The next morning was the day we’d been waiting for, when we’d go to Amblin for the story meeting with Steven Spielberg and the TTA writers. The group of us met Jean MacCurdy and Barbara Brogliatti in our hotel’s restaurant for breakfast, though none of the three of us ate much.
A few minutes later, we were on the bus and on our way to Amblin Entertainment. Unlike you might think, there is no guard or anything at Amblin. Still, I think they were expecting us, because nobody stopped us. Tim just drove on through. Then again, Tim would have driven on through anyway.
We walked into Amblin, then into a room where all these cameras and stuff were set up. We all sort of stood around nervously. I still couldn’t believe what was happening.
Then Steven Spielberg walked in. He was wearing a denim Tiny Toon Adventures jacket and faded jeans.
When he walked in, every single camera in the entire room went off. I think all of us were blinded for a second. We introduced ourselves. Steven, of course, needed no introduction.
After a second he looked at us, smiling, and started pushing our shoulders down, saying, “Drop the shoulders, drop the shoulders, relax…” Then he said, “I detect these thick accents coming from you. Where are these from?”
So naturally we’re all thinking, “I have an accent?”
(And sure, we did — but not as thick as the ones we would wind up with in the show.)
Of course, the next thing was posing for pictures. And more pictures. And then some more pictures. Some standing, some sitting, and everyone telling us to pose, to do this or that. (Steven: “Do you feel silly? Because I do.”)
Meanwhile, people are telling us to “Get closer! Get closer!” We’re already half a millimeter away from him. What do they want us to do?
And since I’m behind him, people are telling me to put my arms around him. I reply, “What do you want me to do? Strangle him?”
Which I then jokingly did. (There was a rumor that that photo wound up in a tabloid somewhere, but we were never sure.)
(You can see some of those endless pictures in the various magazine articles here and here.)
Once everyone had used up enough rolls of film (ask your parents, kids), it was time for the story meeting, which was slated for fifteen minutes but wound up being over an hour.
The story meeting was fun, hilarious — and being taped by 20/20. We just couldn’t shake those people.
At this point, our families went to the game room, and we heard later that there had been a huge spread of snacks and breakfast food set up nearby for them while they waited for us to be done with the meeting.
Then we started going over the script. When we got to a scene with the shark from Jaws, Steven said, “Really, though, the whole concept has been so overdone… I mean, it’s been done and done and… If I hear those two notes again, I’m going to hit someone.”
(Right then we all had the urge to hum the Jaws theme, but since Amy was in good hitting distance of him, we decided not to.)
Then Steven mentioned another animation rule of thumb. “You have to get characters out of the water as fast as you can. Water is very expensive to animate, because everything is constantly moving.”
I thought a moment, then said, “Maybe you could have Babs sit and gaze at the waves and then have Buster walk up and say, ‘Stop staring at the water. Do you know how much this is costing?'”
That should give you some idea of how the meeting went — ideas, jokes, odd notions, questions about what we liked or didn’t, what our favorite episodes were, a constant Ping-Pong game of conversation. What surprises me now, looking back on all of it, is how much the three of us (at least from my perspective) were taking everything in stride. The whole time we spent in L.A. was just one fun thing after another to us, with every moment being another chance to crack a joke, another chance to laugh, or another new big-city experience for three small-town teenagers to enjoy.
Really, I think the best part of the story meeting was sitting there with people who are as obsessed with cartoons as I am.
Thirteen had already decided at that point that she wanted to be an animator, though looking back, I wistfully think that my place, had I had enough self-knowledge and drive — and, well, courage — to pursue it, might have well been at that table of writers instead.
This is where Thirteen’s journals start to get a little fuzzy chronologically, since most of the entries about our trip to L.A. were written after getting back home, and often in a piecemeal “oh, yeah, I forgot to mention this other thing that happened when” kind of way. From what I can tell by the entries, though (and from matching up what outfits we were wearing in the photos), we spent Sunday at Universal Studios Hollywood and at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, called Mann’s at that time.
As you can tell from the photo above, our time at Universal Studios, much like Magic Mountain, was a combination of private tours/rides and photo-op interactions. We saw the Riot Act stunt show and the Animal Actors show, with Amy — the most outgoing of us — volunteering to be an audience participant in the latter. (As an introvert, I hate the entire concept of audience participation.) Fievel’s Playland, where you climbed around in a giant lobster trap, slid down a banana peel, and sat at spool tables on thimble chairs, was also fun, especially for Amy and Sarah’s younger siblings. (This was before Fievel Goes West was released, so everything was still based on settings and props for the original film.)
Most of the time, we had a crew from 20/20 and a few other reporters and photographers with us, but occasionally we were on our own. We had reason to be thankful for that after lunch, when Amy, Sarah, Mom, and I were looking for the ladies’ room but couldn’t find it. Finally Mom figured we’d just have to stop a park employee and ask. Which she did.
The employee just happened to be Beetlejuice.
Okay, fine. We were assuming he would just, you know, point us in the general direction. Tell us to head down that way and take a left.
Staying firmly in character, and with his legs crossed, Beetlejuice led the four of us on an impromptu parade to the restrooms, with occasional commentary to make sure the crowd around us knew exactly where we were going.
I could have killed Mom, but I decided to let her live until we got home.
Later, at Mann’s and the Walk of Fame, we were again amused at how, thanks to the ever-present camera crew around us, there would always be tourists taking pictures of us, too.
There were these two girls at Mann’s. They were watching us and the camera crew and everybody. One of them said, “Who are they?” The other replied, “I don’t know — I think they’re a new singing group.”
“What’s their name?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve heard them sing.”
I wonder if any of them ever figured out who we actually were…
Our trip to L.A. was about as all-expenses-paid and full-on guided as anyone could want. We were looked after by our publicist, Valerie Scott, who did a great job shepherding a large group with as many kids as adults (and putting up with the three of us always shrugging when she asked what we wanted to do, a move that she eventually started calling the Waynesboro Shrug).
Our driver, Tim, got us wherever we needed to be, though he quickly got a reputation for getting lost and having to get on his radio to get turned around again. (I seem to remember we once heard the person on the other end say, “Now where are you again?”) To this day, I don’t know if he really did have a bad sense of direction or secretly just knew every obscure shortcut in the greater Los Angeles area, but he always got us from point A to point B with a great sense of humor.
As far as expenses went, it truly was all expenses paid — the flight, hotel, and attractions, of course, but even more. Most of the time Valerie or someone else was with us to pay for our meals, but each family was also given $600 to cover any meals or other expenses when there wasn’t someone around to pay for us. There were some snacks and drinks we bought out of that, but most of it wound up paying for souvenirs for ourselves and friends and family back home. As far as I recall, we didn’t spend any of our own money during the entire trip.
Saturday we went to Six Flags Magic Mountain. (I remember reporters before the trip asking if we were going to go to Disneyland. Seriously?)
We never had to wait in line for rides; instead, they took us through the exits. (I mean, the others never had to wait in line — I’ve never been big on amusement park rides myself.) The photographer even went on one roller coaster with Amy and Sarah (and he, of course, had to ride backwards to take pictures).
We also went to Venice Beach. Now, if you want to talk about the ultimate in tourist culture shock, drop a group from rural Virginia at Venice Beach. Along with the street musicians, the Skateboarding Granny, the roller skaters who almost ran us over, and the general randomness of humanity, we were particularly amused by the guy hawking laundry bags at the top of his lungs. Said laundry bags, as he repeated over and over, were both super jumbo and all-nylon. It sounded like a quality item.
As Thirteen put it:
To mostly summarize, Venice Beach had a lot of weird people there.
Of course, we also walked down to the actual beach, and Amy decided she wanted to take a bit of the Pacific Ocean home with her. Back then we were into those Life Saver Holes candy bits that came in little plastic flip-top cylinders. We had one with us that was nearly empty, so we polished off the rest of the Holes and she filled the container from an incoming wave. (Oh, for the days before airport liquid restrictions.)
For dinner that night, we were picked up by two limos (one for us and our moms, the second for the rest of the group) and taken to Ed Debevic’s, which Google tells me originated in Chicago (and is now closed even there), but at that time there was a location in L.A.
Google also tells me that Ed’s had a reputation for deliberately rude service, which isn’t exactly the way I remember things. As I recall, the campy ’50s-style diner was raucous and loud but also just plain fun, with servers offering up good-natured pranks and wisecracks along with the food. (Or maybe they were just going easy on us — we were a family table, of course.) Thirteen made special note of the fact that our waitress had a beehive hairdo accessorized with fake bees, and even went so far as to deem it one of the few restaurants where she wouldn’t have minded having “Happy Birthday” sung to her (high praise for the atmosphere, since that’s something Forty still tries to avoid).
After that, we headed back to the hotel. I was still dealing with that stupid cold, so on the way back, Dad had their limo driver stop at a convenience store to get some cold medicine for me, plus some soda and chips to have in the room.
I have this hilarious picture in my mind of the limo pulling up, and everyone around wondering what big star’s in there, and then my dad steps out.
I have absolutely no memory of Christmas 1990. I’m assuming my family celebrated it as usual, but at the same time most of our attention was on preparation for our January trip to L.A. Amy, Sarah, and I would be traveling with our parents, plus Amy’s little brother and Sarah’s two little sisters. What would be the first plane flight for most of us would be on a turboprop out of the regional commercial airport, connecting to the cross-country flight. And we’d have a camera crew along (of course) filming for the 20/20 segment.
Our flights went fine (and here I just want to pause for a moment and fondly remember the days when the only real stress of flying was in the actual flying itself). Unfortunately, I’d picked up a cold a couple days before we left (the packing list I made in my journal mentions cough drops), and my ears never popped on the descent to L.A., so for the rest of the evening, everything sounded muffled. It was an annoyance, but I didn’t care — we were finally in Hollywood!
Thankfully, after the long flight, there wasn’t much planned for Friday night. The only item on our itinerary was being in the audience for a taping of the sitcom Family Matters, which was pretty cool since it was a show my family already watched (along with the others in the TGIF lineup). We provided the laugh track for a prerecorded episode (season 2, episode 17, “High Hopes,” a.k.a. the one with the hot air balloon, aired January 31) and then watched them film scenes for another episode that wound up airing near the end of February. (Don’t remember which one that was, unless somebody knows which one had a scene where Steve is in the lunch line and has Laura’s picture on his cafeteria tray.)
We also got to meet one of the stars of the show, Jaleel White, who played Steve Urkel, the character who had pretty much stolen the show by then and became a sensation for his nerdy laugh and catchphrases. Much more low-key than his alter ego, White was friendly and funny. It was a pretty brief encounter, but he made a gracious first impression. I found a line in my journal that he offered to go bungee-jumping with us, which made absolutely no sense until I found the scribbled footnote explaining that I’d misunderstood the conversation. (Ears again.)
SARAH: Could you sign an autograph for me?
JALEEL: Oh, sure! I thought you were going to ask me to do something really daring, like go bungee-jumping with you or something!
(I’m guessing she must have asked kind of hesitantly — but hey, we were still getting used to this whole meeting-people-we’ve-seen-on-TV thing.)
In the end, we did get autographs, each one signed with a different Urkel catchphrase:
When we got back home, sometimes we ran into people who, when told about our L.A. trip, got way more excited over us meeting Steve Urkel than Steven Spielberg.
Probably the most extensive print article done about us was the cover feature for USA Weekend, a magazine distributed in many Sunday papers at the time (though our local ones carried Parade instead).
The article was good, but we didn’t care for the pictures they ran with it
Okay, we hated those pictures. Especially that cover photo, which we loathed with a passion that only teenage girls can muster for lousy photos of themselves.
Amy’s hair was, like, standing up and Sarah’s hair was blown around, and mine looked all stringy. Besides, Amy had her mouth wide open, and the sun was, like, glinting off my forehead . . . And then, in the black-and-white one showing us at lunch, you couldn’t even see Sarah, I looked like Kathy Bates from Misery, and all you could see of Amy was her hair (from the back, of course).
(Granted, just the day before she’d written…)
We’ve gotten used to seeing pictures of us and stuff. Before, we would have cringed to even glance at a photo of us. But now we’re used to it. Same with seeing ourselves on TV, hearing our voices, and seeing our names and stuff about us in print. It’s kind of fun, really. (not)