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Work Is A Many-Charactered Thing or Resume! Resume! Who’s Got The Resume?

Hello, Much Appreciated Readers!

I think I’ve told you that I was – once upon a time – an actress, myself.  I haven’t really said much about it – but I will from time to time.  I’ll talk about being a regular on GENERAL HOSPITAL and THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, and about guest star work I was lucky enough to do . . .back in the day, as they say.  And I’ll probably talk about one of my most thrilling experiences:  Being on Broadway!

As all ends seem to bring one to beginnings, the ‘end’ of my acting career began my coaching and wrangling career – which sometimes brought me full circle back again to the acting.  (Whew – that was a REALLY BAD run-on sentence.  Sorry, Mr. Jacobsen, English teacher par excellence – Maryvale High!!!)

But, to continue!

As I told you in an earlier post, the BABY WRANGLER  is actually the person responsible for the performance of the baby: needed to coax, cajole, encourage and deliver the reactions and actions called for by the director, the script, the client, the ad agency, the producer, the producer’s wife . . . . well, you get the picture.  Depending on the director, and his or her comfort level – a baby wrangler sometimes actually directs the baby.

And, there are amazing directors who have trusted me so completely, that they are far off behind a monitor, while I’m right there, standing right next to camera, eliciting all the responses necessary for the scene.  Often, I’m “acting off-screen” saying the lines of whichever actor is actually in the scene, so that it ultimately looks as if he or she is interacting with the baby.  But all along, it was me.

The same thing often happens with young actors I am coaching on tv or film.  You’ll never see me, or hear my voice – but I would say that the first 5 years at least on 7th Heaven, Mackenzie Rosman (“Ruthie”)  almost never talked to anyone but me on her close-ups.  Wait a sec . . . .  come to think of it, you could actually both see  and hear me on three different episodes our executive producer Brenda Hampton gave me:   a co-star role with Mackenzie in which I played her first school teacher,  a GUEST star role with Mack that she and her writers created with me in mind – (SNAPPY the Dinosaur . . . .hmmmmm, what does THAT say?!!!),  and one Christmas episode in which practically the entire crew had funny cameo appearances. But that’s a different situation all-together. Pretty amazing of Brenda, yes??

However, as lucky as I have been through the years that I was still acting, lemme tell ya – because of the situations I’ve described above – my off-screen resume is wildly, stupendously much more impressive!

I have been

Jim Carrey,

Yes - I was Jim Carrey!

Yes – I was Jim Carrey!

Meryl Streep,dawn

Billy Connolly,            Yes, I was even this Sexy Scot!

Timothy Spall,

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and Martin Lawrence, Doris RobertsEmily Proctor, Shaquille O’Neil, Liam Aiken, Emily Browning, Catherine O’Hara, Phyllis Diller, Barbara Rush, Ashlee Simpson, Andrew Keegan, Steven Weber, Rebecca Demornay, Melvin Van Peebles, Rick Moranis, Ed O’Neil, Lindsey Wagner, Shirley Knight, most of the cast of THE LITTLE RASCALS SAVE THE DAY,   and the entire cast and most of the guest cast of 7TH HEAVEN at one time or another including Happy The Dog, a guest chimpanzee  AND a horse. Don’t ask!  

And these are just the ones that I can remember!!!!

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MERYL STREEP ON THE FLOOR OF A BABY TRAILER!!! Another AMAZING CELEBRITY STORY/LEMONY SNICKET Tale

Let’s travel out of continuity – I will do so repeatedly in the blog! – and go to the FIRST meeting with Ms. Streep:

So – everyone was pretty excited on this one particular day at Paramount Studios in LEMONY SNICKET base camp- well, at least I was VERY excited, for sure.

It’s Meryl Streep’s first day of work on the film – I mean – MERYL STREEP  – THE Meryl Streep, THE DEER HUNTER, SOPHIE’S CHOICE,  . . .(am I beginning to look like a fan here??! Again?)

. . . . and we’re going to work with her.  (we being my babies, and me, too – because when the babies are onset, so am I. And as I said earlier, sometimes I’m hidden in the very shot, and will eventually be under HER very feet, though I don’t know this now! Sometimes I will even be in her wardrobe – you’ll see that another time)

I had sent a very respectful request to Ms. Streep, asking if she could possibly find the time to visit with the babies and myself in our Baby Trailer, so that Kara and Shelby  could become “acclimated” to her.  By this time in the shoot, I was second only to Mommy and Daddy in the babies’ world, and Debb was great about giving me the lead in terms of getting the twins used to new actors.

I had bought two new “babies” – the girls term for any doll – for Meryl to give to the girls, so that she could be a new  person bearing gifts.  (Yes, I am not above bribery – and used O’s EVERY day for exactly that purpose!)

After getting the girls fed and diapers changed along with Mom and Lexy’s help, I’m playing with the girl on the floor when . . . .

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suddenly . . .  there is a knock on the trailer door!  I open it and . . .

HOLY COW THERE SHE IS!  .   In full costume and make-up is The Lady herself – someone I’ve wanted to meet for only half my life.  And she is so beautiful that it takes my breath away. And she is so kind and real and regal – which will be proven over and over and over again for the next six months – that she quite takes my heart.

Actually, she has it still.

But back to the floor:

I smile,  like a loon,probably (happily I can’t see my own face at the moment and therefore be mortifired at how obviously moonstruck I am) and invite her in.  The girls look at her warily, and quickly jump into my lap (Shelby) and behind my back (Kara). By this time, they have figured out that New People equals me handing them off and disappearing sometimes, and they are none too thrilled with that .  They like me right in front of them . . . or to be happily ensconced in my arms.

I tell them that our new friend, Aunt Jo, has come to play with us.  And then Meryl Streep SITS RIGHT DOWN ON THE FLOOR OF THE TRAILER (which no doubt has stepped-up-and-ground-to-powder O’s, spilled OJ, (and various other things best not thought about !) absorbed into the carpet) and says “Hello, girls!”

Oy, I’m plotzing!   I introduce myself and the babies, telling her which twin is which – something I will do everyday for the full seven months of the shoot for the benefit of the entire crew, most of whom will never learn to tell them apart.  That amazes me – because, except for a few weird times when one actually morphed into the other one, I never had trouble telling them apart.  (You can ask Lexy about that morphing thing – it was WEIRD!!!) I surreptitiously slip the new doll babies into Meryl’s hands, which she quickly slides behind her back, and explained their purpose.  Meryl lights up and thanks me for the forethought, and immediately brings the dolls from behind her back and starts using them as puppets, making voices for the girls.

They continue to watch her with big eyes for a while, and Kara slowly comes out from behind me, to plop into my lap next to her sister.  Now, I’m not really that big – I’m five feet tall and weighed about a hundred and five pounds – but my lap ALWAYS had room for both my girls, no matter how squished I may have been.  I cannot describe how my love for those babies grew day by day, from the very first day I met them at the first set of auditions, to the night we wrapped and I cried hysterically into Walter Parkes and Laurie Macdonald’s generous hugs. How their little arms around me healed all wounds and lit up my world.

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The definition of the job, the source of pride, the challenge – and yes, the little bit of heartbreak –   is to cultivate all that trust and love within the babies hearts and minds for you, and then be able to transfer it away from yourself and to all of those with whom the babies work.

The girls become more and more intrigued, and eventually sit on the floor near Meryl, leaving the sanctuary of “Daw’s lap.  As I told you in yesterday’s blog, they can’t quite say my name yet – not the whole thing.

I ask Meryl’s permission to touch her face – she readily gives it.

I gently first cup each of the babies cheeks, saying “good – good”, and then my own, and then Meryl’s, each time repeating “good” in a very low, soothing voice.  The girls are smiling, and Meryl has fallen in love with them.  Soon, they will fall in love with her, too.  I will make sure.

And so our first acclimation session has been accomplished.  Next time I will gently, slowly and quietly leave the trailer, and the girls will be alone with Meryl.  On the pathway – to the transfer of affection.  The hardest but most important part of a wrangler’s job.  Transferring affection.

Oh my aching heart.

But oh, a source of pride.

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©Dawn Jeffory-Nelson 2013

All Rights Reserved

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AMAZING CELEBRITY STORIES: #1 – SING ALONG WITH DAWN

Okay – what I am about to tell you will amaze and astound you.  Okay – well, maybe not astound you. Okay – maybe not amaze.   But, lemme tell you: it amazed and astounded ME!

I’ve found through the years that singing to my babies covers a multitude of sins:  from the babies being tired and NOT WANTING TO DO any more ‘acting’, to being nervous, hungry, uncomfortable with a new actor, etc, etc, etc.  And my gorgeous Shelby and Kara – “SUNNY” IN LEMONY SNICKET: A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS (sorry, Debb and Mark – I know they’re really YOUR Shelby and Kara, but you KNOW how much I love your kids!) were no different.

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I had come up with my own version of I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY that went, I’M JUST WILD ABOUT SHELBY . . . of course. (apologies to the astounding Mr. Eubie Blake).  Almost no matter what else was going on, it would make Shelby smile.  Even when she was only 15 months old.  Even when we had been filming in a small cramped boat for days and days.  Which is where this anecdote takes place.

SO . . .we’re between shots, and are again waiting for something before we do yet another take . . . at this point I can’t even remember what we were waiting for.  Probably for Jim to come back from watching the previous take in the monitor. sigh.  Don’t get me started . . . .

AND Shelby is getting understandably fractious.  It’s way past her nap time AGAIN, she’s been in the same place for quite some time AGAIN, she’s prevented from running around and being a normal kid AGAIN, and she’s ready for a cuddle from ‘Daw’  (The girls can’t say my whole name yet).

I come out from my hiding place under the dirty canvas sail, and take her on my lap for a few minutes, as she’s been on Meryl’s lap for the shot.

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I start singing quietly and gently to her,  paying no attention to anything or anybody else – just concentrating on trying to make my baby happy.  And slowly, it works, that amazing smile begins to play across her little face.

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Suddenly it occurs to me that I am hearing another voice in addition to my own, and I realize Meryl is singing my silly made-up song, too!!  I, Dawn Jeffory-Nelson, daughter of Alan and Charlene, sister of Dana,  and wife of Shawn, am SINGING WITH MERYL STREEP.  O H   MY   G  O  D!!!!!!!!!

One part of my brain is concentrating on Shelby and functioning so that I am continuing to sing and calm her, and the other half is screaming (albeit silently) like a wildly crazy nutso fan at the Academy Awards who has just seen Orlando Bloom or Johnny Depp “ooooooooooohhhhh, aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Meryl Streep is singing with me!!!    INSERT BANSHEE-LIKE SHRIEKS!!! The kind teenage girls do when they’re excited and/or crazy . . . .or like sorority sisters meeting each other by chance at the mall after a separation of five years . . . . .and you’ll get a vague picture of the chaos in my head . . . .

I’m actually sitting in a little boat on a sound stage in Downey, California in a man-made 4,000 square foot body of water, singing with Meryl Streep.

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Now, c’mon . . .  is that not amazing and astounding??!!

© Dawn Jeffory-Nelson 2013

All rights reserved