So Many Questions: ‘Hollywood in Heels’ author Charity Gaye Finnestad learned about life, illusion
Spoiler alert: Gorgeous movie stars clad in $10,000 dresses and dripping in diamonds have to endure commercials being shown during the Academy Awards just like you do sitting at home. Oh, and it’s freezing cold in the Kodak Theater, too.
Harsh realities come a dime a dozen out there amid the glitz and glam of Los Angeles, a reckoning that author Charity Gaye Finnestad came face to face with as a bright-eyed transplant fresh from Oregon. Her debut memoir, “Hollywood in Heels: A Small-Town Girl’s Adventures in Tinseltown,” is replete with moments of hilarious clarity as she tells her tale of moving to California to pursue her dream of becoming a writer.
It’s a story told many times before. What’s remarkable is the candid way in which she comes to discover more about who she isn’t than what she hopes to be. The tale could easily be mistaken for a work of fiction, but it’s just an honest look at another day in Hollywood. From the dirt she dishes on card-carrying members of the Who’s Who (carefully concealed, of course), to the introduction of a language that explains “Bait Date,” “Day Flaking,” a “Dino-sir” and “Spotlight-itis,” the pages epitomize exactly what’s lurking beneath all of those pretty, shiny surfaces out there in La La Land.
Question: You talk about feeling “caged” in your life and marriage back in Bend, Ore. When you got to California, did you feel free or did you feel enslaved to the L.A. lifestyle?
Answer: I absolutely felt free. What I felt like was that I was in a world that had a lot of rules that I absolutely did not know. And there was no rule book to find the rules. You just had to stumble up on them as you played the game. But I did not feel enslaved. I definitely felt free, and everything was an option, nothing was off the table. And then it was about figuring out who you were, and what your code of honor was, and what your boundaries were, and what was OK and what was not OK, because most of the people here just didn’t have any boundaries at all. So, it was quite interesting and I was terribly naive.
Q: You talk about illusion only becoming a bad thing when you care about it more than substance. Did you notice a common tipping point at which this becomes the norm for people out there?
A: I think it happens really fast, honestly. And what I found to be absolutely fascinating is, illusion is fun. Illusion is all the great art and all the great movies. All of these things are created entirely based on illusion, right? And they’re stories, real human stories, but then they have to use the illusion to tell them.
But what I found really fascinating is people quickly lose their grounding in what’s real and what’s not real. And when you lose your grounding in that, then you make choices that become really destructive because they are real choices, and you have real consequences, and that very, very quickly disappears for a lot of people. That was one of my constant checking points — is this real and is it not real?
And the other thing that’s interesting is, this city quickly tries to change you into what it is, but at the same time, it adores those that are not changeable. So, it tries to eat you up and spit you out, but if it can’t, it falls in love with you. So, it actually likes the people who are different and break the rules and don’t follow the game and don’t sell out. It really loves those people, and, ultimately, after it has tried to tear them up and spit them out, those are the ones that become successful – the people that just somehow stayed whoever they were through the whole chaos of it all.
Q: After someone forgets about their humanity, can they eventually get it back?
A: I haven’t seen it happen. I just have the feeling that once you’re chewed up and spit out, it really does a number on you. And in this city, people really don’t last that long. I don’t remember where I read this statistic, but in the first, like, six months I was here, I read a statistic that 90 percent of transplants leave within the first nine months. And I think that’s amazing. I don’t think that’s true of any other place I’ve ever been.
But you come here with these crazy expectations and the overnight stardom and someone’s going to discover you because in your small town or wherever you were, you were kind of a shiny star. And then you quickly discover that is not how it works, and it’s going to require a ton of hard work, and the chances are very, very slim that you’ll be successful. And most people just pack up and leave. So, those people that stick it out, and you end up seeing, they really had a lot of backbone, spine, determination. And those are the ones we very much look up to and admire.
Q: Is there anything or anyone in Los Angeles that’s real?
A: Absolutely there are, and they are the ones that make the films and the music and the things we love. The ones who promote it, the ones who advertise it, the ones who give awards, that’s all the game. But the actual creators are some of the most amazing people I’ve met, and they’re from all over the world, too. But it’s a matter of finding them.
It’s one of those cities you can’t visit and experience what it’s really like. You actually have to come and know people. You can’t even find the good restaurants. It’s not like everybody knows them. They’re secret doorways without a name, or they’re at people’s houses and they’re traveling dinners.
It’s very much a city that has a lot of layers, like an onion, and you keep peeling it back, and you find different worlds. But there are truly amazing people here doing some very amazing things. There’s also a lot of the circus and the show that is just absolutely ridiculous.
Q: At the end of the day, would you say you walked away from your experience disillusioned or enlightened?
A: I would say I walked away enlightened. Because anything that life throws at you, you get to take away what you want from it, right? So, I did get to see a lot of things were not what I expected them to be. But I also found that there were a lot of treasures that were well hidden. And those treasures make all of the other stuff completely insignificant and it makes it worth it going through the experience.
Kate Benz is the social columnist for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-8515.