and by the time I moved in it had doubled in value.
I was given a huge room on the left-wing of the house with the most comfortable bed and ensuite marble bathroom with gold taps! I mean this was better than a hotel suite, I had to pinch myself. 2 very attractive blonde assistants also lived in the Mansion. Clearly, he had a thing for blondes.
There were 2 chefs in the kitchen on any given day and the kitchen island was adorned with glass domes filled with an assortment of baked goods, even some carb-free, sugar-free, gluten-free options, any dietary requirements you had would be catered for. There was one pantry that was filled from top to bottom with the most expensive champagnes like Moet Chandon and Veuve Clicquot, Jade's favourite.
Michael always expected his house guests to be present for lunch, it was a thing and the staff would come around and ask us if we wanted the regular or the organic menu, it was very posh! Unfortunately, the conversation didn't flow as freely at the table and I was a bit intimidated by him as he was an enigma just like the great Gatsby, I barely knew anything about him except for the fact that he liked to be surrounded by beauties and throw elaborate parties for the who's who of Hollywood.
My mother always taught me that there were no free lunches in life (well except with Jade) so I went to have a little chat to Mr Scott in his study.
I thanked him so much for welcoming me into his home and letting me stay there, he told me that as long as Jade was happy, he was happy.
I told him I didn't have much but would give him what I could for rent every month, he told me not to be ridiculous. I insisted then that I could contribute in other ways, (No not like that!) " I could bartend at your pool parties on Saturdays and sing at any of your events". He thanked me and respected me from then on.
I didn't know how über-famous Michael Scott's mansion was till I saw it first hand. It was not easily accessible for just anyone. Behind the 25 foot gated residential community, army of guards (swat team style), personal estate barrier-gate (20 feet) there was a social code. The code was simply, private guest list only. It was addictive, the dinner parties, weekend summer gatherings and special mid-afternoon events. Living just below the clouds yet above the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, his estate became one of the hottest private venues to attend if you were so lucky to be on the guest list.
You can read more about him and his A-list parties here
The poolside on Saturdays were packed with the most beautiful young aspiring actresses and model transplants, (a term for people that come from elsewhere to reside in this metropolis of a city) with a handful of his male friends. The more girls the merrier but "no sausages" were allowed (sausages = males, especially young handsome ones!) I don't blame him, I mean why would he want the competition.
I used to help out bartending and watch the frivolities like a voyeur in the wings.
On any given day there were the most exquisite models posed at the poolside doing photoshoots. There was even an in house photographer who stayed at the mansions pool cabana to lure in more beautiful babes. There certainly wasn't a lack of eye candy for this socialite mogul.
While I was staying there I was working on my craft taking scene study classes with Tom Todoroff ( https://www.tomtodoroff.com/ )
I absolutely loved him, he was so passionate and had such a candid way of teaching. I was also taking improv classes at the famous Second City in Hollywood.
I heard about a wonderful progressive and conservative synagogue under one roof in Brentwood called Sinai Temple and I decided to go and check out their Friday Night Live service at the progressive synagogue which apparently had the most incredible live music service. I also hoped to connect with the Jewish community there.
I went by myself and absolutely loved it, the beautifully written new melodies bringing to life the familiar prayers. There was even a female rabbi who gave the most incredible weekly Parasha. This is what had been missing from my Jewish upbringing of boring services and nasal "chazones" singing.
Craig Taubman was the man behind this event, also the lead singer and composer of these beautifully composed prayers. He was in his 40's, had salt and pepper hair and was very attractive. I already had a huge crush on him but sadly he was married with children. I told him how much I loved his music and the service and asked him how I could be a part of it. It took a while to persuade him but I was relentless and eventually I started singing with him and his band. I met wonderful musicians like his Jewish Ethiopian percussionist, Alula and his guitarist and world music artist, Bruce Burger aka Rebbe Soul, who I happen to be currently working with on a soulful project.
I was in my happy place as singing in Hebrew is the highest form of prayer and meditation, it flows out from deep within my soul and elevates my being. I felt so deprived that there was no progressive or conservative Judaism sect in South Africa because in the Orthodox sect women are not allowed to sing in the synagogue in front of men, it's forbidden. It is believed that men can't control their sexual desires and will be distracted and lose focus on their prayers. My argument was that women could equally be distracted by an attractive man singing on the (bimah) podium.
I didn't buy into it and found this archaic way of thinking extremely sexist! You can imagine how delighted I was when I was asked by the conservative synagogue to sing solo like a chazan for the high holiday service on Yom Kippur. My mother had come to visit me for my birthday which always falls over Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur. (the day of atonement)
The high holidays in the USA is the biggest business, you have to buy a ticket to secure your seat at any given synagogue, it's the money maker for the year.
My mother witnessed this first hand when she arrived at the entrance and only had a ticket for the Progressive Synagogue and I was singing at the conservative one too. She put up a hell of an argument for them to let her in but they shamelessly refused even though she said she had come all the way from South Africa to see her daughter sing and it was only for 3 songs! I had to sneak her in through the backstage entrance and she had to watch me from the wings. She was horrified that they would turn her away on the holiest of days but this was LA and it was definitely lacking a bit of heart and soul.
I was so glad that she eventually made it in to watch me sing in my white robe like a chazzan, she was so proud.
Back at the Scott mansion, there was a frenetic energy organising a poker tournament for Shannon Elizabeth's birthday party. (the beautiful actress from the film American Pie)
I had asked Michael if I could sing at the beginning of the evening, he agreed and I was delighted for my Hollywood debut.
I met a few celebs that night including 2 members from Nsync and Jeff Blue the A&R for RCA records, he was the one who signed Macy Gray. We chatted and I naively thought he was my ticket to landing a recording contract. We had a kiss by the pool and he invited me to swing by his place with my demo that week. I had seen first hand how the rich and powerful men of LA operate, dangling carrots to bright-eyed bushy-tailed actresses and performers hoping to make it, telling us how they can help turn our dreams into reality by constantly stringing us along. Most young women fall right into their trap and into their lap thinking they have to sleep their way to the top to make it there. The underbelly of LA is a seedy scene, to say the least. The movies had nothing on the LA that I was witnessing.
I wasn't going to be one of those stereotypes so I wisely took my mother along to my meeting with Jeff Blue at his house on Laurel Canyon. He was quite taken aback to find my mother with me as I'm sure he thought this was a perfect opportunity to lay his moves on me.
I played him my demo and he told me I lacked soul, I asked him which artist he thought had "soul" and he said, "Annie Lenox". I knew right then and there that we had very different tastes in music and reminded myself that it took Lenny Kravitz 10 years before he landed a recording contract. I said thank you very much to Mr Blue and went on my way.
I managed to book 2 great gigs singing at The W Hotel for a fundraiser and at The Women's World Network event in Beverly Hills. I also had my first photoshoot and worked with one or 2 producers on a few songs.
Back at the mansion there were some new arrivals, 2 very attractive African American twin transplants took up residence in the pool cabana. Jade invited us to go with her and Michael to a famous movie producer's party at his Hollywood Hills mansion. I think his name was Gary and I was told that he had bought more fake boobs for young women than any other man in Hollywood.
I was wearing a pretty long white dress and Jade was wearing a dress that revealed her best assets. Her wardrobe was insane and she always looked like a million dollars.
We got to the party and mingled and I noticed that these 2 new girls were getting an overly friendly vibe from a lot of the men there, they seemed very popular with the fellas and I wondered what their deal was. I met a few celebs there including Chris Judd J.Lo's ex-husband who took my number.
I was sitting having a DMC (deep and meaningful conversation) with a fellow actress on the veranda when one of the twins came over and asked to speak to me privately. "So Gary thinks you are lovely and has asked if you would like to spend the night, we are staying and he is offering $5000 a "piece". Now being 21 and super naive I thought that staying till the morning meant socialising till the wee hours at the afterparty, maybe providing some light entertainment and singing a song or 2.
I walked down the stairs to where the bar was and bumped into Gary, who was about 60 in the shade, overweight and didn't have the best skin.
He touched my arm ever so gently and asked if I had considered his offer, I literally felt like throwing up but I pulled myself towards myself and ever so graciously said " Gary thank you very much for your hospitality, I had a wonderful time tonight, unfortunately, I have to decline as I am in a monogamous relationship but I do wish you well in your endeavours"
I left shortly after with Jade and Michael and on the drive home I imagined what those twins would have to do for their $5000.
I mean $5000 is a lot of money and trust me it's a very tempting offer if you're a struggling artist but "Giiirl either you a ho! (whore) or you ain't" and that was not about to become my story.
Here I was thinking that Jade was living her best life, driving expensive cars, enjoying Michael's credit card and the finer things in life, she was beautiful and had the best body, I mean this girl had it all!
Well one night I was in my five-star bed in my flannel PJ's on my laptop, hair up in a bun and no makeup on. Jade came into my room at about 11 pm preened to the max with a full face of makeup and her hair styled to perfection like she was off to a photo shoot or a red carpet event. I asked her where she was off to and she said " nowhere I just have to look perfect for him and well-groomed in all the right places all the time." Michael called the shots and she had to give him "sexy time" whenever he wanted it, even if it meant at 8 am in the morning, "I don't feel like it" was not part of this arrangement. She was quite distraught and told me how she is starting to despise him as he wanted her to go out canvassing for other girls to have threesomes with, in short, he was bored of his current toy and wanted new toys to play with.
I soon learned a valuable lesson that "all that glitters is not gold". Jade was what you would call in LA "a girl on salary" she would get $2000 a week and his credit card to spend if need be in exchange for the dream life, which didn't seem so dreamy now.
She started crying on my bed and I was in shock, she was human, she had the same inadequacies as everyone else and by showing me her vulnerability we bonded on my bed that night. I think she was so relieved to open up to someone and speak her truth. She wished she could swap places with me even though on the surface she seemed to have it all.
Jade was starting to resent Michael and soon realised, "why should he have all the fun?" We were at a party and Michael Bay (the famous Hollywood director/producer) sneakily asked for her number.
She started seeing him on the DL (down-low) and found some excitement of her own. I accompanied her one night on a double date with Mr Bay and his friend to "KOI" the hottest Sushi restaurant in town. We walked in and I nearly had a seizure from all the bright flashing lights from the paparazzi waiting for us, it was kinda crazy!
The friend he bought along was so bad, I certainly wasn't into him but here I was sitting across from Michael Bay. Surely he could just give me a line or even 1 word in his next film so I could get into SAG/AFTRA (The acting unions there, without a SAG card you are basically persona non grata, a non-event.) All the network tv and movies seek out SAG/AFTRA talent, without it you can't even get an audition.
It was all very risque, this new affair and I went along for the joy ride. Mr Bay called Jade to pick him up one night as he was drunk at a club, she pulled up in the black Porsche and he threw himself in the back of the car head first, hiding from the paparazzi. What a time to be in LA, it was way more fun than the Instagram days of today!
I sat shiva for a week as my ties with Mr Bay through Jade never materialised into a SAG card.
What's a girl gonna do, I stopped sulking when Jade came in my room and invited me to a party at good old Hugh Heffner's Playboy mansion.
Yes! The OG (Original Gangster) Mr Heffner!