Sunday, September 21, 2008

Beauty School

Not long ago, I was summoned for jury duty at the criminal courthouse in Hollywood. As I sat in the courtroom, receiving my orientation, I couldn’t help but notice how gorgeous the judge was. In her early 50’s, she was one of those remarkably lucky women whose bone structure had left her virtually untouched by her age. And then there was the defense counsel who sort of reminded me of a young Kyra Sedgwick. Not to be outdone, the D.A.’s office had sent down a square-jawed, thirty-something version of Shia Lebouf. I began to wonder if I was on one of those hidden camera shows. Discreetly, I started checking out the pool of prospective jurors seated around me. There were a few regular Joe’s, but largely this was definitely an above average-looking crowd. It was yet another reminder that I live in the midst of one of the most ridiculously attractive populations in the world. And there is a reason for this.

Pretty much every year since about 1920, some of the best looking people on the planet have been flocking here, hoping to break into the movie business. Of course, many of them don’t make it and return home, but many others become fond of the L.A. lifestyle and stay on. As a result, the Southern California gene pool has (over the last 90 years) been flooded with the gorgeous. Los Angeles is, of course, a huge city (12.9 million to be exact) and I’m not saying everybody is a knockout, but if you peruse the population from say, Silverlake all the way out to the Ocean, it’s a pretty impressive group. If you don’t believe me, hang out in Milwaukee or Buffalo for a while and see if your opinion changes. Even our elderly look good. I recently cut through West Hollywood Park and was astounded at how cute the kids on the playground were. And I don’t mean cute in the way that most kids are cute. I’m talking four year-olds with stylish haircuts and designer playclothes.

If you’re the sort of person who likes eye candy, then L.A. is pretty much Heaven. However, if you’re a neurotic, insecure, self-loathing individual like me, the endless parade of hotties can do a number on your self esteem. Hollywood didn’t invent beauty, but we’ve certainly done more than our part to elevate and deify it. This town expects quite a lot from its citizens including knowing what looks good on you, where to get your hair cut and at least some working knowledge of skin care. It will make you afraid of bread, stripes and your date of birth. Gyms, tanning salons and Jenny Craig will never go out of business in a city where getting a second date is as rare as a lunar eclipse. Somehow, “looking good” jumped down off the movie screens and billboards and slithered into the very fabric of our lives.

When I first moved to L.A., I was a typically neurotic New Yorker who believed therapy was as essential to my survival as groceries. It didn’t take long for me to get the name of a recommended therapist whose office was in nearby Beverly Hills. I had, by that time, spent years pouring my heart out to a chubby little woman on Central Park West who stood maybe 5’1” and wore glasses that made her look like a frightened lemur. Imagine my surprise when my new therapist’s door opened and I was greeted by perhaps the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Blond, flawless and willowy, it was like someone had put Kim Bassinger on a rack and stretched her to about 6’1”. I was instantly intimidated and sensed this would never work. Somehow, I couldn’t see myself sitting there, telling my problems to Cheryl Tiegs week after week. Just to be polite, I figured I’d give this chick a couple of sessions before I dumped her. Ironically, she turned out to be an excellent therapist – especially for an anxious guy with body issues. I stayed with her for seven years.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I’m Quasimodo or anything. I’m in decent shape and I don’t look bad for a guy who’ll never see 40 again. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve often wondered what it’s like to be the fairest of the fair. I was given a brief glimpse into that world a few years ago when a 30ish actor-model from my gym struck up an odd friendship with me. There was nothing sexual about it. The guy was totally straight. He was also built like a god and had the kind of charm and looks that made smart women do stupid things. Occassionally he'd invite me along to industry parties where velvet ropes parted and people were always delighted to make his acquaintance. He seemed to enjoy having a writer (AKA “smart person”) by his side while I was emotionally catapulted back to high school; feeling like a band geek, lucky to have scored such a popular friend. Truthfully, although the guy was quite an eyeful, he wasn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer and could sometimes be a bit of a cipher. Hanging out with the beautiful, but dumb Chad Manly and friends always gave me the same weird feeling I had whenever I watched an episode of "Baywatch" -- superior and inferior at the same time.

Luckily for me, about three times a year I get a little break from all the visual splendor when I venture home to see my family. To my knowledge, none of the Bottrells have ever actually seen the inside of a gym and I can tell you from personal experience, they never met a carbohydrate they didn’t like. When I take the whole crew out to eat, we tend to go to their favorite place -- a joint called “The Golden Corral” where you can slide your cafeteria tray past an endless array of feeding troughs filled with gallons of fabulously unhealthy food. This being the South, you are, of course, invited to return as many times as you’d like. I love the clientele at this place. These folks long ago gave up on appearances and are now more concerned with balancing a tray loaded with 11 pounds of food while wheeling their oxygen tanks back to the smoking section. One of the major benefits of a trip to the Golden Corral is that it always makes me feel like an Adonis. Standing at the salad bar, I am Brad Pitt with a little Patrick Dempsey thrown in.

The truth is Hollywood is a dream factory and who among us hasn’t dreamed of gaining that little extra edge that beauty can provide. Who knows? Maybe you are one of the physically blessed. If so, congratulations and by all means, enjoy it while it lasts. For the rest of us, it remains the stuff of legend. I recently saw an interview with Matthew Weiner, the very talented (but regular-looking) creator of the hugely successful, Emmy-winning “Mad Men.” When asked why he had cast the extremely handsome Jon Hamm in the leading role, Mr. Weiner laid it out, saying “I already know what it’s like to be me. I wanted to know what it’s like to be Jon Hamm.” Come to think of it…Me too!

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

This essay can be emailed to a friend by clicking on the small “envelope” icon below. David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being astoundingly middle-class in Hollywood at

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